Work for a car magazine for two weeks, and you’ll notice one thing above all else: New cars are fast as hell. Pluck any editor out of his comfy desk chair, put him in a car that does zero-to-sixty in less than seven seconds, and he’ll yawn from boredom.
Most people think there is no such thing as too much power, but we disagree. And as cars become more and more powerful, a front-wheel drive layout becomes less and less appropriate. Since weight (and, ultimately, grip) is transferred to the rear wheels under acceleration, powerful front-wheel drive cars tend to just light up the front tires. Add some steering lock into the equation, and the recipe for wheelspin gets even stronger.
With a little help from our friends at Autodata, we compiled a list of 2007 and 2008 model year front-wheel drive cars, and sorted them based on their power-to-weight ratio. We noticed something very interesting – the cars with the lowest number of pounds for each horse to contend with were, of course, the fastest. But they weren’t the most fun – in fact, some of them are dynamic disasters.
Our favorite front-wheel drive fasties weren’t nearly the fastest of them all. Ranked from most powerful to least powerful, the GTI, for example, our Automobile of the Year and by all accounts a quick car, came in fiftieth. The Si came in thirty-ninth. So which cars are that much faster than those? Head on to page two to find out.
First Place: 2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS (11.5 lb/hp)With a 303-hp 5.3-liter V-8 mounted transversely over the front wheels, the 3490-lb Monte Carlo SS takes the top spot for Burnout King. It shares its engine with two other top-five contenders (Grand Prix GXP, 11.8 lb/hp, and Chevy Impala SS 12.2lb/hp), but since the Monte Carlo is the lightest of the group, it takes top honors.
With a power-to-weight ratio that rivals Porsche 911s of just a few years ago, the front-drive GM cars are dynamic disasters. Practically any throttle at low speeds breaks the front wheels loose, especially given the V-8’s prodigious low-end grunt. (The Monte Carlo SS has 323 lb-ft of torque, which also makes it the torque-to-weight king, by a significant margin). If you enjoy shredding your front tires every 5000 miles, this is the car for you.
Second Place: V-6 (11.8 lb/hp)Without fail, every time we have an Altima with the 3.5-liter V-6 in the office, you’ll hear someone laughing about how fast it is. No front-wheel drive car has the right to be this quick – and the 3186-lb Altima almost pulls it off. Almost. But that’s only because Ann Arbor’s roads are mostly straight. As soon as you try to hustle the 270-hp Altima around bends, you realize that it’s not, in fact, a poor man’s G35. It’s merely a wheelspin machine.
Third Place: 2007 MazdaSpeed 3 (12.0 lb/hp)When the engineers program the engine computer to reduce power output in a car’s first three gears, you know it has too much power for its own good. The 263-hp, 3153-lb MazdaSpeed 3 is a fast little car – but driving it hard, your hands had better be even quicker. See, because of its massive torque steer, the MS3 darts in every direction but forward as it scrambles for traction. Most of us really like this little car, but I bet we’d love it if it had a little less power.
Fourth Place: 2007 Acura TL (12.8 lb/hp)One of the most amusing autocross runs I ever witnessed was in an Acura TL. The crowd was roaring with laughter, because the TL literally spun its front tires every single second that it wasn’t under braking. The stunningly beautiful TL looks on paper to be a worthy contender to its rear-drive competition, but that impression goes up in a cloud of tire smoke when you push it. 286 horsepower is just too much for a front-driver, even if it’s saddled with 3674 pounds of well-engineered Honda parts.
Fifth Place: V-6 (12.9 lb/hp)Those of you readers old enough to remember when the first Camry V-6 came out will probably remember a TV commercial in which an old lady was merging onto a freeway in her Camry. She explained to her geriatric passengers that she used to get white knuckles merging, but her new V-6 Camry was so fast, she no longer got nervous. One of the passengers yelled “Punch it, Margaret!” and the Camry launched into traffic. That V-6 Camry had 153 horsepower. Had Margaret been driving Today’s 268-hp Camry V-6, she likely would have launched it into the next county. Even despite a curb weight of 3461 lb, the 3.5-liter V-6 (which is shared with the (268 hp, 13.0 lb/hp), RAV4 (269hp, 13.1 lb/hp), and (272 hp, 13.2 lb/hp) makes for a very overworked traction control system. And frankly, we don’t know what’s more disturbing – that a Camry placed so high on the list, or that a small SUV, the RAV4, did.
Sixth Place: 2008 Volvo C30 (13.1 lb/hp)With 227 hp carrying only 2970 lb, it’s hard to imagine why Volvo‘s C30 isn’t offered with all-wheel drive. After all, the C30 shares its platform and running gear with the larger S40, which is available with four driven wheels. The C30 has yet to make its way to our Ann Arbor office – we’ve driven it only in Europe – so we’ll wait to put a scarlet B on it (standing for “Burnout” of course). It’s just a shame all the tire smoke will obscure that cute little rear end.
Seventh Place: (13.2 lb/hp)Lincoln has had a tough time defining its image in the past few years. The LS was a good first step in moving its image away from the staid, old Town Car association – but when we think Lincoln, we hardly think “front-wheel burnout.” Yet with 263 horsepower, that’s what you’ll get if you floor an MKZ from a stop. Maybe we should just call it the “tire Mark Zee.”
Eighth Place: 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT (13.2 lb/hp)Finally, we have a car that looks like it should be fast – and it’s in some pretty strange company. Technically, the Eclipse is practically in a three-way with the MKZ and the Lexus ES350 (which we combined into the fifth-place Camry‘s section.) Even though the Eclipse is shockingly heavy (3472 lb), its 3.8-liter V-6 has the grunt to make up for it – and the result is lots of wheelspin.
Ninth Place: 2007 Saab 9-5 2.3T (13.3 lb/hp)Though it just received a facelift this year, the Saab 9-5 is riding on bones that date back to the Paleolithic era. And while its torque steer isn’t as bad as some other Saab models, its 3472-lb chassis just isn’t up to the task of coping with 260 horsepower. Saab always reminds us that its roots are in aerospace – and if so, this burnout machine would be the equivalent of two large jets strapped to a Wright Brothers’ plane.
Tenth Place: EX V-6 (13.5 lb/hp)It can be argued that the Accord is more of a driver’s car than most of its competitors, and the V-6 model is a rocketship. Its 244-hp V-6 is enough to light up the front wheels on demand, especially with any lock on the steering wheel – a long-standing Honda trait. Add wetness to the road, and the Accord becomes particularly tough to restrain – and serves as a reminder that Honda does it best when they do it with a little restraint.
The Bottom 10:
It you want front-wheel drive, but hate torque steer, these are some great choices. The worst performer – by far – is the at 38.6 lb/hp. But since the horsepower numbers don’t include the extra thrust provided by the electric motor, we’ve left them out. Here are the ten, non-hybrid, front-wheel drive cars on the market this year that have the lowest power-to-weight ratio. Don’t be fooled, though – they’re not that slow. A first-generation VW GTI would have wound up mid-pack on this list – perhaps proof that maybe the era of front-wheel drive cars has run its course:
First Place: 2007 Dodge Caravan SE (25.7 lb/hp)
Second Place: GX (25.7 lb/hp)
Third Place: 2007 Chevrolet Aveo LS (24.6 lb/hp)
Fourth Place: 2008 Saturn Vue (23.3 lb/hp)
Fifth Place: (23.1 lb/hp)
Sixth Place: (23.1 lb/hp)
Seventh Place: 2007 Chevrolet Aveo5 (22.7 lb/hp)
Eighth Place: (22.7 lb/hp)
Ninth Place: (22.3 lb/hp)
Tenth Place: (22.3 lb/hp)