As BMW prepares to launch the first all-wheel drive M5, after some 32 years, it got me thinking: has two-wheel drive had its day?
It’s a wonderful fact that cars are becoming steadily more powerful. But with great power comes great responsibility. Almost every sports car that enters the showroom at Alexanders Prestige is now turbocharged, as efficiency does battle with outright performance. And as cars get ever quicker and more powerful, do manufacturers have any choice but to send this increasing grunt to all four corners?
As much as it pains me to say it, we could have reached the peak of 2wd high performance cars.
With the 552bhp Audi RS6 for instance, two-wheel drive just doesn’t make sense – from a performance perspective you can have all the power, all of the time, and make the best of it. It’s also safer and less demanding day-to-day.
The message from BMW and Mercedes-Benz is similar – to enjoy maximum go and grip, all-wheel drive is the way ahead. In the case of the latter, the newly revamped E63 AMG is exclusively four-wheel drive, where once it was only an option. True, you can still experience the thrills of 2wd thanks to the ‘Race’ setting, which puts the auto ‘box into manual mode and sends power to the back wheels alone, but the default is the sensible security of all-wheel drive.
Much like there will always be a call for manual gearboxes, traditionalists are always going to favour rear-wheel drive over 4wd. But, as with the beloved stick shift, soon we may not even have a choice. The reason, of course, is hybrids. The logical configuration on sporting plug-ins like the BMW i8 is to use internal combustion at the rear and electric motors at the front. Four-wheel drive by default. Hybrid isn’t for everyone right now, but in the future it’s going to be increasingly hard to avoid.
Is the art of driving being overwhelmed by the science? I’d love to hear what you think. My personal opinion is 4wd for the commute, 2wd normal aspiration for fun.