Front-wheel drive cars often get a bad name in enthusiast circles. It’s true that even the best FWD cars are generally not as dynamic to drive as rear- and all-wheel drive models, but there are plenty of front-drivers out there that are still worth a look. After all, the layout has been around for many decades, so automakers have had plenty of time to iron out the kinks. Even BMW has adopted front-wheel drive for a handful of its products.
In this space, there’s a little something for everyone. Some front-wheel drive cars are designed with practicality in mind, some are jaw-droppingly efficient, and others put a smile on your face after the first bend. Not convinced? We picked the 15 best front-wheel drive cars on the market today. These are models capable of matching — or beating — comparable rear-wheel drive cars in their respective segment.
Fiat 500 Abarth
The Fiat 500 Abarth was developed to hit the track. Based on the cutesy 500, this diminutive hot hatch receives a stiffer suspension on both axles, a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder that makes a stout 160 horsepower, and, of course, bigger brakes to keep the extra grunt in check.
The Abarth looks fast, too. It gets a head-turning body kit that includes a deeper front bumper, side skirts, and a model-specific rear bumper with twin exhaust outlets and an air diffuser. Heritage-laced yellow and red Abarth emblems on both sides of the car inform onlookers that they’re not driving past a run-of-the-mill 500.
Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST is turbocharged proof that an affordable, front-wheel drive car doesn’t have to be dull. While it started life as an econobox, Ford has added sport-tuned suspension and a 197-hp 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine that’s both turbocharged and direct-injected. The result is one of the best-driving small cars money can buy.
The extra power is complemented by a design that’s aggressive without making the ST look like it drove off the The Fast and the Furious set. The Fiesta gains a discreet splitter up front, honeycomb inserts in the grille, a roof-mounted spoiler, and bigger alloy wheels. Recaro bucket seats are found on the list of options for those who want to hit the track.
The Honda Accord has always been the default midsize sedan for many buyers, but the current generation really earns that popularity. Redesigned for the 2018 model year, the Accord gained some of the more expressive styling of the smaller Civic. The new look may not be for everyone, but it’s more distinctive than the somewhat anonymous previous-generation Accord.
Under the skin, the Accord is one of the last cars of its type to offer a manual transmission, and you can even get a detuned version of the engine from the pocket-rocket Civic Type R in this family sedan. The Honda Sensing suite of safety features and an Apple CarPlay/Android Auto-compatible infotainment system give the Accord strong tech credentials as well.
The Mazda3 proves that driving an affordable, efficient compact car doesn’t have to feel like punishment. It shines with quick, direct steering and a chassis tuned with a focus on agility and dynamism. As a bonus, it’s available with a crisp-shifting, six-speed manual transmission. Clearly, Mazda has infused the 3 with the MX-5 Miata’s DNA.
The 3 isn’t a sports car, nor was it designed as one, so it’s not surprising that the base 155-hp 2.0-liter engine lacks a little bit of oomph. We recommend stepping up to the 2.5-liter, which generates a solid 184 hp. Order it with a six-speed manual and you’ll have a car that drives as good as it looks. Zoom-Zoom, indeed.
The idea of a front-wheel drive pickup might sound like a square peg in a round hole, but Honda has pulled it off admirably. Powered by a 3.5-liter V6, the Ridgeline is packed full of clever features like a dual-action tailgate, a bed-mounted 540-watt audio system, and a lockable in-bed trunk. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of the pickup truck segment.
The Ridgeline also differs from its competitors because it rides on a unibody platform, not on a separate ladder frame. Under the sheet metal, it shares the bulk of its mechanical components (including an available four-wheel drive system) with the eight-seater Pilot crossover.
The GLA is the smallest crossover in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and the company’s first-ever front-wheel drive soft-roader. It stands out because it offers a high seating position and a rugged design in a relatively compact package that’s easily maneuverable in crowded cities and tight parking garages.
The GLA is closely related to the CLA, another great front-wheel drive car. Notably, both cars ride on the same platform, and they both use a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that generates 208 hp. A hot-rodded, AMG-massaged model is positioned at the top of the lineup, but it ditches front-wheel drive for a sport-tuned all-wheel drive system.
The Mini Hardtop traces its roots back to the original Mini, which still stands out as one of the most famous front-wheel drive cars six decades after its debut. It’s much bigger than its truly tiny predecessor, but the fun-to-drive spirit has been retained over the years. Simply put, the Hardtop is one of the best bangs-for-your-buck on the market.
The Hardtop comes in several flavors. Buyers can choose between a two- and a four-door model, and between a three- and a four-cylinder engine. Speed junkies will likely step up to the John Cooper Works model, which packs a 228-hp turbo four.
The Toyota Prius is one of the most efficient front-wheel drive family cars on the market. Its styling certainly won’t please everyone, but it’s a spacious, quiet, and tech-focused way to get from point A to point B efficiently without breaking the bank.
The lineup is divided into two distinct models called Prius and Prius Prime, respectively. The Prius is a standard hybrid, while the Prime cranks up the efficiency dial with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain that can run on electricity alone for up to 22 miles at speeds of up to 84 mph.
The Volkswagen GTI has been the poster child for fun, front-wheel drive cars for generations. The current model packs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes up to 220 hp. That’s enough for a 0 to 60 mph sprint of about 6.5 seconds, but not enough to generate an alarming amount of torque steer.
The GTI has a sensible side, too. It’s good on gas, especially for a performance-oriented model, and its hatchback configuration allows it to comfortably carry four adults or haul bulky items by simply folding down the rear seats.
The S90 takes Volvo to new heights with a luxurious cabin, a stylish design, and highly efficient powertrains. The base S90 is front-wheel drive, but it’s difficult to tell by looking at it because Volvo’s design team has given the sedan gorgeous rear-wheel drive proportions.
Volvo put a big emphasis on tech in the S90. The infotainment system is displayed on a vertical, tablet-like screen built into the dashboard, and every variant comes standard with a semi-autonomous technology called Pilot Assist that keeps the car in its lane at speeds of up to 80 mph. The S90 can also warn the driver if it detects a large animal (such as a deer or a moose) standing in the road, and automatically hit the brakes if a collision is imminent.
Recently updated, the A3 bundles the technology and performance you expect from an Audi in a small, city-friendly package. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is responsive right off the line, while a well-tuned chassis makes it a blast to drive.
Inside, the A3 stands out with one of the best cabins in its class. We appreciate the minimalist dashboard that’s not littered with dozens of buttons, and we like the clear, easy-to-use infotainment system.
Honda Civic Type R
It’s time for some double dipping. The new Honda Civic Type R is here, and it’s available alongside the standard Civics in the United States for the first time ever. While all of its main rivals are all-wheel drive, Honda’s hottest Civic carries on with front-wheel drive, the configuration that made it famous all around the globe.
Through sheer engineering wizardry, Honda managed to build a high-performance front-wheel driver that doesn’t show a hint of torque steer, even with 306 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque. Steering feedback is accurate, making it a joy to drive on the track and a dream to hoon on windy back roads.
Acura gave the TLX a significant update for the current model year. Its brand-new look falls in line with the design language that will influence all of the company’s models in the coming years, so it’s certain to remain fresh for the foreseeable future.
Even the base model offers a generous amount of standard equipment. The list includes heated seats, keyless entry with push-button start, and an array of electronic driving aids including a forward collision mitigation system and lane-keeping assist. Additionally, it’s compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
When we drove the brand-new Buick LaCrosse, we called it one of the best options for motorists in the market for a full-size sedan. We know, there’s not that many of you – most buyers gravitate towards SUVs these days. But, the LaCrosse nonetheless makes a solid case for itself.
Engineers have made the biggest Buick 300 pounds lighter than the previous model. That means it’s sharper to drive in spite of its sizable footprint, and it’s also much better on gas. The cherry on top of the cake is a cabin that’s well built, pleasant to sit in, and is as quiet as a bank vault.
The 2018 Atlas is Volkswagen’s long-awaited – and we mean, really long – entry into the three-row SUV segment. It’s the biggest member of the German company’s lineup. Surprisingly, it’s built on the same MQB architecture as the smaller Golf, yet it’s spacious enough to carry seven passengers.
Upmarket variants of the Atlas ship with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. However, even the base, front-wheel drive S model comes with Volkswagen’s new six-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. That’s longer than the warranty offered by other mainstream brands, and it’s fully transferable.