Can You Drift a Front-Wheel-Drive Car?
You can, but it takes some practice and a bit of bravery.
The best drivers elevate sliding a car into an art form. But more often than not, this tends to intimidate wannabe disciples. And though the vast majority of enthusiasts believe to initiate such feats requires 1,000-plus horsepower engines, rear-wheel drive, and a hydraulic handbrake, truth be told, you can slide like the best of them even in a front-wheel drive car. It takes a little practice, a lot of patience, access to a safe and open space, and to follow our guide below to drift a front-wheel drive car.
The proper name for sliding a FWD car is lift-off oversteer and we’ve discussed it before. Yet, we’ve only ever detailed how to eliminate it when something invariably goes horribly wrong on your morning commute. Initiating it on purpose is an all-together separate discussion as the dynamics at play are quite different. To best explain how to slide a FWD car, drivers should understand two forms a loss of tire adhesion; understeer and the aforementioned lift-off oversteer.
Understeer is often a dreaded outcome for race car drivers. As when you enter a corner faster than necessarily prudent, the front wheels lose adhesion to the pavement and result in the car pushing toward the outside of the turn’s apex or in the direction of original travel. This normally takes racing drivers off their preferred racing line and they inevitably lose precious seconds.
In more pedestrian situations, understeer is a more normal dynamic for FWD cars as a heavy engine sits atop the driven wheels and causes a weight transfer when cornering. This, just like race cars, pushes the car out toward the edges of the corner rather than propels it around. But it’s here, in the moment of understeer, where lift-off oversteer can be initiated and you can drift a FWD car like a pro.
As stated, entering a corner faster than necessary—there’s no need for ludicrous speeds—can lead to the car to understeer. However, that only occurs if the driver continues to apply the throttle. If the driver lifts off the accelerator, two things can happen. The first is that the car will return to the necessary line as it reduces the speed of the moving vehicle and regains traction. Lifting can also initiate a slide. By coming into the corner speedily—again, there’s no reason for triple-digit speeds—the driver can lift off the accelerator, shift the momentum of the car forward thereby reducing the rear tire’s grip, and quickly turn the steering wheel, which unsticks the rear wheels and starts the slide.
In much more simpler terms; throttle, lift, turn, slide.
In a racing setting, lift-off oversteer is used by rally and Sprint Car drivers to more easily get around low-grip corners. In both disciplines, the drivers head toward the corner as hot as they dare, lift, turn, and let the rear of the car slide until they can get onto the gas and blaze their way out of the corner. It’s also a faster way around than say a rear-wheel drive car lighting up its rear wheels mid-corner. Lift-off oversteer isn’t meant for the street. Streets don’t have large run-offs and racing lines aren’t exactly allowed by local law enforcement. Learning the technique, though, has tangible benefits as it could help intercede when something goes wrong in normal driving. With that in mind, we’d suggest ringing up one of the many fabulous racing and driving schools around the country who will teach you the proper technique in a controlled setting.
That said, as our fathers and mothers before us have done in the recent past, if you have access to an open parking lot or disused section of wide-open pavement—or build yourself a drift-ready driveway—it’s possible to learn there. Lift-off oversteer isn’t just fun, but learning how to slide a FWD car has the potential to teach you a number of the driving dynamics we’ve discussed here; i.e. oversteer, understeer, lift-off oversteer, and learning how to back off the throttle and properly control your car. Just be safe, be careful, and understand that you’re not Mario Andretti. Start slowly.