How does engine placement affect handling?


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Author's Note: How does engine placement affect handling?

There's a lot of talk about how engine placement affects handling ... a lot. It's a favorite topic among enthusiasts of high-end brands. And I've driven all the configurations -- maybe not extensively, but enough to have a handle on the difference. If you want to put it in its simplest terms, it's the experience of being pulled, as opposed to the experience of being pushed. In both scenarios, the driver is totally in control, but there are subtle differences that are hard to put into words. Driving a car with a front-mounted engine (which is most of 'em, by the way) feels like the engine knows its purpose -- it's doing its job to pull your vehicle along. A rear-mount seems like it's out for a cruise, so powerful that it doesn't even notice it's pushing you along. Center-mounted? Well that's just visceral. Almost like you're grounded to the road.

Even if you have little (or no) experience with the difference, you might still be able to get the sense if you've spent some time on roller coasters. Think about a traditional setup, train on top of tracks, as compared to a suspended steel coaster. Totally different sensation -- one feels like you're being lifted, even on a descent. The other is like falling and being caught at the last minute. Even if the coasters follow similar paths, there's a reason the engineers came up with more than one design.

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Sources

  • American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association. "Comparison of Engine Placement." (May 21, 2013) http://www.adtsea.org/adtsea/ADTSEA%20Documents%20Pages/Comparison%20of%20Engine%20Placement.html
  • Sherman, Don. "The Mid- vs. Rear-Engine Debate: Porsche Cayman R vs. 911 GT3." Car and Driver. June 2011. (May 21, 2013) http://www.caranddriver.com/features/the-mid-vs-rear-engine-debate-porsche-cayman-r-vs-911-gt3-feature