Think of having a fun ride in a car, and one of the first things to pop into your head will most likely be being able to stomp on the gas and get the tires squealing (among many other equally awesome possibilities). This desire to send smoke from the tires has always been ingrained in American car culture. (And when we say “send smoke from the tires,” we mean the rear tires—no one wants to see smoke from the front.) However, sending power to the rear wheels doesn’t just make starting off more fun, it also gives us much better control in corners, something vital to lighting up a driver’s face. While all this sounds like something that would be vital in order for a car to provide a good driving experience, consumers are now saying otherwise.
In the past, all that raw power got sent to the rear wheels, causing cars to, in many cases, literally jump off the line and then tear through corners, bringing smiles to all who got behind the wheel. Today, it seems that fewer and fewer consumers are interested in driving for the sake of driving, choosing drivetrains and options that improve top speed and acceleration while ignoring those that make driving a car, well, fun.
Instead of buying rear-wheel-drive cars with manual transmissions, consumers are now choosing to go with all-wheel drive models with automatic or dual-clutch transmissions. Yes, these features do wonders for top speed and acceleration (a computer can shift much faster than a human), but they simply take a lot of the joy out of the driving experience. While these cars may get off the line and to the destination just a bit faster, I guarantee that your smile will not be as big when you get there as it would be if you took the same trip with a classic RWD stick-shift setup.
This is not a topic we haven’t talked about before. A few weeks ago, we posted articles about the Most Fun 2014 Cars You Can Get with a Manual and the sad, seemingly impending death of these same cars (Rear-Wheel Drive and Manual Transmissions: Bye Bye, Babies). This time, we’re back with a list of the 10 rear-wheel-drive cars that we think are the most fun to drive, whether or not they have a manual transmission (although we certainly prefer the ones that do):
10. Starting our list is a car we love for all that it stands for: the Chrysler 300. Put into production in the 2005 model year, the 300 embodies all that American family cars used to be: it’s big, it’s roomy, it’s powerful, and it sends power to the back—an all-too-rare combination these days. While it is, regrettably, offered only with an automatic transmission, the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 offered in the 300C model pushes 340 hp to the rear wheels, allowing the driver to experience most of the fun of driving an American muscle car while still being able to take the kids and dog on a long road trip.
9. The BMW 3 Series may not fit into the same category as the 300, but it’s still one heck of a ride and is certainly fun to drive. Still offered with a manual transmission, the 3 Series is one of a few German holdouts that still allows consumers to choose the classic RWD manual setup. Coming with a range of performance and engine options, the 3 Series serves as an excellent entry-level luxury car that still appeals to those who want to actually drive while they are being pampered by their car.
8. Moving up the list we come next to the Mazda MX-5 Miata: a staple on almost any fun-to-drive list. While not too many details have emerged on the 2014 Miata, two important things are certain: the new version will offer a manual, and it will have rear-wheel-drive. The Miata was designed to be a fun-to-drive car and has never wavered from that original principle. With the 2014 version set to have a 1.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder kicking power to the rear tires through a 5- or 6-speed manual transmission, the new generation looks set to stay fun by keeping true to its roots.
7. The next car on our list is the only one to make it with a single-speed transmission: the Tesla Model S. Recently rated by Consumer Reports as the best car it has ever tested, the electricity-powered Model S (along with Tesla itself) has been grabbing headlines left and right as of late. While the Model S may not seem like a car that would make a more traditional list like this, the simple fact is, if you want to have fun in a rear-wheel-drive car, you will be hard-pressed to find one you can have more fun in than a Model S. With various engine options putting out 302 to 420 hp, the Model S can make it from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds—not bad for a car that gets 90 MPGe (highway).
6. Completely revamped for the coming model year, the Cadillac CTS is a dream come true for driving fans. A true performance luxury car, the new CTS will offer 3 engine options, the high-end option being a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 available only with rear-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission (well, not every dream can come true). Capable of going from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and pumping out 420 hp, the new CTS is a huge improvement on the earlier version and looks to give car fans yet another reason to flock back to Detroit.
5. In the fifth spot on our list is another car from the Motor City: the Ford Mustang. With rear-wheel-drive as the only option and a manual transmission still available, the Mustang stays true to all that makes driving enjoyable. One of America’s most popular cars, the Mustang offers a litany of engine and trim options, the most awesome of which is the Shelby GT500, equipped with a 662-hp 5.8-liter supercharged V8 and able to hit 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. With the car set to be redesigned for 2015, look for the Mustang to become even more of a smile inducer.
4. The top of our fun-to-drive manual transmission list, our next pick is the Nissan 370Z, particularly the NISMO edition. Bringing a facelift with it into the 2014 model year, the 370Z NISMO is one of the most awesome cars currently coming out of Yokohama. Boasting a 3.7-liter V6 that pushes power straight to the rear end, the 370Z offers most of the fun Nissan has to offer without the GT-R’s price tag.
3. Rounding out our top 3 is the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. The C7 version of the Corvette, this car is brand new for the 2014 model year and looks to already be a smashing success. Coming in at $51,995, the Corvette is a downright bargain when considering that it comes equipped with a 450-hp V8 that will get you from 0-60 in less than 4 seconds. Also a winner on our manual transmission list, the new Corvette delivers all that power to the rear wheels through a standard 7-speed stick-shift. When you look at the sheer beauty of the new styling and combine it with the price, performance and fun-to-drive factor of this car, one must ask the question, “What could possibly beat the Corvette?”
2. In the runner-up spot is, simply put, a legend: the Porsche 911. Introduced in 1963, the 911 has dominated the Autobahn for 50 years, with everyone from tuners to the Polizei wanting to take it out for a spin. While the car has evolved over the years, the overall concept has remained the same, with Porsche keeping the styling and objective of the car largely unchanged over the past half-century. While this may not work for other cars, it certainly has for the 911, with consumers continuing to fall in love with the icon from Stuttgart. Perhaps no other car has as recognizable a profile as the 911, nor the same reputation for being an extremely fast, extremely reliable, extremely fun, rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive testament to the art of driving.
1. So far we’ve gone through some very impressive, albeit very different, cars. What could possibly take down the likes of GM’s new poster children, Stuttgart’s icon or Elon Musk’s much-hyped EV? While it may not be as quick as the 911, nor as pretty as the Corvette, the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S (aka Toyota 86/GT86) is a more fun car to drive. Built after Akio Toyoda demanded to know where the “passion” had gone in Toyota’s lineup, the BRZ/FR-S was designed to be a driver’s car, with maximizing the experience of driving clearly at the forefront of the engineers’ design. Much like Toyota’s superstar of the past (the Supra, for any in doubt), the BRZ/FR-S was designed to give the driver the most enjoyable experience possible. While the BRZ/FR-S may not match the Supra in performance (let’s be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of cars that can), it does indeed do an excellent job for the price tag ($25,495 BRZ/$25,255 FR-S), with drivers getting Subaru’s 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder boxer engine pumping out 200 hp. If that’s not enough, the car comes equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission that sends the boxer’s power to the back. Simply put, the BRZ/FR-S tops this list for the fact that it is an extremely fun car to drive, looks great, has an affordable price tag and was designed with the driver in mind, with Toyota/Scion/Subaru wanting to deliver the best classic driving experience to everyone from commuters to enthusiasts. They succeeded, wildly.
What’s your favorite rear-wheel-drive car ever? Do you drive a rear-wheel-drive car regularly?