Read Autocar for any length of time – say four issues, or a week’s worth of web reading – and you’ll probably gather that when it comes to driving entertainment, we tend to prefer rear-wheel drive to front.
Why? Because rear-drivers are better balanced when powering through bends, making it easier to plot your desired line, besides allowing you to use the accelerator as a steering aid by killing understeer with an extra slug of power. And of course, you can drift a rear-drive car.
That said, there have been plenty of glorious front-drive cars that could be steered on the throttle too, by lifting off or feathering the accelerator mid-bend. They start with the original Mini, run to the Peugeot 205 GTI, various hot Fords, most RenaultSport machines and many others besides.
And the contrast between these drivelines has been rammed home to me this week with steers in Peugeot’s RCZ R and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupé 507 edition, both of which I’ve been sampling – and enjoying hugely – for the World Car of the Year awards, for which I do jury service.
Be in no doubt, though, that the RCZ R is a very fine thing, not least for the spectacular 270bhp it wrings from its 1.6-litre turbo motor. More impressive still is that the front tyres can put this power on the road without spilling much of it, even when you turn the electronic aids off.
True, it writhes and squirms slightly, but the grip and traction are amazing, aided by its torsen diff and Peugeot Sport’s extensive chassis tuning. Yes despite its poise, pace and pliancy, you can’t steer the RCZ R on the throttle that much, and certainly not like you could its 306 Rallye ancestor.
Nor the C63 AMG Coupé, which admittedly costs more than double the RCZ R’s price tag. The AMG’s powerplant delivers plenty of go-crazy power too, and with an equally beguiling, deep-chested soundtrack. The Merc’s superior balance is immediately obvious.
The Peugeot feels like its weighted like a hammer, its superb chassis always having to fight the car’s mass distribution (most of which is up front), whereas the more evenly spread heft of the Benz allows it to nose into bends with unforced enthusiasm.
And with 450lb ft of torque squashing the sipes of its rear tyres, it’s dead easy to adjust this C63’s trajectory with the throttle, especially in the wet.
Of course, whether you can adjust that trajectory by precisely the right amount is part of the challenge and thrill of driving a potent rear-driver, and why it’s best to leave the ESP on until you’re familiar.
But the chance to master this aspect of a rear-drive car’s repertoire is something you can’t enjoy in a front driver, especially if it doesn’t move around much when you release the accelerator.
Fact is, steering with the throttle is one of the great joys of performance driving. And these two excellent machines underlined that fact all over again.