Explanation of engines and transmissions

Where are they going and what does it mean?

Central motor

Lotus Elise While most cars have the engine on the front wheels, which allows for better load capacity, mid-engined cars offer a more favorable weight distribution. The engine is usually located right in front of the rear axle, behind the passenger compartment. This generally means that mid-engined cars are two-seater, as the engine intrudes on what would be used for the rear passenger space. Advantages include better handling, better braking (because the rear wheels have more weight on them), better acceleration (where they are also rear-wheel drive), and a smoother ride. Since the engine is not facing directly into the wind, it may be necessary to use additional vents, air intakes, and radiators to keep the engine cool. Common mid-engined cars are Ford GT, Lotus Elise, Porsche Boxster, and Ferrari 355.

MR, TDM and MF

Almost all mid-engined cars are rear-wheel drive (MR), although some are four-wheel drive, like the Bugatti Veyron, and one or two even had front-wheel drive with a mid-engine (eg Citroen DS).


The McLaren Mercedes SLRA Mid Front (FM) engine sits just behind the front axle and, combined with the rear-wheel drive, provides better weight distribution than a front-rear (FR) car, where the engine is on the front axle. Examples include the Maserati Quattroporte, Mazda RX-7, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, and Dodge Viper.

With rear engine

The Porsche 911 is the world’s most developed rear-engined rear-wheel drive car, having had more than 40 years of incremental iterations to perfect its engineering. Rear-engined cars are where the engine’s center of gravity is behind the rear axle. They are notoriously difficult to stabilize because the motor acts like a pendulum, which means that once the rear end takes a step it is more difficult to control than an excited puppy.

Front engine

Front-engined, front-wheel drive (FF) Toyota Celica cars are the safe choice for the average driver. They understeer when pushed hard and give more room in the cabin because cars don’t need a drive tunnel through the rear wheels. Most estate cars are FF.

Front-engine, rear-wheel drive (FR) Toyota Supra cars are the choice for many sports cars and muscle cars. Common cars include the Toyota Altezza (Lexus IS200), most BMW and Mercedes saloons / sedans, and the Corvette Z06.

All-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD)

4WD School Bus Front-wheel drive provides the best grip, but depletes the engine’s power with all the additional moving parts. Some cars have viscous center differentials so power is channeled only to the front or rear, unless they start to skid, then the differential brings more power to the other wheels.

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