Why Engine Placement In Cars Are Important.
Credits to: GIPHY
Since I had first started putting the gnawing thoughts in my head onto text, there's always been one integral component, other than assembling together words, and that's my love for cars. It's also because that's one of the few things that I'm moderately competent enough to write about, but I digress. Since my first blogpost last September, I have published dozens of posts about automobiles, and I will continue to forever share that passion with you.
However, there's one thing that I haven't given much though to, and that's the way that I've explained things. See, I've always written automotive posts in a way that I can understand them, and so can the fellow enthusiasts, though I have made the assumption that most people can willingly, and easily comprehend them as well. I haven't had the chance to stop and ask myself, "Will people who aren't into cars be able to know, and enjoy reading this post, as others have? ".
Credits to: GIPHY
Just as I was perusing through my Twitter feed, I came across some posts on cooking, as my stomach grumbled hungrily back at me, awaiting the arrival of my food parcel. From the perspective of someone who doesn't know how to cook, such as myself, some of the terms, ingredients, and how they were all mixed, went over my head. It made me consider that you too, may not understand certain automotive-related things that I've shown before, the same way I didn't understand the differences in cuts of steak.
As someone who's similarly intrigued in the world of watches, I made some horological posts in the past, and I've accompanied that with a handbook, detailing all the things that you should know about timepieces. A glossary of the many components and terms, and it was a learning experience for me, and I hope that you may better understand it, too. Here and now, that journey begins once more, as we dive into the world of engines.
Specifically, the placement of engines in automobiles; why are they put in different places, and what differences does it make anyways? I've written about mid-engine supercars, front-engine classics, and rear-engine Porsches. In total, there are four unique configurations to mount an engine into a car, with all its ups (+), and downs (-).
How To Basic | Front-Engine
Credits to: NetCarShow (Peugeot 208, Renault Megane RS, VW Golf GTI, Ford Fiesta)
Almost every vehicle you see, and at it's most basic form of construction, has its engine in the front. It's the most traditional setup, by having the engine mounted on, and in-front of the front-axle. Why then, is this so common?
+ Practicality… For starters, there's the added usability in a car when you condense the packaging. Imagine putting the big engine, including all the other components like oil sump, coolant tank, steering rack, gearbox, and most of the other mechanical bits and pieces right up front. This in turn, allows more room for passengers in the middle, and a proper boot in the back for your luggage.
+ Safety… It's also good for safety, by having large chunks of material between you, and whatever you're going to hit. An engine acts a surprisingly good crumple zone, though tedious as it may be to put it all together again.
+ Easy, and affordable to engineer… Going back on the subject of packaging, putting it all in one place is also good for making cars cheaper, specifically for front-wheel drive cars. When almost all of the componentry necessary to make the car move are put in one place, it's easier to manufacture, and also easy to service. Over the course of development and improvements in the car industry, this is what has allowed for good cars to be cheap, and cheap cars to be good.
Credits to: GIPHY
- Dynamically mild… One downside to all this, is that it's no fun to balance a car when most of its weight is hanging off one side. When cornering at speeds, it can result in understeer - where the car forces itself into a larger turning radius, and outwards from where you're pointing at, as the engine lunges forward when you brake.
+ Though not all the time… Yet, there are circumstances where front-engine cars can make you smile. When it comes to how weight affects a car's handling, it all comes down to how much weight you're putting on the driven wheel. With some fine-tuning in the suspension's hardness, chassis stiffening, and tweaks to the differentials (which is the component that sends power to each wheel ), you can make it work well. This is the formula used by nearly every hot hatchback that we know and love, as that heavy engine puts weight onto the tyres, thus providing better grip.
The All-Rounder | Front-Mid Engine
Credits to: NetCarShow (Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, Aston Martin DB11 AMR, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Ferrari 812 GTS)
This configuration provides a fair balance for all the things that matter in a car, and is common in performance cars, without sacrificing daily usability. From higher-end Beemers, Mercs, and Audis that you see, to the more exotic sports-saloons and grand-tourers, this is their preferred setup.
This means that the engine still sits in-front, but this time, it has shifted further to the back, and placed behind the front-axle. Now, the engine's weight is shifted more towards the middle, which is to say in-between the front-, and rear-axles.
+ Better weight distribution… Relating to something called the "Moment of Inertia ", where it has to do with how much concentrated mass is placed about the axis of rotation. In a car, the axis is right in the middle, where you're sitting. Theoretically, the more weight that's been shifted there, the better the handling, and handling is just as important as extraction is, to coffee enthusiasts.
+ Meaning sporty driving… Going back to the subject of good balance and handling, this all pays dividends when it comes to having fun. It's a different sort of fun than screeching tyres on a hot hatchback, especially when it's paired with rear-wheel drive. Now, you feel like the car's pushing you, rather than pulling, and it allows for some playful powerslides and drifts.
Credits to: GIPHY
+ Equally usable… This more conventional setup allows for drivers to be rewarded with good driving feel, without punishing you for the joy of using it. It has all the benefits that front-engined cars have, which is better crash protection, and enough room for passengers and stuff. One discernible visual difference with front-mid engined placements, is the long bonnet, as the engine has to sit far back in the engine bay.
- More expensive… Cars are designed for their intended audiences, and most people who want a front-mid engine don't care for front-wheel drive. They want a more athletic driving experience. As such, carmakers would normally pair them with rear-, or all-wheel drive, meaning that there's added componentry to deliver power from the engine in front, to the wheels elsewhere. More engineering, means that you'll have to pay more for these cars.
An Exotic Pet | Rear-Mid
Credits to: NetCarShow (Lamborghini Huracan Evo, McLaren F1, LaFerrari, Porsche Carrera GT)
Otherwise known as mid-engined, and it's something that everyone lusts over, from those bedroom posters and wallpapers of Countaches, and Testarossas. In terms of raw driving pleasure, this is the icing on the cake, though that cake might not be for everyone. This is often found in more pure sports cars, from the humble Lotus, to madly Paganis, although you can find them in some other places.
+ Supreme handling… This is done by putting the engine behind the driver, and within the wheelbase, which in this case; sits in-front of the rear-axle. Even more so than a front-mid engine placement, this puts plenty of weight on the centre, ever closer to the axis of rotation. This is the best as far as handling goes, and it's usually tuned to be more high-strung, and less relaxed than front-engine cars, so it may require your attention just that bit more.
+ Supersonic… More on weight distribution, mid-engine cars put more weight onto the rear-wheels, which again, is the preferred place to drive power into. With more power on the driven wheels, mid-engine cars reward you with ample amounts of grip, and playability. The sensation is just like being in a fighter jet, and indeed, the engine is placed just behind the cockpit, while allowing you a commanding view of the road ahead, as you're sat low down and far forward.
- Not practical… With the exception of some vans and military vehicles that follow this setup, for weight distribution purposes, mid-engine cars do suffer in terms of usability. It's just something that you give up when choosing one, and you're not going to fit more than two people, nor do you have space for much luggage. As there's no engine to cushion the impact of a crash, carmakers have to add more structural reinforcements in the front, meaning there's even less space in the front, or frunk, for your bags.
Some mid-engine cars, like the Alpine A110 has a small enough packaging, that there's both storage in front, and at the back, although the latter can get a bit hot, so maybe don't store your ice-creams there. Then, there's also some mid-engine cars that sacrifice so much in the way of performance, that there's no frunk or boot at all.
+/- Looks cool… Let's face it, some of us drive cars to feel good, and we're keen to show that to other people. Mid-engine cars capture more attention then others, mostly down to their unusual, jet-fighter-esque silhouette, which is uncommon enough on the roads. So, be prepared to draw a lot of attention, and photographs. Alternatively, this can also cast too much observation, and maybe some negative connotations.
Going Up The Back | Rear-Engine
Credits to: NetCarShow (Porsche 911 GT3 RS, VW Beetle)
Finally, we're at the arse-end of the car, by hanging out the engine right on, and behind the rear-axle. The whole concept behind this, is to put more weight on the rear-wheels, as we've commonly discussed so far.
+ That traction… Rear-engine cars, just like some front-engine, front-wheel drive cars, have the benefits of added traction, as a result of that weight placement. Not only is this good for accelerating, but also for deceleration. As you're braking, all that load and momentum will transfer to the front of the car. By having the heavy engine at the back, this bias will balance out the weight under braking, thus allowing you to better place the car after decelerating.
+/- Oversteer-y goodness… Unlike the more neutral mid-engine setup, rear-engine cars are likely to have more oversteer, which is to say that the car turns inwards from where you're pointing at, thus possibly snapping into some smoky drifts every now and then. Depending on who you are, this can be a good, or bad thing.
- Slightly more practical… I'm putting this as a minus, because while rear-engine cars have a tad more day-to-day usability than mid-engined exotics, it's not by much. Sometimes, you'll find that there's place in the back for passengers, or you could use that as a place to store your bags, since you're not going to find a boot here.
Credits to: GIPHY
- Not a lot of options… Most carmakers have abandoned this format, expect for Porsche, which over the course of 70 years, have refined and tuned the balancing on the Porsche 911. So, there's really only one company to go to if you're looking for that rear-engine goodness in a sporty package, so hopefully you don't mind getting ripped off nearly $10,000 for carbon-ceramic brakes.
Though with electrification coming in, there's hope that we’ll see more rear-engine cars enter the fray, or technically, rear-motored cars. With a more simplistic setup of having no engines, no gearboxes, and smaller motors, it's allowed carmakers to place them in the rear, such as in the Honda e, or Fiat 500e.
Credits to: GIPHY
So, there you have it, four different ways to put an engine into a car, and perfected over 100 years of internal combustion engines. In summary, the most important aspect is in terms of dynamics, and how the bulk of metals in the engine affects how the car handles, from steering, to grip, and braking. There's never a right or wrong answer, and it's up to which one you prefer.
Personally, I prefer to have more practicality, less of a raw and punishing driving experience, but still yearning for something fun - which is why I gravitate towards having a front-mid engine setup, paired with rear-wheel drive. Those are the ingredients that get my taste buds going, but what about you? What's your preferred setup, whether you prefer compact hot hatchbacks, or mid-engine hypercars? I hope this has been a learning experience, and it's brought some smiles during these testing times :-)