Peugeot 205 GTI
When Peugeot introduced the compact 205 model in 1983, a performance GTI version wasn’t in the cards. But when Peugeot realized a hopped-up model could be successful on the market, it presented the 205. The 205 GTI came with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder and 115 HP. The lightweight body, precise steering,rev-happy engine and lively performance was extremely popular with global buyers.
Peugeot considered selling the 205 GTI in the U.S., but since the company pulled out of the market in 1991, American buyers never got the chance to experience one of the best affordable compact performance cars of the ’80s. The 205 GTI was practical and economical, so it managed to attract a cult following in Europe.
In the late ’80s, the 205 GTI got a 1.9-liter engine upgrade that delivered 136 HP and improved performance. As all European hot hatches of the day, the 205 GTI had front-wheel drive and was popular for its handling and superb driving feel.
Cadillac Seville STS
Ever since the Eldorado received front-wheel-drive in 1967, Cadillac has included this drivetrain in the rest of its lineup. During the ’90s, they gave the Seville had a major redesign including a new platform, Northstar V8 engine and a sleek look.
In the late ’90s, Cadillac introduced the Seville Touring Sedan or STS, which was a competent car. It got 300 HP from a 4.6-liter V8 engine, a magnetic ride, a plush interior and numerous other features. The Seville STS was a true competitor to Mercedes or BMW. The most interesting thing about the STS was its power rating and front-wheel drive.
In the past, most manufacturers had problems with stability when a car was too powerful. However, Cadillac managed to add a 300 HP engine to power the front wheels, yet it still retained its world-class ride control and road holding. For almost 10 years, the Cadillac STS was the most powerful production front-wheel drive car they ever built, showing other brands how it’s done.
Nissan Sentra SE-R
The Sentra SE-R was one of the most surprising economy cars from the early 2000s. It featured a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission that delivered 175 HP to the front wheels.
From the outside, the Sentra looked as ordinary and boring as any other economy-class compact. But when the driver pressed the gas, this little sedan could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds, embarrassing many pricier cars.
Acura Integra Type R
The Acura Integra Type-R is the definitive JDM legend. It is still popular among car enthusiasts for its swift performance and fantastic handling. The front-wheel drivetrain is the main reason the Integra Type R is so universally popular.
The Honda engineers designed a front-wheel-drive set up that worked with the rear axle in perfect balance. It is why the Integra handled neutrally with few understeering problems and great steering feedback. Despite getting just 187 HP from its high revving 1.8-liter engine, the Integra Type R delivers an impressive performance, even by today’s standards.
Mazda Mazdaspeed 3
The Mazdaspeed 3 is an overpowered and brutal front-wheel-drive car that debuted in 2007. Mazda powered this hot hatch with a 2.3-liter four-cylinder producing 263 HP. At the time, they considered that a crazy amount of horsepower going to the front wheels.
However, despite the severe torque steer, the Mazdaspeed 3 was a quite capable and rapid car that brought many customers to the dealerships. In fact, it reintroduced the Mazda as a prime affordable performance brand in the U.S, market.
Ford Focus ST
Because all eyes are on the brutal and capable Focus RS, most car fans don’t know the Focus ST is the sweet spot of the Focus range. The ST stands for Street Technology and it is Ford’s performance model for normal people with everyday driving habits
Under the hood, there is a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine sending power to the front wheels. With around 260 HP on tap and a perfectly-balanced front suspension, the Focus ST delivers driving excitement. But with the strong chassis, decent brakes and direct steering, it is a great family hatchback for everyday use.
Honda Civic Type R
The latest member of the innovative front-wheel-drive car club is the fifth-generation Honda Civic Type R. The new performance Civic looks like every racer’s dream with numerous spoilers, scoops and air vents all over the body. The aggressive design, great performance, and JDM appeal make this Civic a valuable, highly-sought-after addition to the hot hatch class.
Honda resisted the temptation to turbocharge its performance engines for a long time until now, in the Civic Type R. The 2.0-liter turbo-four delivers 306 HP and propels the Civic Type R to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and tops 170 mph. The acceleration times are somewhat slower than its competitors because the Civic is front-wheel drive and not AWD like most other models in its class.
Hyundai Veloster N
The regular Veloster is an odd-looking hatchback with an unusual three-door layout. It includes two doors on the right side and one on the left. Apart from this quirky feature, the Veloster in its standard guise is a boring car without any real significance to car enthusiasts. However, the N version is a whole different story.
The Veloster N delivers 250 to 275 HP with its turbocharged engine and trick front differential, as well as its different suspension and exterior design package. With all of this, the nature of the car went from a boring economy hatchback into one of the best hot hatches on the market.
Lancia Thema 8.32
Ferrari never officially built a four-door sedan but Lancia did, introducing the Thema 8.32 in 1986. This was a top-of-the-line Lancia model featuring a transversally mounted Ferrari 3.0-liter V8 engine from the 308 GTB Quattrovalvole; hence, the name. It came with eight cylinders that had 32 valves.
It wasn’t the first time Lancia borrowed an engine from Ferrari. Some 10 years before the Thema 8.32, the Lancia Stratos received a 2.4-liter V6 from the Ferrari Dino. However, it was the first time a Ferrari engine powered a luxury sedan.
The Thema 8.32 produced 212 HP with a seven-second 0 to 60 mph time, which was fast for the day as well as for a front-wheel-drive sedan. To call the 8.32 a BMW M5 competitor would be a stretch, but the Thema Ferrari was a comfortable cruiser with lots of style. Also, Lancia offered a high level of standard equipment and a long list of luxury options. Discontinued in 1992, they sold just over 3,000 Thema 8.32s.
Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Although discontinued, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS is famous as one of the best affordable performance cars. Available as a supercharged, turbocharged or naturally-aspirated model, the best SS was the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder Chevrolet presented in 2008.
The engine delivered 260 HP, which was astonishing at the time and more than any of its competitors. Also, the Cobalt SS had big tuning potential, so it was easy to get even more power from the engine. Although they based it on the regular Cobalt, the SS version was nothing like the boring economy car it originated from.
One of the most interesting compact and affordable cars is the legendary Honda CRX. Honda offered it from 1983 to 1991, basing it on the Civic, but with a lower, sportier body and only two seats. Since it was light, nimble and came with precise steering, the CRX was a true sports car, but with front-wheel drive and pumping up to 140 HP.
The biggest selling points of this model were the extremely light body, as the whole car weighed 1,800 pounds and a high revving four-cylinder engine. Honda never repeated the success of the CRX, so its lineup can use another car like this.
These are 25 of the most influential front-wheel-drive cars they ever made. Have you ever driven or owned any of these vehicles? Front-wheel-drive may not be a popular option today, but it made an impact on automotive design and production.