Five desirable FWD saloons

Front-drivers get a bum rap and are a favorite punching bag among car enthusiasts (frequently jeered as ‘wrong wheel drive’ and so on), perhaps unjustly. Sure, they might not have quite the same dynamism and instrinsic ‘fun-to-drive’ quality as RWD cars, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be appealing. Here, in no particular order, are five FWD four-door saloons we have always found to be desirable, and would be delighted to have.

We’re going to resist temptation and try not to cheat (too much!)* by keeping Audis off this admittedly very short list, despite their inherent FWD architecture.

Volvo 850 T5-R

The thing is just unbelievably sharp-looking— a classic wolf in sheep’s clothing, yes, but what finely-tailored clothing it is. This one’s a favorite from our youth, although we can’t think of a single reason why anyone would want the sedan over the boss wagon.

In 1995, an exclusive limited edition race-bred model developed in part with Porsche named the T-5R was released. The vehicle was based upon the 850 Turbo with the B5234T5 engine with a special ECU known as the Bosch #628 ECU, that added 3 psi (0.2 bar) to turbocharger boost pressure, giving the engine an additional 18 horsepower (13 kW). The T-5R was capable of accelerating to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.7 seconds and completing a quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds. Top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph (249 km/h).

Despite the boxy, understated appearance, the stock T-5R had a drag coefficient of 0.29. The vehicle came standard with Pirelli P-Zero tyres. The tyres provided a grip of 0.88 g. It was also one of the first commercial automobiles to utilize Alcantara suede in the interior (i.e. front seat inserts, rear seat inserts, armrests, console), an idea taken from the Porsche 911 Turbo at the time. The engine was co-developed with Porsche, as was the transmission and remaining powertrain components. Porsche also aided in designing some of the interior as well (i.e. Alcantara suede inserts). The automobile was noted for its lavish, yet ergonomic interior. All options found on competitors came standard in the Volvo. Only two options were available – the trunk-mounted Alpine 6-CD changer and the no-cost 16″ wheels for a smoother, more comfortable ride and driveability in snow because of the all-weather tyres.

The engine produced 240 hp (179 kW) and 221 lb·ft (300 N·m) of torque. The tranmission was a 4-speed automatic. (Volvo’s 5-speed automatic transmission debuted 2 years later.) A 5-speed manual transmission was also offered in certain markets, such as Canada and, of course, Sweden…

5500 T-5Rs were produced worldwide, of which 2000 went to the US… At the time, the Volvo T-5R wagon was the fastest wagon ever made and held the title until Mercedes created an AMG E-Class wagon several years later… It was the fastest sedan available in terms of 0-60 mph and 1/4-mile times and top speed until the German automakers began the famous horsepower wars that continue to this day (source).

Saab 9-3 Viggen

* Okay, this one is borderline cheating, since the 9-3 is arguably more five-door hatchback than it is four-door sedan (maybe there isn’t even anything to argue). But it’s too good not to keep off this list. True, to know the Viggen is to be intimately familiar with torque steer. But, not unlike learning to live with the temperamental nature of an old British sports car, therein lies part of its quirky charm. If nothing else, it’ll force you to be smoother with your right foot.

Alfa Romeo 159 ti

Just look at it. Maybe it doesn’t drive brilliantly— so what? It’s drop dead gorgeous. What other car could hold its own onscreen with an AM DBS – a car costing over five times as much – and manage to not look thoroughly outclassed? What a tribute to the Giugiaro design that a compact executive can go toe-to-toe with a bona fide supercar and, from a looks standpoint, not get blown out of the water.

Dressed in black with a guy wielding a machine gun hanging out the passenger window, it makes a perfect villain car, too.

Honda (Acura) Integra GS-R

Rather unfortunately, just about all of these – two-door and four-door – have probably been riced beyond all hope by now (or stripped for parts, usually one or the other), meaning you are not likely to find an example that hasn’t been molested or badly modified anymore. Such is the life of ignominy a typical Honda or Acura performance model must endure, one that otherwise left the factory with so much promise.

What CD wrote back in 1994:

Call us gearheads, but we’re suckers for an 8200-rpm redline. Give us an engine that develops 170 horsepower from a mere 1.8 liters and screams for joy as it spins at rotational speeds that were the exclusive domain of pure racing powerplants just a few years ago, and we’ll fall in lust every time.

Drop such an engine into a lovely compact sedan, with a sophisticated control-arm and multilink suspension that can simultaneously cope with the engine’s lofty power and provide a comfortable and controlled ride, and we’ll be hopelessly head over heels.

Wrapped in an attractive body that contains a useful back seat and plenty of luggage space, the Integra GS-R can carry your burdens even as it soothes your soul.

If you like the GS-R, then you will enjoy this earlier post.

Volkswagen MkII Jetta GLI

European Car actually picks the MkIII Jetta GLX VR6 (not a bad choice by any means) in its list of sleepers, but we’re going to go on a limb and say the MkII Jetta GLI for our list, since we like the MkII generation more than the MkIII. Think of the Jetta GLI as the four-door saloon equivalent of our old favorite, the 16V MkII Golf GTI. Yep, Bayram‘s got a good one.

As an honorable mention, we’ll confess that we’re also partial to the MkIV Jetta GLI. While the oft-maligned MkIV doesn’t carry the same cachet as the MkII, we still believe it’s one of the nicest-looking VWs right out of the box to have ever been offered. Nay, in terms of exterior appearance, keeping it stock-looking might not even be merely adequate, but actually preferable (and we could say the same thing for the other limited edition MkIVs: the 337, the 20th AE, and the R32). That’s how right VW got it with this one.

Some cars were intentionally excluded from this list, like Citroëns of various stripes, which – while otherworldly and obviously very desirable – don’t really fit this milieu of sporting compacts and compact executives, as well as the NSU Ro 80, which we’re not sold on, anyway (yet).

We wouldn’t mind learning more about the smaller Citroëns and Peugeots, particularly any models that may have had reputations for being driver’s cars (if any). Let us know what else we might have left out.

(Images: Simon Herman, Dennis Noten, Pieter Ameye, manufacturer photos)

~ by velofinds on September 22, 2010.

11 Responses to “Five desirable FWD saloons”

  1. A well known drivers car from Peugeot is the 205 GTI. Not a saloon but a hot hatch. Especially the 1.9 130bhp version. If it must be a saloon car, then maybe the Peugeot 405 MI-16 might be something for your list.

  2. already know about the famous pug gti 🙂

    the 405 and 406 are ones we’ll need to keep an eye out for. looks like they’ve had some involvement in touring car motorsport- certainly not bad credentials.

    the 406 was also a chase car in “ronin” (although overshadowed by the likes of the bmw e34, audi s8, and mercedes 450 sel, which figured more prominently in the film).

  3. Don’t forget the Peugeot 605’s from Ronin, or the 406 from the Taxi movie series.

  4. @ R-sport: wasn’t the Ronin Pug a 406 as well? At least in the final E34 M5 vs. Peugeot chase scene.

    Thanks for mentioning my car. Incidentally, I picked up something else this week to join the stable. It’s a lot of fun 🙂

    • Oh, and I’m fully with you on the MkIV GLI (1.8T, not the earlier VR6s)/337/20AE as far as looks go. Those are properly good looking cars!

  5. It’s indeed a 406 that they chase the Beemer with. But earlier in the movie, the have soms 605’s in the chase with the Audi S8, Citroen XM and the old Mercedes S-class 😉

  6. Also the Renault 21 Turbo. There was a 4wd and a 2wd. The french answer to the Sierra Cosworth.

  7. you can almost hear it torque steering 😀 but we kinda like it:

  8. just came across this by happenstance- the lancia thema 8.32 (with the ferrari 308 gtb’s v8 engine).

    good stuff here by journalist michael banovsky:

    It’s never simple to just drop a V8 into a front-wheel drive car. But Lancia engineers had things comparatively easy: the Ferrari 308 engine was already mounted transversely (IE left-to-right), just like in most front-wheel drive cars. Still, they modified the crankshaft and had Ducati (yes, that Ducati) assemble the engines. All that was left was to mount a “LANCIA by Ferrari” plaque on the motor.

    Some trivia? The Thema was built on the Saab 9000 platform, meaning that a suitably crazy mechanic could easily fit a Ferrari engine in a Swedish car…

    The 8.32 predated cars like the BMW M5, AMG-tuned Mercedes-Benz sedans, and Audi’s V8 Quattro. While it had never been strange to fit a V8 in a four-door car, the genius of the 8.32 was two-fold: it was barely distinguishable from the standard Thema, and it was a car people would buy just for the motor. True, Mercedes-Benz *did* sell about 8,000 300SEL sedans fitted with a huge 6.3-litre motor in the late 60’s and early 70’s — but they were more a touring car hot rod for the street than a “halo” luxury car.

    The 8.32 ran from 1984 to 1992, Lancia building about 3,500 in total — after which it quickly faded into automotive history. Thankfully, the sound of that howling Ferrari V8 never will.


  9. mmm.

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