Long before the proliferation of trans-fat labels and front-wheel drive, Canadians enjoyed doughnuts without a hint of guilt — both the deep-fried kind and the ones made in snowy parking lots late at night.
A nicely-executed doughnut — a car’s rear end swinging around in a sweet arc with the front tires barely moving — is akin to an ice-skater’s graceful pirouette. Last week’s snowfall reminded us just how much fun severe oversteer can be, if you’re lucky enough to pilot a rear-drive car or pickup truck.
There are numerous advantages to rear-drive sedans: optimal weight distribution for better handling and braking, more grip under acceleration, zero torque steer, a smaller turning radius and, let’s face it, a higher cool factor. Steve McQueen would never have lit up his front tires.
Here are five reliable rear-drive sedans that come recommended as second-hand buys.
2003-11 Mercury Grand Marquis/Marauder ($6-18,000)
The fourth and final generation of the Ontario-built Mercury Grand Marquis — the last of the body-on-frame dinosaurs — was released for 2003. In addition to new headlights and a restyled cabin, Canada’s lone Mercury model benefited from extensive upgrades under its aging skin. The frame was hydroformed and fully boxed. Rack-and-pinion steering replaced the old recirculating-ball system, and the suspension and brakes were beefed up.
Under the hood was the single overhead camshaft version of Ford’s 4.6 L V8, making 239 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque with dual exhaust, working through a four-speed automatic transmission. A troublesome plastic intake manifold notorious for leaking coolant was replaced with an aluminum front coolant crossover that corrected the condition. An engine knock sensor was added, along with a higher-capacity oil pan.
The one to get is the exceedingly rare Marauder performance model, which was sold briefly in 2003 and 2004. It featured bucket seats and a floor shifter sprouting out of a centre console. Its big appeal was the double overhead-cam version of the 4.6 L V8, producing 302 hp and 318 lb-ft of torque. It used the Police Interceptor’s limited slip differential, 3.55 rear-axle ratio and aluminum driveshaft. Add cop shocks and cop tires and the Blues Brothers would have certified it.
2005-10 Chrysler 300 ($10-20,000)
It was an inspired moment when Chrysler decided its flagship automobile would swap a proven front-wheel-drive platform — the well-received Chrysler 300M — for a new chassis that spun its rear tires like the late Dodge brothers had always intended. With its slab-sided flanks, bunker-sized windows and massive wheels, the all-new-for-2005 Chrysler 300 was the epitome of badass.
Then-corporate master Mercedes-Benz had donated numerous mechanical bits, including the control-arm-front and multilink-rear suspensions, rack-and-pinion steering, five-speed automatic transmission (V6 models used Chrysler’s four-speed automatic), the electrical architecture and optional all-wheel-drive hardware. The 300 was propelled by the 300M’s 250-horsepower 3.5 L V6, while the range-topping 300C featured the 5.7 L Hemi V8, making for 340 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of gutsy torque.
In a nod to environmental stewardship, the 5.7 offered cylinder deactivation, shutting down four cylinders during limited load conditions (such as highway cruising), resulting in claimed fuel savings of up to 20 per cent. The burly SRT-8 model arrived halfway through the 2005 model year complete with a 425-horsepower 6.1 L Hemi V8, sport-tuned suspension and Brembo brakes. The Brampton-built 300 has acquitted itself well, owners say, but watch for slipping transmissions, electrical bugaboos and weak air conditioners.
2007-12 Infiniti G35 ($17-37,000)
No Asian automaker has pursued the standard-bearer BMW 3-Series with as much gusto as Nissan’s premium Infiniti division. Its second-generation G35 sedan arrived for 2007 (the previous-gen coupe was sold for one more year) wearing fresh sheet metal over an improved FM platform, with three times more laser welding and 16 per cent more spot welds to enhance stiffness by 40 per cent. True to form, the engine lay well back of the front axle line to provide near-ideal weight distribution.
The new sedan sported a revised VQ-series aluminum 3.5 L V6. Engineers had added variable cam timing to the intake and exhaust valves, incorporated dual air intakes, boosted the compression ratio and reduced back pressure. The result was 306 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque. A larger 3.7 L V6 migrated from the new coupe to the sedan in 2009, packing 328 horsepower. A seven-speed automatic transmission replaced the five-speed autobox that year; the standard six-speed manual gearbox remained intact (mercy!).
Made in Japan, the Infiniti G35/37 has been the subject of few complaints online. Most gripes focus on warped brake rotors, loose weatherstripping, frequent wheel alignments and interior rattles. A truculent clutch may be traced to a bad clutch slave cylinder; Infiniti is reportedly campaigning a voluntary recall.
2008-09 Pontiac G8 ($15-24,000)
The Pontiac G8 marked the return of an honest-to-God, tire-scorching sedan to General Motor’s joy division some 22 years after the rear-drive Bonneville and Parisienne had bowed out. The G8 was essentially a rebadged Holden Commodore, Australia’s Car of the Year, whose rear-drive platform would go on to underpin the Oshawa-built Chevrolet Camaro.
The G8’s ride was firm but never punishing, thanks to its BMW-like MacPherson front strut layout and multilink rear suspension. The car was supremely balanced, with 48.3 per cent of its weight over the rear wheels. The base sedan came with a 256-horsepower, four-cam 3.6 L V6, while the high-performance GT featured a 361-horsepower, pushrod 6.0 L V8. To save precious juice, the V8 could deactivate four cylinders during steady-stated cruising (tuners soon learned how to disable the feature).
A five-speed automatic transmission was standard on the base model, while the GT earned a six-speed automatic. The subsequent GXP model commandeered the Corvette’s 415-horsepower, 6.2L V8 with enough scat to attain highway velocity in 4.7 seconds. It also featured stout, four-piston Brembo brakes and a tauter suspension with 19-inch wheels. G8s are well-built sedans; however, owners have complained about noisy and quick-wearing front-end components, as well as short-lived tires. Wonder why.
2009-12 Hyundai Genesis ($18-32,000)
Canadians clamouring for a more expensive Hyundai got their wish in mid-2008 when the rear-drive Genesis luxury four-door debuted. Engineers benchmarked BMW’s 5-Series sedan, which they bested in terms of torsional rigidity. The multilink front suspension located the steering axis much closer to the centre of the tire’s contact patch to improve steering feel and reduce bump steer.
The “Tau” aluminum DOHC 4.6 L engine was Hyundai’s first homegrown V8, producing 375 horsepower and 333 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel, and 368 horsepower on regular. Variable valve timing worked both the intake and exhaust sides, driven by a timing chain. The V8 was tied to a German ZF six-speed automatic transmission, while lesser Genesis models made do with a DOHC 3.8 L V6 that produced 290 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of grunt, mated to an Aisin six-speed slushbox.
The Genesis V6 could sprint to 96 km/h in 5.9 seconds, while the V8 trimmed a half-second off that time – not a whole lot of extra thrust for the dough. In fact, with the lighter engine up front, the V6 model was a more adept handler. Mechanical complaints singled out the factory-supplied Dunlop tires, which had a dismally short service life, and the transmission, early examples of which exhibited clunky and jerky shifts.
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