I’d like to point out, I’m not just talking about the Type-R. This opinion goes for all hot hatches. I’m also not saying AWD systems are inferior to FWD. I’m just arguing there’s plenty of reasons why it’s overrated and FWD is preferable in some ways.  

1) Without a very complex AWD system, AWD is hardly better for performance than FWD.

The number one criticism against FWD cars is that they understeer to much. The reasons for that are twofold. First, the engine and transmission are directly above the, figurative, front axle. Which demands much more of the front suspension; and second, the front tires already do the steering, the majority of the braking, and now transmitting power.

However in a AWD system it’s still a problem. You have about the same amount of weight over the front wheels. This requires stiffer springs up front to support the weight and encourages understeer at the limit. Even though you’re only sending half the torque to the front your still placing quite more demand on the tires, even if it’s less than FWD it’s not going to eliminate the problems with FWD. I’m going to talk about torque steer in a minute too.

Also looking at a FWD biased system. It’s only going to save you when you’ve already, or about to, surpass the front tires limit. So it’s really just a safety net for when you’ve fucked up. Which is fine if you want that nothing wrong with it, it just seems over hyped. Here’s my point of view of it. I can’t recall the official name of it, but there’s a physiological effect that when people are given improved safety measures they tend to act more reckless, thinking the new tech will save them: Examples ABS, Snow tires, etc. It’s kind of how I view that type of AWD system. You shouldn’t count on it to save you, drive like it’s not there, and if you do fuck up you’re lucky to have it. If you just start driving like a total ass with it you’re going to end up like that guy smacking into the side of a cliff in his Focus RS.

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Now about torque steer. I’m going to keep this brief, but there’s many ways to handle torque steer now or at least make it manageable. First, equal length halfshafts, such as in the Abarth, solve this problem completely. Other measures include an intermediate shaft (Which Honda has employed since the 90's) which although doesn’t eliminate torque steer it drastically reduces it. And lastly E-diffs that even the torque between the two wheels in low gears. Another solution that could be used, is to reduce torque in 1st and 2nd gear, in conjuncture with other methods. Of course cutting torque in low gear may sound counter productive in a hot hatch, but hot hatches aren’t about straight line speed in the first place. I’ll talk about that more, later though.

2) It goes against two of the main characteristics of a hot hatch.

In two different ways I should add. First is cost. Currently the highest Civic hatchback MSRP is $28,300 and the Type-R is expected to be about $35k, So $7k more. The Focus ST MSRP is $24,775 (the highest non-ST is less than 1k different) while the RS is over $36k, a 12k difference. Similar story with the Golf. The GTI is $25,595 and the R is a hair under $40k, that’s almost double! Of course you can’t chalk up all the difference to AWD. But as you can see AWD comes with a hefty price tag. Which goes against the second characteristic of hot hatches.

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Hot hatches are suppose to be affordable compromise vehicles. There’s a reason Ford can aggressively sell and market their STs without hurting Mustang sales. Hot hatches aren’t meant to be dedicated sports cars. They’re a compromise between a practical car and a sports car, they don’t compete with the Mustang or other sports cars. Going back to what I said earlier, AWD does have benefits over FWD however they’re somewhat marginal (on pavement.) My main gripe with AWD hot hatches is that for the money they’re not worth. IMO if you’re looking for something to put down the fastest lap times you can. Then you’re not looking for a hot hatch. You might end up with one, but that’s not what it was intended to be or what you were looking for.

The bone I pick with Type-R complaints.

I like what VW and Ford have done with their lineup. Having the GTI and STs as the affordable, practical, and subtle options; with the RS and R being the limited, expensive, and track focused options. What bothers me about what people want out of the Type-R is they want it to be have AWD so it can compete with the RS and R on lap times and techno dick measuring, or something. But Honda’s trying to make an ST/GTI competitor. Why would you want them to skip making an affordable hot hatch and go straight to the expensive and exclusive one? The way I look at the CTR it’s that it’s meant to appeal to people who want a hot hatch, but are the same people who complained about the SS looking too much like a Malibu; or just Honda fans.

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TL;DR

AWD is better, but overrated IMO, than FWD. But in a hot hatch that’s suppose to be accessible and affordable it’s not worth the cost. More expensive and track oriented hot hatches are fine, but companies should offer cheaper FWD models too. Because track focused hot hatches are a novelty, regular hot hatches should be affordable and relatively simple.