Think about it: Has there ever been a front-wheel drive car with real prestige? No, not exactly. Real prestige is very closely correlated to the driven wheels being at the rear.
I came to think about this after a reader’s comment some weeks ago: After me posting a Facebook update stating that I was going to test drive a rear-wheel drive Fiat he wrote this:
Has it ever been necessary to add that you should test drive a rear-wheel drive Mercedes-Benz, for example?
That’s a good question. But in fact the answer is “Yes” and has been since the infamous A-class that could topple in a moose test, sometime in the nineties as far as I recall. And it’s funny that this unlucky incident coincided with the introduction of front-wheel drive from the German automobile giant. Although Mercedes hardly thought it even remotely funny. Of more importance in this matter is that the A-class also failed in prestige issue, and became the first Mercedes that was just an ordinary family container like boringly many others.
Of course it could be argued that its failure was not necessarily caused solely by its front-wheel drive, because there have been – of course, as not much is untested in the automotive world – attempts to build real prestige cars with front wheel drive. But to the best of my automotive knowledge they have all failed to reach the uppermost levels in the automotive hierarchy where genuine prestige cars soars above more mundane vehicles. Again, the point of the driven wheels and their significance in this matter may well be challenged, and you could very rightly argue that it was not necessarily it’s front-wheel drive that made the Cord 810 fail in 1936. A prestige car also needs to work, and Cord had some problems with the basics. The same can be said about the Citroën SM, a car with a fearsome reputation for mechanical complexity – but in all other respects probably the best bet on a really prestigious car with front-wheel drive.
The thing is that prestige is a matter of far more than the actual functionality of any given vehicle: The word and concept Prestige reflects how good the reputation of something or someone is, how favourably something or someone is regarded – and therefore there is also a kind of conservatism built into concept as it demands the subject is a known quantity. You can not knock prestige out of thin air with for example a new car brand but you can adopt the instruments prestigious vehicles use: Rear wheel drive is quite simply one of the most obvious signs of prestige.