In automotive design, the automobile layout describes where on the vehicle the engine and drive wheels are found. Many different combinations of engine location and driven wheels are found in practice, and the location of each is dependent on the application the vehicle will be used for. Factors influencing the design choice include cost, complexity, reliability, packaging (location and size of the passenger compartment and boot), weight distribution and the vehicle's intended handling characteristics.
Layouts can roughly be divided into two categories: front- or rear-wheel drive. Four-wheel-drive vehicles may take on the characteristics of either, depending on how power is distributed to the wheels.
Front-wheel-drive layouts are those in which the front wheels of the vehicle are driven. The most popular layout used in cars today is the front-engine, front-wheel drive, with the engine in front of the front axle, driving the front wheels. This layout is typically chosen for its compact packaging; since the engine and driven wheels are on the same side of the vehicle, there is no need for a central tunnel through the passenger compartment to accommodate a prop-shaft between the engine and the driven wheels.
As the steered wheels are also the driven wheels, FF (front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout) cars are generally considered superior to FR (front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout) cars in conditions such as snow, mud or wet tarmac. However, powerful cars rarely use the FF layout because weight transference under acceleration reduces the weight on the front wheels and reduces their traction, putting a limit on the amount of torque which can be utilized. Electronic traction control can avoid wheelspin but largely negates the benefit of extra torque/power.
A transverse engine (also known as "east-west") is commonly used in FF designs, in contrast to FR which uses a longitudinal engine. The FF layout also restricts the size of the engine that can be placed in modern engine compartments, as FF configurations usually have Inline-4 and V6 engines, while longer engines such as Inline-6 and 90° V8 will rarely fit. This is another reason luxury/sports cars almost never use the FF layout; an exception is the Volvo S80 (FWD/4WD) which uses transversely mounted inline 6 and V8 engines.