The Benefits of Front Wheel Drive Wheelchairs - Beyond Mobility.

This article looks into the advantages of using a Front-Wheel-Drive (FWD) Powerchair for navigation, and accessibility. 


Beyond Mobility offers powerchairs from Permobil, who have over 50 years of innovation within powered wheelchair design. Dr. Per Udden founded Permobil in 1967, and made the first Permobil power wheelchair in the basement of his hospital in Sweden. Dr. Udden believed in a better solution that allowed his clients and patients to get independent mobility, and with this idea in mind he created the first power wheelchair. Early on, Permobil has believed in the benefit of front wheel drive as an ideal platform for indoor and outdoor mobility.

Front wheel drive powerchairs refer to the positioning of the drive-wheel, there are primarily 3 options; 

  1. Mid-Wheel Drive
  2. Front-Wheel Drive 
  3. Rear-Wheel Drive

Powerchair Drive Wheel positions

If you are looking for a powerchair or Electric Wheelchair that is comfortable, able to manoeuvre close to surfaces, while still able to navigate over a variety of terrains, Front Wheel Drive might be right for you!

Before we begin to talk about the benefits of FWD powerchairs, it's worth noting that when you're selecting a mobility base, front wheel drive may not work for everyone, and a different drive wheel configuration might work better to meet the users needs.

There are many things to take into consideration when choosing a wheel drive consideration, such as; 

  • Primary powerchair use (Indoor, Outdoor, Off-Road)
  • Desired powerchair seat functionality (Seat Elevator, Stand function, etc.)
  • Activities and environments (Office work, Daily Commute etc.) 

Here are some key reasons why FWD might be the right power base for you:

  • Smooth drive 
  • Enhanced stability
  • increased Obstacle Negotiation capabilities 
  • Get closer to surfaces for function
  • Navigate of tight corners easily
  • Enhanced Steering

Lets take a closer look at a couple of functional advantages of using Front-Wheel-Drive powerchairs when navigating your environment; 


Proximity to Surfaces for Function

When using a front wheel drive powerchair, your feet can be tucked further back, allowing you to get closer to surfaces for function. There are also no front castor wheels that can potentially prohibit access - this means getting you even closer to desks or kitchen workspaces or tables, is easier in an FWD. Certain configurations of F3 Corpus and F5 Corpus do not require front anti-tip wheels, which only continues to improve your environmental accessibility (Check before removal). 

The photo below shows a real-life scenario, of a user in a Permobil F3 FWD Electric Wheelchair. They are getting as close to the jewellery counter as possible, meaning someone doesn't have to bring the jewellery to them; they can drive right up to the counter and get as close as possible because of the front wheel drive base configuration.

Permobil F3 - Get closer to the world around you.


Navigation of Tight Corners 

In an article from Koontz and colleagues, researchers outlined the benefits and potential barriers of the different drive wheel configurations. The research shows that a front wheel drive power wheelchair requires the least amount of space to make a 90 degree turn while a middle drive power wheelchair such as the Permobil M3 Corpus requires the least amount of space for 180 degree turn. The research also reports that mid-wheel and front wheel drive are better for manoeuvring in confined spaces when compared to a rear-wheel drive powerchair. To summarise, the research is essentially showing that mid-wheel drive turns in one position better and front wheel drive navigates 90 degree turns better.


Lets question how that research is applied in our everyday lives, and what does our environment require us to do when we are in a powerchair? Are we making a lot of a 180 degree turns or are we really actually only turning 45 degrees or 90 degrees at a time? A 90 degree turn may occur for example when entering a wheelchair accessible van, being able to make a sharp turn into the passenger or driver’s side is crucial. 


There are not a lot of environments where you have to do a complete 180 degree turn and go right back in the direction you started from. This may occur in a lift / elevator for example; however, small changes in course correction occur more often than making big turns, where we need to completely change our direction.


Below is a couple of examples of how a FWD and MWD powerchair can be used in terms of navigation and manoeuvrability. The first image below is an birds-eye view of a front-wheel-drive powerchair turning in a bathroom, with the basin on the top right. The pivot point of the front wheel drive chair allows the person to make a sharp 90-degree turn and you be positioned directly centred over that basin. This means that you can get closer to the basin, allowing for easier personal hygiene. This is the same as how you would enter a vehicle or the way you would do a commode transfer.

Front-Wheel Drive navigation

Permobil FWD Navigation example | Beyond Mobility

1. The approach to the sink. The dotted line is highlighting the front wheel drive pivot point and how you can line up the pivot point with the end of the sink prior to turning.

2. Turning towards the sink. As the left turn is initiated, the left wheel remains stable and the right wheel is moving toward the destination. 

3. Finally, destination is reached and client can proceed to pulling in as close as needed to the sink. No repositioning of the wheelchair base is needed, you are centred over the work surface. 



Now, below is a comparison using a mid-wheel-drive electric wheelchair. As you can see, the pivot point is actually further away from the centre of the basin. To get centred directly over the basin, a multi-point turn would have to be made to get closer to the wall on the right and get closer to the basin. Now, a 180-degree turn is no longer effective and the turn radius of front wheel drive is more appropriate in this setting.

Mid-Wheel Drive navigation

Mid-Wheel-Drive powerchair manoeuvrability | Beyond Mobility

1. Look at the pivot point of the Mid wheel drive, since it more centred on the base, it means more of the chair is past the destination prior to initiating the turn. 

2. As the MWD begins to make the turn, the left wheel is moving back and the right wheel moving forward, and therefore the person in the chair is not aligned with the desired location.

3. In the final position, the MWD chair does not allow the chair to be centred with the desired surface in one single movement. It would then require a series of multi-point turns or base repositioning.


These are just two key advantages of using a Front-Wheel-Drive power wheelchair over a Mid-Wheel-Drive or Rear-Wheel-Drive. We highly recommend you try them for yourself. Beyond Mobility offers demonstrations and assessments throughout the South-West, where you'll be offered an in-depth trial of the equipment. 


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Koontz, A. M., Brindle, E. D., Kankipati, P., Feathers, D., & Cooper, R. A. (2010). Design features that affect the maneuverability of wheelchairs and scooters. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation91(5), 759-764.


The images and content contained within this article have been previously published by Permobil, and repurposed for this article. 


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