Ditch the steering wheel: PH Blog

Funny our attachment to having a big hoop-shaped thing to steer our cars with isn't it. I'm not advocating a return to year zero and reviving the tiller-steered dynamics of the original Benz Patent Motorwagen. But why do we still have a bloody great wheel in front of us? It's not like we need the leverage to haul on non-assisted steering mechanisms any more. And with variable assistance, variable racks and the inevitable removal of any meaningful sense of steering feel we can gear our inputs in such a way as to go from lock to lock without spinning a wheel. Plus, they get in the way of stuff.

Flat-bottomed steering wheels have successfully been marketed as a 'because racecar' necessity on everything from supercars to Nissan Qashqais, whether you need the leg clearance to wriggle in or not. Let's face it, for many drivers it's more about room to swing your gut in as you climb aboard. Why not go the whole hog and adopt the yoke-like controls now common in all manner of racing machinery?

A few tentative steps have already been made in that direction by some of the more track-focused hypercars, not least the Aston Martin Vulcan and McLaren P1 GTR. The latter's looks little more than a slab of carbon fibre with thumb cutouts and might be a bit extreme for the next-gen Polo. But it's already happening, the 'pistol grip' contours of the Honda NSX's wheel subconsciously guiding you to hold the wheel this way.

This would also deal with two personal bugbears in one fell swoop too. First being no more endlessly repetitive arguments in the advanced driving section of the PH forum between the wheel shufflers and the fixed grippers. OK, it's a bit totalitarian. But if we go to something like this it won't matter if you're an SAS trained push-puller or a Super Licence endorsed arm crosser - the argument will be closed and you can find something more productive to do with your time. You can all thank me later.

I'll consider that a minor 'collateral' gain though. Because the main thing it would sort out is the moronic tendency for people to drive along using that gangster grip of a single hand crossed over the top of the wheel. OK, it looked nonchalantly cool for James Gandolfini in the opening credits for The Sopranos. But he was a gangster. Driving an American car with half a turn of play in the wheel. And fictional. It's less cool when driving along the M1, though that doesn't stop a worrying number of people doing it.

Who are they? Have you ever actually tried driving like this? It's near impossible, making it all the more worrying when all you can see in the mirror is the top of a grille, the lower half of a windscreen and through it a single clenched fist on top of the wheel. This is not the kind of person you want anywhere near you, especially at close proximity on a motorway. I take small comfort in the idea that, were they to run into the back of me, they'd get an airbag-assisted punch in the face. And save me the bother. But I'd rather just avoid being crashed into in the first place.

For solving this problem, not to mention the one of where to perch your iPad for binge-watching boxsets as your now-autonomous repmobile chauffeurs you to work, I think we finally bid farewell to the wheel. And embrace with both hands (correctly placed) the future of steering.



Comments (45) Join the discussion on the forum

  • romac 15 Aug 2017

    Come to think of it, why does it need to be attached to the car? Steer using the motion sensor on your iphone / android / etc!

    Interestingly though, the rotary motion (whether full wheel or not) is much easier to use to steer a car than linear motion eg joystick?

  • Mammasaid 15 Aug 2017

    Didn't SAAB try this, but be stymied by regulations?


  • V8 FOU 15 Aug 2017

    Good article.
    Love the "air bag assisted punch in the face" !

    More worryingly is the total acceptance of shonky electric assistance. Why does everyone just roll over and accept this? Surely there could be an oportunity for someone to do hydraulic conversions to return some form of steering feel?
    When I collected my new Mustang, as soon as I drove off the dealer forcourt I knew I had made a mistake. Sold the otherwise good car a few months later.

    The round -ish steering wheel is Ok for me, just give us some feel to the steering. Oh, thank Gawd for Lotus.

  • CrutyRammers 15 Aug 2017

    It's not "funny", it's because it's the best control for the job.
    But you know that, this is just clickbait.

  • Toltec 15 Aug 2017

    How about a couple of levers either side of the seat moving forwards and backwards, you can use one or the other for light inputs and both when driving more spiritedly. Your back can remain braced in the seat and your arms quite relaxed at your side, buttons on the levers can take care of indicators etc.

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