16 May Is Electric Steering the End of the Sports Car?
Auto detailing is a tactile art as well as a visual one. A high end detail is as much about how the car feels as it is about the look. From the smooth, creamy touch of the bodywork to the clean, confident grip of the steering wheel, touch is important. So it’s no surprise that how a car feels to drive is important to us, too.
Overland Park, Kansas is not known for its twisty, canyon roads. No, Overland Park is mostly a grid. But that doesn’t mean the enthusiast doesn’t enjoy a good drive around the lake or along a river road.
But only if it feels right. And if we happen to be driving a new Porsche 911 or Boxter, or an SL 500 Mercedes (even a car detailer can dream, right?) that feel might be diminished. One aspect a detailer doesn’t often get to discuss is steering. And in all three of these cars, it’s electric.
For the Mercedes, that’s not much of a dilemma. The SLs have been softening up for years, patching over automatic and double clutch gearboxes with luxury, power, and more power. The average SL driver will hardly notice.
But the real problem is with the Porsches. See, the 911 is built for handling. When it debuted in 1963, it only had 130 hp. Not much. But the reason it become so popular, the reason we still get auto detailing calls for them today, was the handling. The 911 just felt so organic, like such a living part of the driving experience, like a nerve between you and the road, mediating, helping you and the
asphalt to understand each other.
Electric steering fries all of that away. There’s no real feedback, no conversation with the front wheels. And thought the 911 today has more than enough power and heritage to keep it successful, there is certainly something lost.
Thankfully, unlike the SL 500, the 911 is still available with a proper stick shift. But this does remind us of what happened with the transmission. Of the dual clutch, they said it was faster, more efficient. It would help you get around a crowded metro like Overland Park without paining your left leg. But it isn’t the same as rowing through the gears. The feel is gone.
The sports car is now less a part of you. It’s becoming a cold, robotic appliance, brilliant, but disconnected. Not longer a friend, but a servant. No, steering is a detail best not left to machines. Of course, this is all silly, because today, almost every vehicle on the road, and most requiring the services of a detailer, already have hydraulic power steering, and when that came out, the purists all
cried fowl as well.
Our role in auto detailing allows us to see the latest. But auto detailing doesn’t let us feel how they are to drive. What do you think? Is electric steering engaging enough to wrangle the purists, or will it kill sports driving?