As journalists, we often wax poetic about steering feel; the connection between car and driver. However, as drivers, what we really want is steering that does what we ask it to, steering that’s precise and accurate. That might seem obvious but there are many cars that have flat-out bad steering feel and/or precision. Audis have been a bit hit-or-miss in terms of actual feel — the feeling of what the front tires are doing through the steering wheel — but typically have very accurate steering overall. How does Audi do it?
There’s a lot that goes into developing great steering precision and feel. For starters, the wheel needs to feel stable on-center, when the steering wheel is at its middle position, especially at high speed. That stability needs to remain at high speeds as well, so as to not feel twitchy at Autobahn speed. Wind can also play a factor in the steering, as it can add lateral forces on the front end of the car, therefor disrupting the steering feel. So the electric power steering rack counters those forces, so that they aren’t felt by the driver.
In terms of how the steering actually feels and how it’s tuned, two main factors come into play; hand movement and feedback. Hand movement is obviously about how much effort is needed to steer the car at different speeds. With variable steering ratios, the speed of the steering rack (how much actual steering angle occurs from the amount of steering lock applied to the wheel) increases with added steering lock. In other words, the further you turn the steering wheel, the more of an affect it has on the front wheels.
Feedback is determined by a few different forces; longitudinal, lateral, and vertical. Forward speed, turning, and road impacts all play into how much feedback is transmitted through the front wheels into the steering wheel. While Audi claims that it tunes its steering to provide appropriate steering feel, what it means to say is that it filters all road information out of its steering feel. Audi steering is typically very accurate but incredibly numb.
The actual steering wheel itself makes a big difference, too. The smaller the wheel, the more steering effort is needed, as it reduces the actual diameter of the steering wheel. Too large of a steering wheel and the steering will feel too light. So getting the diameter right is important. Also, the thickness of the steering wheel plays into how much road feedback you can get. Audi steering wheels are admittedly damn-near perfect, in terms of size and shape. Though, I do wish the rims of its wheels were a bit rounder.
Additionally, Audi makes its steering wheel rims out of lightweight die-cast alloy, which is then double-foam padded and wrapped in leather.
Audi isn’t the industry leader in steering feel (that’d be Porsche) but it certainly makes some good steering. Typically, Audis steer with impressive precision and their steering is often nicely weighted. Sure, they’re down on actually steering feel but the results are there, which is the most important part.