The Pros and Cons of Power Steering
If you’ve driven a car with hydraulic power steering you’ll know the struggles of manoeuvring it around, well… anything. Thanks to technology, we’ve come a long way since the early cars of the 20th century, but it wasn’t always so smooth riding.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what different types of power steering are available these days and find out how the Subaru BRZ brings both old and new together. Let’s go.
What is power steering?
Before the 1950s when carmaker Chrysler introduced the first widely available power steering system into their Imperial, the world mainly relied on primitive steering systems that involved a lot of strenuous arm-work to guide the car into parking places and around corners.
The power-steering system was a well-thought-out and revolutionary way of reducing the effort needed to steer a heavy car while moving. Both electric and hydraulic power steering systems work on the same principle – reduce the effort when turning the steering wheel via augmentation of the mechanics that connect the moving parts with the car.
The first power steering systems changed how we drive
Back in the 1950’s – the elation was palpable. Driving a car was no longer a tough business – rather a smooth and comfortable affair. The automotive industry really started to see the benefits of more comfortable and responsive steering. Engineers also saw huge benefits in more accurate steering – especially for performance-orientated cars. It was a brave new world for the industry and we’ve never looked back.
Hydraulic Power steering
Hydraulic power steering systems have been largely common since the 1950s and, until the early 2000’s when innovations went electric, they prevailed as the manufactures go-to steering system.
How hydraulic power steering works
Hydraulic power steering works by using pressurised hydraulic fluid that is divided into chambers in the steering gear cavity to facilitate the steering of the vehicle. The hydraulic system relies on power from the engine to function – which was entirely necessary but soon became a hindrance on performance and efficiency.
Electric power steering
Enter the 21st Century, and Electric Power Steering or EPS is born. Instead of using hydraulic power to regulate and facilitate the movement of steering – electric systems carry out the same task – only slightly differently.
How an EPS system works
An EPS system works via an electric motor mounted on the side of the steering rack which drives a spiralled mechanism that is cut into the steering rack and is controlled by torque sensors that connect to the steering shaft. A computer communicates with this mechanism how much steering assistance is required at any given moment. EPS systems are automatically calibrated to deal with multiple different speeds – making them invincible when it comes to smooth cornering and sliding into the perfect reverse parallel.
Electric vs hydraulic power steering: pros and cons
While the two systems aim to do the exact same thing – make steering accurate and easy – both systems not only do this in different ways, but also have their own unique drawbacks and advantages.
Pros of hydraulic power steering
- It’s gutsy and real. You can feel more tactile feedback from forces acting on the steering wheel, making the driving experience very natural and realistic. This simple feedback advantage is what many car enthusiasts yearn for when driving with modern-day EPS systems.
- Another advantage with hydraulic systems is that it’s still possible to steer the car without the hydraulic system working – if your system breaks down, you’re not unable to move the car around.
Cons of hydraulic power steering
- They’re heavy, and require a lot of energy to run – even when driving straight and it’s not being used. This overwhelming inefficiency makes them largely redundant in modern cars.
- They’re messy and difficult to maintain – the hydraulic oils must be replaced periodically which can become an unwanted ongoing expense. Plus when they leak, it’s nasty.
Pros of electric power steering
- It’s accurate, light, and smooth, providing in-time and speed-calibrated adjustments to steering assistance.
- They’re more economical as they draw power from the electrical system rather than the engine, reducing fuel expenditure and making it easier on the environment.
- EPS systems have resulted in innovative safety technologies such as lane keep assist to be built into the steering.
- The future of self-driven, autonomous driving cars will rely heavily on these EPS systems to navigate and steer on their own.
Cons of electric power steering
- Reduced steering feel and feedback is the main disadvantage here, although for the average driver this isn’t an issue.
- Some would also argue there is less predictability with power steering as it’s up to the computer how much assistance is given when turning in certain environments.
- Home repair is extremely difficult as the system requires highly technical equipment to dismantle and electrical know-how.
What kind of steering does the Subaru BRZ have?
Like most modern cars, the Subaru BRZ is equipped with electric power steering. But it’s not your usual system. The issue of reduced steering feel has been addressed by designers and manufacturers, and at Subaru, those working on the BRZ power steering have given drivers the best of both worlds – including simulated “road feel” that increases the feedback for drivers wanting more “feeling.”
And many other manufacturers are following this trend – as performance vehicles aim to not just be “as accurate” as possible but also provide a truly authentic driving experience – this hybrid steering system is only becoming more popular with performance-conscious brands.
The main takeaway
We’ve come a long way in our efforts to create accurate, efficient, and safe driving experiences. The hydraulic power steering systems may be outdated, but the feeling of “really driving” comes down to more than just being accurate and efficient. Sure, an electric power steering system can offer a pleasant and smooth drive, but some would say it’s lacking that true authenticity. If you want to “feel” what we mean by that – go test drive a Subaru BRZ at your local dealership. You’ll see.