Four-Wheel Steering Is Mounting a Comeback, But Is It Worth It?
Four-wheel steering is not a new idea. There were cars in the 1920s that had it, and in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Honda each had their own domestic production cars equipped with the technology. Unfortunately for these car manufacturers, many viewed four-wheel steering as a mere gimmick, and in just a short span of time, it eventually faded into obscurity.
But ‘good ideas never go out of style’ as they say, and while the world may have not been ready for four-wheel steering back then, the infusion of computer and software applications could just make it the standard drive system that all car manufacturers should abide by in the near future.
The problem with four-wheel steering
In a basic four-wheel steering system, all the wheels turn at the same time when the driver steers. When the rear wheels turn along with the front, the turning arc is greatly reduced, which can be good for tight corners or parking. This is why forklifts and shopping carts have their turning wheels at the back and not at the front.
This all sounds good on paper; however, due to the nature of rear-wheel steering, over-steering can become a problem at high speeds. Even the tiniest steering wheel movement can spell a noticeable change in direction. This can often cause drivers to panic, since the turning rear wheels multiply even the smallest of movements. And even without the over-steering issue, turning rear wheels can wear tires faster, thereby diminishing their grip on the road and increasing safety risks, especially on wet and slippery surfaces.
Digital technology to the rescue
Four-wheel steering has seen a surge in interest in recent years, especially in luxury brands. The difference between the four-wheel steering vehicles new and old is that today, the rear wheels are steered by computers and actuators instead of mechanical devices. This has made it possible to fine-tune steering response and do away the issues presented by past versions. In a world that’s moving ever forward toward full automation, four-wheel steering is the next logical step in elevating the driving experience.
Better maneuverability than before
In today’s active four-wheel steering systems, all four tires respond instantaneously to steering wheel movement, albeit giving the driver better control, stability, and maneuverability than what previous versions were capable of. Generally, the rear wheels will not be able to turn as far as the front wheels can, which is a good thing. Even in modern 4x4s, the rear wheels are not allowed to rotate as much as the front wheels do.
At low speeds, the rear wheels steer opposite the direction to the front wheels, which reduces the turning radius and increases the steering response. At higher speeds, the rear wheels turn alongside the front ones, thereby improving vehicle stability.
Taking all these beneficial functions into account, it’s not surprising then that a growing number of vehicles are now equipped with similar technology, some of which include the Ferrari GTC4Lusso, Lamborghini Aventador, Acura TLX and RLX, Audi A6, A7 and A8, the BMW 5- and 7-Series, and the Porsche Cayenne. As four-wheel steering technology becomes cheaper to install with each succeeding version, expect it to trickle down to more affordable mid- and entry-level displays.