Monday, April 30, 2012

R.I.P. Steering Feel, 1900 - 2012

The road tests have been completed, their findings compiled, edited and published.  We've all read the articles - the good news is that Porsche still makes the best sports cars in the world.  The bad news is that steering feel is dead.

The new 981 Boxster and 991 911 remain among the purest and most all-around brilliant driver's cars built today, much as was expected.  They are both lighter, stiffer, faster, more efficient, offer improved braking performance, cornering speeds and have higher levels of refinement and standard equipment.  In all quantifiable areas, the new Boxster and 911 are better cars than their predecessors.  In one less easily gaugeable yet critical way, though, they are worse - they both suffer from lifeless, numb steering. 

What is steering feel?  What it isn't is accuracy, linearity of response, good turn-in or weighting - these are each essential ingredients to a decent steering rack, and all things that Porsche's new EPAS systems are both quite good at.  What steering feel is, is that added tactile delight - granular, effervescent and ethereal.  Gentle tugs, oscillating vibrations, shifting weight and resistance, a steady stream of palpable, physical feedback communicating levels of grip, surface condition and texture.  It's frequently what separates a great car from a merely good one, what makes the machine feel like a living, breathing, organic thing - what blurs the line between car and driver, where the magic lies.

For a while now, we've all been aware of the steadily encroaching numbness of modern cars, the lessened role of the driver.  A complex mix of increased consumer demand for power and convenience combined with stricter government controls on safety, efficiency and pollution have led manufacturers to pursue ever-more complex electronic systems - systems that enhance outright performance at the expense of feel, at the expense of fun.  Driving is an analog experience, digitizing it removes a lot of color and warmth from the equation - much like how a piece of music in MP3 format sounds less real, less vibrant and life-like than the same recording played back on vinyl through quality components. 

But I am no Luddite, in fact my belief in science is as close as I get to religion - my faith in progressive thought and action's ability to alleviate all conflict and struggle on Earth is total and unwavering.  At the same time, however, I believe we should take care to ensure that new technologies do not over-sanitize our world - I realize I'm only talking about steering feel here, but it's a slippery slope, and who wants to eat soy bacon anyway? 

What it comes down to is this - if Subaru is able to engineer a modicum of feel and liveliness into the BRZ/FT 86's similarly electrically-assisted rack, why can't Porsche do so on a car that costs 300% (to start!) more?

Porsche are arguably the last bastion of driving purity, the keepers of the feedback flame - when they throw in the towel on equipping their most iconic sports cars with a feelsome, communicative helm, the party's well and truly over.  At least they saw fit to develop a manually-shifted version of their seven speed PDK dual-clutch box - surely at no small expense, a consolation prize to be very grateful for.  The writing's on the wall though, and soon the third pedal and floppy gearshift joystick will also be relegated to history.  This is the golden age - savor it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Martini Lancias

Flu Induced Writer's Block - Back to Business Soon

I have several pieces I'm working on right now, but can't find the inspiration or energy to do a proper final edit on any of them - I've tried, and the results aren't great when you force it.

I'm sincerely very grateful and honored to have so many repeat viewers at such an early stage in my blog's existence, and I promise to you all I won't stop working to bring you quality, original content - I find deep satisfaction in it.

Randy the gearhead prototype's interview is coming soon, he's a busy guy and also a perfectionist.  If you're reading this man, take your time - I know it will be worth the wait.

In addition to more editorials and photos/videos, I'll continue to cover Cars & Coffee Irvine for at least two events per month for the foreseeable future.  The reward of varied and fascinating machinery, friendly conversations with fellow car nuts and traditional post-show breakfast with friends and family is something to be savored as frequently as possible - even if it does mean a 4:30 AM start on a 200 mile round-trip!

Thank you all for your readership - it means a lot.



W194 Replica in Progress


911 on Ronal Turbos


Via Bump Steer

1963 Corvette Stingray

Via Chromjuwelen

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

For Wifey

Ur Quattro Sport

Original Munari Stratos - Now a Dog House?!


Via Bump Steer

300SEL 6.3 Burnout

"The Smoking Lounge" - action starts at 3:10.

God bless Australia.

R32 Skyline GT-R

My favorite generation.  The oldest are nearing the 25 year old exemption for legal U.S. import.

Huge wallpaper via SP Engineering

Westfalia Cutaway

The 997 GT3 motor and brakes remain concealed...

Dauer 962

The all-time ultimate street car?

FSO Polonez

Further evidence that almost anything can be made to look good with a nice set of wheels and a decent stance.

Sunday, April 22, 2012