A flat bottom steering wheel is also known as a D-shaped steering wheel. As the name suggests, it takes the shape of a circle but with a flat bottom. In earlier years, it was mostly limited to sports cars, low-profile coupes, hypercars, and race cars.
Today, you’ll find a flat bottom steering wheel in almost anything. This includes hatchbacks and small compact vehicles designed to save on fuel. Some people like them, some don’t. Others are indifferent towards them while many prefer the perfectly rounded conventional steering wheel.
The most common question in everyone’s mind, however, is whether there are any benefits of having a flat bottom steering wheel. Is it a marketing gimmick designed to attract attention? What difference does it make to have a car with one? Let’s find out.
Benefits of a Flat Bottom Steering Wheel
1. Sportier Design
One of the main reasons why cars have a D-shaped steering wheel is to complement their sporty design. The shape is race-inspired. Manufacturers get the design elements from Formula 1 and other racing applications such as the Indy.
In racing, steering wheels typically range from yokes, squares, and D-shaped designs. They allow drivers to rotate the steering wheel much less than they would in a conventional car – about 100 – 120 degrees to make a turn.
The steering ratio is usually modified to increase the range of turning radius without having to cross arms or take your hands off the wheel. A normal wheel in a car will make about one and a half turns to facilitate turning.
This is because the turning radius is two to three times that of a race car. It’s still the same case for passenger cars with a flat bottom steering wheel. This means that it does not play a role in turning. It only gives the car a sporty aesthetic appeal.
2. Space Saver
A flat bottom steering wheel is also a huge space saver in cars. This is especially where the owner of the car is tall or has a bigger body. The flat bottom creates enough space for the legs while the rounded part makes it easy to see the instrument cluster.
It also makes getting in (ingress) and getting out (egress) of a low-slung sedan easier. The legs are able to move freely once the driver is in position without hitting or bruising against the steering wheel.
This makes it easy to perform a heel-toe downshift and rev-match in manual transmission, as well as trail brake when turning. The wheel allows the driver to manipulate the pedals freely. There are definitely other ways to provide this feature, such as including seat adjustment and an electrically adjustable steering wheel.
The benefit of a flat bottom steering wheel is that it saves space at a lower cost. The adjustable steering is mostly found in top-of-the-range models where it automatically retracts and tilts upwards when you switch the vehicle off and open the driver’s door. It does what the D-shaped wheel does at a higher cost.
3. Increased Driving Comfort
There are some people that find it comforting to rest their hands on the flat bottom part of the steering wheel when cruising at highway speeds. The horizontal beam makes it easier to relax during long drives as you do not need to have your hands extended all the time.
It’s good to note, however, that this is only reserved for experienced drivers as it can be dangerous. Furthermore, most people only do it on open roads and highways for lazy cruising. Experts recommend holding the steering wheel at the 9-3 or 8-4 position for safe driving.
Some flat bottom steering wheels also have a lesser mounting angle that many drivers like. It results in a more focused and involved driving experience that you don’t get in a conventional round wheel. You could decrease the mounting angle in the latter, but this might tamper with the legroom.
Lastly, a flat bottom steering wheel provides a better feel for a steering position. The compact design comes with a better grip and turning experience. The sporty feeling behind it adds to the haptics. Some people argue that it helps to break the monotony of turns and keeps the driver awake. However, the benefits diminish after getting accustomed to it for a long time.
4. Great for Wheel Alignment
D-shaped steering wheels make it easier for auto shops when performing wheel alignments. This is a service that helps to adjust the angle of the wheels to allow the car to drive straight without pulling to either side.
The steering wheel minimizes the chance of making a steering centering error. This is an error that occurs due to bad wheel alignment – one of the biggest nightmares for auto shops. With an eye on the flat part, the mechanic can prevent the steering from going off-center and becoming crooked.
The flat-bottom steering wheel also helps drivers know when the wheels are straight. The flat part acts as a guide as to how the wheels are aligned. It can help you get out of a parking spot quickly without making a turning mistake.
Do flat bottom steering wheels have a disadvantage?
Yes, they do.
1. No kickback feel
Conventional steering wheels that are perfectly round usually have a return-to-center action that kicks in after making a tight turn or maneuvering ghat section. The action allows the steering wheel to rotate automatically back to its center.
For most drivers, there’s a sheer driving pleasure that comes with letting the wheel roll between the curls of your fingers. Flat bottom steering wheels are not perfectly round. As such, the kickback roll doesn’t feel that great.
2. Difficulty getting steering covers
Most steering wheel covers are designed for round steering wheels. It’s not always easy to find a cover designed for a flat-bottom steering wheel. As such, you may not get the benefits that come with the cover.
This includes protecting the wheel surface from heat and external elements and reducing wear and tear. I personally like the thick feeling that I get from having a cover on my steering wheel. Driving with the thin bare wheel feels slippery and tends to reduce my driving experience.
If you have a D-shaped or flat-bottom steering wheel, I recommend the Zatooto D shaped Steering Wheel Cover. It’s made of high-quality, soft, and breathable microfiber leather that’s very comfortable. If you don’t mind having something dynamic and glittery, check out the ChuLian Diamond Leather Steering Cover. Both are available in customizable options that meet your needs.
What cars have a flat-bottom steering wheel?
The list is endless when it comes to cars that enjoy the benefits of a flat-bottom steering wheel. The most popular include:
- Audi R8
- Ferrari 458 Italia
- Porsche Boxster Spyder
- Volkswagen Golf GTI
- Volkswagen Tiguan Wolfsburg Edition
- Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Giulia QV
- Audi S Series
- BMW M Sport
- Mercedes A-Class, E-Class, S-Class, etc.
- Skoda RS models
- Peugeot 508
- Chevrolet Corvette
- Toyota Prius
- Pagani Huayra
- McLaren 570S
- Lamborghini Aventador SVJ
- Pagani Zonda R
- Lexus LFA
- DS 5 (Citroën)
- Nissan GT-R
- Ferrari 488 Pista
- Lamborghini Huracan
- Aston Martin DB11, DBS, Vantage
- Ferrari 812 Superfast
- Acura NSX
- Ferrari SF90 Stradale
- Chevrolet Camaro
Can You Upgrade Your Steering Wheel to a Flat Bottom?
Yes, you can replace your round steering wheel with a flat bottom aftermarket option. Keep in mind that the process may be costly depending on the type of car you drive. The steering-mounted controls will have to be transferred and integrated.
The same applies to the converters and couplers. Sometimes, installing an aftermarket flat bottom steering wheel may mean losing out on the airbags. But, this is not always the case. TAG Motorsports provides upgrades to carbon steering wheels. Check them out if you’re considering getting a flat bottom.
Alternatively, you can make a flat bottom steering wheel out of your car’s factory unit to enjoy the benefits. The process involves cutting the bottom part of the steering wheel with an angle grinder and rebuilding the curvature. Here is a DIY video that explains how to do it.
How much does it cost to change a steering wheel?
The cost of replacing a typical steering wheel ranges between $70 and $75 without considering labor costs, fees, and taxes. Upgrading will cost upwards of that and can go as high as $300 if not more. TAG Motorsports charges $1,949.99 to install a steering wheel with a flat bottom in an Audi. Typically, the cost is subject to the type of car you drive, how long it will take to upgrade to a flat bottom steering wheel and the cost of labor.
Out of all the benefits, making it easier for drivers to get in and out of the car seems to be the main focus for car manufacturers. It ensures car owners are not rubbing their thighs on the bottom part of the steering wheel. This is especially in racing applications.
The other benefits are subjective and vary from one person to another. Some people enjoy using D-shaped wheels at corners while others find them uncomfortable. If you have anything to add or would like to share your experience with a flat bottom steering wheel, let me know in the comments.
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