Throughout the decades, we’ve seen countless developments in the design of our vehicles. Automotive manufacturers continuously look for new ways to enhance the consumer’s driving experience. As part of many recent developments, many brands have begun to drift away from the traditional round steering wheel design in favor of a flat-bottom steering wheel, otherwise known as a D-shaped steering wheel.
Flat-bottom steering wheels are designed to provide extra legroom for drivers seated in a racing position. It was originally intended for performance cars driven on the track, in which drivers would maintain a 9 and 3 steering wheel position at all times.
However, today, we see more and more cars implementing this design feature, despite it being originally intended for sports cars. In this article, we’ll discuss the flat-bottom steering wheel, as well as analyze the results of a survey polling drivers on their preferences to determine if this design feature is what most drivers want.
The Pros and Cons of flat-bottom steering wheels
Perhaps this is the most crucial convenience provided by a flat-bottom steering wheel. Low-slung bucket seat vehicles (typically sports cars) generally have much less legroom than an SUV or truck would.
In sports car bucket seats, your knees are usually positioned above your hips, whereas your needs are aligned with your hips in normal car seats. If you’re on the track, the steering wheel is positioned near your waist, and if you have a large tummy, the bottom of a round steering wheel might even be in contact with it.
Easier to enter and exit vehicles:
This is a no-brainer. If you’ve ever driven a sports car, you much know just how difficult it is to ingress and egress the vehicle without having your thighs getting stuck between the bucket seat and the bottom of the steering wheel. If you are tall or have big thighs, you might even have this problem with regular cars.
By going with a flat-bottom steering wheel, you increase the space between the bottom of the steering wheel and your seat. This helps when you are sliding your right thigh past the steering wheel when entering and exiting the vehicles (or left if you live in a left-hand traffic region).
In vehicles that are not designed to be driven on the track, a flat-bottom steering wheel can give off a “sporty feel” due to its association with racecars.
Flat-bottom steering wheels were intended for sports cars, which were originally inspired by F1 steering wheels. Naturally, this gives the steering wheel a sporty look because of its association with sports cars.
Steering wheel alignment:
It is slightly easier to be aware of the position of a flat-bottom steering wheel than it is around the steering wheel. The bottom of a flat-bottom steering wheel is more pronounced than the bottom of a round steering wheel.
However, this is only a slight advantage. This is because most vehicles have distinct spokes across the lower half of the steering wheel, and as most steering wheels have a 1080-degree turning angle from left lock to right lock, it is also impossible to tell if the steering wheel is in a 360-degree position from the flat bottom alone.
Uncomfortable tight turns:
If you have driven a vehicle that has a flat-bottom steering wheel, then you must know how awkward it is to make a 3-point or a U-turn. This is much less of a problem on the track than it is with a normal vehicle on the road.
Performance car drivers generally do not turn the steering wheel past 180-degrees on the track. Their hands maintain a constant 9 and 3 position.
Redundant on some cars:
A flat-bottom steering wheel may be redundant in some vehicles, particularly larger sedans, luxury cars, and SUVs. The trendy flat-bottom steering wheel is sometimes added to some vehicles without there being any practical need for it. Large vehicles like SUVs and trucks have enough room between the steering wheel and seats.
Most luxury vehicles have electronically adjusted steering wheels and seats. When the vehicle is turned off, the seat and steering wheels automatically change position to allow the driver to easily egress the vehicle. This feature causes the addition of a flat-bottom steering wheel to be redundant.
Flat bottom steering wheels require a slightly different manufacturing process. Manufacturers need to create a separate mold for flat-bottom steering wheels or alter an existing round steering wheel. These factors may increase the price of a vehicle equipped with a flat-bottom steering wheel.
Poll study: Flat-bottom vs. round steering wheels
I’ve conducted 2 surveys asking drivers what their preferred steering wheel was: flat-bottom steering wheels or round steering wheels.
In the first survey, the respondents were normal drivers. In the second, the respondents were specifically Chevrolet Camaro owners (an American performance car). The results of the survey were as follows:
Interestingly, the is a large disparity between groups 1 and 2 regarding their preference for a flat-bottom steering wheel, at 3.7% and 61.5% for random drivers and Camaro owners respectively.
An obvious reason for this result is that many of the advantages that come with flat-bottom steering wheels are more pronounced in a performance car such as the Camaro. Whereas drivers in everyday cars, that are not designed for the track, would not notice the benefits of having a flat-bottom wheel, and would just have to deal with the cons of having one, such as the awkward U-turns.
Another possible reason that some drivers prefer round steering wheels is that, given most cars do not have flat-bottom steering wheels, some drivers are reluctant to try something so different from what they are already used to. We might just fall in love with flat-bottom steering wheels, once we live with one.
In group 1, 37% of the respondents voted for “depends on the car”, which suggests that many of the drivers have indeed used flat-bottom steering wheels before.
Given that 37% of group 1 drivers stated “depends on the car” and the majority of Camaro drivers favor the flat-bottom steering wheel, we can conclude: that individuals driving performance cars will most likely prefer a flat-bottom steering wheel over a round steering wheel.
In this video, we can see Carlos and Kurt discussing this Audi’s steering wheel, and at 0:49, Kurt was asked about his thoughts on flat-bottom steering wheels, Kurt responded:
” [Sighs] Flat-bottom steering wheels are kind of like the lumberjack beard of the automotive industry. I think it got trendy. It got cool, and it began winding up in places where it shouldn’t be. I think the new Hyundai Elantra has a flat-bottom steering wheel. Seriously, those wheels have jumped the shark.”
Are bottom steering wheels worth it?
If you own a car that does not have low-slung bucket seats, there is probably no benefit in having a flat-bottom steering wheel other than the young sporty look it gives. If you are keen on it, then you should be prepared for all the awkward turns that may come with it.
If you own a sports car or have a large body, a flat-bottom steering wheel is most certainly a practical option. Bucket seats can be quite difficult to hop in and out of, and having more space between your legs and the steering wheel will help. You would, of course, have to deal with the awkward 3-points and U-turns that come with it though.
Today, flat-bottom steering wheels as often placed in non-performance vehicles to give them a sporty look. It remains a trendy design for now.