Steering wheels in cars have evolved over time from a simple metallic/wooden rim with spokes to multi-functional steering wheels incorporating audio controls and an airbag. Additions like phone-answering via Bluetooth, cruise control and even paddle-shifts inspired from F1 Cars have also been done over time. These features do improve the safety by placing the most commonly used controls right at the driver’s fingertips. Tilt and telescopic steering wheels in some cars can be adjusted for optimum height in a fixed range giving that extra level of comfort and luxury.
The Desi Scenario:
The trend observed in the Indian car market is that entry-level hatchbacks have a regular 2-spoke steering wheel, the only exception being the Alto 800 which has a three spoke steering wheel. Coming to the B1 and B2 segments, most of the cars have a 3-spoke steering wheel often with audio controls and an airbag inside them. The Chevrolet Beat has undoubtedly the best steering wheel in the B1 segment with the silver-accents giving it a premium look. In the B2 segment, the Hyundai i20 and Fiat Grande Punto have the best steering wheels coupled with audio and phone Controls in their respective top-end models. These two cars also have the best-ergonomically designed steering wheels. The Punto’s unit feels great to hold and has the right contours too.
Both the C1 and C2 segments by default have a 3-spoke steering wheel with audio controls in almost all the top-end models. It may be noted that placing audio controls only on one side of the steering wheel gives it a downmarket look especially in the Maruti Suzuki Swift DZire, Tata Manza, Toyota Etios and even in the facelifted SX4 and Vento. This makes the steering controls look a little cluttered. Some of the cars mention “Steering Column Mounted Audio Controls”. This refers to a lever besides the steering just like the headlamp lever! This can be seen in the Ford Figo and Renault Duster, an ergonomic disaster. Hyundai has disappointed big-time in this segment by sharing the Fluidic Verna’s steering with the i20’s steering. The Mitsubishi Cedia has a stock MOMO steering wheel which adds to the beauty of the beast.
Almost all the cars in the C2 segment have a decent steering wheel with the best one in the Ford Fiesta, which is designed so nicely that it fits right into your hands and everything seems in proper place. Honda has gone a step forward by giving paddle shifts in the automatic cariant of its City.
Coming to the D1 and D2 segments, most of the cars have steering controls by default and the cars of same companies share a similar steering wheel and functions like Jetta-Passat and Laura-Superb. It can be observed that 4-spoke steering wheels are pre-dominant in this segment giving that plush and luxurious feel. Hyundai however excels in this segment by having the best steering wheel in the Elantra and Sonata.
All the SUVs have a 4-spoke steering by default with audio and cruise controls in top-end models. The SsangYong Rexton has redefined luxury with its steering wheel which is an absolute pleasure to the eyes and hands! It feels good to hold at most speeds and has everything where it should be!
Popular aftermarket options include MOMO and SPARCO but keep in mind that the market is flooded with counterfeit Momos and Sparcos (available for as low as Rs. 2000/-), so always purchase from a reputed store/dealer. Another thing that you need to keep in mind is that your warranty will be void if you replace your stock steering wheel. Even if your car is out of warranty, replacing a stock steering wheel with airbags with an aftermarket one without airbags will void your insurance cover. Also, finding the proper steering wheel hub adapter can be difficult sometimes and make sure that you get it fitted from an experienced mechanic. At the end of the day, it is the choice of the individual whether to continue with the stock steering wheel or go for the aftermarket one for that bling factor!