Opinion: In defence of the Porsche 991’s electric power steering
Three years on from the launch of the Porsche 991 platform and internet forums are still awash with vitriol for Porsche’s move to an electric power steering system in the darling 911.
Yet, the vast majority of anonymous posters probably haven’t had the opportunity to test the Porsche 991’s electrically assisted power steering, certainly not to the degree that motoring writers such as myself have been able to.
Steering feel is a strange battleground at the best of times. ‘Feel’ is a subjective term, varying from driver to driver. However, it is best described as the feedback the driver is provided from the front wheels: how much grip are the front tyres providing? What is the road surface like?
An electrical power steering system is able to filter some of these messages, which can result in a vague feeling (as if the steering wheel isn’t connected to the road wheels).
Yet, the filtering effects of Porsche 911’s system only occur at very high frequencies, creating a slightly numb feeling when dead ahead. However, this actually removes a lot of the tracking that the 997 felt on overly cambered and pot-holed roads.
On the road, the 991’s steering system is perfect for almost everyone. Turn in feels as sharp as ever (the perfect weighting adding to this sensation). Then, through the mid-part of the corner, the electrical systems are able to measure the g-forces, relaying incredibly precise messages back the driver by adjusting the level of assistance needed.
If anything, the steering feel of the 991, even in base Carrera flavour, is better than the much lauded Porsche 996 GT3, a car whose steering feel tailed off through the mid-part of a turn as the weight shifted to the rear. In the 991, the faster you go, the more feelsome the steering becomes.
What this proves is that the power steering unit does not purely dictate the steering feel. It is a complex blend of castor angles, suspension geometries, and damper settings.
If I wanted a ‘pure’ feel, I would go for the double wishbone, pushrod suspension and non-assisted steering of my single seater racing car. But, in the real world, that car would track all over the road, making it completely unmanageable.
Instead, the electrical system is able to prevent such tiresome feedback. What’s more, because it is a purely electric system, the weighting can be modified (as in the Power Steering Plus option). Going forward, as this technology is in its infancy, Porsche could make the steering weight customisable.
While the road feel of the Porsche 991’s steering is as brilliant as ever, the system is also incredibly capable on track. At the limit, the feedback through the wheel is heightened compared to slower speeds, inspiring greater confidence. It is certainly a match for the previous generations.
Combined with the ease of replacing an electrical system, and the slight fuel and emissions savings, the 991’s steering system may be different to the previous water-cooled 911s, but that doesn’t mean it is worse.