I was reminded of this very recently when I drove a brand-new Vauxhall Mokka e. This all-electric cross-over impressed me overall with its quality and intelligent packaging (though the lack of engine note amplified the car’s wind noise, which seemed a little excessive, but was probably no worse than a noisier conventional ICE-powered vehicle). The Mokka’s electronic-assisted steering feel was far too light, vague and uncommunicative. This might have been out of necessity, given the e model’s excessive weight, this trait increasingly being the curse of far too many modern cars.
One serious aspect of the Vauxhall’s steering that came as an unwelcome surprise was the occasional sharp grab of the steering wheel, as if the car was trying to over-correct the driver’s wheel inputs and seize control. At first this unexpected occurrence took me unawares, resulting in my over-compensating at the wheel with a degree of opposite lock to correct the steering input. While trying to detect if the Mokka had an unseen electronic lane departure devise engaged (another unwelcome curse of modern cars), the car did it again, with this unprovoked action becoming a frequent, annoying and at times, alarming, quirk of the Vauxhall.
The contrast to the pure, delicate and delightful steering feel of my old 1951 Bristol 401 could not be more pronounced. Having spent years reading and digesting Setright’s praise of a Bristol’s steering, it wasn’t until I bought my first example many years ago that it all clicked into place. I could suddenly fully understand and appreciate just why he had dolled out such rare enthusiasm for this aspect of the car’s many qualities.
Within hours of buying the Bristol, I packed some friends into the 401 and drove it to Paris for a classic car event at the historic banked Monthléry circuit. The trip was a hoot, with the car’s handling and dynamic behaviour a genuine revelation for such an old machine. The steering was sublime, although somewhat improved by the later switch over to the crossply tyres that the 401 was originally engineered to ride on.
Although yet to be bettered in any of the considerable number of cars I have driven over the years, the Bristol’s purely mechanical steering is run a very close second by the revolutionary power steering system found in the Citroën SM and CX.