Within the next year, Ford will be rolling out a new adaptive steering system onto various models in its U.S. lineup. Like BMW’s Servotronic and Audi’s Dynamic Steering, Ford Adaptive Steering can alter the steering ratio depending on vehicle speed for better low-speed maneuverability and increased high-speed stability. Unlike these other systems, though, Ford’s system fits entirely into the steering wheel, making it easier to install in a wide range of vehicles.
The Ford Adaptive Steering (FAS) system uses a small electric motor actuator to change the ratio between the steering wheel angle and the front wheels of the vehicle. This in turn controls how much steering input is required to turn the front wheels a certain amount. For instance, when maneuvering in a parking lot, Ford Adaptive Steering adds more steering angle to the front wheels so that the driver doesn’t have to turn the steering wheel as much to make a sharp turn. At higher speeds, Ford Adaptive Steering has the opposite effect, meaning that the system subtracts steering angle from the driver’s steering wheel inputs. This makes the car feel more stable on the freeway because small inputs result in less directional change from the front wheels.
None of this is particularly revolutionary, as various adaptive steering systems have been around for more than a decade. What is different about Ford’s solution is that the entire assembly—including the electric motor actuator and the adaptive gearing—can fit inside the vehicle’s steering wheel, just behind the airbag. This makes it easier to adapt the system to different vehicle applications, as opposed to BMW’s and Audi’s systems which are mounted in the engine compartment and the steering column, respectively, making for more difficulty in packaging and integration.
We drove a Ford Fusion sedan equipped with Ford Adaptive Steering on Ford’s test track in Dearborn, Michigan, and came away impressed with the system’s subtle improvement. Ford engineers are quick to point out that FAS is not a steer-by-wire system like that on the Infiniti Q50, as it instead integrates with the existing electric power assist steering (EPAS) in Ford vehicles. This means that FAS is relatively unnoticeable in normal driving; we could feel a difference when Ford engineers turned the system on and off on the test track, but most people will simply appreciate the low-effort parking-lot maneuverability and slightly more planted feel when changing lanes on the highway.
Therein lies one of the challenges of Ford Adaptive Steering as it makes its way into production within the next year. If the system’s benefits aren’t immediately evident to buyers, will Ford be able to convince customers that FAS warrants the price premium it will inevitably carry? To get around this, Ford engineers say that FAS won’t be a stand-alone option, and will instead be bundled in with other option packages or trim levels. It will also be interesting to see what angle Ford’s marketing department takes toward getting the message out about Ford Adaptive Steering, as the mechanics of the system aren't quite as simple to explain as something like Ford’s successful EcoBoost powertrain technology.
Ford has not yet said which models will receive the system, but since low-speed maneuverability is one of the main benefits, larger cars, SUVs, and trucks should be prime candidates for FAS at first. Look for more information about Ford Adaptive Steering and its production application later this year.