Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering Was A Bad Solution In Search Of A Non-Existent Problem
Instead of a physical linkage, the Infiniti system is literally a "force feedback" setup.
A common misconception about electronic power steering systems is that they’re all steer-by-wire, or physically disconnected from your steering wheel, which is false. It’s basically just an electric motor that assists you with steering, but you still have a physical linkage to the front wheels. But Infiniti actually disconnected you from the wheels back in 2014 with the then-new Q50 model, with a system called Direct Adaptive Steering. It was dumb then, and it’s even dumber now, so why the hell did they do it?
Instead of a physical linkage, the Infiniti system is literally a “force feedback” setup. Onboard computers gather information from the steering rack, directly connected to the wheels. That data is sent to an electric motor mounted on the steering column that provides assistance or resistance to the steering wheel, determining the “steering feel” that the driver’s fingertips receive. With the Infiniti system, the physical linkage still exists, but it’s disengaged from the steering column-mounted using a clutch unless the system has a fault. Infiniti’s end goal with DAS is to actually eliminate the steering column, though the Department of Transportation mandates it, which is why the column still exists in the Q50. As for why, I can only guess that packaging and safety are paramount; no steering column means no high-speed spike being driven at your face in an accident.
In other words, instead of just using the actual info that’s coming through the road, someone at Infiniti thought it’d be a great idea to just simulate it… when it’s already there.
This promotional clip from when this tech first came out might also give you more context:
Infiniti claims that the system removes the ugliness of a conventional steering system, where the driver needs to constantly adjust to road conditions and it’s somehow less precise than DAS (no relation to the Mercedes Formula One tech). They claim that DAS keeps the steering wheel steady in situations of changing camber or seams in the road, and always delivers a direct feel to the wheel where it would feel strange otherwise. It was also allegedly designed to reduce driver fatigue by cutting down on vibrations, but on modern cars, those hardly destroy your hands during regular driving.
I then ask myself, why the hell can’t we just connect that clutch and have a good old-fashioned assist motor on the rack? EPAS setups already rob feel quite effectively. So what was the need to actually go to the final step? I don’t say this having never driven a Q50, because I have driven a dirt-standard 2015 Q50 with DAS and hated it.
The steering was bad. Really bad. It was worse than my Fanatec force feedback wheel. Hell, it felt about as good as those old Madcatz MC2 wheels from the mid-’00s. The car would feel totally devoid, dead, and disconnected. In the canyons, I was basically guessing. I’ve never sailed a boat, but I think a boat might have a better steering feel than this junk. The car would try to countersteer on its own, just after I would countersteer, causing a nasty feedback loop where I’d end up sawing the wheel aggressively. Or if it wasn’t countersteering on its own, the lack of feedback would confuse my brain and result in terribly unsmooth driving.
If you don’t believe me, read Joe DeMatio tear the 2014 Infiniti Q50 and Sebastian Vettel, four-time F1 champion, apart in Motor Trend: “In theory, steer-by-wire technology allows engineers to infinitely fine-tune the steering, and Infiniti product planners hint that a special Vettel-tuned performance package might be in the works. Given his efforts in tuning Direct Adaptive Steering so far, perhaps Seb should stick to F1 garages, because in its current iteration, the steering feels artificial, disconnected, and even unpredictable. With the driver aids off, the Q50 has the light, non-communicative steering we see so often these days. It’s likely nothing that an owner won’t get used to, but it feels downright weird at first.”
Fabulously over-qualified New Yorker and auto journalist veteran Jason Cammisa also had nothing good to say about the 2016 update to the Q50’s DAS steering: “The Q50 has good grip and excellent body control, but it never reacts the same way twice — except that if given full throttle with stability control off, it always lights up one rear tire and does absolutely nothing to stop the one-wheel peel. Keep your foot buried during a transition, and it’ll explode sideways as weight and grip transfers to the spinning wheel. Then, to add insult to injury, the steering doesn’t reliably react as you’ve requested, making catching the slide even more unlikely. At its limits with stability off, the Q50 is a handful and a half.”
I understand the whole point of refinement and isolation, but I reiterate that plenty of normal EPAS systems kill all feel while still being physically connected to the tires. All that was done, and is still being done, is making the Q50 and Q60 a worse car in general. It’s not that Nissan/Infiniti was only capable of making bad steering, the G35 and 350Z’s had pleasant steering, especially today. The 370Z even has okay steering that can be made great with mods.
I’m not asking for a hydraulic rack, I’m just asking for a physical linkage. I kind of like some of the modern Infiniti coupes, and this is just the tip of a proverbial iceberg. Like all other RWD Nissan products, the ingredients are there. In the new Q50 and Q60, that VR30DDTT engine is actually fabulous, and the platform has great suspension architecture. Sure, the interior isn’t the nicest, but it could all be excused with a decent stick and nice steering, especially for the cheaper price point of most Infiniti products. Maybe what I’m looking for is actually in the upcoming 400Z.
Perhaps the most damning critique of direct adaptive steering came from within Nissan itself. After all, it’s never been used on any models except the Q50 sedan and Q60 coupe. Both are getting long in the tooth, and there’s no word from Infiniti if the system will make an appearance on its upcoming slate of crossovers and EVs. When Car Bibles reached out to Infiniti for comment, they never responded to our inquiries.
I doubt that the system got the reception Infiniti hoped for, and I’m also willing to bet that it’ll be dead in the next generation. Or, the entire premise of the system will be re-thought. Either way, DAS is complete nonsense that tries to accomplish a mission that has already been completed; robbing steering feel from the everyday driver. I do wonder if the rare Infiniti Q50 without DAS is any good… perhaps I’ll find out someday soon.