Design

Tiller to command center: Mercedes-Benz has spent 120 years perfecting steering wheels

The steering wheel has come a long way, and Mercedes-Benz has been on the cutting edge of steering wheel technology for more than a century.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

What makes a steering wheel perfect? It needs to be the right size, feel good in your hands, and connect with the vehicle delivering a level of responsiveness that makes the drive to be exactly what you want and expect. Some say the best steering wheels also have controls for the stereo system, crash avoidance features, and cruise control. Others would say that the best steering wheels have none of those controls - that a horn is all it needs.

Mercedes-Benz has been on the cutting edge of steering wheel technology for over a century, starting in the 1800s and through to this month's reveal of the next-generation E-Class, which features capacitive functionality for the first time.

Early years

Benz Patent-Motorwagen, 1886

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz has spent 120 years working to improve the steering wheel. But, the first Mercedes vehicle didn't have one. The year was 1886 and Carl Benz's first patent motor car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen (shown above), like that designed by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1889, did not have a wheel or steering crank. Back then, drivers were used to pulling on horse reins and operating carriages accordingly.

The first steering wheel

Erste Automobilwettfahrt, Paris-Rouen, 1894

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While Benz, Daimler, and Maybach were some of the first motor vehicle engineers out of the gate, it's Alfred Vacheron that is considered the inventor of the steering wheel. The story goes that during the world's first automobile race (pictured above) – from Paris to Rouen, France in July 1894 – Vacheron installed a a wheel instead of the traditional steering lever in his Panhard & Levassor (powered by a Daimler engine, natch), which allowed him to have better control resulting in Vacheron's ability to safely go faster. He ended up placing 11th but the wheel trend had begun.

The Mercedes Simplex

MULI 0208, Mercedes Simplex

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Automobile racing was again at the forefront of innovation in 1900 when Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft equipped its Phoenix racing car with a steering wheel. In this instance, the steering column was tilted (it had been stiffly upright in the Vacheron car), which proved a worthy innovation.

Further, steering evolved in 1902 when the Mercedes Simplex (pictured above) had levers added to its heel that regulated engine ignition timing and the air/fuel mixture.

The 1920s through 1940s

Mercedes-Benz Typ 680 Modell S, 26/120/180 PS, 1927

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While engine design grew in sophistication and was refined, so too was the functionality of the steering wheel. As automobiles became more popular they not only had to contend with horses, carriages, buggies, and wagons but also with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other autos. Cars needed a communication device. Enter: the horn.

The horn started as a bulb horn mounted on the steering wheel rim which quickly evolved into a klaxon horn button on the steering wheel hub. By the 1920s, a horn ring on the steering wheel spokes had become standard equipment.

In 1949, the horn ring earned double duty serving as a turn signal as well. To indicated whether the vehicle was turning left or right, the ring simple needed to be turned left or right. Then, an approximately 20-centimeter-long indicator arm swung sideways out of the body, and indicated the direction of travel

Soon, these indicators would be replaced by orange-yellow flashing lights though they still remained activated by the ring.

The 1950s

Mercedes-Benz 220 S \u201cPonton\u201d saloon of the model series W 180/W 128, 1954 to 1959), interior with dashboard

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

By the time the 1950s arrived, car designers had made the steering wheel a central interface between the driver and the car. More equipment was added including a gearshift on the steering column in 1951 in order to make the cabin more comfortable for the driver and passenger. By removing the shifter from the floor, the car's front bench seat could accommodate three people instead of the traditional two. This was first shown in the 300 "Adenauer-Mercedes" (W 186) and in the 220 (W 187) (shown above).

In 1955, Mercedes added a lever for headlamps. Power steering was introduced in 1958.

The 1960s

Mercedes-Benz Typ 220 Sb, Baureihe W 111

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While the 50s was all about function, the 1960s steering wheel was all about safety. The "Fintail" (W 111) (shown above) was the world's first vehicle to feature an integrated safety concept consisting of a stable passenger cell, crumple zones, a new safety steering wheel with a large, deformable baffle plate which reduced the risk of injury in the event of a collision, and a split steering column which was offset to the rear.

This innovation made is possible to avoid what was colloquially known as the "lance effect" during a crash, wherein the steering column and wheel would compress in the driver when the auto was crash head-on.

To further increase safety, Mercedes-Benz introduced a patented safety steering system with a telescopic steering column and impact absorber, which became standard on their entire passenger car range in 1967.

Indicator and headlight flasher functionality remained on the wheel. In 1963, the lever was extended to include the windshield wipers and windshield washer system functions. The windshield wiper was previously activated with a pull switch on top of the instrument panel.

The 1970s and 1980s

Mercedes-Benz type 350 SL of the 107 series (1971 \u2013 1989).

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Innovation continued at a rapid rate. The introduction of the 350 SL Roadster (shown above) in 1971 improved safety with a wide padded plate in the center of the steering wheel that was designed to absorb impact in the event of a crash.

The spokes served as supports for the rim. In the event of a crash, force was transferred to them in such a way as to ensure that the wheel would not break.

Buttons for the horn were moved to the center of the steering wheel while wiper, washer, headlamp, and indicator functionality remained.

In December 1975, the Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 became one fo the first automobiles in the world to be equipped with a standard cruise control system. The world's first proximity cruise control system would be launched in the 1998 S-Class (220 series).

The first airbag was added to the steering wheel in 1981 in the S-Class (126 series), but the airbag's size was a recurring issue designers had to deal with. Eventually, the airbag would be able to be compacted more, allowing for more design freedom while delivering the same and better levels of safety. By 1992, a driver airbag was standard on all Mercedes models. Two years later a passenger airbag became standard equipment.

1998: The first multifunction steering wheel

Mercedes Benz S Class 220 model series (1998 to 2005)

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz steering wheels took a big leap forward in 1998 with the introduction of the multifunction steering wheel in the S-Class 220 (shown above). The driver was, for the first time, able to access their radio, car phone, and a driver's information display with eight menus from the steering wheel in addition to its traditional functionalities.

2005: The gearshift returns to the steering wheel

Mercedes-Benz S-Class 221 series Steering wheel and instrument cluster form the primary area of the newly developed operating concept of the S-Class.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

New M- and S-Class designs debuted in 2005 (S-Class 221 series shown above) and with them the automatic transmission gear shifter was moved to the steering column. Additionally, shift buttons were added to the selector making it easy for those wishing to choose their own gear to do so. Paddle shifters made their debut on 2008 on the SL Roadster.

Steering wheels were bulky due to the influx of airbag and infotainment functionality, which required cables, circuit boards, and sensors to be installed in the unit. Eventually, it would be able to be slimmed down as technology evolved.

2016: First touch-sensitive buttons

Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W 213) 2016

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The 2016 E-Class became the first car I the world to feature touch-sensitive buttons on its steering wheel. The technology featured the ability to control the entire infotainment system by swiping a finger across a pad on the steering wheel rather than taking taking your hands off the wheel. In addition to the pads, the wheel also had four buttons to the left and right of center that allows for volume control, phone call initiation and other functions.

2020: Capacitive Steering Wheel

Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse (W 213), 2020

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The next generation of Mercedes-Benz steering wheel has been unveiled in the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It features a two-zone sensor mat in the steering wheel rim that registers whether or not the wheel is being held. Unlike in systems by other manufacturers, no movement is required.

The Touch Control buttons have been integrated into the steering wheel spokes now also function capacitively. The panels are now flush and allow for swiping gestures as well as use in hot temperatures.

The new wheel is the same size as the one in the outgoing model.

Trending News

 
 

The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is one of the Hyundai Santa Cruz's biggest rivals..

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz faces stiff competition from many vehicles that are already on the market and a few that are coming down the road. Part of figuring out what its biggest competition is, is figuring out exactly what type of vehicle it is.

Once you've done that, the deciphering gets a bit easier, but it isn't apple to apples. There's really no truck quite like it on the market today.

Subaru Outback

2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness: Exterior trail driving Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The utility of the rear space afforded by a wagon like the Subaru Outback isn't anything to sniff at. Make the cargo area a bed and you'll see why nostalgia plays long and hard for the Subaru Baja. The Outback and the Santa Cruz share many similar technologies, including all-wheel drive, but the Outback has something the Santa Cruz does not, a passionate built-in fan base.

Ford Bronco Sport

2021 Ford Bronco Sport rooftop tent Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Getting to the trailhead, then taking your car with you is something that the Ford Bronco Sport excels at. The surprisingly capable compact SUV delivers the capability adventurers are looking for, innovations overlanders love, and smooth ride over rough pavement.

Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The freshly redesigned Nissan Pathfinder was meant to be more rugged. It also has three rows of seating (to the Santa Cruz's two) and seats eight, something you usually only find in full-size SUVs. Nissan has changed out the CVT for a nine-speed automatic transmission in this new generation, upping the appeal of the already-popular midsize family hauler.

Honda Ridgeline

2021 Honda Ridgeline Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

The Honda Ridgeline shares most of its interior with the Pilot but has unique tech like an in-bed speaker system. It's trunk was no doubt an inspiration for Hyundai designers. What makes the Honda so sellable is its available all-wheel drive and overall comfort - two things that the Santa Cruz has as well.

Subaru Crosstrek

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

With its two engine options, standard all-wheel drive, and gobs of cargo space, the Subaru Crosstrek is primed for use in settings urban, suburban, and beyond. It's easily modified for more rugged endeavors with popular enhancements including a lift, knobby tires, a roof rack, and a brush guard. Subaru doesn't make a Wilderness version of the Crosstrek yet, but it's safe to assume that one is coming.

Ford Maverick

What is the Ford Maverick? Well, officially we're still in wait-and-see mode, but there's one thing for sure, Ford views the Santa Cruz as Maverick competition if for no other reason than it's a compact pickup truck.

While these five vehicles are some of the most obvious competitors, a solid list of aftermarket accessories could easily make the Santa Cruz even more competitive.

Hyundai has let it be known that they'd be into developing a more rugged version of the Santa Cruz if demand is there. What could that include? Take a look at what is on the Subaru Outback Wilderness for a good example of what upgraded off-road capability could look like. There's also some chatter about making an "N" version of the truck.

Trending News

 
 

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is a new addition to the lineup.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz combines the best-loved features of a truck, wagon, and SUV into one creating what Hyundai calls a "sport adventure vehicle'. The Santa Cruz is focused on delivering a user experience that fits into lifestyles from urban to suburban and beyond, without taking you too far off the beaten path.

The 2022 Santa Cruz has all the hallmarks of a truck - wide stance, powerful engine, and a bed. It also has a trunk, the interior from the Hyundai Tucson, and a bevy of safety and entertainment tech.

Though the front of the Santa Cruz looks like it's from the Tucson, it's merely inspired by it. The exterior of the truck is its own, with no shared Tucson elements (this is as opposed to say, the Subaru Legacy, which shares most of its body with the Subaru Outback). It is longer than the Tucson, is wider, and has a longer wheelbase.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: Exterior

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

1 / 46

Like on the Tucson, the grille of the Santa Crus has headlights hidden in its housing. When illuminated, the headlights offer a wing-like design that can be easily identified in daylight or at night. A skid plate sits at the bottom of the face while muscular shoulders give the truck a sense of proportion that helps make it unique from the Tucson and other Hyundai vehicles.

Designers have given the Santa Cruz available 20-inch alloy wheels with a multi-faceted, triangular design. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard; all wheel options come wrapped in all-season tires. On the over-fenders are purpose-built with designated clamp points where owners can attach GoPro cameras.

The rear bed features watertight trunk storage and a lockable, watertight tonneau cover (available) that is operated via a pull handle. Both can handle the weight of a person. Taillamp are embossed with "Designed in California" denoting the Hyundai design center's roll in the creation of the vehicle. The light of the lamp also features the logo of the design studio.

Hyundai will offer the Santa Cruz with two engine options. it comes standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that achieves 190+ horsepower and 180+ pound-feet of torque (exact numbers are pending). That engine is paired with an eight-speed hydraulic automatic transmission. Expect to have more powertrain options available soon. The platform is capable of housing an all-electric and fuel-cell propulsion system in addition to internal combustion engine and hybrid variants.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz: Interior

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

1 / 16

A 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is available. It will get over 275 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Hyundai has paired it with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Versions of the Santa Cruz equipped with this engine also get paddle shifters.

All-wheel drive is available with either engine.

The company truck's 2.5-liter four-cylinder is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds while the turbo-four, when equipped with all-wheel drive, can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Hyundai boasts that the curb-to-curb turning radius is just 20.0 feet, just one foot more than a Ford Mustang.

The interior is straight out of the Tucson, and that's not a bad thing. The two-rows of seating have room for five and under the rear seat is a storage area that can hold groceries and gear still during travel.

Riding the precedent set by the Honda Ridgeline, the Hyundai Santa Cruz brings comfort and convenience to the forefront of its cabin design. There's a standard 8-inch infotainment touch screen (a 10-inch is available) and a 10-inch digital instrument cluster. A premium Bose audio system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, navigation, and Digital Key are available.

Owners can use their Blue Link app to connect to the vehicle and perform a number of functions including remote start, remote door lock/unlock, and destination search.

Forward collision warning with assist, lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning come standard on the 2022 Santa Cruz. Buyers can upgrade and get blind spot monitoring with assist, safe exit assist, lane centering, 360-degree camera view, and rear cross traffic assist.

Hyundai will back each Santa Crus with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty, and a seven-year anti-perforation warranty. Three years/36,000-miles of complementary maintenance (oil changes, tire rotations) is included as well.

Hyundai will produce the truck at its plant in Montgomery, Alabama, adding 1,200 jobs as a result of the addition.

Pricing is TBA. The company will offer reservations for the truck in late April. Deliveries are expected to commence by the end of the year.

Trending News