Torque steer is the twisting movement of the front wheels and steering wheel of a vehicle under hard acceleration. It’s most prevalent in FWD performance cars where the driven wheels are also the ones that steer. When power is put down to the wheels, they can move in a jerking motion.
Though torque steer is a natural result of FWD design, it’s gotten less prevalent over time. Advances in design have lessened its effect in newer models.
How much of an issue (or benefit) torque steer is depends on the individual. Drivers see it as a moderate annoyance, a fun aspect of sporty FWD cars, or something in between.
What Causes Torque Steer?
Torque steer can be caused by several factors. The most prominent is the unequal driveshaft lengths that are common in FWD cars. The unequal driveshafts (called half shafts) are a result of using a transverse (instead of longitudinal) engine layout with a transaxle. Since the CV joint angle is different for each wheel, torque isn’t split evenly between them. Therefore, under hard acceleration, the car will have a tendency to pull towards one side. Torque steer is most often reported while the vehicle is in 2nd gear, often somewhere in the 15-35 mph range.
The unequal length of the drive shafts (half shafts) in a FWD car is the primary cause of torque steer.
Because they have equal half shafts, RWD cars aren't prone to torque steer.
Some outside factors (not related to suspension) that can make torque steer worse include tire air pressure and wear. Either of these factors will create imbalance between the left and right tires. Torque steer can also be increased when accelerating with the steering wheel turned off-center.
What Does Torque Steer Feel Like?
For the driver, torque steer feels like a tugging of the steering wheel from side-to-side, along with a pull towards the side of the car with the longer half shaft. With most cars having a shorter half shaft on the left, torque steer usually pulls the car to the right. Passengers might not notice much movement at all other than a slight back-and-forth shimmying of the vehicle.
A Ford Focus ST showing mild torque steer during acceleration.
It can be an unnerving experience if you aren’t prepared for it. The wheel pulling side-to-side can feel like the car has a mind of its own. However, with a firm grip, any competent driver will maintain control and direction of the vehicle.
Which Cars Have Torque Steer?
Torque steer is most common in powerful, performance-oriented FWD vehicles. However, torque steer can be felt more subtly in AWD cars that are FWD-biased. Usually, it's not nearly as noticeable.
The Mazdaspeed3 was one of the most notorious examples of a FWD car with torque steer. However, almost any performance FWD car will be prone to torque steer. These include the Ford Focus ST, Fiesta ST, Mini Cooper S (FWD), and VW GTI.
Is Torque Steer Normal?
Yes, torque steer is a normal aspect of FWD performance cars, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some drivers even like the excitement that it provides during acceleration. However, with aftermarket mods that increase power and/or reduce traction, torque steer can go from mild to excessive. At that point, most enthusiasts will look for a way to reduce excess torque steer.
How Do You Fix Torque Steer?
Torque steer isn’t always easy to fix, but there are some steps you can take to reduce it. Proper tire maintenance, less aggressive driving, and a variety of performance mods can all lessen torque steer’s effects.
Tire maintenance is the most important and easiest thing you can do. Tires should be the same size for both the front-right and front-left. All tires should have good tread (i.e. not worn) and be properly inflated to the recommended PSI. It’s possible that worn out CV joints or motor mounts can make the problem worse.
Unfortunately, from a driving behavior standpoint, the only way to reduce torque steer is to ease off the accelerator. There are a few aftermarket upgrades that target torque steer though. A performance rear motor mount is a common choice for drivers of the Focus ST, Fiesta ST, and Mazdaspeed 3. These motor mounts are often able to fit any of those three models. Some enthusiasts claim them as a "must-have."
A more expensive and difficult-to-install upgrade would be a limited-slip differential. These components help to prevent wheel slip of any kind. Sadly, many performance FWD cars don’t come with them from the factory. If you’ll be seriously tracking your car, an LSD is probably worth the investment. For more mild applications, the factory torque vectoring helps to a certain extent.
Do Newer Cars Have Torque Steer?
Modern FWD cars have been engineered with suspension set-ups that reduce torque steer. Overall, despite cars getting more powerful, torque steer seems to have gotten much less common over the last 30 years or so.
Even the last five years have seen a lot of advancements in suspension technology. When the Focus ST was refreshed in 2015, the new model added better torque management. The FK8 Honda Civic Type R can put over 300 hp to the front wheels without any noticeable torque steer. Engineering may be reaching the point where torque steer in performance FWD cars will be a thing of the past.
The way the Honda Civic Type R (left) has its front suspension set up compared to the base Civic (right) shows how it reduces the angle to the wheels. This almost completely eliminates torque steer.
Sources: What the Heck Is Torque Steer?, Cnet | What Is Torque Steer, and How Do You Stop It?, J.D. Power | Torque Steer Causes and Cures, AA1 Car
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