You know what they say about reinventing the wheel—it's hardly ever a good idea. When Tesla revealed the refreshed Model S, though, it also brought with it a goofy yoke-style steering wheel that's become pretty controversial amongst Tesla stans and the general car-driving public.
Debates on whether on not the wheel is tasteful have run rampant on social media, many defending the use of a non-traditional steering wheel because it allows for more unobstructed visibility of the gauge cluster. Others argue that the real issue is practicality—and as videos of the refreshed Model S begin to hit the internet, that's becoming pretty evident. As shocking as it may be, it turns out that a rectangle might not be the most ideal shape for a steering wheel on a daily-driven car.
The refreshed Tesla Model S has a lot going for it, especially if you're driving it in a straight line. The Plaid variant will do zero to 60 miles per hour in under two seconds—so long as you VHT-prep the track surface, allow the car several minutes to pre-condition the battery and powertrain, and then drop it into its "Cheetah" stance. The new yoke steering wheel is an interesting addition to the cabin too, and it is better for forward visibility. The only real challenge comes if you need to turn, which is also pretty important.
Several videos have popped up online of new owners in their Model S Plaids. There's a big focus on what they'll spend the most time interacting with (hopefully): the steering wheel.
As expected, there seems to be a learning curve when it comes to the yoke. There's a lot more hand-over-hand steering, and a significant amount of additional steps required to move the grippable base of the wheel to the next hand.
While not pretty, this is probably something a driver will get used to after they own the car for a few weeks. However, that doesn't mean it'll be safer in an emergency situation.
If a driver would lose control of their vehicle after hitting ice, for example, their body is going to go into response mode. Quick-thinking might revert back to old habits of driving a normal car where there's a completely round steering wheel, whereas with the yoke, there's significantly less to grab onto.
This isn't the only example of the yoke looking unnatural to use. A few videos have popped up showing refreshed Model S's (esses?) driving around town, navigating parking lots, and just really putting the chopped wheel to use—and none of them look to be particularly intuitive.
As you can see in the clip above, the driver has to move hand-over-hand—which is fine and still recommended by the NHTSA—to navigate at low-speeds. But he brings his left arm from 9 o'clock and uses it to turn the yoke about 270 degrees before letting go, presumably to bring more grippable area for his right hand.
Try repeating that exact same motion and you'll probably start to feel a bit of a stretch around the 4 o'clock mark. It probably won't feel great to do that regularly.
Tesla could have solved this problem by implementing a dynamic steering ratio, which allows the wheels to turn a varying amount based on how fast a vehicle is traveling at any given time. Audi, BMW, Ford, Volvo, and many other automakers have implemented this particular feature across their respective lineups for years. In parking lots, this translates to shorter rotations of the steering wheel.
Musk says that Tesla is working on this, but it's still "a few years" away.
I know what you're going to say next: "Yoke wheels are really meant for racing anyway."
Maybe you're right. Maybe the Model S should be taken back to Laguna Seca to throw down a few laps and make use of that new racecar-inspired steering wheel.
Well, that actually happened, and the track verdict pretty much lines up with what we see on the street. While racing around Laguna Seca, veteran driver Randy Pobst apparently asked for the yoke to be swapped out for a regular steering wheel after just three laps.
The whole ordeal—especially with Musk's adamant public defense—feels eerily similar to the Model S's pop-out door handles. Wired reported in 2018 that the pop-out door handles, while unanimously rejected amongst other executives at Tesla, were a requirement for Musk. Just two months after publishing, a Florida man in a Model S wrecked into a tree and burned to death when firefighters were allegedly unable to open the door. A lawsuit was filed later that year and is scheduled for trial in mid-2022.
It seems like the refreshed Model S can't actually be ordered without the yoke yet, despite prior website code indicating a potential option to choose between it and a regular wheel. So if you really want to replace your aging vehicle with a new high-performance, battery-electric luxury sedan, maybe take it for a test drive first to make sure you can live with the yoke.
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