Tesla's website revealed the much-anticipated refresh for the Model S and X today, with modest exterior changes and more substantial interior updates including a steering wheel delete. That's right, I didn't mean to say chrome delete (although that is part of the exterior refresh).
According to the photos in the Model S/X online design studio, Tesla has replaced the steering wheel with a steering "yoke" that looks more like it should be in the cockpit of a Cessna aircraft than an automobile. The steering yoke is similar, but not identical to that which is on the new Roadster concept. It's unclear if Tesla plans to include the yoke-type steering in the production Roadster, but seeing it on the new Models S & X certainly raises the chances of that possibility.
Tesla also removed the stalks on the Model S/X steering column, opting to move key functions like high beams, wipers, gear selector, and blinkers onto the yoke itself.
That's just nuts. I'm all for pushing the envelope, starting with a clean sheet of paper and doing things that nobody has done before. It's part of why I've been a Tesla fan for a decade now and why I've owned two Teslas.
But there are reasons why these yoke-type steering "wheels" haven't made it to production cars - they don't work well! We've seen them on plenty of futuristic concept cars, but once the vehicles hit production the crazy yoke-style steering systems are gone, just as the wide-opening suicide-doors and the super-thin A-pillars are.
Gallery: 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid Refresh
Yokes work on aircraft and F1 cars because you don't have to rotate them that much. When you need to make sharp turns or maneuvers like U-turns, the yokes become cumbersome and difficult to use.
I know this first hand because I had the chance to drive the Mercedes Vision EQS concept in January of last year, and that vehicle employed a yoke-style steering system. The production EQS will have a normal steering wheel, but the concept I drove had the fancy futuristic yoke.
Mercedes rented out an airfield for a media drive so we could only drive up and down the runway a few times. Going straight wasn't an issue, but turning around was kind of a disaster. It's hard to describe, but once you reach a point in the turn when you can't turn the wheel anymore without crossing your arms, you need to release the wheel with one hand and grab another part of it in another position to continue.
It was actually a really uncomfortable and irritating experience. I know you learn to adapt to different things, and perhaps I would "get used to it" but I cannot imaging it ever being better than a nicely balanced symmetrical steering wheel. You can't slide your hands around a yoke like you can a wheel in a turn and it forces the driver to work harder.
I do, however, like the other changes Tesla has made in the overdue S/X refresh. The interior looks much better and more modern. The rear infotainment screen is a great idea and the dash looks so much cleaner and even more premium, even though it retains Tesla's minimalistic design language.
Change for change's sake isn't good policy, and I do think there's some of that going on with the new steering y(j)oke. Any change to the steering wheel needs to be an improvement in functionality, not a gimmick. I'll welcome that when it happens and I'm looking forward to trying out Tesla's new steering yoke to see if it accomplishes that goal. However, based on my experience with a similar steering yoke, I'm not very confident it will.
I think many, if not most owners will hate it, and I can see Tesla having to offer a conventional steering wheel as an option almost immediately after customers begin taking delivery, if not before. This simply cannot be the only option if you want a Model S or X because it will likely be a dealbreaker for many potential owners. Could it all just be a joke? We're certain this isn't the last article on this subject that we'll be writing. Stay tuned.