I drove 1500 km with Tesla’s Yoke steering wheel and I want another one

Over the weekend, we were able to chain the kilometers in the Tesla Model S Plaid. An opportunity to try out the famous Yoke steering wheel, now an option on the premium sedan.

The Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X’s Yoke steering wheel has already sparked a lot of discussion since the first images of the two cars’ interiors (both updated in early 2021). Is the manufacturer boldly going too far? Why this design, mainly? More pragmatically: would it be approved in France? The answer to that question is yes, as you can order a Model S or Model X with classic steering, or this Yoke version (first introduced as standard).

The yoke rudder is interesting because it suggests a new adaptation to a device that has always been circular in the collective mind. In driving school, you learn to drive with a circular steering wheel. In ordinary dealers, only cars with a circular steering wheel can be found. In short, Yoke steering sometimes requires breaking habits that have been ingrained for decades. However, it took me maybe 10 minutes to get used to it during my multi-day test of the Model S Plaid.

Tesla Model S Plaid’s Yoke steering wheel. // Source: Thomas Ancelle for Numerama

90-95% of the time Yoke steering is perfect

Why this design, mainly? Yoke steering will surprise you and many will probably say that Tesla doesn’t need to be that aggressive to sell cars. In reality, it’s hard not to see the Yoke steering wheel as anything more than a mad race to clear the cabin—a race in which the multinational already has a considerable lead. The rectangular design eliminates visual pollution: the upper semicircle can spoil the view of the on-board screen, or even the road. Other players in the automotive market have tried different approaches, following flat parts in the latest Peugeot steering wheels or head-up displays.

We forget our habits very quickly.

The philosophy behind the Yoke is therefore to go further: just as we remove physical buttons to concentrate everything on a giant screen, we remove the redundant ones. Tesla even went so far as to remove the switches that are generally used to indicate its direction and operate the windshield wipers. These functions are transferred to the touch-related surfaces – neither too light nor too intrusive (ie a good dose). You have to go through the left part of the screen to replace the right commode, which is usually dedicated to driving modes in other Tesla cars. Shows a small car that you slide up (forward) or down (back). Taking off your seatbelt will automatically engage Park mode, with the car having the ability to suggest which mode to activate for itself (eg: if you’re facing a wall, it’ll go into reverse mode).

Yes, with the Yoke in hand, you have to press “buttons” to indicate whether you are going right or left. Knowing that there is a small bar to separate the two fields, we press up for right and down for left. This was the point that scared me the most with this Yoke steering wheel. Finally, everything falls under the thumb surprisingly well. Do we only have imaginary gestures (by instinct) and when the steering wheel turns more than 90 degrees, we feel lost and need to show our direction (for example: when taking the third lane in a circle – point). Even if it’s rare when we’re driving, we’re aware of these situations. Also, the first tight turns may seem scary, it’s time to understand how the Yoke steering wheel works.

Obviously, we sometimes look for Yoke’s gestures when maneuvering the steering wheel. Instinctively, our arms tend to slide upwards, looking for a semicircle to cling to. Yoke steering requires a bit of relearning: instead of multiple pulls to the right or left, you’ll have to push under the steering wheel. In the classic steering wheel (because you make more small gestures), you have to make harder and more precise gestures where there are more errors. In any case, during our 1500 km in the Model S Plaid, we never put ourselves in danger due to the yoke or missed a maneuver. Here’s an important point to note: the Model S Plaid has an incredibly small turning radius, which makes it very maneuverable despite its 5-meter length.

In a straight line, Yoke steering offers all its advantages. You put your palms all over and feel like a driver (as a reminder, F1 steering wheels are rectangular). It’s exciting, and we understand why Tesla chose this form, which is scary at first glance, but very relevant in use. We are surprised to forget very quickly the habits that disappear so naturally behind the new ones.

During the test, I gave the Yoke steering wheel to Numerama’s videographer Thomas Ancell, who accompanied me. His impressions are also positive: In a straight line, the Yoke steering wheel is very pleasant, the “handle” aspect providing a firm and comfortable grip in addition to the aesthetic pleasure of driving a racing car. It took a while for me to lose my old reflexes, my muscle memory constantly searching for control. Although it took a bit of mental training when performing a slot, I think I was able to get used to this Yoke reel very quickly. Anyway, I already liked it. »

To continue

Playing Elden Ring in Tesla Model S plaid // Source: Thomas Ancelle for Numerama

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