There have been quite a few attempts throughout time to reinvent the automotive steering wheel. Now comes the aircraft-style yoke—or is it a bloated Formula 1 wheel or, well, just make your own preferred comparison here—in the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid.
Depending on who you talk to, Tesla sources say the yoke replaced the steering wheel found in older Model S cars for a few reasons. Some attribute a desire to improve visibility both through the windshield and of the instrument cluster. Others say it provides a better “Autopilot” experience, helping to bridge the gap between the cars of today and an imagined autonomous future. Others say it came about simply because Tesla chief Elon Musk and lead designer Franz von Holzhausen wanted it. Regardless of why the Model S now has a yoke, we lived with it for more than a week during our test of the 2022 Model S Plaid, and here’s what we think.
It’s Not That Revolutionary
For the average person used to a traditional round steering wheel, the Plaid’s yoke might seem like a radical departure from the norm: It’s shaped like a rectangle with rounded edges and two pistol grips, and it replaces traditional control stalks with touch-sensitive buttons and two scroll wheels. But once you have your hands on it, most of the time it feels a lot like an aggressive flat-rimmed steering wheel like you’d find in a Ford GT, Chevrolet Corvette, or other supercar—in fact, it feels a lot like the Corvette’s “squircle,” provided you don’t go searching for a top rim. And as a bonus, it’s located inside the ’22 Model S’ drastically improved interior.
What Do All the Buttons Do?
As in a mid-engine supercar, the buttons on the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid’s yoke replace all your typical steering-column-mounted stalks. On the left side of the Tesla’s yoke are individual left and right turn-signal buttons; tapping one of them flashes the signal once, and pressing harder turns the signal on completely. Pressing again turns it off. We’d prefer if the signal flashed three times for a lane change when tapped, versus flashing on and off once, but regardless the signal buttons are very easy to get used to.
A headlight button resides above the turn-signal controls. Tapping or pressing it flashes the brights and pops up a menu on the center infotainment screen, which you can tap to select a light setting. We wish the headlight button worked like the windshield-wiper button on the opposite side of the yoke: tap once for one wiper swipe, tap and hold to spray and clean the windshield, or tap and use the left scroll wheel to cycle through wiper settings.
The other two remaining yoke buttons, both on the right side, control the horn and push-to-talk. The latter feature was disappointing: The Model S is capable of adjusting the cabin temperature when you say something juvenile like, “My balls are hot”—yes, really—but it can’t select a radio station when you say something akin to, “Tune to 95.5 FM. ”
The other two controls on the yoke are scroll wheels. The left one usually functions as volume when you scroll up or down, or it changes the audio track when clicked left or right. But as mentioned above, it seems to be a utility button of sorts. The right scroll wheel clicks down to turn on the “Autopilot” cruise-control system, and you can adjust your speed by scrolling up and down.
How Does the Yoke Work For Actually Steering the Car?
As far as its primary function of steering goes, the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid’s yoke is hit and miss. At higher speeds or on a good back road, there’s no issue with it. The yoke’s design keeps your hands at 9 and 3 o’clock (where they should be), and it feels nice. It has a sort of solid pistol-grip quality to it, with little nubs in the top where your thumbs rest naturally. In fact, it almost feels like there should be thumb buttons up there. The wide-spaced bottom rim is also nice on the highway, as it allows you full use of the armrest while gently resting a hand in the bottom crook of the wheel.
The steering ratio of 14.0:1, with 2.3 turns lock to lock, is quick enough at speed to make it unnecessary to turn the wheel any greater than 90 degrees on the tightest of switchbacks. Unfortunately, around town that steering ratio just isn’t quick enough, and it reminds you why no other car on the market offers a yoke.
Sure, you quickly get used to the missing top rim—we sure did after we went to grab the nonexistent rim area and almost ran into a stationary object—but routine maneuvers quickly become a chore. Parallel parking, for instance, is made needlessly difficult as you’re forced to keep a hand on the yoke’s grip while pivoting unnaturally backward to look out the rear glass. Three-point turns (or more, God forbid) are even worse, as you’re left juggling a rectangle in one hand while swiping the virtual transmission shifter back and forth into gear on the center infotainment screen. We can’t imagine how miserable Tesla Cybertruck owners will be reversing a trailer if it comes with a yoke, as seen in the early prototypes.
We went into our steering yoke experience with an open mind, but the more time we spent with the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid, the less we liked it. Tesla may be able to get away with the whimsy of a yoke in a sports car like the long-delayed Tesla Roadster—the type of vehicle whose owners perhaps drive only occasionally as a weekend toy—but in a daily driver like the Model S, it’s pointlessly annoying. The Model S Plaid’s steering ratio simply isn’t quick enough to make low-speed maneuvers anything less than a burden. A variable power-steering ratio could help, but it would be a band aid with added cost and complexity simply to solve a problem no one has had before.
And before you ask, Tesla says it has no plans at this time to offer a traditional steering wheel on the new 2022 Model S, Plaid or not.
Source: Read Full Article