Kia showed the EV9 concept previewing an electric full-size three-row SUV at the L.A. auto show with a controversial steering wheel: A square-ish yoke similar to the one in the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid.
We dub this futuristic flourish controversial because drivers of the Model S, including some of our MotorTrend editors, found the design carries some key drawbacks. It is not easy making a multipoint turn or parking with a wheel shaped like a rectangle with rounded edges. In straight-line driving, the yoke does not feel much different from a flat-bottomed steering wheel in a supercar. But awkward and labor-intensive low-speed maneuvers reveal why steering wheels have been circular for more than a century—namely that they move in a circular fashion, and a consistent rim diameter is helpful for a ready grip on a spinning object. In other words, there is a reason Tesla is alone in offering a yoke.
So, will the yoke shape be retained when the EV9 electric vehicle becomes a production car?
“This is a concept car,” says Karim Habib, head of the Kia Global Design Center. “For us the point about the steering wheel is about two things. It is about visibility. The good thing about a small steering wheel is it allows for better visibility onto the street.” Sure, visibility is great, but so is unencumbered turning.
“And the second thing is about autonomous driving,” Habib says. “It’s formed that way so that it folds and goes under the dash. So that was our intention.”
OK, that excuse plays better. As an autonomous vehicle, a hideaway steering wheel makes sense and is fitting with the EV9 concept interior, which has seats that swivel so the six passengers can better chill. The middle row can fold down to become a table, the front seats can face the back and the third-row seats can turn to look out over the tailgate, all under a solar glass roof.
If the Kia EV9 was to go into production in a few years, before the full age of autonomous driving, would it still have a yoke steering wheel? Depends, Habib said. It will be a while before we see a production version, he says. And if the vehicle has steer-by-wire, the yoke steering wheel might still make sense.
In other words, there is a lot of time for Kia to change its mind.
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