Tesla's yoke is a dangerous mess, especially on roundabouts

Max McDee, 22 February 2023

It is hard to believe but Tesla’s yoke is two years old now and the idea was first shown back in 2019 in the Cybertruck prototype. But the yoke steering has been a standard option for both Model S Plaid and Model X Plaid long enough for the company and for us to make up our mind about it. Spoiler alert - it’s not great.

Tellingly, Tesla introduced an option for Plaid owners to retrofit a traditional, round steering wheel and all new cars have that option now available. The company clearly realized it made booboo and is backtracking on its pioneering approach. Or was there more to it.

Let’s first talk about good stuff, the positive side of yoke and why Tesla, in the first place, walked away from the traditional wheel. One of them is FSD, referred to as Autopilot and a constant source of headaches for the company.

To yoke or not to yoke - why Tesla’s steering reinvention fails despite being brilliant

It seems the company presumed the FSD would be fully operational and reliable by now, which would make the steering wheel almost a secondary device in the car. It would be there just rest your hands on and from time to time input small corrections. For that reason the company didn’t bother with upgrading the mechanical steering system to steer-by-wire.

Why is that important? If the FSD was fully capable of unassisted maneuvering, having a yoke instead of a round wheel wouldn’t be a huge issue. Turning around, parking, low speed maneuvers could have been carried out autonomously. In that case, the steering could have remained mechanical - steering yoke connected to steering column which in turn operates the wheels. The fixed steering ratio, wouldn't matter.

Unfortunately, the FSD is nowhere near finished and the result is fixed ratio steering with half a steering wheel and no stalks to operate indicators or wipers. And as many Plaid owners will attest, this is a recipe for an utter disaster.

To yoke or not to yoke - why Tesla’s steering reinvention fails despite being brilliant

The fact that you have to cross your hands over while doing a turn that is slightly sharper than plastic cutlery from your favorite fast-food chain makes the yoke a safety hazard. Trying to do a three-point turn usually ends up being a five or six-point turn simply because there is no way to safely spin the yoke fast enough.

Simple things like trying to park in a tight parking spot, turning around or reversing become unnecessarily tricky and stressful and yoke turns into a problem. The fact that indicators are operated now by touch sensing icons on the spokes of the yoke, means often failures due to wet or cold fingers, and no response at all if you decide on wearing gloves.

All those and many more situations are well documented through many forums out there, but one that only recently came to surface was pointed out by Bjorn Nyland on his YouTube channel. That issue was not picked up on simply because until recently Plaid versions were not available outside the US. The video is quite detailed and if you want to watch it, it’s right here, the yoke-related stuff starts about 10 minutes into it:

Tesla simply forgot that most countries have roundabouts. Seriously, as annoying as the yoke can be on mainly straight American roads and the only turns required are no more than 90 degrees, many roads make the yoke outright dangerous.

Never mind the finicky touchscreen-operated driving mode change, trying to operate indicators half-way through the roundabout turns into a proper exercise. That’s why we have stalks - they work regardless which way the steering wheel is pointing. Did Tesla take it a step too far?

To yoke or not to yoke - why Tesla’s steering reinvention fails despite being brilliant

In theory, the yoke should have made things easier. It doesn’t obstruct the view, it forces you to keep hands in the safest position. Removing the indicator stalks made things really tricky. Using a mechanical, fixed ratio steering system makes the yoke usable in a straight line and for only small corrections - every other situation is being complicated for the sake of the novelty. Form over function.

Would a steer-by-wire system fix the issue? One where the steering ratio changes depending on speed? Toyota and Lexus are trying that approach in the Lexus RZ450 and test drives by many journalists suggest it could be the answer. It completely removes the need of crossing arms while turning - the yoke never turns more than 90 degrees. That way hands are always on the yoke and Lexus left the indicator stalks in place.

To yoke or not to yoke - why Tesla’s steering reinvention fails despite being brilliant

The yoke is not a dead end and we will see more manufacturers replace the steering wheels in the coming years. Unfortunately for Tesla, its implementation is horrible as it only works well with steer-by-wire. Would it work better if the FSD was fully functional and worked as promised? Maybe. While the company took a disappointing shortcut of keeping the traditional rack-and-pinion steering system, it started a trend which it seems to be really good at.

The yoke execution from Lexus shows what the future holds and Tesla’s recent move to offer a traditional steering wheel for Plaid owners is simply an admission that the company made a mistake. It makes it evident as well that the FSD is much, much further away from being ready than Tesla is willing to admit. If the company believed the system was just about to be fully rolled out, it would have pressed on. And it is still incomprehensible that nobody at Tesla realized roundabouts are a thing. Seriously?


Reader comments

yoke is a total mistake and treat to public traffic. it can make not much difference when driving on highways but, the rest of the roads are full of surprises. drivers definitely need agility in sudden seconds and an uninterrupted grip is crucial for...

This whole fuss makes no sense Yoke or how its called or steering wheel. Even if i plan to add a regular boat wheel onto my car who cares as long as it works???

ChatGPT into 100 words: Tesla's yoke steering wheel, which was introduced two years ago, is not a popular option for many Tesla owners. While the yoke has some positive aspects, such as not obstructing the driver's view and being a good f...



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