Innovation or insanity? Tesla’s steering yoke


Tesla has reinvented the wheel, but is the steering yoke innovation, or insanity?

Tesla’s U-shaped steering ‘yoke’ comes as standard on the Model S Plaid, pairing beautifully with the car’s 17″ touchscreen. It’s a case study for minimalism and has serious Instagrammability.

Who needs the top half of a steering wheel anyway?

It turns out, some people do.

I was tickled last week reading that a Tesla Model S Plaid owner had ripped out his Yoke and installed a regular steering wheel in its place.

“I’d grown accustomed to the yoke,” says Ryan Huber, “But then I got the controls on the round wheel working, and I’m not going back to the Yoke.”

Ryan went to great lengths to do this, writing custom firmware (code) and installing a custom wiring configuration to make it compatible. The result is a Model S Plaid that feels like a normal Tesla Model S on the inside.

Why Tesla, why?

It begs the question, why did Tesla bother with the yoke in the first place?

Consumer Reports ran a report in September in which they categorically stated they don’t think Tesla’s Yoke offers any benefit, and we agree.

Here’s the video report:

Proponents say the yoke offers a panoramic view out the windshield and gives a clearer view of the car’s gauges. But the shape of the yoke is infuriating in use, with it making sharp turns difficult and manoeuvres more complex.

Having tested the yoke in the US (I have family in Nevada) my initial thoughts were “wow, that looks great” and “f***, this thing is horrible to use”. Indeed, it appears as though Tesla has gone for form over function with the yoke.

You get used to it

In time, Tesla’s steering yoke is as intuitive to use as a regular steering wheel. You get used to not being able to run your hand around a wheel for a full lock, and you get used to not being able to grab the top of a steering wheel.

The question is whether the yoke improves user experience, and the answer is no. While some people might find it more comfortable, the majority won’t.

What is a steering yoke?

A steering yoke is a U-shaped steering wheel. It has no top section (like the letter U) and serves the practical purpose of making the instrument screen visible.

Reinventing the wheel to accommodate fresh interior design is nothing new – Peugeot has done it for years with the ‘i-Cockpit’, which has a small steering wheel and a high dashboard. The configuration is a dream for some and a mess for others.

Tesla’s yoke is actually a simpler solution than Peugeot’s – all they have done is cut off the top part of a steering wheel entirely and reshaped it to look cool.

Other manufacturers are also taking note of Tesla’s yoke. Toyota will offer the option of a yoke steering wheel with the Toyota bz4x crossover.

James Lewis
James Lewis is our resident electrical head. He drives an MG ZS EV (2018, which he loves) and plans to get the new one soon. James is much more excited by the lower end of the EV market and is looking forward to the Ora Cat.