When Tesla first shows images of its yoke-style steering "wheel" for the updated Model S and Model X, critics were, including us, almost universally skeptical. Most snap judgments had to do with the inability to maneuver hand-over-hand in a consistent manner when turning. After some real-world testing, however, Consumer Reports reveals that it's actually much worse than those initial observations predicted.
Of course, 10 test drivers at CR confirmed the blindingly obvious — that it was easy for hands to slip off the wheel during turns. The hand-over-hand motion that's been at the core of driving since time immemorial was difficult to execute, not simply because the top section of the wheel was absent, but because the bottom of it has a squared-off shape. While many sports cars have a flat-bottom steering wheel, Tesla has a longer and wider horizontal base than those. CR found that when combined with the missing top section, a simple turn meant that you might reach out to grab a corner, a flat section, or nothing at all. Each action required exertion of varying degrees.
And that's just the beginning. CR found that the unorthodox shape also made it difficult to find a comfortable resting position. Instead, it forces drivers to tightly grip the handles of the yoke, which, incidentally, have poor padding. One tester reported that the grips were too thick for her hands, having been seemingly engineered for larger mitts. Multiple CR testers logged complaints about hand pain after a long trip.
If that wasn't bad enough, the yoke design dispenses with traditional stalks for the turn signals, wipers, and high beams. Instead, controls for all of those functions, plus the horn, are located on flat touch-sensitive pads on the yoke's spokes. As a result, CR found them both easily activated inadvertently (bad for high beams) and difficult to find when you needed them (bad for the horn).
Testers often had to take their eyes off the road to look at the pads. We are big fans of tactile feedback, and argue that the proper number of times to look down for these functions should be zero. The turn signal design flaw was compounded by their location on the spokes, as when turning the yoke the right turn signal "button" might actually be on the left side and vice versa.
When the yoke was first revealed, we were told that you'd still be able to option a traditional wheel, but CR says that's not the case, which seems to be borne out on Tesla's website. Buy a Model S or Model X, and this is what you'd have to work with.
CR did find one semi-positive thing to say. With the top section removed, it was easier to see the instrument screen. However, the bottom right corner of the yoke blocked part of the center touchscreen. Elon Musk has said a full view of the instrument screen was a major factor in changing to a yoke, but the other tradeoffs sure don't seem worth it. There’s a reason for the advice, “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”
Be sure to check out Consumer Reports for the full account.