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As the electric car segment expands, the battle is heating up between iconic brands like Lexus and Tesla. Lexus recently unveiled the RZ 450e all-electric crossover that is poised to take on competitors like the Tesla Model Y, not only in terms of electric propulsion but also in terms of its equipment. One part in particular – the yoke steering wheel – has been a major point of contention among automotive critics, as Lexus seems to have gotten it right.

tesla yoke steering wheel
The yoke steering wheel in a Tesla. | Getty Images

What is a yoke steering wheel?

Lexus yoke steering wheel
Lexus RZ 450e steering wheel | Getty Images

A yoke steering wheel is a U-shaped steering wheel with two hand grips connected to a hub. It’s more commonly used in aviation, where a pilot can make minor right-left steering inputs in addition to fore-aft (pushing and pulling) inputs to steer a plane in different directions in mid-air. However, in a car, it doesn’t make as much sense since hand-over-hand turns are easier to do on a round steering wheel.

Tesla tried to reinvent the wheel by offering the yoke in its models

Despite the obvious unique design of the yoke steering wheel, Tesla decided to incorporate one in the Model S and Model X a couple of years ago. Fortunately, it’s just an option since the idea puzzled many customers and critics alike. Take one look at the yoke steering wheel, and you can understand the bewilderment.

We haven’t tried it, but apparently, it’s not that smooth in its operation, either. According to Capital One, “Tesla’s yoke is physically connected to the front wheels, and it takes more than two complete rotations to turn it from lock to lock. This leads to a choppier motion versus the smooth spin of a wheel, forcing drivers to remove their hands, change their grip, and cross their arms during tight turns, especially at lower speeds.”

On top of the cumbersome steering experience, the Tesla yoke also has touch-sensitive turn signals and horn buttons added to it. The editors at Consumer Reports noted that these buttons are confusing to use compared to a proper turn signal stalk. The operation can get confusing if the steering wheel is positioned upside down – like when you’re about to make a turn.

Ultimately, Tesla’s yoke looks like more of a novelty than a unique steering wheel with some added functionality.

The Lexus RZ 450e will have a yoke steering wheel that functions as it should

On the other hand, the yoke steering wheel that can be found in the forthcoming Lexus RZ450e is far more functional. Rather than spinning completely around like Tesla’s yoke, the Lexus yoke can only be turned up to 150 degrees in either direction. Instead of being mechanically connected to the front wheels, a computer interprets the driver’s inputs and controls the angles of the front wheels.

The system also incorporates variable-ratio steering, which makes the front wheels turn faster as the steering wheel gets closer to the lock. This function effectively eliminates the need for hand-over-hand steering, but there’s still a learning curve for mastering it.

Regardless, although the Lexus RZ 450e may or may not beat out a Tesla in terms of performance when it’s officially introduced into the market, at least we know it got one thing right. And that one thing could make the driving experience far better.


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