Home / Car News / Lexus’s Steering Yoke Is Very Different Than Tesla’s But It’s Still Pointless

Lexus’s Steering Yoke Is Very Different Than Tesla’s But It’s Still Pointless

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Last year, when Tesla introduced a steering yoke instead of a traditional wheel on its refreshed Model S, I wasn’t a big fan. I’ve driven cars with yoke-style wheels, and — while they may work in specialized, usually racing contexts — in the real world where you have to back up and make three-point turns and parallel park, they suck. Now Lexus has shown a similar-looking steering yoke on its new 2023 Lexus RZ 450e battery-electric SUV. This yoke is different under the surface than Tesla’s implementation, but is still fundamentally useless, save for generating some stupid controversy and reminding us that the justifications for yoke-type wheels are mostly bullshit.

I guess we may as well address the controversial part first, because I got sort of unwillingly yanked into it, thanks to the electronic global-annoyance system known as Twitter:

So, the issue seems to be that a lot of Tesla fans are quite cross, quite cross indeed with CNET, who previously had an article calling Tesla’s yoke dangerous, and just recently had one that referred to Lexus’ similar-looking yoke as “kinda wonderful.”

The accusation of hypocrisy and some sort of organized anti-Tesla agenda really only make sense if you very carefully manage to not read either article beyond the headlines, something that’s actually quite easy to achieve, if you’re determined.

The reason for the disparity that the twitter user who mentioned me stated – differing author opinions – isn’t even what I’d attribute this to, since the two yoke systems are so technically different.

Things fall apart if you actually read the article, which is more about Lexus’ variable-ratio steer-by-wire system that doesn’t appear to use any physical, mechanical connection from the yoke to the steering rack at all, allowing the steering ratio to adapt dramatically based on speed.

Lexus even made a nice little video showing how it all works:

The Lexus Steer-By-Wire system limits the lock-to-lock turn to 150° at low speeds, so you’d never need to hand-over-hand the wheel for parking or tight low-speed turns or whatever, which is entirely different than Tesla’s system that uses a conventional steering column and requires much greater yoke-turning at low speeds, which can leave hands clutching for phantom steering wheel segments.

So, we’re comparing apples and electronically-actuated apples with no physical connections to apple steering apple racks here, and they’re not the same thing. The yokes look superficially similar, but that’s it.

Now, even if Lexus seems to have done a lot more thinking and engineering for its yoke as opposed to just swapping a wheel for a not-wheel, nothing about this steer-by-wire system actually requires a yoke-shaped steering device, and this would work fine–possibly even better–with an actual wheel.

The CNET story mentions that there’s still a learning curve involved with this steer-by-wire/yoke setup:

When navigating tight turns, it’s easy to initially apply way too much steering input since the yoke is so sensitive, and then you have to make midcourse corrections to get the vehicle’s nose where you want it. This back-and-forth can result in a discomforting side-to-side body motion that makes it feel like you’ve never driven before.

Also, I keep finding myself trying to steer hand over hand and reaching for a rim that doesn’t exist. What is it they say about old habits?

So, now that the yoke concept has been installed on a car that is specifically designed to compensate and enhance the experience, and it’s still something that requires a “learning curve,” I think we can safely say that fundamentally, the yoke kinda sucks, and isn’t actually solving any problems.

[Editor’s Note: Wow Jason, wow. I never thought you’d be anti-fun, but now you’re joining in with the other journalists on twitter complaining about a yoke many of y’all have never even used. Look, nobody needs a yoke. But nobody needs a manual transmission, either. And most people don’t need removable doors on their Jeeps. These things are fun. Different. Weird. And I get it, the yoke is changing something that’s clearly been established as the perfect steering solution (that something being a circle), so it’s a bit silly. But if it’s not hurting anyone, and people want to buy it, I’m all for the weirdness. -DT]

[Writer’s Editor’s Note: I maintain a yoke is the opposite of fun. It’s not even weird, really. It’s for people who don’t like cars. Fun is the Motocompo folded into the Honda City’s trunk. Fun are doors that open in crazy ways. This is just dipshittery. — JT]

The justifications usually given for the yoke mention that the view of the instrument cluster is less obscured, which is certainly true, and I guess that’s great, until you actually really think back and try to remember the last time you were in a car where the instruments were significantly blocked by the wheel.

I feel like I may have encountered it a couple times, likely because of my freakishly tiny stature, but I honestly can’t say not being able to see the instruments is anything close to a problem that needs solving. I’ve driven so many cars, and nearly every time I can see the instruments just fine.

Also, just how good a view do you really need? What are you reading on that instrument cluster, Finnegan’s Wake? No. You’re not.

Nobody is driving by the instruments, or at least, not well. You glance at them to see how much faster than the speed limit you’re going and how much fuel/charge you have left, and maybe more scrutiny if an unexpected light comes on or if you smell something funny and try to remember where the temperature gauge is.

You want to be able to see your instruments, and in 99.whatever percent of cars you can, just fine.This wasn’t a problem at the top of anyone’s list.

The other reason for yokes that is often trotted out is as some kind of stepping-stone to fully automated vehicles that don’t yet exist but when they do likely won’t have steering wheels, or maybe they’d have steering interfaces that hide away or may as well turn to liquid and reform into a dash sculpture, which they may as well, since those AVs don’t exist yet, either.

As the CNET article states:

He [Takashi Watanabe, the RZ 450e’s chief engineer] also noted that as drivers become more familiar with the technology, it could also serve as a stepping stone to autonomous vehicles with steering wheels that completely fold away when not in use. Basically, in its own way, the yoke is helping to prepare motorists for a self-driving future.

Exactly how is the yoke “helping to prepare motorists for a self-driving future?” By making human driving suck a little bit more so people will want to not do it? This is a made-up reason. You still need to steer the car with it. It’s not preparing motorists for shit.

Look, we all know the real reason why yokes exist at all right now: some people think they look cool. That’s it. There’s no good reason to have a yoke in your normal street-driving car, you just may want one because it reminds you of KITT or a spaceship or whatever.

And, look, that’s fine. Cars are not rational things, they never have been, and they never will be. If you want something in your car just because you like the look of it, then welcome to the world of automotive design, which has been making cars with useless shit that looks cool for over a century.

Just own it, yoke-lovers. Lexus’ considerable R&D to make a yoke less bad and accomplishing precisely that goal–less bad–should be your reminder that it’s not worth trying to justify these things. If you like them, you like them, and I hope you and your yoke have a wonderful, rewarding relationship together, fumbling in parking lots and making phaser sounds while you’re on the highway.

Let’s just all quit pretending there’s an actual reason for this shit, though, okay?

Great.

 

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61 Responses

  1. I guess if someone wants a yoke in their car that’s fine as long as they can drive safely. Before anyone buys a car with one I really hope they are smart enough to test drive a car with a yoke first.

    I know have have no desire for a car with a yoke. For that matter I have no desire to have a self driving car.

  2. Wait a second – Steer… BY WIRE? You outta your damn mind? No way I would ever even test-drive something like that. I don’t care what shape the not-really-in-control interface is. Yes, I know airplanes have been control-by-wire for a long time now. They aren’t going to be serviced at Jiffy Lube or end up getting sold at buy-here-pay-here lots. Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon, but count me out.

    (Not that I’m in the new Lexus demographic anyway.)

    1. My… wife has one of these.. steer by wire fucking things.

      Ya couldnt park that thing… with your eyes closed. If it werent for the beeping of the parking fucking shit… she wouldnt know where it was. NTM… you get.. no steering feel. Essentially, its like fucking a cheap hooker.. with 4 condoms on.

      Only thing giving you a wood… is that 7″ piece of rebar that fell on you 2yrs ago and killed your penis muscle.

      P.S
      Thank god for 7″ rebar!

    2. You already have many cars with both brakes and throttles done by wire. The fact that you’re oblivious to this shows that this is a non-issue. These systems can be every bit as reliable as your traditional steering linkage.

      Some examples of cars with brake-by-wire: Prius, C8 Corvette, E-Class

      1. On the contrary, I am not oblivious to it at all. Ive had 2 rental cars recently (both from different OEMs). They were both a bag of shit. Ive rented numerous cars in the past 5yrs and driven / owned numerous other older vehicles. So not only am I not oblivious, but I am FAR too AWARE about the loss of FEEL and or SENSORY DEPRIVATION… in the act of Driving.

        My wife’s 10yr old BUCKET.. is a vehicle that every single time Ive gotten into the damn thing, I absolutely constantly scream at it.. for being such a poor driving pile of crap. It doesn’t DO anything correctly OR properly.

        She has no connection to the motor…. via the pedals. There’s a 3-5sec delay to even move the damn thing. She has no connection to the steering wheel. Ya cant feel when it goes left or right.

        Your human senses.. are MUTED while driving in a current vehicle. The problem of not feeling, hearing or detecting is exactly what you DON’T WANT in a 4200lb avg speeding steel obstacle. Steering, braking and the other items that have been reduced to not important — is not about reliable. Its about DRIVING. Its about steering, knowing where your your front wheels are and where they are pointing.

        My own car.. is a 05 Honda ELEMENT aka CUBIST (Picasso painting style). She is also SQUARE, BLUE and she is a HONDA. All ELEMENTS that cant be replicated. (Shes got hydraulic steering, hydraulic braking and a throttle cable. == In short, I can feel and or sense every single thing that is done.) Everything about my Element uses your 5 or 6 senses. — If you know what spidey-sense is.

        P.S
        Its pretty poor not to have your senses… to drive.

  3. As long as we are being harsh this morning, there is no apostrophe in Finnegans.

    Otherwise I’m really enjoying the website, as I had to abandon the previous one and was missing my fix of automotive craziness.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Sooooo…the yoke’s on us, amirite?

    Frankly, this seems horrendously stupid to me. I’m down with regular round wheels, and even those flattened — but not too much — on the bottom. But then, I also prefer actual mechanical connections between wheel and steering rack (or, for us oldsters, steering boxes). Ditto, BTW, for brakes, gear-shifting mechanisms and throttles.

    I also like analog gauges, switches and buttons, and no infotainment screens….

    In the immortal words of George Patton, “It’s hell to be old and passe and know it.”

    1. I drive… the oldest, squarest, blue-est thing on the fucking road.. within 5mi…

      But shit to all fuck… I drive the hell out of it. I also know.. wtf Im doing and how Im doing it. I also know.. and can feel what is going on.

      P.S
      I am a SIMPLE man… not simple MINDED man. I got a rental of a current HRV. THAT, is a pile of shit.
      Few reasons.. 1 motor sounds like its stuck in shitball mode. 2, the signals.. dont cancel the way they should. I press down.,. it goes left. I push up it cancels. I push up further.. it goes right. I shouldn’t have to push down to go left. Then push up to cancel and instead of cancelling it goes RIGHT. This is maddening. Something so damn simple as a signal indicator.. and its fucked up.

      Then ya got the drink holders…. it wont even hold a drink. Don’t get me started on the shitball interior or the shitball doors. SHIT, even the lights turning on on their own pisses me off.

      About the only thing good… was the seats.

      Then I looked underneath and saw the K member.. made of 2 pieces welded closed.. and the rest of the car made of MDF with RHINO lining on top.

  5. Spot on, sir. I’m all for being different, but this is pointless, adding needless complexity. Futuristic for the sake of being futuristic, like captive controls for everything. It’s not better, it’s just fluff designed to distract from what a lame product this thing is. The range is pathetic, the overall performance meh, the styling horrible, and the Toyota/Lexus faithful will love it and defend it, yoke and all, to the death.

    The last car I remember driving where I had trouble seeing all the gauges was my pre-refresh Oldsmobile Achieva. It seemed like the fuel gauge was tucked away where you couldn’t see it at a glance. I am not particularly big nor small, but I often had to lean up-over to see it. However, since it was to the side, a yoke wouldn’t have helped in the least.

  6. The editors note makes it seem like Tracy and Torch are two different writers with different opinions, but they write for the same website? How could this be? Have they ever been seen together at the same time? IS ONE OF THEM BATMAN? Connect the dots, sheeple!

    1. You realize you’re posting this on a site that obsessively wonks over minor tail light details and attempts to turn car shaped rust sculptures into (vaguely) functional vehicles? Really?

      1. The difference is that Tesla supernerds don’t actually like cars, they just like, at best, fancy tech for its own sake, or at worst, they worship Elon like he’s some sort of boy genius god. Here at the Autopian, we like cars.

        1. It’s not even that, it’s not like we’re all (sincerely) championing the headlights of one man, or speaking of the infallibility Roy Chapin Jr. for the bringing Jeep to the AMC fold. Wonking and stanning are totally different things

        2. Untrue. I really dig my Tesla, because I can go out and run my local backroads (which are amazing) all afternoon with superior power and traction, fantastic handling, and pay about $4 to return it to my default charge state. It’s amazing. I also love my Miata, our truck, Jeep CJ-5… Lot’s ‘o car nerd love these things. And compared to anyone on this site, Elon *is* a boy genus. If you can have a car built and moved to mass production and boost it past Mars orbit, we’ll think you’re smart too. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I’d like to see you do better. Get crackin!

          1. You seem to think that Elon did all of that all by himself. He didn’t. He had an idea, and then paid other people to execute it. He’s certainly not an idiot by any means, but he’s really no smarter than any other tech company/car company CEO. He was more willing to take a risk on electric cars, I’ll give him that. But that’s about all he did. But because he did finance Tesla and take all these risks with it (which he only did because he could afford to), some Silicon Valley fanboys started thinking he was a god among men and now he’s an egotistical, bloviating Twitter troll who now thinks that just because he has the money to do so, he should own a social media site.

            Maybe I can do better. Anyone want to give me billions of dollars?

  7. I don’t like the yolk replacing a traditional wheel but I can deal with it.

    What I hate more is the mechanical connection between the steering input device (wheel or yolk) being completely replaced by a signal being sent electronically. I know that I am just old fashioned and it is probably safer because I assume there are hopefully redundancies built in for if a wire breaks or a circuit board gets corroded, but I just can’t wrap my head around the safety aspect. I have had too many used cars that the power windows, or dome light or radio or whatever else stopped working due to electrical issues to trust something as important as steering to an electrical signal.

    What happens if you blow a fuse that controls the steering while you are going 60mph? What happens if you run out of charge in the EV battery while still moving and now you can’t steer to pull over safely?

    I have no problem with most things being replaced by electronically controlled systems, but some things like steering and brakes should be connected by something more than a piece of wire in my opinion.

    1. I’m right there with you, except for this part:

      “What happens if you run out of charge in the EV battery while still moving and now you can’t steer to pull over safely?”

      The traction battery does not run the electronics. It does charge the 12v accessory battery as needed while driving, but a dead traction battery does not shut the car off.

      I don’t trust electronics and software fully enough to settle for full drive-by-wire like this, but it’s the market that will determine what we get stuck with in the future. I don’t want to reboot the car on the side of the road.

      Keep your eyes open for more and more touchscreen controls and fewer and fewer physical controls, which is another “Cranky Old Man” gripe I have. I’ve never felt so close to Dana Carvey as when I look at some of the things car makers are doing now.

      1. Even if it does run off the high voltage system, no EV in its right mind lets you run the main battery down to literally 0 charge. They could easily build in a safeguard that shuts off the motor while leaving you enough power for the control systems.

        Which is not to say this isn’t a deeply stupid design, just that this one particular criticism is easily addressed.

      2. Yep, pretty soon it’s gonna be like Star Trek.
        “Controls are not responding, Captain.” (taps some buttons on a touchscreen)
        “Ensign, switch to manual control.”
        “Aye, sir.” (taps different buttons)

    2. It does indeed have a fully-redundant steering system. In fact, as far as I am aware *all* production steer-by-wire systems have a redundant backup, it’s just that the backup is normally a physical steering column. In this case, there is no steering column but two completely separate and redundant steer-by-wire systems. Presumably if one of them craps out, the car will yell at you to get it to a mechanic right away even though it should theoretically keep steering just fine.

    3. Yoke is a noun or a verb. As a noun, it refers to a wooden bar connecting two farm animals or a figurative restriction placed on someone. Kinda fits for fits for a Tesla and Lexus, I guess.

      Yolk is always a noun and refers to the yellow middle part of an egg. That would be disgusting if attached to my car’s dash.

      Modern cars have WAY more electronic gizmos than you know. You’d have to go back at least 5 decades to find cars with more mechanical connections (i.e., mechanical throttles, carburetors, points on distributors, mechanical brakes and non-power steering systems — BUT linkages fail or stick, hydraulics leak or get hot and all these could fail catastrophically too)
      Face it cars today are really computers wrapped in plastic, paint and glass.

      1. Yoke is/ was also Irish slang for ecstasy tablets although it has now become a mildly pejotative trm for being a bit of an idiot. Ss in, “that Elon Musk it a right yoke”.

  8. Couple bits
    Are you going to be the only one driving this car? Good luck to valets, neighbors, family members etc.
    Steering wheels don’t block instrumentation. Engineers have already thought of this.
    Why would I need/want a yoke on my imaginary self driving car? To see the unblocked instrument panel that I don’t care about as AI is driving my car? So I can play along when Hand Jive from Grease comes on?

  9. I think this would make a great Autopian article, the different methods of steering a vehicle that have been tried or thought of. You have tiller steering from long ago, and the fabulous twist wrist steering I remember reading about years ago, what other ideas have been put forth to replace the wheel as the way to control direction?

  10. Ahh yes, we need to remove all obstructions from viewing the guage cluster that Ole Musker said that we didn’t need in the first place (Model 3, anyone?). Then Toyota guys and does what it always does, copy other companies’ ideas and improve them.

  11. Is no one else going to mention that the original Twitter poster (F the Pump) is trying to tell us that the media is controlling what we think, yet doesn’t recognize that said media is providing two opposing views – which would lead one to debate the different views, or perhaps even think a bit more critically. Wouldn’t providing two different opinions on the same news outlet be somewhat defeatist if they were trying to tell us what and how to think??

  12. Sorry, this isn’t a matter of personal preference. Fundamental changes in deeply-established standards for vehicle controls actually matter. Making a functionally inferior input system for aesthetic reasons is not okay. If it were “different for the sake of better” then I would be on board. But “different for the sake of different” is plain dangerous. Just ask Anton Yelchin.

  13. I’m pretty sure the drive by wire system isn’t legal in the USA yet, so we won’t be seeing them. However, I think the regular Lexus wheel in the RZ is 1000x better than the weird old Pontiac wheels in the Subaru and Toyota. And I think with those two you are supposed to look at the gauges over the wheel? Strange.

    On a side note, is anyone else having issues staying logged in when you click on an article? I will be logged in until I read an article and it will say “login to leave a reply” even though I am logged in? I had to reload this page half a dozen times just to leave this comment.

  14. Fight! Fight! Fight!

    (I’ve never seen Tracy and Torch disagree so strongly on something. In my mind’s eye, Jason is the fire-breathing dimetrodon from Season Three of Land of the Lost–nicknamed Torchy, of course–and David is, oh, probably The Zarn. Or maybe Dopey the baby brontosaur. Oh wait! He’s the robotic dinosaur that the Zarn controlled in the “Gravity Storm” episode. Uh… what were we talking about?)

    Yoke or no yoke, I like the innovation Lexus is bringing to steering here. That adaptive steering ratio sounds pretty amazing, though yeah, it would take time to get used to, since it’s a different approach that’s less intuitive than the constant-ratio steering we’ve been using for over a century now. But it does mean you don’t have to do hand-over-hand steering, so you don’t need to move your hands on the wheel… so a yoke is not misplaced here. I can imagine it would be a subtle reminder that properly practiced steering of this car means your hands DON’T actually move on the wheel, and having your hands placed elsewhere around a circumference might actually lead to more inconsistent steering response. And given the fact that rearview cameras mean we no longer crane our necks over our shoulders when backing up, I think this yoke actually might be better suited to this particular steering setup than a traditional wheel. I really do, and I find myself surprised by that feeling.

    Now I want to test drive it and see if my suspicion is correct.

  15. This isn’t just a question of adjusting the steering ratio to allow the yoke shape – there are all sorts of cases where having that bit of grip at the top of the wheel is preferable. For example – when you are maneuvering in reverse and need to turn your body to look behind or to the side – not only is it more comfortable to hold the wheel by the top, but you have more precise control because your wrist and forearm are in a more neutral position. Another example, if you are holding a long turn, it is nice to be able to adjust your grip rather than maintaining your arms in a torqued position. Final example, at the end of a long day dealing with difficult people, maybe you just make it to your car, lay your head down and have a long scream. A yoke just doesn’t give you that nice handle to anchor your last shred of sanity. I’m just saying…

  16. So many things to complain about here.
    1. Torch this site has been gloriously free of Teslastanicans. Now you attach a tweet from one? Didn’t you know they are like Vampires? They can’t enter unless invited and you just sent out an invite to all these “the best technology is the best when Muggles can’t use it.
    2. I common method of making a poor product less undesirable is to start making the standard product worse. IE Yoke steering will make people hate driving so go AI.
    3. With all but category 5 self driving needing the not driver ready to take over immediately how do you do that with no steering wheel, or with just part of a steering wheel?
    4. Can we get a test to see if less or no steering wheel translates into more airbag fatalities?
    5. Lexus yoke just because you can’t turn the wheel sharp enough to require hand over hand steering doesn’t mean you will never have a need to turn it further than allowed.

  17. Making the steering wheel of a car look like the yoke of a plane is a pretty dumb move because in a plane the yoke works nothing like a steering wheel. They don’t turn nearly as far as a car’s, and they also have a push-pull function for controlling pitch (turning the yoke controls roll). In a car you are controlling yaw, which in a plane is basically done with the pedals. It’s skeuomorphic design.

  18. That anecdote about the learning curve and having to make mid-course corrections due to an unexpectedly aggressive steering ratio reminds me of driving a forklift for the first time. Your average forklift offers zero steering resistance, steers from the back rather than the front, and does not try to self-center and go straight again when you stop steering. I remember describing quite the wobbly course across the warehouse floor when they were teaching me to operate that thing.

    1. I wish we had images here, but Nardi makes a yoke called “two spokes” which is essentially just two T-shaped suicide knobs on the end of, well, two spokes. It looks intriguing and different and terrible to actually use. I’d love to try it once, but I’d never want it on my own car.

  19. If it’s fully-electronically controlled, why have a steering column at all? You could steer it with a glorified Xbox controller. Crash safety would be improved—imagine nothing but a big airbag below the instrument cluster.

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