Tesla Model S Plaid reinvents the steering wheel — and we have some concerns

Tesla Model S Plaid steering wheel
(Image credit: Tesla)

Update: Tesla may be backtracking, with data mining revealing the company may be offering future Model S owners the option to choose between a yoke and regular steering wheel

For some time now we’ve known that new Teslas Model S cars will be rolling off the production line with a yoke-style steering wheel. Similar to those found in aircraft, and the Knight Industries Two Thousand — or KITT, from the TV show Knight Rider — these wheels lack a top and bottom section. Instead, drivers are expected to hold two handles at either side. 

While many people will no doubt like the design, which opens up the vehicle’s driver display, it might be one of those things that’s hard to use in practice. In a video posted online and shared by Quinn Nelson on Twitter a user shares real-world experience with the wheel, and all seems to go well for the most part. The problem will come for people who like to adjust their hand positions on the wheel, perhaps holding the top for tight maneuvers and keeping their hands toward the middle for safe cruising. 

Perhaps the big issue is going to be training yourself to use it. That won’t be a problem anyone shopping for their first car, and are buying a Tesla before putting in time behind a traditional wheel. For everyone else it’s likely they’ll end up clawing at empty space trying to find something to hold on to when adjusting their hands. 

One thing that remains to be seen is how safe the wheel is in an accident. If your hands are thrown off the wheel, and you need to grab it again it stands to reason that finding half a wheel is harder than locating a whole circle. A fuss about nothing? Maybe, we’ll see when people take delivery of their Model S later this year. 

Tesla’s also done away with the indicator stalk, which means you’re going to have to tap buttons on the wheel to signal your intent to change direction. Both of these buttons are located on the left side, so pressing the right one might be a challenge. It might have made more sense to put the left indicator on the left side, and the right on (you guessed it) the right. 

The video also shows how you put the Tesla in reverse. A swipe down on the far left of the center-mounted screen allows the car to shift into reverse, and that seems largely flawless in its execution. Was the removal of stalks from the car necessary, and could this have just been done traditionally? The answer is certainly yes, but Tesla doesn’t make money by doing what everyone else does, so mixing things up seems to make sense. The YouTubers will love it, for sure.

Ultimately, the new Tesla yoke doesn’t really solve any problems, beyond making the instrument cluster a bit less obstructed when you’re driving along straight. Does it look cool? Kind of, but also kind of not. Companies like Audi are changing their steering wheels, too; they’ve flattened out the top and bottom in newer electric vehicles and it seems to look great, without changing the whole steering wheel paradigm. 

Ian has been involved in technology journalism since 2007, originally writing about AV hardware back when LCDs and plasma TVs were just gaining popularity. Nearly 15 years on, he remains as excited as ever about how tech can make your life better. Ian is the editor of T3.com but has also regularly contributed to Tom's Guide.