Cars have been steering the same way for more than 100 years, but recently both Tesla and Lexus decided to redesign the steering wheel: auto companies have switched wheels to a simplified steering wheel. The reaction to the change has been polarized, with some Tesla fans preferring the new look, and others declaring it significantly worse than the wheels. Reviews of the Tesla Yoke point to an unsafe learning curve, which probably includes getting the wheel to where it should be and capturing air. Has Lexus made this idea more effective?
Tesla introduced their new yoke-style wheel when it redesigned its Model S flagship sedan in 2021. Although it works all the way like a standard steering wheel, the yoke basically removes the top of the steering wheel rim. Tesla says it enhances vehicle front visibility and allows onboard cameras to track the driver’s eye movements more accurately. This change, Tesla and Lexus claim, could facilitate the transition from man-powered vehicles to autonomous vehicles whenever that technology is safe and effective. But in practice, especially when overturning a car, the Tesla yoke is difficult to use and drivers need to retrain their muscle memory.
But Lexus is taking a different approach. With the new electric crossover Lexus RZ 450e, Japanese carmaker Tesla has tried to alleviate the problems with the first attempt. Lexus, for the first time, has installed a complete steer-by-wire system.
Unlike decades old systems that replace it – a direct shaft between the steering wheel and the rack, which transfers wheel inputs to the wheel – the steer-by-wire completely removes that physical, mechanical connection. A steer-by-wire system interprets the driver’s steering techniques as a digital signal. That signal is sent to an electric motor in the steering box, adjusting the steering angle of the front end of the vehicle. This allows the computer to interpret those inputs based on a number of factors, including speed, road conditions, and the position of the vehicle on the road, in order to determine exactly how far the vehicle can go. (Some aircraft have a similar system called “fly by wire.”)
The system boasts a great advantage: it increases the steering angle at low speeds in such a way that drivers never have to move a hand from the wheel to turn an angle or overturn in a parking spot. Lexus’s steer-by-wire handling is entirely hand-over-hand, with what the company says is a safe driving experience.
The Lexus system, known as the One Motion Grip, will constantly increase or decrease the steering ratio as the speed of the vehicle changes. The steering will adjust to slower speeds such as when in the parking lot, allowing for larger steering angles with fine, small inputs in the yoke. At highway speeds, however, the steering becomes much quieter to maintain stability and prevent the car from getting too dirty. The change of proportions occurs only when the wheel is pointed straight forward, so the driver will not notice an unexpected change of steering angle in the middle of an angle. Like the Tesla system, it requires a learning curve, but preliminary reports indicate that Lexus is easy to get used to. It carries all the autonomous-adjacent advantages of the Tesla Yoke, but with extra intuition and protection.
The new Lexus Yoke only needs to be rotated 150 degrees from lock to lock when the wheels are rotated to one side and “fully locked” to the other. A traditional steering wheel and a Tesla yoke are needed somewhere between two and three full turns to reach this position. This means that in Lexus emergency responses can be accomplished faster and with less effort, as the driver has to flick the wheel a bit instead of just handing them over to each other. In general use, this is often more relaxed, as drivers do not need to remove the hand from the wheel to rotate at a low-speed 90-degree angle.
But since the benefits of the Lexus yoke are minor, and it will take some time to get used to, this type of steering device does not seem to fit across multiple brands and platforms. Round steering wheels may not require this kind of rigorous revision: a standard 360-degree steering wheel will benefit as much as a yoke from the advantages of a steer-by-wire system.
Learn more about the system, here: