Tesla Model S Prototype Spotted With Fabled Steering Yoke

Several weeks ago, Tesla officially announced planned updates to the Model S and Model X as part of a comprehensive refresh. The vehicles would be getting more interior screens, improved software, and a top-of-the-line “Plaid” trim. Customers are also supposed to be given the option of purchasing a butterfly-shaped steering rig — which was quite the surprise.

While the system works well on airplanes and dedicated racing vehicles, using a yoke to navigate smoothly around town is an exercise in futility. Their design may make it easy to make mid-corner adjustments at high speeds, but they lack the ability to make a complete rotation with any fluidity. As such, many believed Tesla would tone things down from conceptual renderings and the steering wheel would be a yoke in name only. But they appear to have been mistaken. Over the weekend, a Twitter user started leaking shots of a prototype Model S sporting the rectangular steering… uh… wheel? 

Twitter user @klwtts shared the images on Saturday (h/t InsideEVs) nabbing what looks to be the bowels of an older test vehicle lacking some of the new features — like the creepy, driver-facing camera — despite boasting others. It appears identical to the yoke seen on mockups of the updated interior provided by the manufacturer. Uncluttered, the rig seems to have two dedicated nubbins for controls traditionally found on the steering hub (rain removal, volume adjustments, cluster menus, etc).

Our worry is that the yoke will be an upgrade in the same sense that clip-on handlebars are for motorcycles. That means enhancing performance at the limit while spoiling its ability to be casually (and comfortably) piloted about below the posted speed limits. They do both look very cool in the place of more traditional controls, however, and we imagine that’s the biggest concern for many would-be buyers.

But that all becomes irrelevant if safety regulators ultimately decide Tesla can’t sell them. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration previously told Road & Track that it wasn’t even sure if the design met meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. That doesn’t appear to have changed, with the NHTSA explaining that it’s still working with the automaker on deciding the legality of its yoke over a month later.

Frankly, we’re not quite so concerned if it meets those increasingly arbitrary standards. Government regulators have shown a real willingness to bend the rules for automakers with deep pockets whenever there are gray areas and safety regulations have a bad habit of spoiling or even killing off some of our favorite designs (e.g. Dodge Viper). Our big fear is that a yoke might make something like the Model S horrible to drive in regular traffic, even if it gets a tighter steering ratio (likely a necessity) for that one time its owner decided to take it to a racetrack. Then again, Plaid models are supposed to be capable of reaching 60 mph in under two seconds (thanks to a claimed output of 1,100 horsepower). If similar attention is given to the cars’ handling at the limit, maybe the yoke will make some kind of sense.

[Images: @klwtts/Twitter]

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