Drivers might soon feel more than ever that they're sitting in a cockpit instead of a car. The steering device in Tesla's Model S and Model X SUV looks more like an airplane's yoke than a car's usual steering wheel. Drivers keep their hands on something that's rectangular and flat across the bottom—or try to. Consumer Reports' testers found the yoke slippery, sometimes painful to grip, and problematic in several ways. But drivers of those two models will have no choice; there's no way to get them with a regular wheel. In response to an online question, CEO Elon Musk tweeted, "Yet another round wheel is boring."
Consumer Reports had 10 test drivers drive the Model S for a week. One said he wasn't out of the driveway before his hands had "slipped off the wheel multiple times." Another couldn't get a good grip because the yoke is so thick; she held it tighter than she would a wheel, which was uncomfortable. The first thing one tester said after driving for three hours was that his hands were sore. The hand-over-hand, over-the-top turning—at an intersection or heading into a parking lot—won't work with a yoke. There's no wheel up there. And at high speeds, the yoke has less resistance than a steering wheel does. "There's nothing to 'catch' if you lose your grip, so you can end up momentarily losing control mid-turn," a tester said.
Musk, who did not answer questions from Consumer Reports, also tweeted that a normal steering wheel blocks the screen. Testers have found that a wheel gets in the way of seeing the gauges displayed in other vehicles, and the new yoke does allow for an unobstructed, panoramic view. But the bottom right of the yoke blocks part of the center control panel for drivers. Consumer Reports plans to do more testing, then publish those results, but wants to first make sure the drivers are prepared to handle high-speed avoidance tests with a yoke-steered vehicle. (Read more Tesla Model S stories.)