While the novelty of Lexus’ steering yoke is undeniable, the technology behind it could represent the future of steering gear.
The thought of a steering yoke on Lexus’ new 2023 RZ 450e was not one we looked forward to. Tesla’s execution of the yoke annoyed us and made us wonder whether the electric-car maker was trying to prove its notion was a terrible one because of the yoke’s uniqueness. As a result of our experience with Lexus’ yoke, we’re much more optimistic about the future of the brand. However, the yoke’s clever engineering (literally) could well show us what the future of steering will look like. The RZ450e’s first drive review can be found here.
It’s More Than Just a Pretty Face—Eh, Yoke—
However, Lexus went one step farther than Tesla and actually designed a completely new type of steering wheel. Steer-by-Wire is the term given to a new electronic steering system in the United States, at least. However, Lexus USA banned the OMG label for the American market, so it will be known as One Motion Grip there instead.)
No physical linkage between steering-yoke input and the front wheels is required as a result of the electronic transfer of steering input. To control the steering rack, one electric motor is connected directly in series with a yoke-mounted gearbox, while another motor gives feedback and feel. To be sure, we were comforted by Lexus’s reputation for dependability when they assured us that the steering system had a full backup, including a redundant controller and CAN bus cabling
Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering, in contrast to Lexus’ Steer-by-Wire, allows the driver to select from a variety of steering ratios. No modes may be selected by the driver in Lexus’ system; instead, it adapts the steering ratio to the current situation. When driving at parking-lot speeds, the steering wheel needs to be turned hard, yet the yoke doesn’t need to move at all. There’s just a 300-degree lock-to-lock range for the yoke’s entire motion, which is why the mechanism works in a way Tesla doesn’t: An overhand motion isn’t required for this task (or even possible). Your right hand never turns more than 10 o’clock if you want a full left lock. At high speeds, Steer-by-ability—nay, Wire’s necessity—to vary the steering ratio indefinitely and quickly would be a disaster, naturally.
Comparison of Steering Yoke and Steering Wheel in Lexus RZ
Lexus welcomed us to a preview drive of the RZ 450e with early Euro-spec prototypes in order to give us a taste of Steer-by-Wire technology. After a pair of RZs were driven back-to-back, one with a traditional mechanical steering system and wheel, and one fitted with the optional Steering-by-Wire system and yoke. Fast circuits on the Parcmotor Castellol circuit were part of our driving experience, as well as a walking-pace autocross and a slick-surface test to assess how the system functions in the event of a skid.
Let’s start with the yoke before we discuss how it steers. You can only use the nine-and-three yoke because of the yoke’s size and shape, but it’s slanted to allow a more natural hand posture. The stalks for the turn signals and wipers are located on the backside of the yoke, making them easily accessible. Headlight and wiper sensitivity settings are positioned below the usual steering-wheel buttons, rather than rotating like standard stalks. The yoke is designed so that your hands never leave it.
At High Speed, Lexus Steer-by-Wire
There’s a lot less yoke rotation than with a normal steering wheel, but Steer-by-steering Wire’s reaction is predictable and progressive, and we had no trouble remaining on an accurate cornering line during our initial test drive. The fact that the yoke rotates less than a quarter of a turn off center makes driving that much more unusual. Our lap times in the car with the steering wheel were faster, but it was really due to our increased confidence, which we’re sure we would have gained with more experience. Astonishingly, the yoke and its reduced travel made it easy for us to adjust to it.
Steer-by-on-the-fly Wire’s ratio modifications are the real magic. A driving experience we expected to be difficult, in which we couldn’t estimate how much the car would change direction for a steering input turned out to be lot more enjoyable. Entering a corner with minimal steering movement, the Steer by Wire Lexus steered in sharply and precisely. While the steering-wheel motion was less than with a regular wheel—especially in tighter-radius turns—the motion also seemed fully natural and logical. Yes, it’s a breeze.
That is, unless we intentionally sparked it. In an attempt to avoid drifting into an oncoming lane, we tried jerking the wheel abruptly on many straightaways. Correctly, the system responded to this as a panic maneuver by delivering a tepid steering response. Brilliant.
Overall, we were pleased with the vehicle’s feedback: The steering was heavy but there was no on-center dead spot, and there was no off-center twitchiness. Startled by this, as we had been assured that the system filters steering feedback to eliminate the harsh kickback and automatically compensated for scenarios that would ordinarily require a driver to dial in some steering correction. This surprised us. We were expecting a dreary, arcade-game feel from the steering system, but in fact the sensation was suited to the circumstance. Steer-by-Wire hasn’t been tested on rocky roads yet, so we can’t say for sure whether or not the ratio adjustments are more noticeable in real-world driving.
Skidding While Parking With Steering By Wiring
Lexus put us through a series of tight corners that required us to use all of our steering input to experience the system’s low-speed capabilities. Only when you near full lock does Steer-by-Wire feel awkward: A surprising amount of steering angle is applied to the yoke as it nears its final few degrees of travel on the RZ. At low speeds, you really just need full steering angle—and it beats the daylights out of all the arm-twirling required in a RZ with a traditional wheel (or Tesla’s Model S with its poorly thought-out yoke)—a peculiarity we can live with.
Last but not least, Lexus sent us out onto the slippery surface of the skidpad where it had us drive a 3-corner race with the stability control system turned off in an attempt to make our cars oversteer and then recover from that. As with any steering wheel, the yoke made it simpler to pull out and twist the car’s tail, but it was also much easier to get back in control. Using the yoke, we were able to acquire all the steering angle we needed without any difficulty. A failed recovery will never be an excuse because you couldn’t get your hands around the situation quickly enough.
The Yoke Is Our Biggest Pet Peeve
The yoke is the only part of the system that we have a problem with. With our hands locked in the nine-and-three position on the track (which we’re used to adjusting on sharper corners for greater wheel travel, which obviously isn’t necessary, or even conceivable, with the yoke), it felt strange. Light hands mean better feedback while driving swiftly through curves. It is recommended to shift your weight to your rear rather than using the steering wheel for support. We struggled to maintain weight off our arms because of the yoke’s form and the effort necessary to spin it. For some reason, the yoke required a much stronger grip on our hands than a regular steering wheel and it became painful to hold on to it after only a few circuits of driving.
Steer-By-Wire, Not the Yoke, Is the Future.
The disparity between Lexus’ and Tesla’s approach to the steering yoke was most striking to us. We found Elon Musk and his team to have created a novelty that we finally considered to be of little value.. As a result of these considerations, Lexus built a steering system that takes full advantage of the steering yoke’s capacity.
The Steer-by-Wire yoke on Lexus, on the other hand, may be said to solve problems that don’t exist. We found the yoke less comfortable than a wheel, but they’ve been there since the Model T era. Which gets us to the most important part of the story: our protagonist: With a traditional steering wheel, we’d like to test out the Lexus’s steer-by-wire system. It’s possible that the yoke may remain a novelty for a while, but what about a steering system that adapts instantaneously and intuitively to constantly changing conditions? Brilliant engineering, and it could have a profound impact on the way we drive.