2023 Lexus RZ 450e First Drive Review: The yoke is no joke

2023 Lexus RZ 450e First Drive Review: The yoke is no joke

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The yoke is no joke. For those of you anticipating the new Lexus “Steer by Wire” system and its yoke-like steering contraption to be the most distinctive, forward-looking, and ultimately compelling reason to consider the 2024 Lexus RZ 450e, you would’ve been in the minority. Most of us rolled our eyes, hard, when RZ interior pictures were released. Having seen Tesla’s gimmicky yoke in action, skepticism was understandable. In short, though, this is not just a yoke bolted onto the steering column for drivers to pretend they’re Batman. It is in fact an intrinsic part of an entirely new steering concept that could revolutionize the way we interact with the front wheels of a car. Which is why I’m going to talk about it an awful lot here in the beginning of this RZ review, because, unfortunately, this late-availability option is a much bigger deal than the electric crossover it’s attached to. (Though if you want to skip ahead, click here).


Basically, there is no mechanical connection between the yoke and the front wheels. There’s not even a mechanical backup as Infiniti’s unloved steer-by-wire system had, but before you get too bent out of shape about that, the last airplane you flew on almost certainly was steered by wire with no mechanical backup. It had a yoke, too, for that matter. Anyway, that’s not the big deal.

An angle sensor in the column senses how much you turned and sends that info to the usual electric power steering system, while the car determines how fast the car is going. Those two pieces of info are then used to radically alter the steering ratio and therefore how much you have to steer.

For example, if you’re at low speeds in a parking lot or turning right at a stop sign, the amount of steering input you have to provide is minuscule, like turning around a gentle bend at 40 mph. Performing a U-turn only requires turning your right hand over to 11 o’clock with your left hand to 5 – as in less than one full rotation. That’s full-lock with Steer by Wire, which means there’s no reason for you to remove your hands from 3 and 9, and therefore, a steering wheel isn’t strictly necessary and can actually be a detriment – which is why the yoke was devised. If there was a wheel, RZ assistant chief engineer Tatsuya Ishigaki says drivers would likely unnecessarily crank the wheel over – just as I would have when I went to do a left U-turn with the yoke and instinctively brought my left hand over to 2 o’clock only to discover air.

You can see it in action in the video below.

What’s not shown, however, is the far more extensive drive I took afterward in a tight, confined neighborhood (complete with a cute little roundabout) and various gently winding suburban roads. I adapted very quickly to the system, and after jumping back into a regular-wheeled RZ, found myself suddenly surprised by how much wheel turning we typically do. From what I experienced, this is not a gimmick. It actually works, could be considered an improvement, and could easily be the future. The fact that it provides a clearer view to the IP, which is literally relocated higher with the yoke, is a bonus. Now, yes it’s weird at first and you have to reprogram your brain a bit, but if you have an open mind, I don’t think it would take long. Believe me, I’m as surprised by this conclusion as you might be.

Now, some caveats. I did not drive it on a winding mountain road, which I suspect might reveal some oddities and issues. To be continued, then. The turn signal stalk remains (unlike the Tesla yoke that uses buttons), but it is much smaller and mounted to the yoke instead of the column, meaning it was consistently not where I was expecting it to be. It was an issue when quickly turning left after turning right. I was also fine with the yoke because I almost always hold the wheel at 3 and 9 – if you’re a wrist-over-the-top person or a 2-and-10-er, you may not like the yoke. Resting your hands on the bottom works, though.