Lexus Continues to Hone Steer-by-Wire System, RZ Yoke Still a Year Away

lexus rz450e yoke steering wheel
Lexus Committed to Yoke, but Still a Year AwayLexus
  • Lexus showed a yoke-style steering wheel at the debut of its first EV, the RZ450e, but this steering system has yet to make it into production.

  • We drove a substantially retuned version at an event Lexus held at Fuji Speedway and still think its low-speed response is a little too eager.

  • The company plans to complete development of this steer-by-wire system next year.

Not long after Tesla put a yoke steering wheel in the Model S and X in 2021, Lexus showed one in the debut of its first EV, the RZ450e. But the RZ has been on sale for a year or so now, and yet there’s still no sign of the yoke.

It turns out the company isn't yet satisfied with the tuning of this very different steering setup. This is noteworthy because Lexus actually made changes to make the yoke work, such as limiting steering travel to eliminate hand-over-hand maneuvers, as opposed to Tesla's approach which didn't include any changes to the underlying steering hardware.

When we first experienced it in a RZ prototype, we found the low-speed tuning especially difficult to acclimate to. That was well over a year ago, and Lexus engineers have since retuned the steer by wire substantially. The latest version lets the steering wheel turn a little further, too—200 degrees in each direction, rather than 150 degrees initially. We drove the latest setup at a Lexus event held at Fuji Speedway.

The yoke itself is a high-quality piece, and it appears to share nothing with its round forebear. Its wiper and turn-signal stalks and paddles are far stubbier, and there are adjustment knobs for volume, lights, and wiper settings on the front of the yoke, each with excellent haptic feel. To enable not having a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front tires, the RZ has a number of redundancies in place: for example, an extra battery below the center console ensures that the steering system maintains power even if the primary battery goes flat.

lexus rz450e yoke steering wheel

Turning to its new 200-degree limit can still be done while keeping both hands on the yoke. And once up to even modest speeds, we found the highly variable ratio of the steer-by-wire system natural and easy to acclimate to. Severe low-speed maneuvers are made easier by not having to turn the wheel nearly as far. But, when trying to make small corrections at very low speeds—such as while rolling through a parking lot at 5 to 10 mph—the front tires respond too eagerly. When we gave this feedback to the engineer riding shotgun, it sounded like he already agreed.

When asked about timing, Lexus engineers told us that they hope to complete development sometime next year. Presumably, the yoke will go into production shortly after, although the company says there’s no set timeline for production at the moment. Nevertheless, Lexus says the yoke will be headed to other models in the future, although it won’t say which ones.

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