Some acclaimed it as another masterful design. Others questioned the choice.
“I hate to be that guy, but anyone else notice they left off half the steering wheel? Is the top half extra $$?,” wrote one Twitter user.
The “the new Model S interior is such a downgrade, you don’t even get a whole steering wheel,” wrote another.
It was just the latest polarizing aesthetic move by Tesla, known for provoking controversy with its sometimes too-futuristic designs. In 2019, it debuted the sci-fi inspired Cybertruck to a mix of astonishment and horror, plus what the company said was a record number of preorders for a vehicle. The truck, expected to be manufactured starting as soon as this year, looked like it was plucked from a futuristic film, with a stainless steel exterior and purported “unbreakable windows” that shattered onstage.
And its current fleet of cars sport iPad-like screens and retracting door handles that tuck into the body of the car, designs hailed as ahead of their time — and some that have come under scrutiny over reliability issues more recently.
Tesla released the preview images as part of a design refresh for its flagship sedan, which debuted in 2012. Some consumers complained of the stale design and indicated it had prevented them from buying the Model S, anticipating an upgrade.
The new steering wheel is more of a rectangle and appears to eliminate turn signal stalks. Tesla’s upcoming Roadster sports car includes a similar Yoke-style steering wheel.
Karl Brauer, an automotive analyst who is executive publisher at the website CarExpert.com, said the new Yoke design is typically seen on supercars or sci-fi- inspired vehicles. It isn’t always comfortable, however.
“It’s considered very advanced, you know, arguably very kind of aersospace-y or aerospace-inspired to have these kind of half wheels,” he said.
But there are pitfalls.
“It’s not easy to shuffle steering. If you talk to anybody who knows anything about racing and proper driving technique, you have to shuffle” your hands, he said. “You’re gonna end up crossing and not being able to shuffle ... In an airplane you don’t crank the wheel over and over again so it works in an airplane.”
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The refreshed sedan, which was pictured showing video games on its now-horizontal center screen, is expected to debut this spring.
On the company’s earnings call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said first deliveries of the refreshed model would come in February. The new Model S will cost $10,000 more than the prior version, he said, starting just under $80,000. The most advanced version, dubbed “Plaid,” is expected to be the fastest production car in the world, accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under two seconds, Musk said. It is expected to cost about $120,000.
“We think it’s probably the best car of any kind available in the world today,” Musk said.
The upgrades went beyond aesthetics. Images showed what appeared to be an online store with a preview card for the game “The Witcher III,” as Tesla touted console-like gaming performance. A back seat screen also showed what looked to be a video game, indicating rear passengers could play in the back seat.
On Twitter, however, much of the focus was on the steering wheel.
Gene Munster, an investor and managing partner of Loup Ventures, applauded Tesla on the new design.
“Model S refresh is coming (we’ve been waiting for 2 years), with a futuristic looking steering wheel,” he wrote. “#Tesla is forward thinking and masterful in its design.”
But some anticipated ergonomic difficulties.
“So I drive with my hand at the 12 o’clock position on the steering wheel,” asked one Twitter user. “How on earth am I supposed to drive comfortably with the refresh?”
Tesla posted a $270 million profit on revenue of $10.74 billion for its fourth quarter, including $401 million in regulatory credit sales to other automakers.