The secret is variable steering gear ratios.
Earlier this month, Lexus revealed its all-new electric SUV, the RZ. The Lexus RZ is fairly sharp-looking and comes with a claimed range of 225 miles, but none of this matters. The main talking point is the RZ being used to showcase Toyota's production yoke steering wheel.
Toyota first unveiled its yoke in the bZ4X concept car, but it seems to have been dropped in the production version. The yoke appears to be an option on the RZ, as the official press pack photos show a round wheel.
In any case, Tesla and Knight Rider fanboys might be wondering why we haven't given Lexus as much grief as we gave Tesla.
Lexus found a way to make the yoke work by fitting steer-by-wire. The steering wheel isn't connected to the rack in the traditional rudimentary way. Instead, it uses a "wire" that sends steering information from the wheel to the rack and vice versa. This allows the car to choose an optimized steering gear ratio based on the speed.
This way, Lexus can reduce the lock to less than one complete turn, which means the driver never has to cross their arms. As the Lexus video above explains, it eliminates the need for hand-over-hand operation.
Lexus has given an SUV the steering ratio of an F1 car. Sort of. The system in the Lexus depends on the car's speed. If the ratio were fixed, the average RZ driver would get about a mile down the road before scraping the roof.
Still, developing this new steering system must have cost Toyota a lot of money, and it seems to have been well-spent as the top half of the steering wheel won't obstruct the dials or the view of the road. While the system in the Lexus is more innovative and more user-friendly than Tesla's version, it's still just as ridiculous.
The first car ever (Benz Patent Motor Car) used a tiller to steer. It came out in 1885. Humans suffered the agony of the tiller for a full nine years before somebody thought that maybe we should use a circular device for pointing a large machine in a direction. Since then, the steering wheel has been a standard feature in every car until the Tesla yoke came along.
If only there were a term for describing a meaningless exercise to perfect something already perfectly suited to the task. Oh, wait…