This morning Tesla announced design tweaks, interior refreshes, and performance updates to its Model X and Model S…models. They’re both a little curvier in back and a little more streamlined up front. The console screen is now horizontal (instead of vertical) and has enough juice to play PC games (with a wireless controller.) Tesla also set availability for a new Plaid trim level—1,020 horsepower with a 390-mile range—in February and, later in the year, a Plaid+ model with 1,100 horsepower. Oh, and the Plaid models get a starfighter-ass steering wheel. Look at this thing:
Tesla—by which I mean Elon Musk—worships at the Bill Simmons Altar of Mildly Amusing Pop Culture References, with Musk’s favorite flavor being ’80s goofball sci-fi. It’s why Teslas have Ludicrous Mode and Plaid variants (both nods to the 1987 Mel Brooks classic, Spaceballs). It’s why the Tesla X crossover has overly complicated DeLorean-esque rear doors, and it’s why the polygonal Cybertruck looks like it was designed by blowing on the Nintendo cartridge for Photoshop 1.0. It’s why, instead of actually redesigning the Model S—which looks almost exactly the same as when it debuted in June 2008, an ice age in automotive lifespans—Tesla engaged in some Knight Rider fanfic and lopped the top off the steering wheel.
Tesla’s “butterfly” wheel first debuted in the upcoming Roadster, where some Lewis Hamilton cosplay on the part of the driver makes sense. But is losing the top helpful to a Model S driver? Not really. You could make the case—alright, I’ll make the case—that it’s aggressively antagonistic to the driver. Most of my time spent driving involves having one hand perched at 12 o’clock, the other desperately trying to skip the soothing rain sounds that Spotify thinks I want on my Discover playlist. Exactly .5 percent of my time driving involves both hands at 9 and 3, as Tesla’s new wheel encourages. And no one else in the car likes when I do this, because it means I’m probably going to take an on-ramp too fast.
But these Musky references, these gleefully nerdy antagonisms, are crucial to the Tao of Tesla. Otherwise, it would be a boring car manufacturer. Porsche already has a damn fast electric sedan in the Taycan, Audi’s e-tron SUV is more handsome than the Model X, and Ford’s Mustang Mach E shares underpinnings with the legendary pony car. The industry is finally competing with Tesla on the product. None of those other legacy manufacturers, though, are willing to confound their carefully curated focus groups with a less-comfortable steering wheel that doubles as a meme.
Tesla—again, Elon Musk—and all the other chronically online Tesla fanboys love a good meme though. They see themselves in a car company that worries less about creature comforts, and more about retweets. A company that doesn’t take itself too seriously, except in its mission to blow up the boring status quo. As the once-futuristic design language of Tesla ages gracefully and saturates the streets of America, the best way for the company to keep on Tesla-ing is to keep those half-off steering wheels coming.