Does it work? Tesla's stalk-free drive controls tested | CAR Magazine

Does it work? Tesla's stalk-free drive controls tested

Published: 09 May 2024

► Tesla’s stalk-free interior tested
► You swipe a screen to select drive and reverse
► But does that actually work?

Tesla’s slightly baffling war against the familiar details of the traditional car continues. Speedos, handbrakes, mirror adjusters – all long gone from the physical realm. Now they’re joined by the stalks that used to project from the steering column of the Model 3 and the most recent (now LHD-only) Model S.

One stalk would operate the indicators. That’s now done by a pair of buttons for your left thumb. The top one is for turning left, the bottom one for turning right. Fiddly if you haven’t indicated before you start twirling the wheel, but you get used to it.

But losing the other stalk is a bigger deal. That one used to be the drive selector. Like many an automatic, EV or otherwise, it gave a simple choice: R, N or D (or press it in for P), and you could operate it without looking.

The new system makes gear engagement yet another touchscreen function. You touch the brake pedal and a slider appears on the edge of the screen. P at the top is for Park. Slide your finger up for Drive. Slide it down for Reverse. There’s no specific N for neutral.

In our time with the latest Model 3, the new system worked just as it was intended to, with none of the screen freezes or crashes you’d fear. The problem is that you have to look at the screen to be sure you’re swiping the right bit and that it’s done what you want. Would you ever get to the stage where you’d swipe without looking? I suspect not.

It makes three-point turns slower and more irksome than a conventional eyes-off gear selector, which has to be a bad thing.

Above your head is the fallback position, in the form of physical buttons for PRND. These would be even slower if you tried to use them as an alternative to the screen – they really are only there for emergencies.

The potentially most interesting bit currently has Beta status, ie it’s still being perfected. When you opt in to ‘Auto Shift out of Park’, as it’s clumsily but accurately called, you can change gear without using either the screen or the buttons. More precisely, the car does it for you. Based on sensor data and your previous manoeuvres, it makes an educated guess about what you want to do next.

If, for instance, there’s a wall behind you, it knows you’ll want to go forwards, not back. If it’s correct – OMG THE CAR IS READING MY MIND – you just press the accelerator and go forwards. If it’s wrong, you tap the brake pedal and over-ride its gear selection.

How it works: Tesla’s stalk-free interior

Virtual gearlever
When you put your foot on the brake pedal, the right-hand edge of the screen becomes a slider that performs the functions of the old gear-selector stalk.

The swipe-free option
You can opt to go further and bypass the swipe. Instead, the car calculates whether your next move will be fore or aft, and you just need to use the pedals.

In case of emergency
If the screen packs up, there’s a fallback. In the roof, either side of the switch for the hazard warning lights, are manual buttons for P, N, D and R.

Does it work?

No. Or rather, it successfully does the job of replacing a stalk with a swipe, but that’s a bad idea as it will mean more time with eyes off the road, which must be a backward step for safety.

By Colin Overland

CAR's managing editor: wordsmith, critic, purveyor of fine captions