I Gave Tesla’s Cybertruck a 48-Hour Thrashing. It (Mostly) Survived.

ABS OF STEEL The test vehicle, a Tesla Cybertruck AWD Foundation Series ($100,000, as tested), landed hard on a concrete culvert at a 4×4 obstacle course near Hollister, Calif. A double-layer of ultra-hard stainless steel (2.3 mm) protects the battery pack from damage. A later inspection found scratches but no dents or deformation.
ABS OF STEEL The test vehicle, a Tesla Cybertruck AWD Foundation Series ($100,000, as tested), landed hard on a concrete culvert at a 4×4 obstacle course near Hollister, Calif. A double-layer of ultra-hard stainless steel (2.3 mm) protects the battery pack from damage. A later inspection found scratches but no dents or deformation.

Summary

The elusive Cybertruck is one of the most polarizing vehicle debuts in history. But what’s it like to actually drive one? Dan Neil took one to the limit—and beyond—for two days to find out.

AS THE RAIN-SOAKED trail collapsed and the Tesla Cybertruck began sliding toward a ravine, whence there appeared no hope of recovery, I considered my options. I could return to my first love, the theater. I could call a tow truck, which could be suspended from a helicopter. I considered just gunning it, counting on the truck’s four-wheel steering and 521 lb-ft of electrotorque to claw back up the embankment. So I did that.

SCHWAAASHHHH!!! The truck came to rest against an oak tree in a shower of leaves, hung up at 45 degrees on the diagonal. My co-pilot, 16-year-old daughter Roz, checked in. “You OK, Dad?"

But Dad was not OK. He was furious with himself, because just five minutes before he had made a big deal about getting out and checking the top of blind crests, especially if you’re off-roading solo. Remember that, Roz!

Now our borrowed $100,000 Cybertruck was caught in the branches of a tree like a deorbited gourmet grille. Damn it. We crawled out of the passenger-side window—the 48V window actuators all still functioned smartly, I noted. The truck’s bottom-heavy weight distribution makes it quite hard to tip. That’s lucky. What I really needed now was a Cybershovel and a Cyberwinch, without which I was going to be Cyberscrewed.

Imagine there’s no Elon. It isn’t hard to do. The Tesla brand appears nowhere on the outside of the truck. Likewise suspend whatever disbelief you have in Cybertruck’s commercial upside—although Tesla has probably already recouped its development costs in media obsession.

This is a phenomenal piece of engineering. Sure, many of the heroics—the enormous aluminum giga-castings, the tool-hard steel body panels, the world’s largest and flattest windshield—were only necessary to build what seemed, at the outset, unbuildable. Cybertruck still isn’t quite the machine Musk and designer Franz von Holzhausen set out to make four years ago,  but it’s still years ahead of anybody else.

Before my test drive two weeks ago, the only thing I knew for sure was that the Cybertruck made people crazy. Consider the widely shared opinion that it is ugly. As compared to traditional pickups? Worst beauty pageant ever. Still others have read in it the semiotics of toxic masculinity, the turret-like greenhouse suggesting a paramilitary vehicle. Tesla CEO Elon Musk doubled down on this association by touting the body panels’ resistance to small-arms fire. What a maroon.

My hot take: The Cybertruck’s sensibility belongs to the consequence-free world of gaming and graphical interfaces, its ballistic resistance a God Mode brought to life. It’s not militarism; it’s infantilism.

From any angle, the Cybertruck defies a lifetime of expectations, the auto-cultural conventions of the three-box pickup design. It’s like a Modernist house suddenly appearing in a neighborhood of neo-Colonial mini-mansions. Oh-oh. Here comes the HOA, with torches and pitchforks.

The most ridiculous gripes have targeted the ultra-hard stainless-steel body panels. Reports of surface oxidation have been gleefully megaphoned by social media as Cyber-rust. You can see fingerprints!

Brah, do you even hear yourself? First, stainless steel never was or will be stainless. Ask the Navy. Second, most bully 4x4s you see on the road never leave asphalt for fear of scratching their glossy, fingerprint-resistant surface. You’re going around dressed like Porter Wagoner at the Grand Ole Opry and you think you’re a real cowboy?

The Cybertruck’s greatest sin is to force trad-truckers to confront this cognitive dissonance, exposing full-size pickups and adventure 4x4s as the prisses they are.

Two hours and one rescue vehicle later, our Cybertruck emerged from the brush, unscathed but for some wood splinters wedged in the door frame. Had we been in any other modern off-roader our next stop would have been a paint-and-body shop.

The rules for my test drive were, no rules. I downloaded the Tesla app and met the truck in Los Angeles. I only needed to return it to the factory in Fremont, Calif., in 48 hours. Actually, I could have used a bit more of a briefing. I didn’t learn that the front and rear locking mechanical differentials were not activated until I had the thing fetched up on a concrete culvert on an obstacle course and I had to get dragged off. (Tesla will activate the lockers with an OTA update in the coming weeks.)

Nor did I appreciate how long the wheelbase is—150 inches. The adaptive air suspension can raise the belly of the beast more than 17 inches off the ground. But the stretch wheelbase and low breakover angle mean the Cybertruck will drag bottom on black-diamond trails.

Between this and that, and without intending to, I beat the hell out of the bottom of the Cybertruck, which happens to be where the battery pack lives, protected by a double layer of the same Cybersteel used in the body. Afterward, in the damp parking lot in Fremont, I climbed under the truck to inspect the damage. A few scratches. Not even a dent. What sorcery is this?

I admit I had the wrong idea about Cybertruck going in. I expected it to be an off-road performance pickup when actually it’s an on-road performance pickup. Consider the tires. The very same 35-inch all-terrain tires that allow the Cybertruck to ride like an enchanted mag-lev up the Interstate 5 are, off-piste, surprisingly helpless, due to the fact they are inflated to 51 psi—somewhere near ebony on the hardness scale. The tires’ lower rolling resistance improves range (318 miles) but comes at the expense of traction. The fix in the field is to air down but then you have to air up again before hitting the road. I forgot to pack my shop compressor.

On the interstate, it’s Cyberfabulous—effortlessly powerful, quiet and fun to drive. Fast? I promise your hunting dogs will never look at you the same way again. The advanced drive-by-wire four-wheel steering turns from lock to lock in 180 degrees, like a go-kart. That takes about five minutes of neural remapping but after that it’s great.

I only wish they made the Cybertruck for Earthlings.

The central conceit, the peaked glass silhouette, ultimately comes at too high a cost of visibility in every outward direction, particularly at the front corners, hidden behind roof pillars that recall the Pontiac dustbuster minivans of the 1990s. They didn’t work then, either. Nobody’s torso is that long. Of course, it has cameras looking in every direction for you,  but that’s not quite the same as being able to see out.

The shallowly raked windshield gets dirty and tends to stay dirty, with less runoff because of its lack of curvature. The single wiper blade can’t spray enough fluid to clear the outer perimeter. And when this mud-streaked picture window catches the glare of the sun—as it might at the top of a steep incline in California, in the late afternoon—it’s like looking into Archimedes’ mirror. Oof. Where did the trail go?

Sorry. I’m only humanoid.

2024 Tesla Cybertruck AWD Foundation Edition

Price, as tested: $100,000

Propulsion: Battery electric, with front and rear AC motors (400 kW); 123-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, 800V and bi-directional charging; coordinated all-wheel drive.

Power/torque: 600 hp/521 lb-ft

Length/wheelbase/width/height: 223.7/149.9/95.0/70.5 inches

0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds

Curb weight: 6,603 pounds

Towing capacity: 11,000 pounds

Maximum range: 318 miles

Charging: 250 kW max, up to 136 miles in 15 minutes

Cargo capacity: 120.9 cubic feet

CLOSE TO THE EDGE At an off-road area south of Hollister, Calif., the trail collapsed under the left front wheel of the Cybertruck, sending it sliding toward a wooded ravine. With the help of a factory engineer and a second Cybertruck equipped with a winch, the author was able to recover the vehicle.
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CLOSE TO THE EDGE At an off-road area south of Hollister, Calif., the trail collapsed under the left front wheel of the Cybertruck, sending it sliding toward a wooded ravine. With the help of a factory engineer and a second Cybertruck equipped with a winch, the author was able to recover the vehicle.
MOON UNIT The Cybertruck AWD Foundation Series features 800V fast-charging (up to 250 kW), as well as bi-directional charging. Its 123-kWh battery pack provides a nominal range of 318 miles. The truck also features a 48V accessory system powering adaptive suspension, drive-by-wire steering and other high-demand features.
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MOON UNIT The Cybertruck AWD Foundation Series features 800V fast-charging (up to 250 kW), as well as bi-directional charging. Its 123-kWh battery pack provides a nominal range of 318 miles. The truck also features a 48V accessory system powering adaptive suspension, drive-by-wire steering and other high-demand features.
TWIST AND SHOUT The Tesla Cybertruck relies on a drive-by-wire steering system, without a mechanical linkage, to control the 48V front- and rear-steering racks. The effective steering ratio—the proportion of steering angle to driver’s input—is unusually high, turning from lock to lock in 180 degrees.
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TWIST AND SHOUT The Tesla Cybertruck relies on a drive-by-wire steering system, without a mechanical linkage, to control the 48V front- and rear-steering racks. The effective steering ratio—the proportion of steering angle to driver’s input—is unusually high, turning from lock to lock in 180 degrees.
HARD BODIES The Cybertruck’s sheet metal is made of an alloy the company refers to as HFS (‘hard f—ing steel’). The structure is a mixed-monocoque design, with high-strength stamped-steel door rings and large aluminum gigacastings surrounding the load-bearing battery pack.
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HARD BODIES The Cybertruck’s sheet metal is made of an alloy the company refers to as HFS (‘hard f—ing steel’). The structure is a mixed-monocoque design, with high-strength stamped-steel door rings and large aluminum gigacastings surrounding the load-bearing battery pack.
RIVERS TO CROSS Sheathed in ultra-hard stainless steel, the Cybertruck’s structural rigidity (45,000 Nm per degree of deflection) is comparable to a McLaren P1. The company says the truck’s wading depth is 32 inches.
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RIVERS TO CROSS Sheathed in ultra-hard stainless steel, the Cybertruck’s structural rigidity (45,000 Nm per degree of deflection) is comparable to a McLaren P1. The company says the truck’s wading depth is 32 inches.
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