Impressive Engineering Hamstrung by Hubris

Advanced in Tech & Business

Impressive Engineering Hamstrung by Hubris

The Tesla Cybertruck is the car of the year. I don’t mean it’s the best car of 2024, but it’s certainly the most talked about and has been since Elon Musk bashed in its window onstage back in 2019. Yes, the “bulletproof” stainless steel Tesla pickup is perhaps the ultimate product of our polarized culture of fear, and its Musk-fueled gestational period was anything but normal. But now, incredibly, it’s a real vehicle you can go out and buy, Bioweapon Defense Mode and all.

Anything I say about the Cybertruck from this point on probably won’t change your mind about it, and that’s OK. I liked driving it. Does that mean I want one, or that it’s good for society? Not necessarily. I’ll get to that. But as a technical showcase, it’s as impressive as it is distinctive, and it carries with it an innovation that could change the future of trucks and commercial vehicles for the better.

Tesla doesn’t offer traditional press loans, so when Turo offered us 24 hours and 100 miles with a privately owned Cybertruck, we gladly accepted. Think of it as an extended test drive. The short duration and mileage limit of our loan means we didn’t get to go off-road or test its claimed 11,000-pound tow rating, but we figured some time with the truck was better than nothing.

Special thanks to the fine folks at Turo, who comped us a one-day rental, and to Chris, an enthusiastic early adopter who let us borrow his truck. If you want to check out his Cybertruck in L.A., you can find it here.

The Basics

The Cybertruck is the first stainless steel-bodied car since the DeLorean DMC-12. Its wedge-shaped body is curiously unbranded—you won’t find a Tesla logo anywhere—but there’s no mistaking it for anything else on the road. All Cybertrucks come standard with four-wheel steering, a 123-kWh usable battery pack, a six-foot bed that’s four feet wide, and up to 16 inches of ground clearance. In typical Tesla fashion, a humongous 18.5-inch center touchscreen up front and a 9.4-inch touchscreen in the rear house the bulk of the truck’s controls.

Maddox Kay

There are two Cybertruck trims currently being produced: the $79,990 dual-motor all-wheel drive base model and the $99,990 tri-motor Cyberbeast. Tesla’s website also shows a rear-drive model slated for production in 2025, but for now, let’s focus on the AWD ones you can theoretically buy. The truck I drove was a dual-motor Foundation Series, a launch model limited to 1,000 units that includes special trim and badges, all-terrain tires, and a bi-directional home charger. From what I gather, the Foundation Series exists mostly to let eager Cybertruck buyers skip the line at an additional cost of around $20,000. 
The dual-motor AWD Cybertruck claims a range of 340 miles and accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds while the Cyberbeast trades 20 miles of range for a 2.6-second sprint. The Cyberbeast is the one you saw in Tesla’s launch video beating a Porsche 911 in an eighth-mile drag race while towing another 911.

Driving the Tesla Cybertruck

As you’ve probably heard, the Cybertruck is fully steer-by-wire, meaning there’s no steering column or mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels. Instead, electric motors turn all four wheels, and the steering wheel employs an ultra-quick variable ratio. This is a game-changer in practice.

Instead of going hand-over-hand for 90- and 180-degree turns, you just turn the steering wheel about 75 degrees for a right turn, or as far as it’ll go (roughly 120 degrees) to make a U-turn. There’s no hand-over-hand, no shuffle steering, and no guessing as to how far to turn the wheel. It’s a boon for maneuverability, and paired with the Cybertruck’s EV-typical low center of gravity, goes a long way toward making it feel far more agile than it should.

Maddox Kay

Speaking of EV-typical, the acceleration is quick and the truck is both composed at speed and reasonably comfortable over choppy terrain. It rides more like a traditional body-on-frame Ram or F-150, where you can feel each wheel and suspension component doing its work from far away as opposed to the more carlike ride of a Rivian.

As in all Teslas, the truck’s functions are all carried out through the massive touchscreen with the exception of the turn signals, volume knob, and windshield wiper (singular), controls for which are all mounted on the steering wheel, Ferrari-style. Yes, folks, the only physical volume control is on the steering wheel which means the only way for passengers to turn down music is via the touchscreen, something Reviews Editor Chris Tsui has poignantly described to me as “fucking stupid.”

What’s more, shifting from drive to reverse is accomplished by dragging a screen icon of a truck down on the screen, which is counterintuitive if you’re used to down for D, up for R. In the event that the touchscreen becomes inoperable, though, gear selection can be done via backup capacitive touch buttons on the roof, located right behind the useless rearview mirror. During parking maneuvers, the truck ignored my inputs on both interfaces multiple times, either because my foot wasn’t on the brake hard enough or because I lifted my finger too early. I’m not sure what crimes we’ve committed as a society to collectively get to a place in which a plain ol’ mechanical Prindle feels like a luxury, but that’s just where we are right now.

Maddox Kay

Touchscreen woes aside, the interior is spacious and thoughtfully designed. Dual wireless charging pads are easy to reach from the driver’s seat, but they’re weirdly padded in suede which raises longevity-related questions, especially if the truck is used for work or camping trips. Since there’s no transmission tunnel, the real estate freed up between the front seats becomes a convenient stowing spot for a backpack, purse, or camera bag. (Rivian offers a similar storage spot in the R1T.) Rear seat leg- and headroom is more than adequate, and at six-foot-two I could sit behind myself comfortably. However, this nearly new truck’s driver’s seat audibly creaked in its bracket under lateral g-forces, and at one point exiting the truck, I accidentally kicked the seat’s adjustment control panel clean off.

Design

It’s hard to talk about the Cybertruck without talking about how it looks. In an era where concept cars rarely make production and automaker design heads bemoan “jelly bean” EVs, the Tesla truck’s doorstop shape has changed remarkably little since it debuted in 2019. Sure, everything else has changed, but I digress.

Everywhere you drive, phones come out. Men nudge their partners and point. Women nudge their partners and gasp. Dogs shiver in terror. OK—not that last one. You have to be comfortable being the center of attention driving a Cybertruck, and I never got the hang of it, probably because I was a wallflower in high school. That attention was egalitarian and almost universally positive, though. Tradespeople complimented the truck more than any other group—to be honest, I had expected them to scoff. The Cybertruck may look standoffish, but to own one, you’d better be pretty friendly.

In a vacuum, I actually like the looks, particularly from the side and three-quarter perspectives. It’s not too fussy, and there’s something endearing about a vehicle that looks like an eight-year-old’s sketch of the future. The front and rear are a bit bulky when viewed dead-on. On a practical note, the Cybertruck’s stainless steel construction, which is already causing rust issues for owners, is a fingerprint magnet. In just a day of driving, the doors, frunk, and tailgate were embarrassingly oily. If you own one of these, you’ll either carry microfibers and spray cleaner everywhere you go or learn to live with the world seeing your dirty refrigerator. Points to the first person who sticks alphabet magnets to it.

The Cybertruck’s unique design causes other woes, too. Visibility is atrocious with massive sail panels, a tiny rear window at the back, and a huge dash plus long A-pillars up front. The rearview mirror is a comically cheap afterthought that doesn’t include a camera feed—you have to take your eyes off the road and look down at the dash tablet for that. Oh, and when you signal to change lanes—assuming you signal—it disappears, replaced by a blind-spot camera. It’s a good thing other drivers can see this thing coming from a mile away and keep a wide berth because chances are you won’t see them. The massive side slabs, which give the truck its wedgelike shape, also make it impossible to load items into the bed from the sides.

Finally, there are some really sharp edges! I mentioned this in my initial impressions post, and while I didn’t cut myself, I’d be concerned about pedestrian impacts or small children brushing up against the truck. Perhaps another reason to consider a wrap. Speaking of sharp things, the Cybertruck’s distinctive wheel covers weren’t present for my drive, and owner Chris says they were recalled because they were damaging tires. Too sharp for its own good, this.

As noted in my up-close first look, panel gaps between the tailgate and bed sides are questionable at best, and on my tester, the plastic piece atop the tailgate was already damaged. Owner Chris didn’t know how this happened, but he said a replacement was only $70 and on its way.

Tesla Cybertruck Features, Options, and Competition

I’ll go out on a limb and say most Cybertruck buyers probably don’t do a lot of cross-shopping. It is interesting to see how it stacks up to the other electric pickups in its class, though: the GMC Hummer EV, Rivian R1T, and Ford F-150 Lightning.

Despite its literal refrigerator aesthetic, the Cybertruck is actually one of the lighter vehicles in its class. Weighing 6,603 pounds for the dual-motor variant and 6,843 for the Cyberbeast, the Cybertruck is over a ton lighter than the 9,063-pound Hummer EV, a few hundred pounds lighter than the 7,148-pound Rivian R1T, but heavier than the 6,015-pound Ford F-150 Lightning. As such, its 123-kWh battery pack is dwarfed by the Hummer’s 212-kWh battery and roughly on par with Ford’s and Rivian’s extended-range packs. 

It’s six inches longer than the Rivian overall, and its bed is 18 inches longer, at a full six feet, but three inches narrower—and difficult to load from anywhere except directly behind.

At $79,990, the AWD Cybertruck’s price lines up with a Dual-Motor AWD R1T with the Large 135-kWh battery pack. Range is comparable at 340 versus 352 EPA-estimated miles, as is performance. But that’s assuming you can buy a Cybertruck today at the advertised price. Foundation Series pricing puts the Cybertruck in line with the Max-pack equipped R1T Performance and its 410 miles of range. Of course, you will be able to buy a range-extending battery for the Cybertruck, but, per Elon, it’s estimated to take up a third of the truck bed and cost $16,000.

The F-150 Lightning’s Lariat trim starts at $77,495 with the available extended range pack, which boosts range to 320 miles and matches the Cybertruck AWD closely, spec for spec. Maybe this will change once the Cybertruck reaches true mass production and becomes more accessible, but for now, the clear value-for-money advantage is with Ford and Rivian.

Range, Charging, and Efficiency

The Cybertruck is capable of DC fast charging at speeds of up to 255 kW. Key words: up to. Its charging profile is strange in that its 4680-format battery cells charge fastest from 0 to 20%, a range where many range-anxious drivers are unlikely to spend much time.

In my brief experience Supercharging the truck from an indicated 20 to 80%, it peaked out around 135 kW. This performance may have been affected by the capabilities of the specific Tesla Supercharger I used, or the high volume of traffic at the location on a Tuesday morning. I preconditioned the battery for roughly 25 minutes prior to charging, so that shouldn’t have been a factor. Either way, I had time to walk to a nearby cafe, have a coffee and a breakfast burrito, and take a brief phone call—around 40 minutes.

The Cybertruck really does look like an artifact from another planet at a Tesla Supercharger. Maddox Kay

The Foundation Series Cybertruck is rated for 318 miles of range and gets praise for its reasonable efficiency—but some tests have it falling 90-plus miles short. In my experience, I blew through about 150 miles of indicated range in less than 100 miles of admittedly not-easy driving. (What can I say? This truck made me channel my inner Elon and behave like an asshole.)

An Owner’s Perspective

Chris has now owned his Cybertruck for a couple of months, and I was curious what he thought of it. Admittedly, he makes part of his living by renting this thing out, so take this for what it’s worth, but his review was largely positive.

“I love it, my favorite car so far,” Chris glowed. He ordered the Cybertruck the very day it was announced back in 2019, then ponied up an additional $20K when he received a Foundation Series invite in December 2023. When I asked if he had any complaints or suggestions for future upgrades, he replied “Maybe better quality trims and interior.” The plastic trim, in particular, he called “so cheap.” “Tech-wise it’s great,” he continued, adding that a “slide-out tailgate would be awesome.”

Chris estimates his real-world range as “around 300 miles,” but says he hasn’t charged the Cybertruck to a full 100%, possibly to preserve the battery or because of its charge profile. Chris says he paid around $115,000 in all for his Foundation Series truck with Full Self Driving beta and a bi-directional home charger. Despite a few early quality and wear issues, he would choose the Cybertruck again.

The Verdict

The Tesla Cybertruck is a good EV boxed in by its own design choices. It’s clear there’s good engineering going on behind the scenes here—the steering is even revolutionary. But the constraints of its construction and its current pricing scheme have doomed it to be a plaything rather than a useful tool like its competitors.

It is a caricature of ruggedness and utility rather than a product that actually embodies those attributes. Annoyingly, it’s also more than that. It’s a three-ton pickup that drives and maneuvers like a two-ton car. It could be so much better, sure, but we all know it also could’ve been so, so much worse.

I don’t want a Cybertruck, and I’m guessing if you’ve read this far instead of retweeting whatever Elon just said, you don’t either. But if its tech is any indication of the future, you’re going to want what’s coming next. Trust me.

Maddox Kay

2024 Tesla Cybertruck Specs All-Wheel Drive Cyberbeast
Base Price (Foundation Series est. as tested) $79,990 ($115,000) $99,990
Powertrain dual-motor all-wheel drive | 123-kWh battery tri-motor all-wheel drive | 123-kWh battery
Horsepower 600 834
Torque (Tesla-claimed, with drive ratio torque multiplication) 7,435 lb-ft 10,296 lb-ft
Seating Capacity 5 5
Curb Weight 6,603 pounds 6,843 pounds
Cargo Volume 120.9 cubic feet <<
0-60 mph 4.1 seconds 2.6 seconds
Top Speed 112 mph 130 mph
Max Payload 2,500 pounds <<
Max Towing 11,000 pounds <<
EPA Range 340 miles (318 miles with Foundation Series) 320 miles
Quick Take A unique, tech-forward, and well-engineered truck held back by its creators’ own egos.
Score 6/10

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