Tesla Cybertruck’s amazing feats lack context and details (so don’t get too excited)


I’m not sure if I ever will, but I very much want to drive a Tesla Cybertruck. I mean, look at that thing. Distinctive, weird or just plain ridiculous cars have always been the most interesting cars, and they’re the ones that car enthusiasts most want to drive or learn more about. Doug DeMuro has made a career out of showcasing them. And if the Cybertruck doesn’t qualify as distinctive, weird and just plain ridiculous … well, it sure ain’t normal.

Yet, I also want to drive the Cybertruck because the experience itself should be fascinating. And I don’t just mean staring through the vast, flat windshield over the starkly plain dash. The combination of chassis and drivetrain elements described by Tesla CEO Elon Musk yesterday at the Cybertruck’s delivery event (itself distinctive, weird and just plain ridiculous), is fascinating.

Musk describes the Cybertruck as having the “handling of a sports car.” I haven’t driven it, but I can’t imagine that’ll be the case. It’s far more likely to have the handling of absolutely nothing else. How could it not? It’s as wide as a Ford F-150, but 6 inches shorter in length. It weighs nearly 7,000 pounds when most trucks are in the upper 5,000 range. Sports cars these days are in the 3,000s, maybe 4,000s. It then has the low center of gravity afforded by its gargantuan (and gargantuanly heavy) battery pack. It also has all-terrain tires, which sports cars don’t tend to have. Unless named Dakar.

Then there’s those chassis and drivetrain elements I mentioned. Every Cybertruck has rear-wheel steering (RWS), typically an option on large, upper-crust luxury cars as well as some sports cars, including the Porsche 911. By turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction as the fronts, it significantly reduces the vehicle’s turning circle, increasing its agility around corners, and generally making it feel like a smaller vehicle. That’s a big deal for a big vehicle like the Cybertruck.

But it’s not the biggest deal. That’ll be the steer-by-wire system, which to me, explains why Tesla came up with its controversial yoke in the first place (it just jumped the gun by putting it in the Model S first). While the yoke drew unsurprising ire for being a poor fit for conventional steering, as Lexus discovered while concurrently developing its own steer-by-wire system, a yoke is actually well-suited for what’s apparently in the Cybertruck. Assuming it works in the same manner as Lexus Steer by Wire, sensors will determine how much you turned the yoke and send that info to the electric power steering system while the Cybertruck determines how fast it’s going. Those two pieces of info are then used to radically alter the steering ratio and therefore how much you need to steer. More simply, you’ll barely have to turn the yoke at low speeds to make it turn. Instead of turning hand-over-hand multiple times in a U-turn, you’ll likely just bring your right hand from 3 to 10 o’clock.

As the above video shows, it’s really weird and unlikely anything you’ve ever experienced before, but it also seemed to work well in the Lexus. If it’s similar in the Cybertruck, you can see why I think it’ll handle and drive like absolutely nothing else. But that’s not the end of it.

The range-topping Cyberbeast adds a second motor to the rear axle (like the Audi SQ8 E-Tron), therefore granting each wheel its own motor that can spin at different rates. This allows for what’s called torque vectoring, or the outside rear wheel spinning faster than the inside one to push the rear end around a corner and reducing understeer. It’s indeed a boon for handling, as we’ve seen in various all-wheel-drive cars, most notably those by Acura.

Add all that up, and the Cybertruck could be just as wild to drive as it is to look at. I wanted to hear a lot more about those elements, but unfortunately, Tesla doesn’t hand out press materials and doesn’t go into greater detail in its consumer website, either. Musk also spent a lot of time, assisted by a pre-made video presentation, going on about the many amazing Cybertruck feats of strength. That’s where it lost me, because so many were completely bereft of context.

I’m sure many non-car media outlets will parrot these capabilities as if they are unique and incredible (and maybe they are!), but won’t dig deeper to see if they are in fact distinctive for new vehicles in 2023, whether the provided footage/info tells only a sliver of the full story, or if it was just plain-old misleading. Here are some of those examples.

Rollover

“Because the center of gravity is so low, it doesn’t roll over,” Musk said while video played showing a rollover test conducted at 16 mph (according to a graphic on the screen) whereby the Cybertruck laterally slides off a sled and lands with both left wheels in a sand pit. It does not in fact rollover.

Perhaps this is an incredibly common test in the automotive industry. Perhaps this seemingly random speed of 16 mph is the common industry standard. Or maybe Musk is exaggerating and it totally would’ve flipped ass over tea kettle at 20 mph. Who knows! The problem is the utter lack of context here, including how other vehicles of various kinds would perform.

We in the car media see footage of random tests like this all the time on new car launches in order to demonstrate certain capabilities. I assume it’s usually in good faith, and it probably is here, too. The trouble is, again, I have no context for it and without context, you can’t exactly use it as evidence for “it doesn’t roll over.” Musk and Tesla certainly can. That’s called marketing. People reporting about the Cybertruck or even those reading about it? Nope!

Crash test

Immediately after that rollover test in that video, footage was shown of the Cybertruck crashing into a seemingly standard crash test barrier. The crowd erupted in applause, which did seem odd. Do they think cars usually accordion from bumper to bumper in crash tests? Explode? Have they seen a crash test recently?

Anyway, the only information provided about its performance in that crash test along with a seemingly standard side test was Musk saying, “If you’re ever in an argument with another car, you will win.” Okey dokey. Once again, that’s marketing, and it’s absolutely no different than the sticker on my son’s Britax car seat that just says “Crash Tested.” That’s nice, how did it do in that crash test?

To be clear, I wasn’t expecting Musk to whip out a nine-page report documenting dummy head deflections, but until the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gets its hands on one, we shouldn’t get too carried away about its crash performance. True, the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y are IIHS Top Safety Picks, but that ensures nothing about a subsequent new model, especially one as fundamentally different as the Cybertruck. All we know is that it didn’t accordion or explode on impact.

Pulling a Porsche 911

This is another one lacking context. First, what kind of Porsche 911 is it? There are A LOT. Judging by the color and wheels, it’s almost certainly a Porsche 911 Carrera T, which has the least powerful engine available. Assuming Tesla was using launch control (and that’s definitely an assumption given the stunt nature of this exercise), the Carrera T will hit 60 in 4.3 seconds with a manual or 3.8 seconds with an automatic. That’s also assuming the person driving the 911 is of a comparable skill as the person who did Porsche’s times. Again, an assumption.

Also assuming the Cybertruck does indeed hit 60 in 2.6 seconds (with 1-foot of rollout as is the standard on a drag strip or at publications such as Car and Driver), it would stand to reason that the Cybertruck accelerates from zero to 60 mph in maybe 4.2 or 3.7 seconds while towing 3,900 pounds of 911 Carrera T plus trailer. That’s really cool!

Again, though, context! Tesla definitely picked a 911 here that it knew it could beat in a 0-60 test while towing another 911. If they chose literally any other new Porsche 911 here, one that isn’t a lightweighted model and/or quicker to 60, the Cybertruck loses this stunt.

Also, it should be noted that by 0-60 times alone, a Rivian R1T with the Quad-Motor setup hits 60 mph in 3.0 seconds, according to Car and Driver. So a Rivian might be able to do this, too.

Torque!

I nearly did a spit take when I read motor outputs for the Cybertruck. The Cyberbeast version has 845 horsepower, which is one crazy boatload, but also, that Rivian Quad-Motor has 835. The Cyberbeast order page then lists torque: 10,296 pound-feet. Aaaaand, my laptop is almost covered in coffee.

The Rivian Quad-Motor, for context, has 908 lb-ft as its stated torque figure. So, holy crap, the Cybertruck is the torqueist damn thing this side of a Falcon 9! Um, no. Tesla does not measure torque or at least report torque in the same way as nearly every other new carmaker. This is by no means an apples-to-apples situation. They might as well be saying the Cybertruck produces 10,296 millicochranes of torque. It means nothing in context of the figures you’ll see elsewhere.

Well, one exception: The GMC Hummer EV. GM reports that it maxes out at 11,500 alternative torques. So, um, the Cybertruck has less than that. Good to know.

The spare tire

As the website says, “All-terrain tires have you covered in any environment. Bring a spare tire for when you go where roadside assistance can’t.” It then shows a picture of an enormous tire taking up half the truck bed. This basically just says, “The Cybertruck does not have a standard spare tire, unlike the Rivian, Ford Lightning and (insert name of other truck), and even if you opt for one, it’s a serious compromise.”

This is actually not a good thing.  

The range extender

One of the surprises of the event was the so-called “Range Extender” battery that ups the total range from 320 to 470 miles. That’s a big difference. It’s also a big battery that, again, takes up at least 40% of the truck bed.

Is that such a good thing?

Really, that question can pretty much be asked over and over again while reading about the Cybertruck. And while looking at it. It seems like something that we’ll be talking about forever, but there’s so much we still don’t know and so much that’s slathered in a slick film of marketing that no one should get too carried away without more information. Sadly, I’m afraid much will go unanswered as so few will be able to independently test these amazing feats for themselves as is possible with almost every other new car manufacturer.



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