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Cybertruck off-road test highlights air suspension shortcomings, loses to all but the Ford F-150 Lightning

The Tesla Cybertruck scores rather poorly in articulation tests, likely due to its reliance on air suspension and road-biased linkages. (Image source: Car and Driver on YouTube)
The Tesla Cybertruck scores rather poorly in articulation tests, likely due to its reliance on air suspension and road-biased linkages. (Image source: Car and Driver on YouTube)
The Cybertruck's “Built for any planet,” marketing blurb may have oversold the Tesla electric pickup truck's off-road capabilities. A recent test reveals that the Cybertruck falls behind everything from the Rivian R1T to the Toyota Tacoma and even the Chevrolet Colorado when it comes to suspension articulation.

Tesla keeps marketing the Cybertruck as some sort of high-performance off-road vehicle, relying on its plentiful ground clearance and ruggedness to support its "Built for any planet" slogan. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, once even said that the Cybertruck "Needs to kick butt in Baja," referring to the legendary off-road rally event in Baja, Mexico. Despite this hype, the Cybertruck consistently seems to fail at its mission of off-road dominance.

First, the Cybertruck failed to deliver on its off-road promises when even the tri-motor variants didn't ship with the promised software- and brake-based locking differential feature. Now, as shown in a recent test by Car and Driver on YouTube, the Cybertruck's car-like suspension design has let it down in an articulation test.

In said video, Car and Driver's Dan Edmunds tests the Cybertruck to determine its Ramp Travel Index (RTI) score, which is a quick way of assessing a vehicle's chassis and suspension design — particularly in the context of off-road performance.

The RTI measures the vehicle's articulation — how far up a ramp one of the car's front wheels can make it before another wheel loses contact and traction with the ground — and compares it to the vehicle's wheelbase to come up with an arbitrary rating scale in which a higher score generally indicates better off-road performance.

In the case of the Cybertruck, while the central weight distribution typical of an EV helped it somewhat, it performed remarkably poorly in the articulation test, regardless of the Suspension mode used. The Cybertruck scored 369 in off-road mode with low suspension settings. Moving to on-road mode and dropping the suspension even further actually yielded a better result of 420 thanks to a quirk in air suspension that results in higher ground-clearance settings causing less suspension articulation.

For context, the Rivian R1T scored 510 in its default mode and 488 in off-road mode at rock crawling height, while the Ford F-150 Lightning scored an abysmal 332. However, things start to look much worse when comparing the Cybertruck's score to other petrol-powered vehicles, like the Toyota Tacoma, which scored 503 in its TRD Pro trim, or the RAM 1500 TRX, which scored an impressive 602. Even the mid-size Chevrolet Colorado comes out 41 points ahead of the Cybertruck's best score.

The thinking behind the RTI scoring system is that as soon as a car starts to lift a wheel going over an obstacle, it will start to see a dramatic decrease in power and capabilities — even if there is a locking differential in place.

It is also interesting to see the Cybertruck's dual rear motors fail to put power down to the ground, illustrating just how unfinished the electric pickup truck's software suite is. While you might expect the wheel without traction to spin freely while the remaining rear wheel on the ground continues to provide power, this doesn't seem to be the case.

While it initially seems as though the motor with traction does want to power through the obstacle with or without the help of the other wheels, it quickly gets overwhelmed and cuts power.

These types of tests certainly aren't the be-all and end-all of off-road performance, but they can give you a good idea of what to expect when going off-roading in a pickup truck. While the Cybertruck's 18-inch ground clearance may be class-leading for an EV, it trades suspension articulation to get that ground clearance, resulting in a diminished ability to put the power down when the road gets rough.

If you want to read about the development of the Tesla Cybertruck, check out Walter Isaacson's biography of Elon Musk on Amazon, or get in on the off-roading fun with an Axial RC Truck 1/6 SCX6 Jeep JLU Wrangler 4WD Rock Crawler, also on Amazon.

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2024 03 > Cybertruck off-road test highlights air suspension shortcomings, losses to all but the Ford F-150 Lightning
Julian van der Merwe, 2024-03-15 (Update: 2024-03-15)