When I reviewed the Tesla Cybertruck, I wasn't able to take it off-road, so I withheld any judgment there. Perhaps a truck that's tough to make an argument for on-road becomes unstoppable when the pavement ends. But the more tests I see, the more convinced I am that the Cybertruck is an incredibly limited off-road platform.

First, there was MotorTrends's excellent dissection of the truck's many foibles. They included notes about the charge port—one of the most important things on the truck—being mounted on the fender flares, the protruding, designed-for-scuffs trim pieces that serious off-roaders damage, scrape, and rip off constantly. If you do that with the Cybertruck, you're in big trouble. MT's Scott Evans also noted many instances of the truck spinning its wheels where a normal pickup pressed on without fault. Plus, there's no full-size spare tire, an absolute dealbreaker for anyone who does so much as fire-road camping. And now Car and Driver has dropped a YouTube video contextualizing the Cybertruck's articulation problem.

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The Victim Of High Expectations

The Tesla Cybertruck is a victim of its own hype. After four years of excitement, we expected an industry-beating, game-changing product like what Tesla has delivered in the past. The reality hasn't quite lived up to that. The Cybertruck is a sold EV pickup truck with plenty of advancements in tech, but the end result is a product that doesn't do anything much better than the competition. 

For the uninitiated, articulation tests are designed to measure how much twisting the body and suspension allow while still keeping four wheels on the ground. This is a huge deal for off-roading, as—despite what you might see on social media—lifting a tire off-road is a bad outcome. Off-road driving is about maximizing traction, and a wheel in the air has none. If you don't have locking differentials—which are not currently enabled on the Cybertruck—a lifted wheel will receive all of the power for that axle, as power follows the path of least resistance. So lift a wheel and your 4WD truck becomes 2WD pretty quickly.  

Automakers design off-road trucks with articulation in mind, because having flexibility in the chassis and suspension helps with most off-road scenarios, from rock crawling to mud bogging. It's why the Jeep Wrangler uses live axles on both ends, despite that being a huge compromise on the road. Live axles flex better, which is why you'll find them on the rear axle of almost every internal combustion pickup, and the Ford Bronco. Vehicles like the Bronco, Wrangler, and Rivian R1T also have the ability to disconnect their stabilizer bars. Stabilizer bars help a vehicle's on-road handling but limit articulation off-road, so disconnecting one is an easy way to get a few extra inches of travel. That's sometimes the difference between making it out and being stuck.

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Unfortunately for aspiring Tesla Cybertruck off-roaders, the Cybertruck doesn't have a stabilizer bar disconnect. It also has independent suspension at all four corners, though so does the Rivian R1T. Despite that, the R1T scored 520 on the "Ramp Travel Index" (RTI) articulation test run by Car and Driver's Dan Edmunds, where higher scores indicate more wheel travel. The Cybertruck scored 420 points on the same test. Both vehicles scored better in their on-road mode than in their off-road mode, because air springs become less flexible when fully inflated. Both trucks handily outscored the F-150 Lightning, with a fixed score of 332 points, though that truck isn't marketed as an off-roader.

If you widen the field to internal combustion trucks, C/D's testing shows that pretty much any off-road truck beats the Cybertruck. Here are a few examples:

  • Ram TRX: 602 points
  • Ford Raptor with 35-inch tires: 559 points
  • Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro (previous generation): 503 points
  • Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road: 489 points
  • Jeep Gladiator Mojave: 476 points
  • Jeep Gladiator Rubicon (Sway bar connected): 458 points

The Rivian would be in third place on that leaderboard. The Cybertruck is 30 points below last place. That's not damning, as the Cybertruck should be able to handle basic routes, rutted dirt roads, mud, and even some tough trails with a bit of skill, an update to enable those lockers, and some mods. But it's another instance of the truck not quite delivering on what was promised. It was supposed to be unstoppable. But as you can see in the video, lift one wheel and it stops pretty quickly.  

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