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You may love Tesla’s Cybertruck, or you may hate it. But it’s nearly impossible to ignore this dramatic EV. Taking the Tesla Cybertruck from an eye-catching concept to a production vehicle has been a 5+ year saga. Elon Musk promises deliveries will begin at the end of November 2023. In the meantime, production Cybertrucks test vehicles have been spotted in the wild, losing hubcaps, getting stuck in the mud off road, and navigating the Hollister Hills off-roading course in California. Tesla fans say the truck demonstrates off-roading prowess. But a nearly stock 1996 RAV4 had the perfect clapback, navigating the same incline in a third of the time.

The Tesla Cybertruck vs. a 1996 Toyota RAV4

Closeup of the new rims on an entry-level 2024 Tesla Cybertruck priced around $49,990/
Tesla Cybertruck pre-production prototype | Nic Coury/Bloomberg via Getty Images

First, someone posted a now-viral video of a production Tesla Cybertruck navigating a steep obstacle–a series of ledges covered in sand–at the Hollister Hills off-roading course. Hollister Hills is south of San Jose, California, and a natural place for Tesla to test its Cybertruck.

The video shows the Cybertruck’s wheels spinning as it stops and starts at each ledge. It is unclear whether the original poster found the truck’s performance impressive or embarrassing. The internet has been using the video to make fun of the Cybertruck, perhaps unfairly, but one 1996 RAV4 driver may have had the best response of all.

Twitter user Paulo Acoba posted a side-by-side comparison of the Cybertruck and a 1996 RAV4 navigating what appears to be the same obstacle at Hollister Hills. The timestamps alone tell most of the story: The video of the Cybertruck struggling up to the cameraman is 59 seconds long. The video of the RAV4 blowing past the camera and taking on the second half of the obstacle is 17 seconds long.

To add insult to injury, the post’s caption says: “Cybertruck or ’96 RAV4 with just springs & tires?” This means that the Toyota in the video is not riding on upgraded axles with lockers. It does not even have a Hi/Lo transfer case. Acoba explained that it was “Steph Papadakis’s RAV4 before he really modded it.” Acoba chose the video of the nearly-stock RAV4 because its time was even more impressive.

Are we being unfair to the Tesla Cybertruck?

I reposted Acoba’s video comparison to my personal Twitter and asked, “Is this comparison embarrassing for Tesla? Or is the Cybertruck just one software update away from dominating trails like this?” You all made some excellent points.

Tesla Cybertruck aggressively off-roading in the desert, clouds of sand flying off its tires.
2024 Tesla Cybertruck off road | Tesla

First and foremost, there’s a chance Tesla was intentionally collecting data on how the Cybertruck performs with its wheels spinning. Neil Bolton said, “He’s ‘testing’! He’s not trying to get up there the easiest way.” Scott Pisciotta added, “The ICE car gunned it, while CT clearly was trying different options. CT may have even been capturing slipping data for later programming.”

User Contributory Negligence posted a picture of the same hill from the bottom, showing its stepped layout. They explained, “This is the obstacle. The driver was stopping at each ledge.”

Clayton summed it up well: “The video isn’t supposed to be showing off how fast the ct goes up the hill…. Everyone with a ct is tasked with stress testing certain things.”

Keith McCue had a different theory, “Could be a bad driver who doesn’t know how to drive in this terrain and doesn’t know what to do.”

Will the Tesla Cybertruck be as good as an old RAV4 off-road?

Comparing a 7,000+ pound Cybertruck EV to a lightweight RAV4 off-road was never a fair showdown. Any half-ton truck with a full-size bed and a full-size crew cab is, at best, a compromise off-road. Make it an EV with a 1,000+ pound battery pack and the cards are really stacked against it.

Twitter user Kat put it well: “No software update could make it competitive against an old Rav 4, 90s Rav 4s are known for being so nimble due to how light they are, similar to a Geo Tracker. Cybertruck is way too heavy.” Summer added, “It’s weight is clearly the issue, you can see it’s struggling with tourqe because it’s obsenly heavy, there’s no shot it’ll ever be good at off-road (SIC).”

That said, the Cybertruck may eventually have some very real advantages in certain off-road situations. Electric motors provide maximum torque from zero RPM. Certain Cybertruck models may someday have four separate motors.

This multiple-motor design will enable it to modulate its power in real-time, hopefully preventing wheel slip. But this will require fine-tuned software. Robin Shipston agreed, “Surprised the 4WD logic is so poor, but as you say, a software update can change that.”

Will the three and four-motor Cybertrucks someday be able to modulate their power and spin their wheels less than a built off-roader with locking differentials? We’ll have to wait for the first deliveries to find out more.

Next, see a production Cybertruck get stuck in the mud while four-wheeling, or find out what might make the final Cybertruck an excellent off-roader in the video below: