Tesla Cybertruck First Ride: We Get A Spin In Musk's Brutalist Sculpture

Riding in the backseat of the mechanical love child between an F-22 Raptor and a doorstop.

HAWTHORNE, California — Elon Musk no doubt adores shocking audiences, but this one was a real doozy. At least in theory, the Tesla Cybertruck unveiled at Musk's SpaceX headquarters abstractly echoes the layout and footprint of the top three selling vehicles in America—the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Dodge Ram pickup trucks. But in the flesh, the Cybertruck's rolling hunk of brutalist sculpture may as well hail from different galaxy than those star-spangled staples.

The Cybertruck's shape is as alien as the planet Mars that the 48-year-old innovator hopes to colonize, more closely the mechanical love child of an F-22 Raptor and a doorstop than a terrestrial vehicle. Indeed, the hyperplanar, Blade Runner-inspired Cybertruck left much of the crowd baffled—even perhaps unsettled—as it rolled onto stage with blinding LED lightstrips and giant, mud-ready tires. Not helping the proposition: when, at Musk's behest, designer Franz von Holzhausen pitched metal ball bearings at the Cybertruck's front and rear windows and the supposedly impermeable Tesla Armor Glass shattered. Twice. "It didn't go through," Musk sheepishly offered, though the Teslarati in attendance didn't seem to care (Tesla shareholders felt differently: the stock dropped five percent the following morning despite a 70-point market rally.)

Shortly after the Musk show, we were able to score a quick, backseat ride in a Cybertruck prototype on Jack Northrop Avenue next to the facility. It revealed predictably minimalist interior furnishings beneath the easily smudged, DeLorean-like stainless steel exterior finish (Tesla officials were quick to wipe down the door handle areas with microfiber cloths upon entry). A landscape-oriented, 17-inch touchscreen dominates the otherwise stark dash, and the button-free steering wheel looks like it was plucked from a light aircraft (or K.I.T.T., if you're nasty), and a folding front middle seat drops to reveal the screen to three rear occupants. There's plenty of room in this rectilinear cabin, whose angular themes are emphasized by the peaked transparent roof and the open view of the illuminated rear bed.

It's ride quality was remarkably cushy, due no doubt to the high profile tires, long wheel travel, and cushioning effect of the air suspension. Upon hard acceleration, the rear end squats like a trophy truck, supporting Musk's suggestion that "… you can basically do the Baja rally in this thing." The sensation of quiet, brisk acceleration here feels a bit more fluid than in glued-down variants like the Model 3 or even the higher profile Model X; with palpable pitch and roll G forces at play, the feeling is less about outright speed and more about how the long wheelbase truck moves through space in three dimensions.

Though the real world feasibility of a Baja 1000 run has yet to be proven, Musk did offer a Steve Jobsian "One more thing" in the form of a Tesla ATV that climbs up the tailgate ramp and fills its battery via an onboard charger in the Cybertruck's bed.

The Tesla Cybertruck's hardware was presented as a truck like no other (as legacy images of ancient Powerwagons and Flaresides flashed on the screen, Musk promised a sledgehammer-proof cold-rolled stainless steel "exoskeleton," air suspension with an onboard compressor and 8 inches of ride height adjustability, and an eye-opening towing capacity of more than 14,000 pounds in the top spec 500 model). But the true unique selling point here isn't the utility, which domestic diehards have long offered in spades (and have been for the better part of a century: see, Ford Model T Runabout), but rather the Pythagorean ideal of a dystopian truck that offers a fine disregard for convention.

The Cybertruck, which Tesla says will see production in late 2021, will come in three variants: a single-motor, rear-drive, 250+ mile entry-level model ($39,900), a dual-motor, 300+ mile version ($49,900), and a triple-motor, 500+ mile range-topper that Tesla says can blast to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds ($69,900). All models offer up to 16 inches of ground clearance and 35 degree approach/28 degree departure angles, as well as a lockable, 100 cubic foot bed.

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Wild, wacky, and unabashedly nonconformist, Musk's Cybertruck offers further proof that the entrepreneurial South African isn't afraid to throw the dice at a time when the auto industry is as disheveled as its ever been. "We'll be offering rides in this all night," Musk concluded following his presentation, "Don't mind the glass."