2024 Tesla Cybertruck Off-Road Driving Impression at King of the Hammers

Jackson Wheeler
9 Min Read

  • Through sheer happenstance, we got to drive the elusive Tesla Cybertruck out in the desert at King of the Hammers.
  • With notable caveats, the truck performed much better than we expected.
  • The caveats included shockingly wimpy brakes, aftermarket tires that scraped the wheel arches, and a busted suspension, significant items.

You never know what you’ll find at King of the Hammers. Sure enough, right there in the off-grid charging solutions of the Optima Oasis where they’d set up EV charging for the 70 or so electric trucks and SUVs on the (usually) dry lakebed where Hammers takes place, was a Tesla Cybertruck.

A fleet of EVs was just about to head out on a drive and lo and behold, the Cybertruck, tuned by Unplugged Performance, maker of aftermarket Tesla parts, had an empty seat!

Sliding into the front passenger seat my first thought was, “Damn…this thing is big.”

Unplugged Performance development driver Craig Coker was at the wheel. Thanks to that extremely long, sloped windshield I felt like I was sitting way far back from the dash. I had no idea where the front of the truck was, the proportions were so whack-a-doodle.

a military vehicle with a person standing in front of itVIEW PHOTOS

Emme Hall

The Sand People of Tatooine inspect the Cybertruck.

We came to a soft sand hill and I asked Coker to take the high line. He eagerly agreed, switching from “Overland” mode to “Baja” mode.

This Cybertruck was wearing Unplugged Performance’s custom bead-lock wheels and 35-inch Yokohama Geolanders with 35 psi inside. Swapping tires is the easiest thing you can do to improve off-road performance in general, and these Geolanders are a bit beefier than the Goodyear Wranglers that come standard on the truck (however, you’ll lose some range with the extra tread).

Coker gunned it and the Cybertruck climbed up the dune, flipped around and threw up rooster tails of desert dirt while spectators hit the “record” button on their phones.

I Got to Drive!

Then, with nothing to lose, I asked Coker if I could drive.

“Oh yeah, sure,” he said. Yeehaw!

We took a steep hill but nothing to challenge the Cybertruck’s geometry. At full height there is 17 inches of ground clearance—although that’s in “Extract” mode so you won’t be able to go too fast at that height—with an approach angle of 35 degrees and a departure angle of 28 degrees.

This test truck also had Unplugged Performance’s manually disconnecting antiroll bar kit but, frankly, the rig didn’t need any more articulation on this quick drive.

Cresting the hill was a bit scary. The dash is so long, it seemed like an eternity until I could see over the hood to the trail below. There are cameras here and they are high-def, but you’ll likely want a spotter if you’re not familiar with the trail.

Then: Terror at 438 mm! As I came down the hill toward a road crossing, I hit the brakes. But the Cybertruck didn’t feel like it was slowing down at all. I added more pressure to the brake pedal, but it was still not slowing down proportionally. Coker said the brakes weren’t “warmed up.”

I’m no mechanic but I’m an accomplished off-road racer and I’ve spent plenty of time in the desert in both ICE rigs and EVs. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to warm anything up. And it’s not like the Cybertruck was sitting overnight in the snow. We spent at least 15 minutes driving out here.

As I came down the hill toward a road crossing, I hit the brakes. But the Cybertruck didn’t feel like it was slowing down at all.

At any rate, Unplugged Performance will offer an upgraded braking system and, after tires, that’s probably the next modification I’d do. Assuming I have the cash because the brake upgrade is over $3,000.

The Whoops!

Next came the whoops. Those high-speed, rolling undulations are the best test for any suspension. Go too fast and you’ll start pitching and bouncing. But the Cybertruck has an air suspension and about 14 inches of wheel travel in regular drive mode. At 30 or 35 mph the Cybertruck’s shocks soaked up bumps easily and it felt smooth and controlled.

This isn’t the quickest I’ve driven through the whoops in a stock vehicle—I’ll give that to the 60 mph-plus the Ford F-150 and Bronco Raptors can handle—but it was much quicker and more composed than a Jeep Gladiator.

I could hear a bit of scraping from the more aggressive tires and, with the antiroll bars connected, there was a bit of clunking coming from underneath, but all in all I’m stunned at the rig’s composure.

All is not perfect beneath, though. The upper control arms are laughably wimpy. I showed a photo to my pal Nicole Pitell from Total Chaos fabrication, which specializes in bolt-on suspension parts for Toyota, GM, Ford, and Nissan trucks.

“From the photo it seems like the arms are just a thin piece of stamped metal,” said Pitell. “Those designs are prone to crack. We like to build arms out of tubular chromoly with larger diameter pivots to add durability. Overall, the whole unit needs to be beefier if you want to really want to get into the dirt.”

While Total Chaos has no plans to offer Cybertruck parts, Unplugged Performance offers a 2.5-inch lift that comes with more robust arms. That kit is a whopping $10,000, but the company says it may offer the arms as a stand-alone product.

the track club

Then came the donuts. Coker set the power to go to the rear wheels and whooo-boy does this thing spin around. The steering ratio is really quick, and the rear steering brings the back end around lickity split. Unwind the wheel and the electronic nannies keep the rear from fishtailing.

As you may have seen on social media, sometime after my drive the Tesla broke its rear passenger-side tie rod. Currently Unplugged Performance doesn’t have any beefed up tie rods on offer, but the company’s goal in this inaugural off-road adventure was to find the Cybertruck’s limits, which they did.

When I parked the big rig, I was left with mixed feelings. There are definitely some upgrades you’ll want to make if you plan on seriously wheeling this thing off-road. I like the Rivian R1T better, with its standard built-in air compressor, more robust control arms, infinitely better looks and smaller footprint.

I didn’t do any rock crawling in the Cybertruck, and our route was something that any stock vehicle could have done, but it performed much better than I thought it would. Add in the available upgrades from Unplugged Performance and the Cybertruck should satisfy most average consumers when the pavement turns to dirt.

Share your thoughts on the Tesla Cybertruck in the comments below.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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