The controls of the Tesla Cybertruck broke my brain

By | April 2, 2024

The controls of the Tesla Cybertruck broke my brain photo

I recently drove the Tesla Cybertruck and discovered that form dictates (and limits) its function in most aspects. That’s no surprise, but what did surprise me was the truly impressive technology involved, namely the unique steering system.

The Cybertruck is the first vehicle on American roads to be steered entirely by wire, with no mechanical linkage between the front wheels and the steering wheel. Lexus and Infiniti offered steering-by-wire systems before Tesla, but they had mechanical backups. Powered by the Cybertruck’s 48-volt low-voltage architecture (as opposed to the 12-volt systems in most cars), multiple electric actuators move the front steering rack and turn all four wheels in response to input.

In theory it’s a bit unnerving. The thought of removing a safety-critical link between driver and car is frightening. In practice? I loved it. The variable gear ratio translates small inputs into nimble maneuvers at parking speed before relaxing for highway cruising. Combined with the Cybertruck’s four-wheel steering, it makes driving a large vehicle much easier and eliminates wasted effort. As I noted in my full review:

“Instead of going hand over hand for 90- and 180-degree turns, just turn the handlebars about 75 degrees for a right turn, or as far as it will go (about 120 degrees) for a U-turn. There is no hand-over-hand, no shuffling steering and no guessing how far to turn the wheel. It’s a boon for maneuverability, and combined with the Cybertruck’s EV-typical low center of gravity, goes a long way to making it feel much more nimble than it should.”

You can see the speed ratio and how far the rear wheels spin in this clip:

Importantly, the learning curve is fast. The first few blocks and a few right turns felt awkward, but then I got the hang of it. After driving it about 60 miles over the course of a day, I climbed into a brand new Porsche Cayenne S, a car known for its excellent electric power steering. The Cayenne felt awkward in parking garage maneuvers that weren’t a problem in the much larger Cybertruck, and the amount of input required felt enormous. The Cybertruck’s controls broke my brain and it’s hard to go back.

Now, at this point, I know someone out there is clutching their hydraulically assisted beads and asking, “But what about steering feel?To which I respond: When was the last time you drove a truck with steering that felt Good? In a sports car or even a sports SUV like the Cayenne, I want texture and communication from the steering wheel. But in a pick-up, a box truck or even a city bus? Keep the ‘feeling’. Give me accuracy and maneuverability every day.

Yes, the Cybertruck’s controls feel video game-like and artificial. That’s because it is. Its job is to make a three-ton monster ride like a two-ton crossover, not to let the banked bends of Sunset Boulevard approach the Nordschleife. But it also feels like the future, at least for trucks and large commercial vehicles where ease of operation is far more important than any sporting pretensions.

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Furthermore, eliminating the physical control connection opens up all kinds of packaging possibilities. Cabin designs are practical again when safety regulations allow it. Swapping a car from right-hand drive to left-hand drive can be as simple as pushing a button. Wants to drive from the middle like Gordon Murray or move a vehicle across a construction site without getting into it? The world is your oyster.

The better question is safety. Tesla says that “the steering-by-wire system is controlled by multiple redundant sensors and actuators,” so you won’t be in trouble if one component fails. If there is a problem, it says, “a warning will be displayed on the touchscreen, an audible signal will sound and Cybertruck will gradually reduce drive torque while informing you to stop.” At least there is one report of this event via a series of tweets that have since been deleted.

Of course, mechanical steering components can also fail. Ever seen a car with a crooked wheel due to a bad tie rod or ball joint? The difference is that these mechanical parts typically wear out and show signs of wear and degradation before failing completely, and a driver can maintain a degree of control even with only one wheel on the ground. Additionally, steer-by-wire cars still have the suspension components responsible for keeping the wheels under control, so they don’t eliminate the chance of these mistakes.

While I have some reservations about completely handing over a safety-critical system, such as steering or braking, to computers, there is no denying that in the case of the Cybertruck the technology is well calibrated and can make a huge difference in controllability and maneuverability for the biggest drivers. vehicles on our streets. In an automotive world where it’s becoming increasingly tedious to break new ground, Tesla has broken some things. Like most things in the company’s environment, consider it a beta test.

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