by Jake Lingeman
Dozens, maybe hundreds, of cars come out every year. Most are run-of-the-mill hatches and crossovers, maybe a sports car or two, but once in a while something comes along that's a sea change, a transformation. And we can't think of a bigger transformation than taking the most popular body style in America and powering it with electricity.
That may not seem like news to you, our well-read and worldly reader. You already know Ford has introduced the new F-150 Lightning, Chevy has an electric Silverado coming and there's also the GMC Hummer EV. But the Rivian R1T pickup is on sale now. And it's the first electric truck (at least in 100 years or so) to get into the hands of the media for review. It. Was. Impressive.
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Single Speed Automatic
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Single Speed Automatic
So damned impressive that Jackie Brown, the national parks rep that gave Rivian the passes to ascend the trail, almost didn't allow us to go up, claiming the trail was impossible for a full-size pickup. Rivian's attempts at explaining the 800-horsepower, 900-lb-ft of torque, four-motor powertrain didn't convince her, so she rode up with our group on a trail that she hadn't been on in 15 years. Her only lament was that this truck is so good, more people will want to drive through the wilderness. However, Brown did admit that if more trucks HAD to come up here, it's nice that they're quiet, clean and electric.
Trucks are about towing and payload (and crushing off-road trails), so let's start with the immense, Thor-like power of the R1T. As we said, it has four motors, grouped into two twin-motor drive units, one at each axle, making about 800 hp in total. The front motors combine for 415 hp and the rears for 420. Combined torque is 908 lb-ft. The key here is that each motor is individually controlled. If in some weird dimension you got three tires in the air, the one with purchase would push you forward.
The R1T can tow 11,000 pounds, which puts it right up near the beasts from the Big Three. But, as with traditional trucks, if you get to that max weight, your range will suffer. In this case, the added weight will consume about half of the truck's 314-mile battery life, though Rivian reps told us the wind drag is more important that overall weight. Payload is rated at 1,764 pounds.
The R1T's top speed is 110 mph. Rivian says that 130 mph is theoretically possible, but we agree that 110 is fine for a vehicle that weighs in around 7,000 pounds. It can get to 60 mph in an estimated 3 seconds, and we believe it. Riding in most all-terrain option we did it in about 4 seconds, and it felt every bit as quick as the claims suggest.
Tire options are 20-inch forged wheels with off-road tires, 21-inch wheels with all-season tires for the best range, and finally 22-inch all-season performance tires for the best on-road handling. All tire options are bespoke from Pirelli.
Drive modes, which adjust the suspension, ride-height, throttle and steering, include All-Purpose, Sport, Conserve, Tow and Off-Road. We spent most of our time in All-Purpose and Off-Road, but can confirm that Sport makes this car feel like a giant sedan on twisty-but-paved mountain passes. Conserve releases the rear wheels from duty, using only the fronts to pull this truck around. Some of those modes, like Off-Road, have sub modes like Rock Crawl and Rally.
The R1T has three main pieces of suspension. It starts with the air ride that maximizes wheel travel over obstacles. Ground clearance ranges from 7.9 inches to a massive 14.4 - 6.5 inches of adjustment. Each drive mode has several settings for ride height, and automatic load leveling is always active.
It has an active damping system the monitors the road and makes adjustments every 5 milliseconds, with variable damping rates for both compression and rebound depending on the situation. Each drive model features a soft and stiff option. Those two options adapt to whichever drive mode you choose. The important thing here is the adaptation. Rivian could make it softer, or stiffer overall, but it found that this is the best base setting.
With over-the-air updates, this can change in an instant. Rivian's off-road Sherpa told us that the vehicle software has been updated in just the few weeks that journalists were driving it, meaning future updates could improve the R1T overnight.
The final piece is the electro-hydraulic roll control system. That system replaces the mechanical antiroll bars for more agility off the road and tighter control on it. The shocks are hydraulically linked meaning when one side gets compressed, the other side absorbs some of the blow. If that sounds at all like what you might find on a McLaren 720S, it's because Rivian poached McLaren engineers to help develop the R1T. On the road it makes the R1T feel sportier. Off-road it maximizes wheel articulation.
We zipped silently out of the basecamp hotel near Breckenridge, Colorado at 7 a.m. with our tires already lowered from 48 psi to a more off-road friendly 28 psi. With the onboard compressor we could change them back anytime (or blow up pool toys with the included back of adapters). We spent about 5 minutes on pavement before zigging off the road onto a rocky, tire-killing trail that eventually ends at 12,600 feet.
We switched to Off-Road mode here but kept the suspension in soft while we gently rolled over the jagged edges until we got to the monstrous rock crawling portion of the journey. We switched over to that mode, getting the full 14.7 inches of ground clearance, which was needed, and full articulation. In that Off-Road mode, the throttle sensitivity is cut down which allowed us to gently ride up 90-degree faces and roll down without shooting off into the woods with all 900 lb-ft of torque at once.
It just took a steady pressure on the pedal to overcome anything in our path. With each tire computing its own grip, we got stopped often, but in a split second the brain figured out which tires needed to spin, and away we went. Rocks that you'd have to go around in anything but a lifted Jeep Wrangler were passed over without contact.
And with the suspension in that low-pressure, off-road mode, we twisted the truck mercilessly in the articulation area, with nary a squeak or clunk. We did bang one of the folded-in mirrors as we were leaned over at a sharp angle, but it'll buff right out. After a few minutes, we had completed two of the more challenging obstacles on the route. The R1T has plenty of cameras, including ones on each of the wheels, so avoiding ground hazards is extra easy.
We drove a couple hundred feet up a rocky stream and the only thing we heard was the running water, a few rocks crunching and the tires gently slipping. One of the best parts of going off-road is communing with nature, and you can't do much communing when your diesel is revving hard and belching black smoke in low range. The animals will avoid you and your entire group. But the Rivian is different.
With the windows down, in addition to the crunching of the rocks you'll hear birds chirping, squirrels talking and tree branches falling. The R1T is so quiet, in fact, that we crept up on a family of mountain goats at about 12,000 feet and they didn't move until we were almost close enough to pet their horns.
On the road, the R1T feels smoother than a standard pickup, probably due to the center of gravity being so low with the skateboard battery pack in the floor. In the sportier modes, the air suspension lowers, and the steering gets quicker. Around the switchbacks of Loveland Pass, the truck felt planted like a massive sedan. We were on the off-road tires, so they did start singing a little earlier than expected, but there was no under- or oversteer. We're itching to get this truck on street tires, though we jokingly mentioned the Nurburgring and Rivian quickly said, "we're not doing that."
We tried out the adaptive cruise control and driving assists too. The system worked mostly as expected - it's a hands-on setup using touch capacitors instead of torque to the wheel - though it will only engage on select highways. When it did kick in, it worked fine, maybe a little above average in lane centering. The best part is the capacitors, though. In most cars you have to jiggle the wheel every 30 seconds or so, to prove you're paying attention when in driving assist or traffic jam assist modes. This just requires a few fingertips on the wheel to not get scolded.
The R1T gets two main screens in the well-lit, panoramic sunroof cabin. The driver cluster is a 12-inch screen and the main infotainment (with navigation, climate and comfort settings) is 15 inches. The leather-wrapped steering wheel features a dial and two buttons on each side, used for various functions ranging from volume to tuning, as well as zooming in and moving the steering wheel. The digital driver cluster shows what the car sees whether in adaptive cruise or not, even showing little people walking around in front of the car when apt.
The dash is clean and features natural grain wood accents along with vegan leather seats and lightweight floormats that can be hosed off and replaced. There are three color options for the cabin including Forest Edge, a mossy green, Black Mountain and Ocean Coast, which is a gray. Little metal accent pieces and Rivian logos are dotted around the interior.
There are a ton of USB-C ports and 12-volt chargers, to go along with a few 110-volt outlets (which is where the Camp Kitchen gets its power. It does not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet, but it does have both Alexa and Spotify natively programmed into the system. We'd expect those phone connections to come sooner or later, probably via an over-the-air update. The R1T has four cupholders, a center console storage that's 8x7x12 inches, two front under-seat bins, and a rear under-seat bin that measures 12x33x7 inches.
Every Rivian comes with an LTE Wi-Fi hotspot while upgraded models get a 1,200-watt Elevation by Meridian sound system with four tweeters, four midrange, four height speakers, four door woofers, and one subwoofer. They also all come with the cool Camp Speaker that can be removed from the system and used via Bluetooth. It charges up in the vehicle and sounded great when we broke for lunch in a meadow 10,000 feet above sea level. Base cars get a standard surround-sound 200-watt system.
In addition to doing standard pickup truck things, the R1T also has a bunch of extras. Things like the detachable speaker and the Camp Kitchen, for instance. That kitchen slides out of the Rivian's Gear Tunnel, a storage space between the bed and cab, which is also accessible from the back seat. That rhombus-shaped pass-through can hold 11.6 cubic feet of cargo, which adds to the frunk's 11 cubic feet. There are two 110-volt outlets there, used for the Camp Kitchen if specced, but also one in the cab and one in the bed opposite the compressor. If you pick the Gear Tunnel Shuttle option ($1,500) you get the slide-out table without the kitchen, to which you can attach and power anything you'd like. A blender for cocktails perhaps, after the driving is done.
The bed's tailgate also extends out when opened for a total length of 84 inches. Rivian says that's enough to fit a motorcycle, and we'll add that a sheet of plywood would only hang over by 12 inches. We packed four adults in the four door pickup and had loads of room for everyone. Without a transmission tunnel, five can fit without fuss.
The Rivian R1T and the pickups that will follow are nothing less than a revolution. There's a ton of talk about using these for work, and the range anxiety associated with towing and hauling. But how many tradesmen drive more than 300 miles in a day? It can charge at 16 miles per hour at a home 240-volt outlet, and 25 miles of range per hour with the Rivian Wall Charger option. DC charging is even faster. Even if you max tow with a cube trailer, you're still looking at 150 miles or more. So it'll do work.
It will also do off-road, farther than anyone will have the guts to attempt. We don't expect many owners to do that, but it will if you ask it.
Finally, it can also be a style statement. Some trucks are only that, and we think the R1T is a fine one with its rich blue, yellow, and hunter green exterior options.
We'll accept that it can't tow a horse trailer across the country in a day like a gas-powered truck, but those gas-powered trucks can't be a part of nature without disturbing it. And nature doesn't like to be disturbed. And neither does park ranger Jackie Brown. But she is without a doubt convinced, and once these things start hitting the streets, and the Home Depots, we think quite a few more of you will be too.
The first electric pickup truck to market is also the first one to lay out a suggested retail price; the Rivian R1T Explore starts at $67,500 while the R1T Adventure starts at $73,000. The Launch Edition models are sold out, but these two should be ready in January. The Explore gets the less powerful radio, matte black interior finishes, vegan leather seats, a manual tonneau cover, and recycled textile floormats. The Adventure trim gets natural grain wood, the Meridian sound system, heated and vented seats, lumbar adjustment, and a microfiber headliner.
Buyers can add a 400-mile range battery for an extra $10,000, a reinforced underbody shield and tow hooks for $2,000, and a full-size spare for $600-$800. A three-person rooftop tent is also available for $2,650 with the cargo crossbars. Currently, the Camp Kitchen is only available with the Gear Tunnel Shuttle and Snow Peak kitchen set for $5,000.
The Ford F-150 Lightning is going to start at about $40 for the barest of bones Pro vehicles. It goes up to $90K. We figure most of the lifestyle-suitable ones will be in the $55K-$75K range, comparable to the Rivian. The GMC Hummer EV pickup is for a different audience, we think, but it will start at $80K and go well into six figures from there. We don't know too much about the Silverado EV yet but $50,000 seems like a good starting point or the Work Truck version.
Rivian can match the big guys in price, and overtake them in power, but will it persuade Oval, Bowtie and Ram buyers? Our initial impressions suggest it has the right stuff to do just that.
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