BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — I drove the new Rivian R1T pickup and it’s fantastic. But before I tell you about it, we have to get into why this truck is such a big deal.
Last week, I was sitting around a campfire in the crisp autumnal air when I realized why electric car sales aren’t more robust in the US. I’ve driven most of our currently available electric cars, and they’re workable for many more car buyers than in the past. Charging infrastructure is proliferating, while EVs are better (and cheaper) than ever.
All that should be great for EV sales (and, to be fair, they are higher than ever), but electric cars still make up barely two percent of new passenger vehicle sales in the US, according to Pew Research. That’s way behind Europe, where they have a 10 percent market share. And Norway, the world’s EV leader, marks three-quarters of new car sales as electric.
But I realized the lack of EV enthusiasm among non-early adopters in the US is obvious: there aren’t any EVs that regular people want to buy. Sure, there are Teslas and Chevy Bolts and the like, but the most popular electric cars in the US are typically smallish crossovers. And they’re good cars! Except the most popular vehicles in the US aren’t small crossovers: they’re pickup trucks.
Through the first half of 2021, Americans bought 1.1 million full-size or larger pickup trucks even with a chip shortage and reduced production. After those from Ford, GM, and RAM, the most popular vehicles were the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, and the Nissan Rogue, none available as electric. Only the RAV4 comes close, with the hard-to-find plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime.
But carmakers are beginning to respond. Over the next twelve months, we should see the launch of the Ford F-150 Lightning (I rode in one earlier this month and came away very impressed), the wild GMC Hummer EV, and the Rivian R1T — and that last one just saw the first production units drive off the line.
Rivian is the most promising of the current crop of EV startups, well-funded by Amazon, Ford, and a host of deep-pocketed hedge funds and banks. Rivian has raised $10.5 billion in the past three years, including a $2.5 billion round back in July.
Rivian’s first vehicle, the R1T pickup, just began production at its new factory in Normal, Illinois, and the R1S SUV should follow by the end of the year. Amazon has placed an order for 100,000 electric delivery vans, too.
But let’s set aside the fact that the R1T is electric — that’s well down my list of exciting things about this truck. Rivian has the advantage of zero institutional baggage, so the R1T’s designers had a clean sheet of paper to work with. As a result, the R1T is a top-to-bottom rethink of what a pickup should be.
Storage is maximized (essential for a practicality-focused truck) across a wide variety of cargo compartments. There’s the pickup truck bed, of course. It’s 54-inches long (about the same as the Maverick, the smallest pickup from Ford), so this won’t be hauling any 4×8 sheets of plywood. No, this is an adventure vehicle, which means it’s designed to move lots of gear — and to keep it safe.
To do that, there’s a powered tonneau cover (on R1T’s equipped with the Adventure Package, which also adds a premium Meridian stereo, ventilated seats, and nicer interior fixtures). The cover can close to turn the bed into a weatherproof storage compartment large enough to haul luggage, camping or recreational equipment, and much more.
And beneath the bed is a spacious lockable compartment that hides the spare tire. Or, if you don’t cough up $600-800 for the (optional) full-size spare, it’s more storage instead. There’s even a drain plug so you can fill it with ice and use it as a cooler for tailgating.
On the driver’s side of the bed is a built-in air compressor. It can be used to fill the truck’s tires (a hose is hidden in another storage compartment) after an off-road adventure, fill up your oversized inflatable river float, or whatever else you might want to pump up with air.
Then there are a pair of 15-amp 120-volt AC power plugs, cargo tie-downs at each corner, as well as four more tie-downs on the bed rails that double as attachment points for the cargo crossbars.
Since it’s only 54-inches long, the bed isn’t quite long enough to protect skis or snowboards from the elements, but the optional roof rack that mounts on the cab roof would be perfect for such things.
But the bed is just the beginning of the R1T’s storage options. Because it’s electric, there’s no engine. And because there’s no engine, there’s a front trunk under the hood that is ideal for groceries or smaller cargo like backpacks. I’m disappointed that there’s only a 12-volt power outlet available in the frunk when Ford plans to have four 120-volt AC power outlets plus some USB ports in the Lightning.
I’m in love with the Gear Tunnel, an enclosed storage area between the rear seats and the bed that can be accessed via doors on either side of the truck.
The gear tunnel doors include small storage compartments (one holds the hose for the air compressor), and they pull double duty as seats capable of supporting up to 300 pounds. They can also be used as steps for easy access to the roof.
The weatherproof 65-inch tunnel is spacious enough to hold three carry-on suitcases, camping gear, ski boots, and lots more. There are two power ports inside, one 12-volt and one 120-volt, and that’s only the beginning of the Gear Tunnel’s practicality.
An optional add-on is the $1,500 Gear Tunnel Shuttle, a sliding platform that can slide out of the tunnel for easy loading and unloading of gear. Both an AC power port and 12-volt port are mounted to the middle of the shuttle, and a standardized T-lock system allows you to mount equipment easily.
Rivian’s corporate culture so embraces the concept of adventure that “adventurousforever” was the Wi-Fi password at the outdoorsy-lux motel at which we stayed. But the R1T is a luxury truck, and Rivian wants you to be able to camp as comfortably as possible.
Rivian partnered with Yakima to offer a $2,650 three-person tent that mounts to the truck’s cargo crossbars, either on the roof or above the bed. It flips open in moments and has a 2.5-inch thick foam mattress inside. There’s even a ladder. No roughing it here.
The pièce de résistance of the entire truck is the optional Camp Kitchen, and it was the centerpiece of our time with the R1T at the first drive event in Colorado. It makes outdoor adventures positively plush, and Rivian’s corporate chef was able to whip up a daily smörgåsbord that was met with approval at every meal.
This culinary wonder is a fully-equipped kitchen that sits in the Gear Tunnel and deploys in 30 seconds. It includes a two-burner induction cooktop, a four-gallon water tank and sink, and a 30-piece kitchen set from the Japanese luxury outdoor adventure brand Snow Peak.
In cleverly designed drawers, the Kitchen includes plates, bowls, cups, prep knives, a titanium set of knives, forks, and spoons, spatulas, tongs, a corkscrew, a can opener, and even a grinder, drip, and water kettle to whip up some campsite coffee.
The $5,000 Camp Kitchen allows budding outdoor chefs to whip up anything from a full-on surf-and-turf to vegan chili to whatever your stomach desires. And then it disappears into the Gear Tunnel until your next adventure.
On The Inside
Open the door and climb inside, and you’ll find an interior stuffed with slick features and luxury accoutrements, as well as a few curious design decisions.
Smart storage abounds inside too, including an ample open space below the center screen, a large storage bin under the rear seats, small storage bins underneath each of the front seats (these are in place of a glovebox), and enough space for a 40-ounce water bottle in each door pocket.
The sturdy Chilewich floormats can be hosed off after an adventure, and the enormous glass roof affords terrific views — there’s no shade for the roof either, though Rivian says it’s not necessary since the glass blocks 99.9 percent of UV light.
There’s a 12-volt outlet beneath the front dash and two USB-C ports in a cavernous central storage bin that’s large enough for a full-sized DSLR camera. Or a standard license plate. Or a lot of snacks. There’s a 120-volt AC power outlet in the back, as well as four more USB-C ports including two in the headrests. A pair of hooks on the back of the seats are the perfect place to hang a coat or some wet gear to dry.
The 18-speaker Meridian audio system sounds terrific, with speakers placed all around (including in the ceiling) for enveloping surround sound.
Speaking of sound, there’s also an ingenious removable Bluetooth speaker hidden in the center console that can connect to your phone (or the car itself) to play music outside. It’s called the Camp Speaker, and it includes a built-in lantern and a USB-C port to charge your phone. It recharges when docked in the vehicle.
And if that wasn’t enough cleverness, there’s a 1,000-lumen flashlight stored in the driver’s door that also recharges automatically.
The two screens — one for the instrument cluster and a larger, 16-inch one in the middle of the dash — look terrific, and your R1T is correctly rendered on-screen with the correct paint color. Having a rendering of the car with the wrong paint color is something that drives me nuts in many a luxury car. Why go through the trouble to render a beautiful car on-screen if you can’t get the color right? Not even the Rolls-Royce I drove recently did this.
It’s more than a little annoying that there isn’t a physical control for the stereo volume. Rivian points out that the volume can be changed via a scroll wheel on the steering wheel, but would it be too much to ask for a knob somewhere so the passenger can control things without needing to fiddle with the touchscreen?
Still, since the lack of a volume knob, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a heads-up display are my biggest critiques of the entire car, I’d say Rivian is doing pretty well.
It’s worth calling attention to the clever ways you can unlock the R1T, too. There are four different “keys,” including a standard fob that is also a carabiner and a credit card-sized “key” that can be tapped against the driver’s door to unlock and turn on the car.
There’s also a waterproof, sport-friendly bracelet wearable that unlocks the door with a touch, perfect for outdoor pursuits. You can also use a smartphone as a key.
The navigation system includes automatic routing to EV chargers on longer journeys. This includes the upcoming Rivian Adventure Network, a Rivian-exclusive fast-charging network akin to Tesla’s Superchargers. It’ll consist of chargers along most major interstates in the country, as well as countless adventure-focused destinations like National Parks and off-road facilities like Moab.
The R1T also features a host of standard safety features like automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. Standard is Rivian’s Driver+ system, which currently consists of adaptive cruise control and a highway driving assist that helps keep the truck centered on well-marked roadways. The driver must still keep a hand on the wheel; however, capacitive touch sensors in the wheel mean you don’t have to make any steering corrections to keep the system operational.
Future updates will allow for hands-free operation with the driver still in control and responsible for what the car does, akin to Ford and GM’s BlueCruise and Super Cruise systems.
The R1T is far more off-road capable than I expected. When I think of a luxury pickup truck, I don’t think of a world-conquering, rock-crawling beast. I thought the R1T to be something akin to the Subaru Forester Wilderness edition. Something that would perhaps be suitable for Forest Service roads and maybe driving through some snow on the way to a ski resort.
The R1T is capable of quite a bit more than that. Actually, it’s quite a bit more capable than just about everything on the market aside from a handful of dedicated off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco, and it’s far more comfortable while doing so.
It’s hard to capture the excellentness of the R1T in words, so let’s try some numbers:
At its maximum ride height, the R1T has 14.9-inches of ground clearance, and it can traverse well over 3 feet of water. The truck can change its total ride height by more than 6 inches thanks to a four-corner adjustable air suspension, and automatic leveling helps keep the truck balanced even with varying payloads.
That’s important for a heavy truck like this — thanks to its massive battery pack, the R1T weighs in at close to 7,000 pounds. But, because its beefy batteries are located so low in the vehicle, the weight doesn’t affect the handling as much as you would expect.
An active damping system adjusts the suspension based on the drive mode (there are five) to customize compression and rebound depending on the situation. Put the truck in Sport, and the suspension stiffens up to keep better contact with the road surface. Go to Off-Road, and things soften up to help improve ride comfort and performance.
An electro-hydraulic roll control system, rather than a traditional anti-roll bar, helps minimize body roll on the road and has the effect of disconnecting a sway bar when off-road to maximize wheel articulation and comfort when off-pavement.
The combined efforts of the various systems are awe-inspiring. I put the R1T in Sport and could take mountain curves at prodigious speeds with near-zero noticeable body roll. It’s a performance I would have expected out of a $75,000 sports car, not a $75,000 pickup truck weighing more than three-and-a-half tons.
And off-road, I was able to take the truck through steep grades and over obstacles that wouldn’t have been easy in the finest off-roaders around, never mind a luxurious electric pickup. The R1T is so utterly capable offroad that it seems disrespectful not to spend more time on it. Just know that, unless you are an active off-roader, the Rivian is far more capable than you’ll ever need.
And if you are, you’ll be amazed at what it can do—Specs-wise, the R1T sports 34-degree approach, 29.3-degree departure, and 25.7-degree breakover angles. For comparison, a 2021 Ford Raptor with 35-inch tires has 31-, 23.9-, and 22.7-degree angles, respectively (larger numbers are better).
Rivian’s dynamics chief told me that the R1T’s 34-inch Pirelli Scorpion 275/65R20 off-road tires are the largest that can fit on the truck without running into issues.
The R1T has four electric motors, one for each wheel, negating the need for complicated differentials and other driveline hardware. It also allows for torque vectoring and improved traction control to maximize performance off-road and in slippery conditions on-road. Between the instant power of an electric motor and independently adjustable torque at each wheel, the R1T provides deeply impressive performance.
Rivian claims a 0-60 MPH time of around 3 seconds (with the sporty 22-inch tires fitted), thanks to a combined 835 horsepower and 908 lb-ft of torque. That makes the R1T the most powerful pickup truck in the world, besting the 707-horsepower RAM TRX by a wide margin. It also sports the most torque aside from some heavy-duty trucks with powerful diesel engines designed for towing.
Speaking of towing, the R1T sports impressive numbers there, too: it has a maximum towing capability of 11,000 pounds. The 2021 Ford Raptor maxes out at 8,200 pounds.
The standard R1T has an EPA-estimated 314-mile battery pack, though that’s with the eco-friendly 21-inch wheel option. Opting for the 20-inch off-road or 22-inch sporty wheels will reduce range by 5-15 percent. A 400 plus-mile pack should be available as an option late next year.
The base vehicle is $67,500, though it’s eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and possibly other credits depending on where you live.
The Adventure trim is $73,000 and adds a powered tonneau cover, premium stereo, ventilated seats, and an upgraded interior. The $2,000 off-road upgrade adds a significantly reinforced underbody shield and front tow hooks.
The standalone Gear Tunnel Shuttle is $1,500, while the Camp Kitchen is $5,000 but includes the Gear Tunnel Shuttle. The customized three-person Yakima Skyrise HD Medium Rooftop Tent and cargo crossbars are $2,650, while the cargo crossbars (which can mount above the truck bed or to the cabin roof) are $450 per pair.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Rivian R1T is that new orders won’t ship for months. Production has only just begun, and it will take a while for the truck to ship in volume. Orders can be placed on Rivian’s website for a $1,000 refundable deposit, and the vehicle will be delivered directly to your home — no dealerships here.
Oh yeah, and it’s electric
While it might be odd for me to wrap up this review without talking much about the electric aspects of the R1T, they don’t matter. This is a luxury pickup packed with features and outstanding performance that just happens to be an EV.
Electric cars aren’t just for those willing to compromise their vehicle experience to be greener. This is a truck that will appeal to anyone looking for a luxury automotive experience. In many ways, it’s all things to all people. Want a speedy sports truck or an off-road beast or just something lavish to drive to work and back? The Rivian is all those and more.
It’s been a long time since I was so surprised and dazzled with an automobile, especially one that comes from an unproven startup. But Rivian appears to be doing everything right, and it has enough cash and intelligent people behind it to work out whatever issues come with the launch of an entirely new car brand.
We’ll see whether Rivian’s trucks live up to initial impressions, but every other pickup maker needs to sit up and pay attention: there’s a new kid on the block, and they’re here to play.