WINDHAM, N.Y. — The Rivian R1T electric pickup truck was a revolution when I drove it last year. Even aside from the electric powertrain (which gave it a 0-60 mph time of just 3 seconds thanks to more than 800 horsepower), it was a top-to-bottom reimagining of what a pickup truck could be.
This is perhaps best summed up in the Camp Kitchen, a fully-equipped slide-out galley complete with cutlery, plates, pots, pans, a coffee maker, a dual-burner induction cooktop, and even a sink with a few gallons of water on board. The $5,000 kitchen is as useful as it is over-the-top, and there’s nothing like it in any other vehicle.
It also best encapsulates my disappointment with Rivian’s second vehicle, the R1S electric SUV. As revolutionary as the R1T was, perhaps it was inevitable that the still-excellent R1S was destined to be a less-exciting evolution of the Rivian formula.
Still, the R1S is the first electric large SUV around that isn’t made by Tesla, and that alone makes it interesting. It’s slightly smaller than a Mercedes-Benz GLS and a touch bigger than an Audi Q7, with seating for seven and decent cargo storage behind the third row’s reclining seats.
From the B-pillar forward, it’s identical to the R1T except for a single change: the control for the rear wiper on the turn signal stalk. Everything is the same, including the frunk, the windshield, the infotainment and dash cluster screens, the front seats, and everything else.
That means it has the ingenious Camp Speaker, a removable Bluetooth speaker hidden in the center console that includes a built-in lantern and USB-C port (it recharges when docked in the vehicle), and a 1,000-lumen flashlight stored in the driver’s door that also recharges automatically.
A 16-inch horizontal touchscreen in the center of the dash controls most features in the car, and the lag that I noticed in my drive of the R1T last year has been eliminated. There’s no physical volume knob, which is still annoying, as is the lack of support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
If you navigate to destinations beyond what your current range can handle, the Rivian satnav will recommend DC fast-charging stations from Electrify America, EVGo, ChargePoint, and its own Rivian Adventure Network, which is a must-have feature these days.
The rear liftgate is a split setup like a Range Rover, and there’s room for a week’s worth of groceries and then some, thanks to 17.6 cubic feet of storage. There are sliding tie-down loops and a relatively spacious hidden storage compartment beneath the floor that houses a first-aid kit and hookups for the standard onboard air compressor. Folding down the third row is a manual affair, somewhat annoyingly, but that bumps your rear storage to 46.7 cubic feet, which should satisfy just about everyone’s travel hauling needs.
If that isn’t enough, there’s a voluminous power frunk that’s 22.7″ x 25.4″ x 54.8″ with the cargo shelf removed. The second-row power folds with a 40/20/40 split configuration, giving an enormous 104.7 cubic feet of total interior storage volume. If you still need more space, roof rack mounts allow for a six-person pop-up tent to be affixed.
The second-row seats are comfortable, with plenty of leg-room and a generous recline. They also slide forward to give extra space to the passengers in the third row. Adults probably won’t want to spend a four-hour road trip in the way back, but if you slide the second-row seats forward a bit, there’s plenty of room. There are also cupholders and small storage cubbies with USB-C power ports to keep the kids and their devices fueled up. There’s no rear-seat entertainment, aside from the enormous panoramic sunroof that extends to the second row, plus an extra sunroof over the third row, so the R1S feels spacious and airy regardless of your seat.
Big SUVs like the R1S are, after all, about moving people and stuff from place to place and the big Rivian excels at this. But there’s nothing I’ve talked about here (aside from the frunk, I suppose) that’s different from any other big SUV. They all have room for lots of people and stuff; the Rivian just does it without consuming any fuel or spewing CO2 everywhere.
Where the R1T design blew me away, the R1S is… a big electric SUV.
Still, it’s a big SUV with four electric motors making 835 horsepower and 908 ft-lb of torque and a 0-60 mph time of close to 3 seconds. That means you get four-wheel torque vectoring and impressive wheel control on-road and off, thanks to Rivian’s in-house dynamics and handling work.
It seems likely that most R1S vehicles — like the R1T pickup — won’t wander too far from the pavement, but if you go off the beaten path, the Rivian will take great care of you. There are three wheel options, all with Pirelli rubber, including 20-inch all-terrain off-road tires that seem to be the preferred pick for Rivian engineers. The R1S’s four-corner air suspension lifts to a maximum of 14.9 inches of ground clearance and three feet of water fording. It can tow up to 7,700 pounds and can drop to 8.8 inches to make it easier to load the aforementioned people and stuff.
The R1T was an impressive off-roader, and the R1S boasts even better specs in approach (35.6 degrees), departure (34.3 degrees), and a breakover angle of 29.6 degrees. In my brief time on an off-road handling course, the R1S performed admirably at rock crawling, river fording, and clambering up and down alarmingly steep grades.
The on-road experience is a touch less wonderful in the R1S than in the R1T. I can’t quite figure whether it was the large cabin or the shorter wheelbase — likely a bit of both — but the SUV feels a bit less planted than the pickup. It still has ridiculous acceleration and generally excellent handling (the low center of gravity and four motors help a lot), and it’s doubtful that most Rivian buyers would notice or even care.
Only the quad-motor, large pack version is available at launch, good for 316 miles on the EPA range test. A cheaper, dual-motor version will eventually be available later with a slightly better range (320+ miles expected), while a more affordable, smaller battery option will come later with a lower range (260+ miles expected).
The sold-out Launch Edition that I drove priced out to around $98,000. That’s a lot of money, but when you consider the fact that it has more horsepower, faster acceleration, and better off-road prowess than a Mercedes-Benz AMG G 63 (which starts at well over $150,000) and that it’s not hard to get a GLS into that price range, it starts to seem a bit more reasonable. Plus, you don’t have to pay for gas. The dual-motor, standard battery pack R1S starts at around $72,500, though you’ll be waiting a while to get it.
On-road then, the R1S is a monster performer that’s ready to pound the pavement and explore the world. Off-road, it’s capable of far more than it’ll likely ever face. And, when it comes to hauling people or stuff, it’s better than anything else with a plug.
The R1T’s Camp Kitchen was a feature that would blow away anyone you showed it to. If you had a friend who was skeptical about electric vehicles, you could pull that out and say, “I bet your truck can’t make dinner.” The R1S doesn’t have that trump card.
Don’t get me wrong, the Rivian R1S is the best electric SUV you can buy, and I’d be thrilled to have one in my driveway. I just wish it had its Camp Kitchen moment.