December 3, 2023


Automotive pure lust

The 2022 Rivian R1T Electric Pickup Embraces Duality

The Rivian R1T pickup is a conundrum of sorts. It’s a high-horsepower heavyweight that can sprint to 60 mph in an estimated three seconds flat yet also tow up to 11,000 pounds. That those mutually exclusive performance figures exist in the same vehicle—an EV, no less—garners sufficient attention. But the real revelation is that the R1T embodies a similar dichotomy in all aspects of the driving experience both on the road and off.

Electric motors are famous for their ability to deliver maximum torque from a standstill. They can be tuned to step gently forward or flatten your eyeballs. Both extremes exist here, as well as all the nuances found between. And unlike internal combustion, electric motors are unaffected by the thinner air at high altitudes, so we found the wilds of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to be an ideal proving ground. From an elevation of 9600 feet at our starting point in Breckenridge on the way up to a dizzying peak of 12,600 feet atop the Continental Divide, we explored the literal highs and lows of the first electric pickup truck to market.

Despite weighing 6950 pounds, the R1T accelerates on pavement with relentless alacrity. With the drive mode set to Sport, it doesn’t take much of a prod to awaken the more than 800 horsepower and 900 pound-feet of torque. The experience is akin to mashing the throttle in a Bentley Mulsanne—a physics-defying jaunt that reaches triple digits without so much as a whisper.

Bend the R1T into a corner and the same dissociative effect occurs. At 217.1 inches, the R1T is slightly longer than a Mercedes-Maybach S-class, yet still hustles with an impressive amount of grace. Even more apparent is the lack of body roll. Part of this poise comes from the low center of gravity, but the R1T also features a hydraulic roll-control system in lieu of anti-roll bars. Each corner and axle is connected through a hydraulic network, which keeps roll in check without adversely affecting the ride.

Conversely, this same system permits a high level of articulation off-road. In this situation the hydraulics are effectively decoupled and the wheel motion on one side of the axle is completely independent of the other side. We also found the system to be effective in reducing the head toss common when driving down bumpy trails. Not once did our heads hit a side window.

With a ground clearance that puts the stick-axle Jeep Gladiator to shame, the R1T coasts safely over small boulders with nary a scrape to the undercarriage. At its highest setting in Off-Road and Rock Crawl modes, those boulders can be as tall as 14.9 inches. If you’re in need of greater clearance, we might suggest taking a different line. A one-piece carbon-fiber underbody shield is part of the off-road package ($2,000), which also includes dual front-bumper tow hooks.

Roll down the windows, and the first thing we noticed during the R1T’s ascent is the absolute absence of noise. Squirrels gathered to witness the moment; blue jays cheered on our progress. Later on, at the peak of the Continental Divide, we even encountered a family of mountain goats, nonplussed by our coterie of near-silent trucks.

Engaging the Off-Road or Rock Crawl mode for these trails adjusts the accelerator mapping as well. The same amount of pedal travel that transformed the R1T into a slingshot on the road now barely nudges the truck forward. Here, the lack of sound is both a blessing and a curse. While the input is smoother than what a torque converter can provide, it can be hard to gauge just how much pedal is required to inch over an obstacle.

Eliminating the roar of the engine not only eliminates the auditory drama, it also enables you to observe the R1T’s four-motor system at work. The motors can operate independently of one another, applying torque to each of the four wheels as needed. With the computers analyzing the data, all you hear is rubber scrabbling over rock, accompanied by nothing but forward momentum.

Regenerative braking takes on a new role during our descent. With our foot off the brake pedal, the R1T tiptoes its way down ultra-steep inclines with remarkable poise. The regen is effective, and the transparency of this one-pedal approach is a smooth alternative to an incessantly pulsing ABS pump and the shriek of engine braking. As a bonus, we add about five miles of range by the time we reach the tiny mining town of Montezuma.

Transparency is nice, but sometimes hard data is better. The R1T occupies a relatively new intersection in a Venn diagram where EV owners and off-roaders overlap. We think they’d appreciate both an inclinometer and altimeter during these forays off the beaten path. Rivian reps disclose that these features are under consideration and could be implemented through over-the-air updates.

Otherwise, the 16.0-inch touchscreen is well-organized and easy to use. Drivers can save their settings through individual profiles and connect it to their specific key or through the Rivian app. There’s also cloud-based navigation, as well as several streaming music services on tap. Rivian is confident the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity won’t be missed. We disagree and fully expect that to be rectified in the near future.

Consolidating most of the controls into the touchscreen results in an open, airy cabin. An additional 12.3-inch screen sits directly in front of the driver and provides redundant navigation and music info. We especially appreciated the real-time rendering of the R1T in the display, as the brake lights would illuminate once regeneration hit a certain g-force threshold.

As half-ton trucks continue to swell with steroid-inspired styling, the R1T exudes a classy, restrained counterpoint to this rampant machismo. The front end is inspired by an art deco aesthetic with an inquisitive-looking face formed by twin ovoid nacelles and bisected by a wide light strip that wraps around the sides. This horizontal theme continues out back, with an LED bar that hugs the tailgate and rear quarter panels in a U-shaped embrace. The overlook look is reflective of the Rivian ethos, which aims to coexist with nature rather than intimidate it into submission.

Storage is abundant throughout. The frunk features a power-operated lid and can swallow 11 cubic feet of gear. Out back, the bed measures 4.5 feet long, extending to 7 feet with the tailgate lowered. A flap lowers in concert with the tailgate and neatly acts as a seamless bridge between the tailgate and the cargo bed. A 14-cubic-foot underbed storage compartment can house a full-sized spare or keep drinks frosty in a pile of ice.

In a pickup full of party tricks, perhaps the most novel one is the R1T’s modular space just aft of the rear doors. Rivian calls it the Gear Tunnel. This compartment spans the width of the truck and is accessible from either side. An optional sliding platform allows easy access to luggage and can extend up to six feet to create a table. It also forms the basis for the available Camp Kitchen. This $5,000 option includes the platform plus two high-wattage induction burners, a 30-piece dining set, and a collapsible sink with a four-gallon water tank. According to Rivian, use of the cooktop to prepare a typical dinner consumes only about three miles of range. After seeing this impressive accessory in action, we’re hoping a combination espresso/sundae bar is under consideration.

The R1T is also keen to share its electrons with practically any device sporting a plug. There are three 12-volt outlets: one in the frunk, another nestled under the center of the dash, and one inside the Gear Tunnel. The Gear Tunnel also contains a 120-volt AC plug, as does the rear center console, along with two more in the tailgate. Finally, six USB-C receptables can be found in the cabin: four throughout the center console, and two more in the seatbacks. If you can’t charge something in the R1T, you have too many devices.

And speaking of electrons, we’re curious to see just how many owners take advantage of the R1T’s sizeable towing capacity. As with all EVs, range drops quickly as the pounds and aerodynamic drag pile on. Hopefully the campground or boat launch is not far away and offers DC fast-charging. To its credit, Rivian is doing its part by building out its own charging network, with charging stations that promise to add 140 miles of range in about 20 minutes. The standard 21-inch all-season tires are optimized for fuel economy, helping the R1T eke out 314 miles of EPA range. Opt for the 20-inch knobby all-terrain rubber, and Rivian estimates a 10-15 percent reduction in range. The 22-inch high-performance all-seasons also incur a 5-10 percent loss. An optional extended-range, 180-kWh battery is available ($10,000), bumping range to just over 400 miles, according to Rivian.

Production of the R1T began in September. Though it’s too late to snag one of the inaugural Launch Edition versions ($74,145), patient buyers can pre-order the similarly equipped Adventure and lower-priced Explore ($68,145) models set to arrive early next year. Reservations are taken online at Rivian’s website, which even accepts trade-ins. If our experience with the R1T is any indication, Rivian will have its hands full taking in those trades. We’d say that’s a good conundrum to have.

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