The 2022 Rivian R1T is the first mass-produced electric truck to hit the U.S. market, but that’s hardly the most interesting thing about it. Its electric powertrain notwithstanding, the R1T is unlike any pickup we’ve ever driven—part truck, part sport sedan, and 100 percent amazing. It’s been speculated that pickup buyers are too conservative to embrace electrification, but after our first drive in a pre-production Rivian R1T, both on-road and off-, we think this is the electric truck that will turn them into believers.
There’s so much we want to tell you about the Rivian R1T that it’s difficult to pick a place to start, so let’s begin with the basic layout. Sizewise, the R1T is a tweener, slotting somewhere between a midsize pickup like the Chevy Colorado and a traditional half-tonner like the Ford F-150. The Rivian R1T’s shape and compact bed mimic those of “lifestyle” trucks like the Honda Ridgeline and Hyundai Santa Cruz, but it’ll tow 11,000 pounds according to Rivian and rock crawl like a Jeep Gladiator according to us. And it jets around corners like no pickup truck ever has.
Four Motors, No Waiting
Rivian’s killer apps are its powertrain and suspension setup. The R1T features a four-motor, four-wheel-drive system with a height-adjustable air suspension and interconnected hydraulics for damping and roll control. Like many EVs, it is very quick: The two motors at each axle deliver 415 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels and 420 horses and 495 lb-ft to the rears, and Rivian claims a 0-60 time of 3.0 seconds. We’ve yet to turn an R1T over to our test team, but we think that number is eminently possible.
A motor powering each corner also means remarkable agility on- or off-road. With each wheel independently powered, the Rivian R1T offers real-time torque vectoring, delivering power precisely to the corner where it’s needed with no delays for clutches to close or viscous couplings to couple. Rivian’s electric truck takes full advantage of this by providing a plethora of drive modes and submodes that prove how programmable and adaptable the platform is.
Rivian R1T On-Road: The Beauty of Torque Vectoring
The standard on-road drive mode is aptly called All-Purpose, and if you never switched the Rivian R1T out of this default setting, you’d still find it to be remarkably swift and sure-footed. The R1T jets away from traffic lights, rides comfortably, and holds a quick, steady line through sweeping curves. If you’re worried about stretching the limits of the R1T’s 300-mile estimated range (there’s a 400-mile battery pack coming, too), the R1T can be switched to two-wheel drive—only the front wheels are powered, making it front-wheel drive—to conserve power in a drive mode aptly dubbed “Conserve.”
We were enjoying the Rivian plenty through twists and turns when we engaged in an experiment of sorts: We activated Sport mode, pushed hard enough into a sharp bend to provoke a little understeer, and then nailed the throttle. We felt the R1T’s torque-vectoring superpowers at work: The outside-rear motor powered up and brought the R1T’s nose around, and we blasted out of the turn like the Millennium Falcon—and this with four occupants in the cab, several hundred pounds of gear in the bed, and all-terrain tires. It’s a sensation we’ve experienced in only a handful of cars, and never in a heavily laden pickup truck.
Rivian R1T Off-Road: Tread Lightly—And Silently
The R1T has a separate set of drive modes for off-roading, and they allow the driver to raise the suspension and ease throttle response in various degrees. This allows the same truck that flies through paved curves to tip-toe over obstacles that might give even a Jeep Wrangler pause. Unlike an internal combustion off-roader, the Rivian has no low-hanging bits like driveshafts and differentials and exhaust pipes, just a smooth, flat undertray from which the wheels and their attachments protrude. Ground clearance starts at a very usable 7.9 inches and extends to 14.4, the latter exceeding the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon’s dirt-to-truck number by 3.3 inches. The R1T also has a built-in air compressor, so you can air down the tires for off-roading with the knowledge you can easily pump ’em back up for pavement.
Off-roading in the R1T is a mind-bender. It moves smoothly and silently, its four-motor drivetrain sensing slip and meting out power to each wheel as needed. There is no crawler gear ratio to engage, no differentials to lock, no anti-roll bars to release; just steer and apply appropriate throttle, and the R1T simply drives over whatever you point it at with eerie smoothness and silence—the loudest sound we heard was the crunching of pebbles under its tires. The R1T’s superhero regenerative braking system also ensures it slows as well as it goes, so the R1T doesn’t run away on steep downgrades.
The Rivian’s regenerative brakes probably deserve their own separate story, but we’ll give them a paragraph here. The R1T has four user-selectable levels of regeneration. Drivers who aren’t familiar or comfortable with one-pedal driving—an EV feature whereby the driver needs only work the accelerator in most situations, as the electric motors slow the vehicle when you lift off—can leave it in Low or Medium and the R1T slows in a manner comparable to engine braking in a gasoline-powered car. We preferred Maximum mode for off-road driving, though, as it allowed us precise speed control without worry of locking the wheels as we might with the friction brakes. Out on the open road, Maximum mode equated to getting on the binders pretty hard, so we dialed back to High. The R1T’s regenerative brake setup is powerful enough to bring the truck to a halt, and we only needed the brake pedal for panic stops.
A Place For Your Stuff
Obviously, we were pretty well blown away with the way the Rivian R1T drives, and we think most pickup buyers will be, as well. But there are other impressive aspects of its personality, and one is storage. The Rivian’s powertrain is arranged rather like a skateboard. Keeping a traditional pickup shape left room for a large cargo bay under the power-operated hood. There’s also a full-width (transverse!) pass-through behind the rear seats and ahead of the bed, which Rivian calls the Gear Tunnel. Among the things you can fill it with is an optional ($5,000) kitchen that can be outfitted with a full set of Snow Peak utensils and an induction range. And the bed offers a lockable tonneau cover—electrically powered, naturally.
Conversely, interior storage for small odds and ends is a little lacking, but for the most part we liked the R1T’s cab, particularly the comfortable front seats and excellent visibility. The rear seat is not particularly comfortable for taller riders, mostly thanks to the upright backrest angle and firm cushion, though legroom isn’t an issue.
Possible Flaw: The Rivian R1T’s User Interface
If there was one thing about this truck that gave us pause, it’s the user interface. Rivian has taken a Tesla-like approach, minimizing the use of physical switchgear in favor of touchscreen menus and multipurpose buttons on the steering wheel. Even the air conditioning vents must be adjusted through the screen, a Tesla Model 3-aping feature that seems nifty at first but quickly reveals itself to be a major pain in the posterior—who wants to swipe through the climate menu just to adjust a vent?
We loved the screens’ crisp graphics and smooth animations, but the menu system has a high learning curve. On several occasions we found ourselves unable to adjust the cruise control speed because the steering wheel buttons were still set to adjust the mirrors and steering column. Some of our staffers (primarily the younger ones) had no trouble breezing through the menus, but others found it overwhelming. That said, we drove pre-production trucks whose user interface was still being updated and finalized. Rivian’s engineers were eager for our feedback, and we’re hopeful the software in production trucks will be more user-friendly.
2022 Rivian R1T: This Changes Everything
Our first drive of the Rivian R1T left us very impressed, not just with the truck but with the prospect of what electrification can do for one of America’s most popular vehicle segments. The Rivian R1T feels like a vehicle of the future, but it also feels like one very well grounded in the here and now. It hauls and tackles difficult terrain as well as or better than internal combustion pickups, and its combination of on-pavement handling prowess and off-road finesse is simply unmatched in any other current truck. If the Rivian R1T is the future of the pickup truck—and we certainly think it is—then the future cannot come quickly enough. —Aaron Gold
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