First drive review: 2022 Rivian R1T shines as the North Star of utility vehicles

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The 2022 Rivian R1T electric pickup truck draws a lot of attention for a lot of reasons. Around town, the traditional pickup truck style finds the future with LED light bars ringing the rounded edges of the truck. On the road, it makes 3.0-second 0-60 mph acceleration runs look effortless. Off-road, its prodigious capability and quiet footfalls could be mistaken through the trees for a robot Bigfoot. 

Together, from the outside and from behind the wheel, the R1T becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. After spending two days with it up and down the Rocky Mountain range outside Breckenridge, Colorado, it proved itself as the most versatile vehicle I’ve ever tested. More importantly, the first electric pickup truck to market portends what can become of the next era of lifestyle pickup trucks and adventure utility vehicles. 

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

On the range

Sharing a platform with the forthcoming R1S SUV, the R1T uses a 135-kwh battery pack composed of 7,776 small 2170-format Samsung SDI cells stacked between the axles. A cooling plate separates the two layers of batteries. 

A drive unit on each axle houses two motors, one for each half shaft, for an independent four-wheel-drive system. An EPA-rated range of 314 miles kicks off the three trims available at launch, but Rivian plans a larger 180-kwh battery pack due in 2022 that will provide a range of 400 miles for $10,000 more than the $67,500 base Explore edition. A smaller 105-kwh pack is expected to follow. 

The motors work independently to make 415 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque for the front axle, and 420 hp and 495 lb-ft for the rear axle; together, the system churns out more than 800 hp and 900 lb-ft of torque.

The R1T doesn’t use that power so efficiently. Its boxy design combats aero with a raked windshield and rounded corners, but despite the futuristic headband of light around the front and rear, the design is a modern take on a classic pickup design. It has a default ground clearance of 11.4 inches, so even though the battery pack creates a low center of gravity, it’s offset by its massive body. The curb weight of the $76,000 Launch Edition model I tested, equipped with the Off-road package and 34-inch Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tires, was estimated to be just under 7,000 lb. 

It takes 48 kwh of energy to go 100 miles, and the EPA says that’s the vague equivalent of 70 mpg combined. An Audi E-Tron SUV with AWD uses 43 kw per 100 miles, while a Tesla Model S Long Range with AWD uses only 28 kwh per 100 miles. 

The driver’s side front charge port follows J1772 and CCS standards, with DC fast-charging at more than 200 kw, enabling about 140 miles of charge in 20 minutes. Rivian is building out its DC fast-charging Adventure Network with 600 sites planned nationally and in Canada by the end of 2023. Level 2 Waypoints at 11.5 kw charge up to 25 miles per hour, or in about 13 hours overnight, and Waypoints are expected to exceed 10,000 chargers by 2024. 

Rivian did everything imaginable, however, to make the R1T perform as if it were smaller and lighter. 

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

On the road

The R1T has five drive modes—All-Purpose, Sport, Offroad, Conserve, and Towing—with five different suspension settings as well as settings for adaptive dampers, regen braking, and stability control. The default All-Purpose, or auto mode, straddles the middle of all these settings, and can be overridden by the driving conditions or by the driver’s discretion.

Not every height is available with every drive mode, and most of them can go one notch above or below the standard ground clearance of 11.5 inches. The air suspension travels 6.5 inches, topping out at 14.4 inches in Offroad mode, and bottoming at 7.9 inches when parked.

The different suspension heights and drive modes give the R1T a variability unmatched by other vehicles. If you never fiddled with the settings accessible only through the 15.6-inch touchscreen, All-Purpose mode does what’s advertised. At speeds of over 50 mph, the suspension lowers to 10.1 inches, which is the default height in Sport mode. 

Conserve mode lowers the suspension to 9.5 inches, limits the climate control, and disconnects the rear axle, making it a two-motor front-drive unit with softer pedal mapping and a stiffer suspension setting. 

As I climbed to 10,000 feet, then descended a pass with a 6% grade and runaway truck ramps, the energy meter in the left side of the cluster danced like the readout of a positive lie detector test. Uphill, the readout plummeted; downhill, it spiked thanks to the “Max” regen braking setting. 

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

When we off-roaded on a 60-mile loop, with a 3,000-foot climb to ride the spine of a Rocky Mountain peak, we were gone from dawn to dusk—and, in the end, reminded that Rivian’s propulsion system is very efficient in lower-speed off-roading. At the onset we had about 180 miles of range; on the return, it was just under 100 miles remaining, according to the meter. This was with all-terrain tires, four adults, and climate control on for most of the day. 

On the road, the difference between Max, High, and Standard regen is not that pronounced. In Max mode, I learned up one-pedal driving smoothly enough by the second or third stoplight.

The most noteworthy road feature, however, was the acceleration and handling for a vehicle this big. Sized between a conventional full-size and mid-size pickup, yet weighted the same as many heavy duty trucks, the R1T launches to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds, according to Rivian. It didn’t throw me back in my seat like a Tesla Model S P100D, but it took my breath away all the same. It also handles its weight far better than I wanted to test it ascending and descending mountain twisties with shoulder dropoffs into oblivion. 

In addition to torque vectoring, adaptive dampers and its front double wishbone and rear multi-link suspension, Its agility comes, in part, from the world of supercars. Instead of anti-roll bars, the R1T uses a hydraulic control system borrowed from McLaren’s playbook. Two fluid lines between the front and rear axles offset inertia by limiting compression; if you’re turning right, the fluid fills on the left to limit compression and mitigate body roll. It enhances both on-road performance and off-road comfort, where the R1T impresses even more. 

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

   

Off the map

Early in the morning, with the sun barely breaking the ridge to take the chill from my breath, we began our ascent up an old mining road. A creek divided woods crowded with fir trees and aspens. In the spring, the depth of the creek might’ve tested the R1T’s 36 inches of water fording, but this morning it merely cleaned the 20-inch wheels wrapped in 34-inch Pirelli Scorpion 275/65/R20 all-terrain tires.  

Standard are 21-inch wheels with 33-inch Pirelli all-seasons, or 22-inch wheels with performance tires. If you intend to off-road, opt for the Off-road package with the 20s, front tow hooks, and reinforced underbody shield with a layer of steel, carbon fiber, and aluminum honeycomb for about $3,800 total.  

The Offroad setting has four sub-modes that automatically adjust the stability control and suspension settings in Auto, Rock Crawl, Rally, and Drift modes. I did not have the clearance to test Drift mode that turns the stability control off. Next time. 

The path got steeper and narrower until the walls reached the height of the door handles, even at a max clearance of 14.9 inches (the 34-inch tires add that other half inch). With that clearance and the lack of a great pumpkin, or rear differential, and the lack of the fuel lines or transmission cases you would have in a gasoline model, you can straddle rocks instead of aiming a wheel to climb over one. 

2022 Rivian R1T

Cameras at the front and rear, as well as on the side mirrors, project back and forth to give visuals for where your eyes can’t reach.The dense trunks required me to fold the mirrors, shrinking the R1T’s width to 81.8 inches, which is a couple inches less than the F-150 crew cab. 

Rivian benchmarked the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Ford F-150 Raptor, and though I didn’t do kick-up rooster tails in sand or rumble over any whoopsies, the R1T split the difference between the two. But it did it in the kind of unobtrusive quiet that made me feel a part of nature instead of an interloper in it. 

In Auto, the low center of gravity, wide track, and individual wheel travel made for balanced clambering even at a lateral pitch of about 20 degrees. At one point, a front wheel slipped on ice and rock, but I applied more throttle so the three other wheels pushed the truck through. Instead of a locker, the four-wheel-drive system limits torque from the motor on the slipping wheel.

For much of the rock-strewn crawl until I ascended above the tree line, I kept it in Rock Crawl. It has some curiosities, such as no “Hold” mode so I had to use both feet while driving so as not to roll back. Instead of a hill descent control, the R1T relies on “Max” regen braking. If the wheels lose grip and scrabble over rock, it requires driver intervention.

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

 

Off the grid

The R1T’s performance both on- and off-road is complemented by a gorgeous interior that’s a pleasure to spend time in. Ash wood trim frames the dashboard and lines the steering controls, a cloth belt spans the dash, and the synthetic leather upholstery blends into the 15.6-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital cluster instead of being subsumed by screens. It makes the interior as warm and inviting as a ski lodge.

The lack of dials and buttons means the touchscreen is the sole interface for everything from the vent position to the side mirrors. The screen looks sharp, with large side bars for drive mode settings, pinch and zoom satellite mapping for navigation, and other cutting-edge features. It took a solid thumb press and the pre-production model lagged with some responses. 

2022 Rivian R1T

We’ve grown accustomed to touchscreen reliance on other EVs, but with all the drive settings, including the off-road sub-modes, it can be a lot to process on a screen—or to make a precise selection on a bumpy road. 

One neat function standard on Adventure and Launch Edition models is Gear Guard. Using the side and rear cameras, it monitors and records activity around the truck when you step away. An alert on the app can let it be monitored remotely, like a Ring doorbell. 

The steering wheel controls lack icons because Rivian plans OTAs that could change some of the functionality. For example, the driver-assist system called Driver+ uses standard adaptive cruise control and active lane control for about 20 seconds of hands-free highway driving, but a driver-facing monitor hidden in a ceiling recess promises a more sustained driver-assist system from the 11 cameras, 12 sensors, and five radar units on the truck. 

Clever storage spaces abound, despite no glovebox. Instead, there’s flip-out storage spaces under the front seats to hold a pocketbook or hunting knife. A wireless camp speaker charges beneath the console and can be taken with you. The door and seatback pockets pull out like an airplane seatback, but are big enough to hold hydroflasks. 

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

2022 Rivian R1T

The rear seats don’t recline, but a pass-through opens up to a gear tunnel situated between the cab and the bed. It has two bottom-hinged power doors that open up to 90 degrees, and have small storage cubbies that store the hose for the on-board air compressor. The doors hold up to 250 lb so you can sit on them and degear or stand on them to secure items to the roof rails, or scout the terrain. 

The gear tunnel is one of the most innovative new-vehicle features I’ve experienced. The tunnel as a whole can store 300 lb of gear across its 11.6 cubic feet, which is part of the 68 total cubic feet of cargo room between the frunk and the bed. A power-sliding shelf can be fitted with a Camp Stove that plugs into a 110-volt outlet in the tunnel. That accessory might be cooler than the rooftop tent, and it was the heating source of every meal I ate. 

2022 Rivian R1T

At 54.0 inches long by 51.1 inches wide, the bed and its 29.2 cubic feet of space is on the small side, but the walls aren’t so high that you can’t reach over and pull something out of the bed, even if the suspension isn’t set to its lowest setting of 7.9 inches in Park and Kneel mode. The wall houses a standard air compressor with a max output of 150 psi. An optional full-size spare fits in the underfloor storage, but since it has a drain plug it can be used as a cooler or for wet storage, same as up front in the underfloor part of the frunk.

There’s a lot to the 2022 Rivian R1T and its $76,000 price, as tested. But it showcases all that a lifestyle utility vehicle can do, without compromise, while pointing a way forward.  

Rivian provided airfare, lodging, and vegan camp stove options for Green Car Reports to bring you this firsthand report.

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