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2022 Rivian R1T First Drive: The First EV Pickup Is Real, And Real Good

2022 Rivian R1T
2022 Rivian R1T
The Rivian R1T is here, and the first production units are rolling out to customers. Having sampled the R1T over 60 miles of dusty and rocky trails in Colorado, we’re fairly sure adventuresome pickup buyers won’t be disappointed with its performance. John Voelcker

Authenticity is required to sell trucks, even those that won’t be used anywhere near their capabilities. As the first battery-electric pickup to hit the market, the 2022 Rivian R1T has to be able to do truck things like hauling and towing, but also the kind of off-roading and rock-climbing Jeeps are known for. 

The R1T can do it. Rivian’s media drive last week in Breckenridge, Colorado, was heavy on the rocky trails, rutted paths, and stream-fording—60 miles’ worth. They showed off the EV truck’s easily controllable torque, high degree of suspension articulation, and off-road drive modes. 

Whether Rivian buyers will actually go off-roading in their EV trucks, or simply use them for mixed driving, shopping, and family transport duties, remains to be seen. Rivian was cagey on the question of who is actually buying their electric pickups—rock-crawlers, or tech-forward suburbanites?—saying only that well over half their pre-orders were from buyers new to EVs. It also didn’t quote an official range while towing.

2022 Rivian R1T
The R1T is similar to midsize trucks like the Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma, albeit with a slightly smaller bed. Like the Honda Ridgeline, the Rivian is a unibody machine with an integrated bed. John Voelcker

A ‘Tweener’ truck 

Dimensionally, Rivian’s R1T sits comfortably in the midsize pickup class, with the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger and Nissan Frontier. It’s the widest of that group by an inch, at 79 inches, but its 218-inch length and 72-inch height map neatly with the others. The only sore point, perhaps, is its 54-inch long bed. It opens up to 83.6 inches with the tailgate down, but with the gate up, it’s closer to the compact Ford Maverick’s’bed than those of most short-bed midsizes.   

That aside, Rivian has pulled off the neat trick of designing a truck that reads visually as every bit a modern pickup, without the overt frontal aggression found in so many other trucks. From the side and rear, you might never notice it—unless it was sporting one of Rivian’s palette of unusual colors (including Rivian Blue and Compass Yellow).  

At the front, there’s no grille, just two vertical light pods that are the most distinctive feature of the design. When we first saw them, we recoiled—but we got used to them very quickly, to the point we stopped seeing them by the end of the drive. The public will likely do the same. The corners are rounded for aerodynamic slipperiness, and the front trunk opens to the bumper. 

2022 Rivian R1T
The R1T’s oblong vertical headlights stand out as an odd detail at first, but they quickly grow on most observers. The Rivian eschews the scowling and overwrought looks of some conventional pickups for a clean and linear look. It’s a welcome change. John Voelcker

An Clean and Clever Cabin

Inside, the cabin is clean and uncluttered. Some trims include wood and sturdy woven fabric insets we’ve not seen in any other truck. It all works well, and looks considerably more upscale than a Ranger without feeling pretentious. The cabin fits four adults comfortably, five in a pinch, and all the seats are comfortable (and heated, at least in the Launch Editions we drove).  

One of the Rivian’s neatest features is the “gear tunnel” sitting crosswise behind the rear seat, in front of and below the cargo bed. Without a conventional driveshaft, a flip-down door on each side lets users store goods across the full width of the vehicle, keeping them dry, out of sight, and locked up. We used it for luggage, camera gear, and backpacks. Plus, each door is strong enough to serve as a seat, or a step up.  

The truck has an SUV-like 68 cubic feet of storage, Rivian says, split among a host of spaces: 11 cubic-feet in the front trunk, another 11.6 in the gear tunnel, 14.3 in an under-bed compartment, and another 29.2 in the pickup bed itself. As well as a central console, each front seat also has a slide-out drawer underneath. 

Rivian proudly showed off the coolest accessory any EV has put on the market: an electric stove, with two induction burners and an oven that run off the battery pack. The entire contraption fits inside the gear tunnel on a slide-out tray, and includes its own cookware, utensils, and a coffee pot. Backwoods trail cooking has never been so cleverly designed or so emissions-free. 

Driving The R1T

The R1T has three screens: one behind the wheel acts as an instrument cluster, the main one in the center of the dash contains most of the vehicle controls, and a small one at the back of the console lets rear-seat passengers adjust their climate settings. 

This won’t be the first review, nor the last, to complain Rivian has put too many of the controls in the center screen at the expense of actual knobs or switches. Two that stood out were door mirrors, which a driver adjusts by going a few levels deep into the menus and then using the scroll wheels on the steering wheel, echoing Tesla practice. 

Rivian also won’t let front-seat riders adjust their own vents unless they want to dig through menus and then swipe the screen to re-aim them. The company’s rationale is that users will set up the truck once for each regular driver. Climb in, choose the driver from a drop-down menu, and everything adjusts to be just as you like it. We don’t buy it. 

Drivers can adjust ride quality, the strength of the regenerative braking, the ride height and the suspension stability (from sportier to more absorbent). Drive modes like Off-Road adjust all of them for maximum capability in the desired usage. 

On the road, all those screen options are quickly forgotten. Where the Rivian excels is performance. 

2022 Rivian R1T
Each wheel gets a 200 horsepower motor, which means not only spectacular power delivery, but the ability to precision control each wheel, a big advantage over rough terrain. John Voelcker

Faster Than a TRX, Quieter Than a King Ranch

The Rivian doesn’t offer the explosive, push-you-back-in-your seat feel of some Tesla models, but in Sport mode it hustles at an impressive rate for a 7,000-pound midsize truck with an 8,500-pound gross vehicle weight rating, numbers usually associated with heavy duty trucks.  

Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is quoted at about 3.0 seconds, a speed which annihilates even the hottest gas-powered trucks like the Ram TRX and Ford F-150 Raptor. Given the quiet cabin and its composed roadholding, drivers can easily find themselves doing 20 over without realizing it, which definitely can’t be said of the TRX. 

The 135-kilowatt-hour battery pack powers four motors, one per wheel, allowing each wheel to be controlled individually—a digital way to provide the mechanical locking hubs off-roaders love. Rivian says the total power output is up to 800 horsepower (600 kilowatts), or 200 horsepower (150 kW) at each wheel, though the rear motors are slightly torquier than the fronts to assist in off-roading.  

The many years Rivian put into development shows in the smooth and powerful regenerative braking. Unlike some other EVs, there’s no mode that mimics an automatic-transmission car. The driver has three choices of regenerative strength, and the truck defaults to the highest one. So-called one-pedal driving is easy in the R1T and drivers with previous EV experience should feel right at home. In conventional driving, from highways to suburban neighborhoods, the R1T is smooth, predictable, easy to place, and even relaxing to drive for what is, after all, a pickup truck. 

2022 Rivian R1T
The R1T’s prodigious power can handily see off drag-strip challenges from the most potent gasoline-powered trucks and crawl across very uneven terrain, but it does everything with a composed and quiet personality. It’s a truck designed for customer comfort and convenience that just happens to pack up to 800 horsepower. John Voelcker

The EPA rates the R1T at 314 miles of range on its standard test cycles, getting it over the magic 300-mile mark for truck buyers nervous about its abilities. An optional larger battery yet, at 180 kWh, is to be offered next year, giving a range that could hit 400 miles. 

The normal drive mode is All-Purpose, while a Conserve mode uses only the front motors to move the truck, mechanically decoupling the rear motors and driveshafts to reduce drag. We spent most of our first 60 miles in Offroad mode, but didn’t test the Towing mode.  

Rivian quotes a tow rating of up to 11,000 pounds—far greater than any other truck its size—but range is likely cut significantly, perhaps in half, when doing so. Payload is cited as 1,760 pounds, above average for a truck of this size. 

Each of three available wheel-and-tire combinations is designed for a different purpose. The smallest wheels, at 20 inches, come with the beefiest off-road tire. The middle option, at 21 inches, has tires with the lowest rolling resistance to maximize effective range. And the largest choice, at 22 inches, comes with tires optimized for on-road performance and handling. 

2022 Rivian R1T
Rivian knows their market, and although they’ve been coy about buyer demographics thus far, a collaboration with Yakima for a bed tent and other planned accessories speaks to the popular off-road camping and overlanding trends, also heavily catered to by Jeep and Toyota. John Voelcker

Faster Fast Charging 

Most Rivian buyers have off-street parking, and will do the majority of their charging at home overnight. But for road trips, Rivian is partnering with the Electrify America network of high-speed DC fast-charging stations. Today, the truck can apparently charge at higher rates than any other EV save the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-tron GT. 

Rivian vehicle dynamics director Max Koff said the Rivian battery can charge at up to 185 kilowatts from 0 to 30 percent of capacity, allowing it to add up to 140 miles of range in 20 minutes when almost entirely depleted. After that, Koff said the pack will charge at up to 150 kilowatts to 80 percent of capacity, with charge rate tailing off significantly after that as in all EVs.  

As always, effective charging rate depends on charge-station speed, ambient temperature, pack temperature, and other variables.  

2022 Rivian R1T
Rivian’s media drive may have been centered on exploring the high reaches of the Colorado Rockies, but expect to see this shape on your local boulevards pretty soon. Rivian isn’t yet offering work trucks, but has targeted a broad swath of the consumer and enthusiast midsize truck market. John Voelcker

The First EV Truck Arrives 

More than two years ago, I had a chance to interview Rivian reservation holders who paid their own way to see the trucks in person and talk to the team creating them. Contrary to some portrayals of pickup owners, they were interested in electric vehicles and eager to drive them. Some were even Tesla owners—but the majority of them intended to wait until a long-range electric pickup truck hit the market. Rivian was the answer to their prayers. 

We drove the R1T for a lengthy day over a variety of roads and non-roads, at altitudes from 9,000 to 12,000 feet. By the end of the day, it was clear Rivian has a decent shot at being the second EV startup to make it into the big leagues. Buyers looking for a full-size all-electric pickup truck will have to wait until the Ford F-150 Electric hits the dealers, but this is a legitimate midsize pickup that should do virtually everything owners want trucks to do. 

The first production Rivian R1T rolled off the line in mid-September, and deliveries of Launch Edition R1Ts to reservation-holders began this month. The price for the base Explore model is quoted at $67,500 before incentives, with the Adventure model at $73,000; both will arrive in January. 

NOTE: All but one of the dozen Rivian trucks on the drive event were pre-production versions that will not be sold to the public. As such, several had small quality foibles—a switch that didn’t work properly, a glitchy menu option—that engineers said they already knew about and which would be fixed before production trucks were delivered to buyers. We look forward to learning more about production quality as Rivian’s paying customers take delivery. 

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