2022 Rivian R1T First Drive Review: Electric Off-Road Dominance

I entered last week’s R1T media drive with high expectations, and often that leads to disappointment on these first drive events. However, I didn’t leave disappointed, I left in awe. The ultimate electric adventure vehicle has arrived, and it’s called the Rivian R1T.

The Rivian R1T is an extraordinary vehicle. On pavement, it drives much more like a sports sedan than a 6,000-lb pickup truck, yet it can also tackle the most challenging off-road conditions with ease. It’s like Clark Kent on the roadway, but when it slips into that phone booth, lowers its tire pressure, and jumps into Offroad or Rock-Crawl mode, it turns into Supertruck.

Quick Stats2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition

Motor:

Four AC permanent-magnet (2 in front & 2 in rear)

Output:

Front: Two 208-hp/207-lb-ft 

Rear: Two 210-hp/248-lb-ft 

Combined: 835 hp/908 lb-ft 

Towing:11,000 lbs
0-60 MPH3 Seconds*
Range:314 Miles*
As Tested Price: $73,000

* 0-60 time and range ratings are with the vehicle equipped with the 21-inch sport tires. The Launch Edition R1T we drove had the 20-inch off-road tire/wheel package, which will offer slightly slower acceleration times as well as slightly less driving range. Rivian hasn’t published the acceleration times or the official driving range with the 20-inch off-road tire/wheel combination installed.

On the Trails

The Rivian R1T is the first mass-produced electric pickup truck, so there’s really no proper apple-to-apple comparison to make with it. I can only draw from my experience driving off-road in my friends’ vehicles (Jeeps, an F-150 Raptor, and the Ram TRX). What stood out the most to me (and to some of my fellow journalists on the drive) was how easily the R1T managed the toughest challenges. 

The R1T’s quad-motor drivetrain senses slip by the millisecond and distributes the proper amount of power to each wheel, precisely as needed. The vehicle slowly and confidently climbs over obstacles like lava oozing down the side of a volcano – it feels unstoppable. 

It has 3.3 inches more ground clearance than the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon.

Rock crawling mode enables a slow, steady ascent or descent. There’s no need to play with the throttle to maintain the proper RPMs or even use the friction brakes to slow down. That’s because the regenerative braking system holds you back slowly and steadily, even better than the hill descent modes I’ve used on a variety of gas-powered AWD vehicles. It’s one-pedal rock climbing and it’s actually easy, maybe even too easy. Plus, you’re adding energy back into the battery pack, to boot.

Too Easy

I say maybe too easy because Rivian was required to have a representative of the USDA Forest Service, Dillon Ranger District accompany us on the 28-mile off-road trek we made through the Colorado Rockies. During a stop to change a tire on one of the eight R1Ts in the convoy that was punctured by a sharp rock, I asked her what she thought of the vehicle. She answered that she had mixed feelings. 

She explained she thought it was an incredible off-roading vehicle and wants one to use on duty (she casually dropped the hint to Rivian that it might be a good PR move to give the Forest Service one). But then she said she’s concerned that the R1T is too good, that it will allow inexperienced off-roaders to take on the toughest, most remote trails. That could mean increased traffic and possibly more damage to the park’s environment. 

The R1T’s ground clearance can be adjusted by as much as 6.5 inches, from 7.9 to 14.4 inches. For comparison, that’s 3.3 inches more ground clearance than the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, which tops out at 11.1 inches. The R1T isn’t hampered with driveshafts and exhaust systems to protect underneath either. Instead, there’s a protective shield of high-strength steel, alloyed aluminum, and carbon fiber.

The R1T also has a built-in air compressor, allowing you to lower the tire pressure for off-roading and quickly pump them back up before you get back on the road. It took us about 20 minutes to fill our four tires from the 28 psi we set them to back up to the recommended 48 psi for the pavement. 

On Pavement

If someone blindfolded you and put you in an R1T and went on to carve up some winding country roads and then asked you what kind of vehicle you were in, you’d never guess a pickup truck. 

The quad motor setup with torque vectoring, adaptive dampers, and sophisticated suspension architecture including unequal-length double-wishbone suspension in the front and a multi-link suspension in the rear all combine to provide unparalleled driving confidence for a pickup truck.

The system offers dynamic roll control a with ride-height adjustable air suspension, allowing the suspension to be adjusted for a soft, comfortable highway ride; on-road high-performance driving; or exceptional off-road capability.

The R1T can also get on it. Seriously. While it may not be a Tesla Model S Plaid, it’s fast – freaky fast, actually. But I knew it would be going in because of its 800+ horsepower powertrain with over 900 pound-feet of torque. But it was how confidently the power hits the pavement, and how sure-footed the vehicle was going around curves at high speeds, that impressed me the most.

Drive Modes and Regen Settings

For on-road driving, drivers get to select between the All-Purpose, Sport, and Conserve driving modes. When you set up your profile, you can select which driving mode you prefer the vehicle to default to upon starting. That’s a great feature to have, and unfortunately, not all automakers allow the owner to do that. All too often, the vehicle defaults to a set mode every time it turns on and the driver has to then select the mode he or she prefers to drive in. 

Each mode has default settings of ride height, stiffness, and regenerative braking, but the driver can still adjust those settings to arrive at his or her preferred setup. Conserve Mode is the most efficient, as the vehicle decouples the two rear motors and operates in front-wheel drive. Unlike some other EVs, you cannot engage the rear motors unless you switch the vehicle out of Conserve mode. The Porsche Taycan, for instance, will intelligently switch to FWD on the highway when you put the vehicle in Range mode. However, you can engage the rear motor simply by pressing hard on the accelerator; that won’t happen with the R1T.

There are three levels of regenerative braking – Max, High, and Medium – and there’s a story behind that. The R1T had four regen levels, the three mentioned plus Low. However, because the Low setting had very minimal regenerative braking force, it made the R1T less efficient.

If Rivian wanted to keep that Low setting, the EPA-rated range would have been lower, so they eliminated it and are going to market with three levels of regen. They will, however, rename the Medium setting to Low for customer deliveries, but we were driving pre-production vehicles and they still had the Medium name listed.

You won’t coast in any brake regen setting, not even close.

I switched between the three settings and found them all to be pretty strong. You won’t coast in any brake regen setting, not even close. All three settings will deliver one-pedal driving, and bring the vehicle to a stop without depressing the friction brakes. The R1T will then hold the vehicle steady without intervention from the driver. In Max regen setting, the R1T is capable of generating up to 150 kW into the battery pack. 

Was there anything we didn’t like?

While we do believe the R1T is truly a revolutionary vehicle, it’s not perfect. However, some of our issues may very well be eliminated once the production R1T is released. We were driving pre-production versions, and that usually means not everything is working 100-percent as it should. But we still need to point out what we observed to be fair. 

First off, the Driver+ ASAD system isn’t fully baked. The adaptive cruise control worked fine, but when we engaged the automatic steering, it couldn’t handle some of the highway turns and required intervention. The system is also dependant on high-precision mapping, like GM’s Super Cruise, so there were sections of the highway where we drove where the system couldn’t be activated.

We also had a problem with our air compressor and needed to use the system on another R1T in the convoy. Additionally, the automatic tonneau cover wouldn’t open and I had to reset the center display screen once because it wouldn’t load up. But as I said, these may be related to pre-production issues that can be mostly corrected by launch.  

But there were a few other things that we’d change if we had it our way. First, while the R1T’s spacious power-operated frunk can devour 11 cubic feet of cargo, you have to lift that cargo up high to get it in, as well as reach in and bend over to lift it out. That’s not going to work for heavy items. We much prefer the Ford F-150 Lightning’s approach that allows the front grill area to lift up with the hood. That allows for easy loading & unloading of heavy items.

The bed is only 54 inches long with the tailgate up and will be a problem for some folks. My Toyota Tacoma has a 60-inch bed and that is, on occasion, too small for some jobs. Yes, it does have an 11.6-cubic-foot gear tunnel that can accommodate cargo, but large items that need to go in the bed may not fit without leaving the tailgate down and that presents its own set of issues while driving. The bed is reason enough to exclude the R1T as a work truck. But we know Rivian is OK with that, as they aren’t targeting the work truck segment. 

Interestingly, the R1T doesn’t have a glove box. Instead, the center console storage compartment under the armrest locks to protect valuables. There are door pockets and small eyeglass storage compartments under the front seats, as well as a floor-mounted tray between the driver and front-seat passenger, but that’s all. Ideally, we’d like to see a little more storage capacity inside the cabin. 

It’s a Winner

As you can tell, we were more than impressed with the R1T. We’re still wondering how the most capable off-road vehicle we’ve ever driven can perform so well on pavement simply by inflating the tires a bit and tapping the Sport driving mode tab. Is it witchcraft or just great engineering?

The R1T will change minds – lots of them.

When the Tesla Model S launched in 2012, it changed the minds of many. It proved that an electric car could be fast, have a long driving range, charge rapidly, and most importantly be desirable. The R1T will also change minds – lots of them. America loves its pickup trucks and we buy them by the millions every year. When seasoned pickup truck owners experience what the R1T is capable of, their minds won’t only be changed, they’ll be blown. 

Gallery: 2022 Rivian R1T: First Drive Review

Rivian R1T


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