BRECKENRIDGE, Colo.—Hats off to Rivian. Until 2018, almost no one had heard of the company. Now, it has brought the first battery electric pickup truck to market ahead of electric vehicle giant Tesla and just-plain-giant Ford, and this vehicle is aimed at a distinct buyer when compared to the everyman F-150 Lightning or the Mars colonist’s Cybertruck. The $67,500 R1T is for people who like exploring the outdoors—this is an adventure truck. And to put that claim to the test, last week we drove one up a mountain and back.
Rivian got started in 2009 and toyed with the idea of a number of different vehicles until it settled on a pair of battery electric vehicles—a truck and SUV—to begin with. Both were to be built in a former Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois, that the company bought in 2017. The following year, the company emerged from “stealth mode,” and in 2019, I got to check out the concept R1T at that year’s New York auto show, where it pushed all the right buttons.
The company also started raising billions of dollars from investors like Ford and Amazon, the latter also placing an order for 100,000 electric delivery trucks. Production of the R1T was originally slated to begin in 2020, but as with so many plans, that went out the window in March of that year. But the trucks are beginning to roll out of Rivian’s Normal factory and into the hands of customers who ordered the (now sold-out) $73,000 Launch Edition.
Conceptually, the R1T is closer to a body-on-frame pickup like the F-150 than a unibody construction, but the effect of bolting the battery pack to the aluminum ladder frame creates a far stiffer foundation onto which to attach the body. That body is unambiguously a pickup truck, but one that thankfully eschews the recent trend for trucks so supersized you can run over dozens of small children without noticing. In fact, I found the R1T downright friendly to look at—no doubt the pareidolic effect of those oval daylight running lights. (Others thought they looked more like fangs; to each their own.)
At 217.1 inches (5,514 mm) long, the R1T is shorter than something like a four-door F-150, and it’s a little less tall even in off-road mode (height varies from 72.1 inches (1,831 mm) “kneel mode” to 78.3 inches (1,989 mm) in the highest ground-clearance setting). But at 81.8 inches (2,077 mm) with the mirrors folded, the truck is a little wider than the best-selling Ford.
Rivian hasn’t published a curb weight, but the R1T’s gross vehicle weight is 8,532 lbs (3,870 kg), which includes the maximum permissible payload of 1,700 lbs (771 kg). The cargo bed is 54 inches (1,371 mm) long with the tailgate up and 83.6 inches (2,123 mm) long with it flat, and the bed can store 29.2 cubic feet (826 L) with the tailgate and bed cover both in place. There’s also another 14.3 cubic feet (405 L) of storage area underneath the cargo bed, although you’d have to leave the full-size spare wheel at home in order to use it all.
The cargo bed also has a pair of 15 A, 120 V AC outlets, a gear lock for an eight-foot cable that ties into the camera-based security system, cargo tie-downs, and an air compressor that, among other things, you can use to reinflate the R1T’s tires.
The ultimate camping truck
The frunk (front trunk) gives you another 11 cubic feet (311 L) of storage. As long as the truck is unlocked, the frunk is easy to open and has 12 V outlets and a drain. An R1T party trick is the third storage area, known as the gear tunnel. This runs the width of the truck, just behind the rear doors and above the battery pack. The tunnel can hold another 11.6 cubic feet (328 L), with 12 V and 120 V power outlets within. There’s a hatch to access the gear tunnel from inside the cabin, and the doors to the gear tunnel are both able to support loads of up to 300 lbs (136 kg), so you can use them as steps or seating.
The interior is stylish and accented with open-pore wood. The seats are artificial leather, the headlining is microfiber, and the lightweight floor mats are made by Chilewich. One thing you won’t find are buttons—like a Tesla Model 3 or Porsche Taycan, the HMI is entirely touchscreen.
Rear-seat passengers might like some kind of sunshade thanks to the panoramic glass roof, and while I’m giving Rivian advice, grab handles would make ingress much easier, particularly on the trails. But there’s a useful amount of storage in the center console, door cards, and under the seats.
Other convenience features include a flashlight stored in the driver’s door, similar to the umbrellas you’ll find in a Rolls-Royce, a removable bluetooth camp speaker that docks with the center console, as well as six USB-C ports, a 120 V AC outlet, and a 12 V DC outlet.
Optional accessories include a three-person Yakima tent ($2,650) that fits over the cargo bed and perhaps the coolest camp kitchen I’ve ever seen. At $5,000, this feature isn’t cheap, but it includes a pair of 1.4 kW induction burners, a collapsible sink with a 4-gallon (15.1 L) water tank, and a full set of kitchen tools and utensils from cult Japanese camping company Snow Peak. Rivian used one of these kitchens to prepare all the meals for our trip, which numbered about 40 people in total between the journalists and Rivian staff. (The food was both healthy and delicious.)
The R1T isn’t only the first battery electric pickup to reach market—it’s also the first four-motor BEV. Wheel-mounted hub motors were tried and discarded: the concept sounds good but adds too much unsprung weight and would be too fragile for off-road use. Instead, each axle has its own drive unit, which combines a motor for each wheel, together with the transmission and power electronics. These are almost identical front and rear, except that the rear motors are longer and, therefore, more powerful.
And this is a powerful truck. The front drive unit packs 415 hp (310 kW) and 413 lb-ft (560 Nm); the rear drive unit is much torquier at 420 hp (313 kW) and 495 lb-ft (671 Nm). The combined output of an EV is always more complicated than just adding all the numbers together, since it’s more often a factor of how much power the battery can supply; Rivian quotes “800+ hp” (597+ kW) and 900+ lb-ft (1,220+ Nm) combined.
There are no traditional differentials as you might understand them in a more conventional off-roader like the Ford Bronco, Land Rover Defender, or Jeep Wrangler. Instead, the computer that oversees the Rivian’s powertrain and dynamics apportions torque and power to each wheel based on the drive mode you’re in as well as input from the car’s sensors and accelerometers. As we’ll find out later, that makes the truck remarkably easy to drive even on difficult trails or while rock crawling.
For now, all R1Ts come with a 135 kWh (gross capacity) battery pack—called the Large pack—that gives the truck an EPA range of 314 miles (505 km). There is also an optional battery with an even higher capacity—the Max pack can store 180 kWh and provide 400 miles (643 km) of range. That adds another $10,000 to the price, however. And at some point, we believe Rivian will build cheaper R1Ts with a smaller 105 kWh pack, but as yet there’s no date for that version.
However, all the range estimates are for R1Ts on 21-inch road wheels and tires; when fitted with 20-inch wheels and off-road tires, or the larger 22-inch wheels, you can expect to lose anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of range.
When the time has come to charge, the R1T can DC fast-charge at up to 200 kW (and eventually 300 kW), which Rivian says will add 140 miles of range in 20 minutes. To that end, it’s also building its own network of DC fast chargers, with 600 locations planned by the end of 2023. These will just be for Rivian owners, but unlike Tesla and its proprietary Supercharger network, Rivian will still use the industry-standard CCS plug. This means that you can also fast-charge a Rivian at public DC fast charging locations operated by companies like ChargePoint, EVgo, and Electrify America, and the R1T supports the new plug-and-charge standard, which handles billing information when the car completes its handshake with the charger.
The R1T can accept an AC charge at up to 11.5 kW, which adds 25 miles (40 km) of range an hour over the industry-standard J1772 plug. If you don’t have an 11.5 kW wall charger but do have a 240 V power supply, the portable charger will add 16 miles of range per hour and can also charge the truck from a 110 V source, albeit very slowly.