Review: 2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition
Perhaps it’s because I don’t review cars that often, but every vehicle that finds its way into my hands winds up gaining a theme song that becomes the soundtrack of my drive. This time around? It happened at a stop light, when a lowered Silverado needed my lane in order to continue his feverish progress on the mean stroads of the Bayou City. This moment deserved the audio drama of the sixteenth-note undertones within Lars Ulrich’s double bass drumming—specifically amid the impactful lyrics of Metallica’s Fuel:
Fuel is pumping engines
Burning hard, loose, and clean
And I burn, churning my direction
Quench my thirst with gasoline
Gasoline, however, is no longer the king thirst-quencher of power and torque. Even if that lowered Silverado had a 1200-hp turbocharged LS motor, it could not dream of holeshotting with the surgical precision of four in-wheel electric motors producing 908 lb-ft of total torque.
Startup EV automaker Rivian made that impossible-seeming dream into reality. Its debut model is the all-electric R1T pickup, the first vehicle to wear to the brand’s compass-inspired logo upon exiting the former Mitsubishi factory in Normal, Illinois. There’s also an SUV variant of essentially the same vehicle (called the R1S), and Rivian’s Amazon-branded delivery vans are now hitting the streets in limited numbers.
Indeed, the Rivian R1T “Launch Edition” I was testing does just that, ensuring the Silverado was never really a threat. The growling Chevy tucked in behind me after I made it disappear into my rear view, only to furiously pass me when conditions allowed. If the point needed further proof, the R1T accelerates to 60 mph in about 3 seconds, and an insane 11.6 quarter mile time ensures it is up there with the GMC Hummer as one of the quickest production trucks on the planet. It, uh, quenches one’s thirst for speed like a DC fast charge remedies a depleted battery. How about some metallic lyrics to help explain:
Give me juice!
Give me torque!
Give me tech, ’cause I’m a dork!!!
The R1T starts at $68,575 for the base Explore trim and $74,975 for the ritzier Adventure. Both versions come with AWD and two Rivian-built electric motors (600+ hp and 600+ lb-ft), and the Standard 260-mile battery pack. The quad-motor setup starts at $80,575 and features e-motors built by Bosch (835 hp and 900 lb-ft) and the Large battery good for 314 miles ($6000). A Max pack battery allows for a whopping 400 miles of range at an equally whopping cost of $16,000. The Launch Edition, built in limited numbers in 2021, uses the Large battery pack, four motors, and builds on the niceties of the Adventure with unique Launch Green paint and a modest interior badge.
The R1T’s “down the road graphic” signature (a light bar bisected by two headlights that look like sideways USB ports) is both adorable and a little intimidating in one’s rear view. In the reflection of a tailgate, I like it even more. The Large-pack Rivian is comparable to the Tesla Model Y Performance in terms of range (314 miles of range, or about 275 miles with all-terrain tires; compared to the Y’s 303 miles), 835 horsepower makes the R1T a mind-altering experience compared to the 450-hp Tesla. And such thrust expertly delivered, with refinement akin to driving a six-figure European touring sedan. Or, put the truck into Sport mode, turn off the traction control, and savor the perfect ratio of wheelspin to muscle car-like acceleration.
Commanding performance is one thing, but this is a genuinely livable everyday vehicle. The R1T’s absorbs potholes with ease, climb curbs at any angle without jiggling your neck (sorry, that’s all the off-roading I found in the suburbs), handles like a sports sedan, and stops with authority. Beefy discs and aggressive brake regen bring the whole hulking mass to a halt. And it is hulking indeed, at 7148 pounds. That is not a typo. I ask: What unholy deal did Rivian sign with the devil to build a truck—with both Super Duty mass and all-terrain tires with the optional off-road package—perform to such an astoundingly versatile degree?
Much of the Rivian’s mind-altering handling prowess comes from its air suspension (like a Ram, but fully independent) that boasts shocking on-demand adjustability for aerodynamics (2 inches lower) and off-road prowess (3.5 inches higher). Keeping the bladders in check is an ingenious quartet of adaptive dampers with orifice tubes (no internal valving), fed hydraulic fluid via central valve body. It’s kinda like ABS brake proportioning, except this allows for cross linking; bound/rebound rates at each corner harmonize much like in a McLaren. And the whole affair is controlled by Rivian-designed hardware and software that’s likely worth more than a McDonald’s franchise on the Las Vegas strip.
Yes, it’s worth every penny. And it’s far from ostentatious, given the restrained exterior and minimalist interior from which you summon electric dominance. The R1T sports cabin craftsmanship worthy of a Fjällräven wardrobe, wrapping fresh design and thoughtful technology in an environment that feels durable and high-quality.
Not all is well, though. Rivian opted to follow Tesla’s lead with exclusively digital HVAC controls that can’t match the usability of traditional buttons and knobs, especially when adjusting the vents on the 16-inch central touch screen. It gets worse. Thanks to our current climate situation here in the Gulf Coast, the life-threatening heat and humidity outside even made it uncomfortable to sit under the R1T’s sunshade-free, tinted glass roof without a baseball cap. The heat was significant enough that R1T’s cooling fan (fans?) screamed bloody murder in bumper-to-bumper traffic, never slowing down and remaining loud enough when parked in my driveway to drown out the sound of a neighbor’s nearby A/C unit. Ventilated seats helped, but Mother Nature embarrassed that ridiculous roof. And, to be fair, it would have been even worse if I was sitting behind the crossbeam-free windshield of the Lucid Air Dream Edition instead.
NVH in an EV is even tougher than in a gas vehicle, because without an engine laying out thick blanket of background tones, there’s nowhere to hide. Still, road noise even with the optional 20-inch all-terrain tires is surprisingly muted. The culprit that renders this Rivian perhaps the loudest luxury EV on planet Earth is the aforementioned cooling fan, and the motors are about on par with anything in a Tesla. Thankfully, the Meridian Elevation audio system quickly drowns out all the noise with competent highs and excellent imaging. Our tester sported an aftermarket 10-inch subwoofer in the gear tunnel (between the bed and the rear seat) that ensured every note of Mr. Ulrich’s drum kit was reproduced with passion!
Everywhere you look there are quality polymers, stitched leatherette, metal/cloth/LED accents, and even floor coverings worthy of Coco Mat references in a W116 Benz. Bask in the appeal of the R1T’s open pore wood trim, which is perfectly illuminated at night on the dash and doors. This is a luxury vehicle at its core, though not a flashy one, and anyone who rolls up to a worksite in this rig is begging for their bonafides to be judged.
Or perhaps those theoretical judgments have some validity. The 4.5-foot bed isn’t terribly useful until you factor in the R1T’s extra cargo features. There’s a generous frunk, gear tunnel, under floor storage (back seat and bed), and several nooks inside the gear tunnel’s access doors. Lumber runs to Home Depot are best suited to more traditional rigs, as there’s no provision for a tubular bed extender, and heavy metal hardware will likely gouge the plastic (not spray-in) liner: I was very careful to avoid the latter when loading a reproduction exhaust system of significant heft.
While the power tonneau cover is a welcome treat, the motorized tailgate should also close itself. Even more so since the R1T’s tailgate lacks a grabbing orifice to assist the user in this action. At least there are no disappointments with the bed’s 110v power outlets and the high-volume air compressor.
In a perfect world there’d be a truck with the attention to detail of an F-150 Platinum, the performance of an R1T, and the pricing of something Tacoma-like. But you can’t have all three, so pick two. Or maybe just one, as multiple passengers have mistakenly re-closed the R1T’s doors thinking they weren’t closed properly. Soft-closing doors would eliminate the confusion, and doesn’t seem out of line now that Rivian’s poorly-executed price hike puts the R1T firmly in the upper tier of near six-figure pickups. Clearly this rig isn’t an approachable F-150 Lightning.
I’ve already driven the Lightning, so an EV pickup this or that taste test isn’t a bad way to end a review. The R1T Launch Edition compared with the small-battery, XLT grade, Ford Lightning is a study in contrasts. The Ford has superior Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, more reassuring door latches, softer seats, a dead silent powertrain, more usable bed/frunk, and a far superior ride. Pop the R1T out of Sport mode and it still can’t match the luxurious feel of the far cheaper Ford; consider the Rivian a German-style lux-limo for four passengers, while the Lightning is a modern Fleetwood Brougham for five. Can the bigger Ford still cut mustard with a mere 775 lb-ft on tap? Performance isn’t far off the Rivian, thanks to the Lightning’s 1000-ish pound weight advantage. Turn-in isn’t nearly as crisp and the Ford’s mundane suspension does not impress in aggressive maneuvers the way the R1T’s does. The trucks are, in truth, very different. Apples and oranges.
I suspect Rivian buyers have very different demands and priorities than Lightning buyers. The R1T is the only vehicle that can silently dust a performance car on a twisty road, carry 1700 pounds of payload, tow 11,000 pounds on the highway, and navigate gnarly trails thanks to its individual electric motors in each wheel. That’s off-road ability worthy of a Jeep Jamboree with a Range Rover-worthy interior stuffed in for good measure. Do-it-all vehicles hold a lot of appeal for Americans these days.
Sigh. Perhaps one day some of the R1T’s mind-altering technology might trickle down to more affordable vehicles. I admit I’ve developed quite a thirst for this EV truck, and it could use a regular quenching.
2022 Rivian R1T Launch Edition
Price: $77,000 with off-road package (subsequent orders are $90,000)
Highs: Impressive thrust, BMW-like handling, a mid-size truck that tows like a full-sizer.
Lows: Tiny bed, stiff ride, heatwave-averse HVAC, and you gotta have faith in the parent company’s long term health.
Summary: Luxury trucks are commonplace, but this is a new high watermark for performance.