Don’t think of Rivian as a trucking company. Of course, the brand’s first production vehicle, the R1T you see here, is a four-door pickup truck. And the next launch will be the R1S, a three-row SUV based on the R1T. And then there’s the cartoonish RPV, an electric delivery van with up to 900 cubic feet of cargo space. Amazon expects to have 100,000 of these platforms up and running by 2030.
Trucks, all of them. But when founder RJ Scaringe started his business in 2009, in his twenties, just graduating from engineering school, his dream was to build a mid-engined hybrid sports car. And if you want to understand Rivian, you have to think of it as a sports car company.
This story originally appeared in Volume 8 of Road & Track.
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The proof can be found in the center of the R1T’s chassis: four electric motors, one driving each wheel. The Rivian is the first mass-produced four-motor electric vehicle. Even Tesla’s premier Plaid Model S only has one motor for the front axle. With each wheel independently driven, the Rivian can perform legitimate torque vectoring, with all of the instant adjustments and responses that make electric motors so enticing. This is what you would build if your transmission service was run by club racers and rally enthusiasts.
It’s also a great way to put immense power to the ground. Right now, Rivian offers a drivetrain configuration: 415 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque at the front axle, plus 420 hp and 495 lb-ft at the rear. Factor in the reducer inside each motor (a ratio of about 12: 1), and that gives a torque well over 10,000 lb-ft at the tires, good for a 0-60 second time. claimed and a regulated top speed of 110 mph. The 135 kWh battery provides an EPA estimated range of 314 miles, and Rivian says the platform can tow up to 11,000 pounds.
At Rivian’s launch event in Breckenridge, Colorado, those numbers were easily credible. The R1T weighs 6,950 pounds but accelerates fiercely, with no slippage, even on 34-inch Pirelli all-terrain tires. The truck runs on a height-adjustable air suspension; even its lowest ride height still offers nearly 10 inches of ground clearance.
And it turns flat. The R1T tackles mountain country roads like a sports sedan. The weight of the battery is entirely under your feet and between the axles for a very low center of gravity. But the real magic is in the adaptive dampers. They are hydraulically connected between the axles: As you drive around a left-hand curve, the passenger-side shocks compress, forcing fluid into the bottom of the driver-side shocks, compressing the suspension on the inside wheels to counter body roll. This eliminates the need for conventional anti-roll bars. Roll stiffness is controlled via the valves and accumulators that connect the shocks, adjusted on the fly depending on the riding mode you choose. It’s similar to what’s found in McLaren’s more advanced supercars. Coincidentally, Rivian employs a few McLaren veterans.
So there is no anti-roll bar to disconnect when heading towards the runway. All you need to do is activate off-road mode, which raises the platform to almost 15 inches of ground clearance, and off you go. The Rivian demonstration route took us most of the day on a technical, steep trail that took us above the treeline beyond 12,000 feet in elevation, a narrow path that we drove at mostly single-digit speeds.
The R1T features four-wheel independent suspension with upper and lower control arms. The placement of the inboard motor keeps the angles of the driveshaft to a minimum. The engines themselves are barricaded behind the perfectly flat belly of the truck, covered its entire length with impact panels. Hard-learned habits suddenly become irrelevant: you don’t have to worry about slamming your front differential or hitting a crosshead on a rock or stump.
The flaws of internal combustion are more noticeable as you crawl through rock. A gasoline engine needs multiple gear ratios to stay in its ideal rev range, as well as locking differentials (or complex, slow electronics to simulate a locker) to maximize traction. Any off-road excursion is an ever-evolving math problem, choosing the right gear to get the right rpm to carry the right speed to go without spinning the tires or getting stuck.
The R1T specifically asks you to do none of this. You never wonder whether to downshift for power or stay in a higher gear for smoother throttle response. You never need a running start to conquer a steep climb. You can do a hairpin turn without fighting the locked differential axle jump. Instant torque and split-second responsiveness means you’ll never be caught spinning a wheel that dangles in the air unnecessarily. The calibration is perfect; Off-road mode gives you a smooth response from a long accelerator pedal, perfect for fine adjustments as you navigate obstacles. Through twisting frame transitions, over loose rocks and steep, white climbs, pushing the R1T along was blissfully easy. And silent: the only sounds during our climbs and descents were the crunch of rock under the tire and the ambient tones of unspoiled nature.
It’s hard to overstate how revolutionary this sounds. That’s what off-road always should have been – it’s just that, until now, we’ve had to make up for the shortcomings of internal combustion every time we go off the track.
Rivian isn’t the only automaker looking for all-terrain electric vehicles. The R1T will soon be joined by electric four-fours from a group of historic automakers, and other start-ups are sure to follow.
But while many upcoming off-roaders bring a cargo bay full of macho silliness (hello, new Hummer), the R1T is packed with things a true outdoor adventurer would love, like a bed-mounted air compressor ( good for 150 psi), a cable lock system (to keep your mountain bike or kayak or whatever safe), and, yes, the camp kitchen.
Evidenced by the Gear Tunnel, a full-width storage chamber tucked under the rear seats and in front of the rear wheel arches, accessible from either side. It’s big enough to hold a six-foot automotive journalist, but better suited for storing dirty gym bags or outdoor gear. For $ 5,000, you can specify your R1T with the Camp Kitchen, which slides out of the gear tunnel with a two-burner induction cooktop, four-gallon water tank with pump, pull-out sink, a dinnerware set for four, and a complete setup for brewing coffee. Everything is powered by the Rivian’s main battery; According to the company, running both burners at full throttle for an hour should only consume a kilometer or two of range. Is it a party thing? Of course it is. During our two days in Colorado, the Rivian team prepared every meal for more than a dozen people on the cooktop of a truck.
The R1T is not perfect. The interior is stylish but too sober, a victim of tactile temptation. The side mirrors, steering wheel tilt and telescoping, and air conditioning vent direction settings all lurk deep within the submenus. Aside from the window switches and steering column rods, there isn’t a single button or button on the dash. This gives the R1T a futuristic glazed aesthetic but leaves you groping for the simpler tasks. The same technological dependence extends to the exterior: every case, from the front trunk to the door handles to the Gear Tunnel, the tailgate and the barrel, is electronically controlled. In unconditional off-roading, this seems to be an invitation to dysfunction. Again, the whole truck is powered by electrons.
Overall, however, the R1T is a knockout. He’s more capable and knowledgeable than he ever needed to be, on the road or off. It’s a triumph of thoughtful engineering, designed by people who wanted a vehicle for their hobbies and needs. Just like the best sports cars.
2022 Rivien R1T
$ 67,500 (basic)
4 electric motors
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