Rivian R1T in Lone Pine, CA

Putting the Rivian R1T — and Rivian's new charging network — to the test, along California's scenic Route 395.

I’ve always been fascinated by car specs and stats. When you’re young, they’re your only measure for how cars stack up against one another. As you mature, they become less important as a car comparison tool, and instead, more of an almanac of feats of automotive technology. The most impressive and hyperbolic numbers become an indicator of the peak performance and technology of the era — the numbers that we’ll judge future vehicles against.  

As the world moves toward electrification, the numbers keep getting higher than ever. With EVs, we’re presented with horsepower figures so fantastical, they almost don’t register anymore. Maybe someday, we’ll find new numbers to quantify power. Maybe horsepower will be a measurement of the past.

But today isn’t that day. Today, we’re now in the age of the 835-horsepower electric pickup truck. 

The Rivian R1T is the first production vehicle from Rivian, an American electric vehicle-maker based in Irvine, California, and the numbers are only part of the story. 

This highly anticipated truck is what Rivian calls the world’s first Electric Adventure Vehicle, and it is a production truck with a lot of power, a lot of battery cells, a lot of motors (4), and a lot of knowhow and development behind it. You don’t feel like you’re in an early prototype when you drive the R1T, or a transitional step towards something just over the horizon; it’s a complete, fully realized idea. Behind the wheel, it feels like you could be driving the 3rd generation of R1T. 

I drove what is essentially the launch configuration, which consists of a 135 kWh battery pack, quad motors (one at each wheel). The base MSRP, as of this writing, is $73,000. If you can find one. 


The Trip
For this trip, I joined my regular collaborator Daniel Sloan in Los Angeles, and we drove the R1T over Angeles Crest to California’s Inyo county in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This area is home to Alabama Hills, Mount Whitney, and Death Valley, and to me, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I’ve really wanted to do a trip where this is the destination, rather than a stop along the way. 

The town of Lone Pine is only about 4 hours away from L.A., but because it’s separated by the highest mountains in the contiguous U.S., it seems remote and isolated. When you’re there, it feels like a beautiful pocket of California that remains relatively untouched by development. 

We had planned some hikes and a bit of off-roading, and set aside time for whatever trails and roads we came across that we wanted to explore. 

Driving Impressions 
Our trip spanned about 700 miles of highways, winding roads, trails, and gravel. The R1T weighs over 7,100 pounds, but big brakes, wide 275-section tires, and 908 lb-ft of torque do a lot to offset that, so it always feels responsive to your inputs. The weight is there, but it’s well managed. 

On the highway, it’s quiet, fast, and effortless. You’ll find the usual suite of driver aid features, such as adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, called Driver+. 

I was impressed by how dense and solid it feels, sort of like a Mercedes G-class —  you know it’s heavy, but everything feels bolted down. When you go on gravel in a lot of modern pickup trucks, you hear lots of shuddering and rattling happening around you. The Rivian just doesn’t do that. 

We found some mud and some pretty steep trails, and while we didn’t put it through an extreme off-road test, we were impressed by how well composed it was everywhere we took it. The tires are so big and the ground clearance is so high that a lot of dips and undulations that might be a challenge in a smaller off-roader, become a non-issue in the R1T. There are various drive modes that optimize the R1T for different conditions, and it’s fun to try those, or you can just put it in All-Purpose mode and let the truck figure out what’s best.

An off road EV offers the ability to use electric power not just for impressive 0-60 times, but to lever four individual motors to precisely modulate torque between four wheels, in ways impossible with internal combustion. I find this potential very exciting, it’s similar to how hill descent control uses computerized, individual braking at each wheel to prevent you from slipping. 

One thing that didn’t sit well with me is that the amount of regenerative braking varied in some situations. After we fully charged the battery, the vehicle display warned us that regenerative braking was disabled, and sure enough, if you lifted off the power, it just coasted forward. I understand that if the battery is full it can’t harvest more energy, but above everything else, for safety reasons, the behavior of lifting of the accelerator should be consistent unless you tell it otherwise. If you lift, and expect it to slow down, and it doesn’t do that, that seems bad. 



Styling
I do like how this truck looks, and after spending some time with it, and seeing it clean, dirty, and in the landscape, it has grown on me even more. The shape is taut and sculpted, and it just kind of goes against the angry, aggressive trend of every other pickup truck. The lighting at the front and rear is futuristic and shooting this truck out in nature was like nothing else I’ve photographed before. 

The interior is a smart design that uses nicely finished materials like ash wood, brushed metals, and vegan leather. It’s a premium, luxury interior, but at the same time, I didn’t feel bad hopping in with muddy or dusty shoes, because the mats are a weave that look like they’re easy to clean. 

 

UI
Inside, there are two big displays… and almost everything is on one of these screens. These screens look nice, and I like how they’re integrated into the cabin, but the usability leaves a little to be desired.

This isn’t a very original complaint, I know, but to do just about anything, you go through the center display. Unlocking the doors is done through the touchscreen, and adjusting a vent position, or changing the volume, requires multiple taps or gestures. 

And for the few physical controls that remain – there are two stalks, and a few thumb control buttons on the steering wheel  — those all have to do multiple functions. 

So the thumb button that skips between music tracks also toggles between menus on the screen, depending on context. For how my brain works, not having that spatial consistency leaves me without confidence whenever I hit a button. Maybe you get used to it, but it’s hard to see the benefit of stripping away so many control inputs, and making everything require more steps, more adjusting, more getting used to it. 

Charging
In a remarkable coincidence, a month before this trip, Rivian built its first three fast-charging stations, and two of them were along our route: Inyokern and Bishop, California (the third is in Salida, Colorado). 

I can say with certainty that our trip was made easier and more enjoyable because of these charging stations. The DC fast chargers promise up to 140 miles of range in 20 minutes, which seemed spot on — we fully charged our R1T to 280 miles in a little over an hour. These chargers are free for Rivian vehicles, and there’s no card or app required, it just plugs in and works. 

Rivian has many more charging stations planned nationwide, and I think it’s very cool that there are less powerful Level 2 chargers at every station that are open to other EVs. 

Conclusion
The Rivian R1T is a compelling truck and a totally unique proposition: an attractive, fully-electric off-road vehicle. 

The numbers that this truck puts up will be eclipsed by other EVs, and other trucks, but after spending a few days with the R1T, it’s clear that that won’t matter. We will see this truck as a significant milestone, and great execution of an idea. I think it could be a while before we see a competitor offer a more appealing package.

 

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