For decades, the full-size pickup truck market has been dominated by three automakers that collectively produce four of the top-selling nameplates year after year. The Ford F-series, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram pickups consistently outsell everything in America. Toyota and Nissan have tried for nearly two decades to make a dent in that segment and only the former has had a modicum of success and that is still a fraction of what the Detroit brands sell. However, the pickup market is about to go through a fundamental shift with the introduction of electric propulsion. The first entrant in this new era is the Rivian R1T and I just had a chance to sample it.
Let’s clear up something first. The Rivian R1T isn’t really a direct competitor to the likes of the F-150, Silverado and Ram 1500. At just over 217-inches long, it’s closer in size to the 211-inch Ranger than the 232-inch F-150 crew-cab. That makes it more of a midsize than a full-size pickup. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, I long advocated the idea that most consumer truck owners would be a lot better off with a midsize or even compact truck. The big trucks are great if you need the capability, but most never actually use it all.
Those smaller dimensions still leave plenty of room for five occupants in the cab, lots of payload and towing, while making it much more manageable to maneuver. Driving a full-size truck or SUV in a city or a crowded parking lot can be a nerve wracking experience. The R1T is a very reasonable size and with compact trucks suddenly making a comeback in the form of the Hyundai Santa Cruz and Ford Maverick, hopefully Rivian will soon offer something even smaller.
At least with this first product, Rivian isn’t targeting the commercial and fleet users that are a key part of the market for Detroit trucks, but the upstart is obviously aiming for a presence in the business side of the market with its deal to produce delivery vans for Amazon
Despite it’s more modest footprint, the R1T takes advantage of the fact that it was purpose built as an electric truck rather than being a modified version of an existing vehicle. It has a unique design language that unlike current Teslas
Like many new EVs, there is a front trunk where an engine would typically reside. Unfortunately, unlike the F-150 Lightning and the GMC Hummer, the front panel that would typically be a grille, is fixed in place rather than being attached to the hood. That means there is quite a tall liftover to access the 11 cubic feet of storage. Like Ford’s EVs, Rivian has incorporated a drain in the bottom so that you can throw wet gear in there or even use it to hold ice and cold beverages for a tailgate party.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the R1T is the gear tunnel made possible by the dedicated EV design. Between the cab and rear wheel arches is a storage compartment that spans the full width of the truck with access panels on both sides. The tunnel can hold 11.6 cubic feet of stuff including the optional camp kitchen. This $5,000 unit slides out of the tunnel and features a 2 burner induction cooktop, 4-gallon water tank and collapsible sink for preparing meals in the wilderness and then cleaning up. With the optional power tonneau cover closed, the bed will hold 29.2 cubic feet of stuff including lots of mulch. There’s also another 14 cubic feet in a compartment below the bed floor where the available full-size spare, a rarity in EVs, is stored.
The R1T features 4 motors that can produce over 800-hp combined, with each driving one wheel. This makes fully independent torque vectoring possible for maximum off-road traction and on-road handling. Another of the details unique to this vehicle is the clutches between the rear motors and wheels. When driving at lower speeds or cruising on the highway, the rear motors are decoupled from the wheels.
This eliminates the drag caused by induction in the motors which would normally be used for regenerative braking. This effectively makes this a front wheel drive truck with on-demand all-wheel drive. This is actually a really smart solution that contributes to improved efficiency.
Speaking of regenerative braking, the R1T defaults to strong regen from the front axle which does most of the braking due to the forward weight transfer under deceleration. Lifting off the accelerator will achieve most of the braking required during normal driving and bring the truck to a full stop and hold it until the pedal is pressed down again.
As expected from a ground up EV, the R1T’s cabin relies more on the touchscreen than physical switchgear, especially for controls that are used less frequently. This includes the mirrors and steering wheel adjustment which can be activated in the touchscreen and then adjusted from the steering wheel rockers and scroll wheels. Once set, they can be saved to one of several driver profiles.
The more frequently used controls like shifting, turn signals, and driver assistance activation are still done by steering column stalks and there is a proper circular steering wheel. One criticism of Tesla, particularly on the Model S and X is that despite their high prices, they have never really felt like luxury cars. The same cannot be said for the R1T. At the $73,000 price of the R1T launch edition, it feels decidedly premium inside. The fit and finish of the early production truck I drove was very good and the mix of vegan leather, real wood veneers and aluminum looked like what you should expect at the price point.
On the road, the R1T feels very civilized given the claimed off-road prowess. The ride quality was excellent and clearly benefited from the extensive testing done prior to launch. Everything felt solid and there were no notable squeaks and rattles while wind noise on the highway was minimal. The roads were initially still damp following an early morning thunderstorm so I didn’t take full advantage of the power available initially. However, this is clearly a very fast machine and the claimed 3 second 0-60 time seems very plausible.
Driving through town, the Rivian is far easier to maneuver than a full-size truck and once on some curving back roads, it felt surprisingly nimble despite its 7,000-lb curb weight. While that’s a full ton less than the larger Hummer EV, it’s still 500-lbs more than what the Ford F-150 Lightning is projected to weigh.
At 135-kWh, this has the largest battery currently available in a consumer EV, although the aforementioned Hummer will have 200-kWh. The R1T has a 314-mile range rating from EPA with the 21-inch all-season tire package and slightly less with the all-terrain or high-performance tire options.
The infotainment is controlled through a 16-inch center touchscreen which features an internally developed interface. It was generally responsive although on a couple of occasions it did lag a bit although not as much as the VW ID.4 system. The graphics are clear and easily readable. Given the very large investment made by Amazon in Rivian, it should come as no surprise that the voice recognition is powered by Alexa voice services. Unfortunately, Rivian has opted not to include support for Android Auto or Apple
The multiple drive modes and ride height adjustment for the air-spring suspension are all handled via the screen. The R1T is claimed to be able to ford through 3 feet of water and the air springs can lift the truck to provide up to 14-inches of ground clearance, more than either the F-150 or Ram TRX. Unfortunately, during the drive, while switching modes, it became stuck in sport mode at one point, so there are some software bugs that still need to be fixed.
Rivian calls its advanced driver assistance system Driver+. Unlike a certain other electric vehicle manufacturer, Rivian is going with a more robust sensing suite including three types of sensors to help ensure safety and reliability with a 360 degree view. There are 10 exterior cameras, five radar sensors and 12 ultrasonic sensors. There is also an interior infrared camera to monitor the driver although that one isn’t yet enabled. While the Rivian website refers to hands-free highway driving and automatic lane change assist, that functionality isn’t yet available. It should become available at some point in the future via an over-the-air software update.
For now, Driver+ includes the usual hands-on functions such as lane centering, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and blindspot monitoring. Driving on a still wet highway with heavy overcast before the sun was fully up, the ACC worked well and maintained a consistent gap to the vehicle ahead with smooth speed adjustments. The lane centering was able to see the lanes and keep the truck centered, but it definitely needed driver steering input on the curves.
Overall, based on just one hour with the truck, the Rivian R1T is an outstanding first effort from a new manufacturer. CEO R.J. Scaringe has used the extensive resources at his disposal an hired a lot of smart people with experience in vehicle development and manufacturing to create something that should be very appealing to consumers. This isn’t a vehicle for everyone, but the potential to create more affordable and accessible vehicles is clearly present. There is more work to be done, especially on the software side, but modern electronic architectures and connectivity make that possible. The world doesn’t really need 800-hp midsize pickups, but something very much like this in the 300 to 400 hp range as well as something even smaller could be a major hit in the pickup loving US market.