Two days later I arrived in Death Valley, California to test the Rivian R1T, a sandstorm rolled through. Not quite biblical, anymore Mission: Phantom Protocol Impossible. The weather was so intense, the mobile towers stopped working and no one could keep their eyes open long enough to find the slatted general store that offered shelter. Worse, we couldn’t find the only lounge. Turns out, these were the perfect conditions to test out a rugged EV from an upstart brand looking to make its mark.
Not long after my time in California, I was cruising through the lush, wooded New York state in an R1S, the SUV version of Rivian’s truck. This model has its sights set firmly on Range Rover customers, and will arrive before the British marque even gets its first legitimate hybrid out the door.
The R1T starts at $67,500, and the R1S starts at $72,000, and the options pile up quickly. The R1T loaner I drove came out to $90,000, but really the $22,500 in options were just gravy on an already stellar truck. You could buy the base model without any options or upgrades, and you’d still get all the best parts of the R1T.
I put 1,300 miles on the R1T in all kinds of conditions, from Los Angeles rush hour traffic to the open freeway, cold mountain roads to off-road desert trails. I later drove an R1T and an R1S another 100 miles through rural New York, ending up on a muddy off-road trail to be safe. Here’s why it’s, so far, the highest-rated EV I’ve reviewed.
Home from home
Tent camping wouldn’t happen on the first night of the sandstorm, obviously. Cruising the last 30 miles of juice on the Rivian’s 300-mile battery range, I found the only charging stations in Death Valley (four slow chargers powered by an array of solar panels) and spent the night.
I’m never a good sleeper in cars, but with the driver’s seat tilted back and the charging station humming slowly as it fed the Rivian’s batteries, I was nodding off in no time. Automakers have gotten very good at creating synthetic leather that can be mistaken for the real thing. The R1T’s faux-leather seats could have fooled anyone, and even after several 12-hour days of driving (and sleeping) the Rivian, I never felt any discomfort.
I didn’t spend much time riding in the back seat, but with a touchscreen for rear-facing climate controls and a comfortable fold-down armrest, the second rows of both the R1T and R1S were just as comfortable as the front seats. The R1S has a third row of seats for a total of seven passengers. There is no option for second-row captain’s chairs (two individual seats) instead of the three-person bench. Both rows fold flat, as usual, which should be expected in an SUV these days.
As part of the $5,500 Adventure Package, you get ash wood interior panels. They are available in three colors: brown, brown and black. What impressed me the most is that they were not covered with a thick layer of plastic varnish, like the wood trim on most cars. The stain used on the wood is enough to color it, and when you run your finger over the surface, you can feel the grain of the wood. The Adventure Trim’s carpeting is just as tactile and includes Chilewich woven carpets. They provided a nice and distinctive design detail, while most rugs are rubber or old rugs.
You can store whatever you want in the step gear tunnel that runs horizontally under the front of the truck bed. It serves as a second lockable trunk in addition to the front trunk under what we would normally call a hood on an internal combustion engine (ICE) truck. There’s plenty of room for a ton of groceries in the bag, and I carried a couple of large totes and a backpack with room to spare. There’s even a handy dedicated Bluetooth speaker with subwoofer, tweeter and two midrange speakers that stores under the center console and can be completely removed from the cabin. If only every car manufacturer had this much attention to detail.
The user interface on the 15.6-inch rectangular touchscreen is the best of any full-screen entertainment center I’ve seen so far. It’s all the more impressive because a tow, transport, off-road, commuting truck like the R1T has many more driving configurations than, say, the Polestar 2, which has an intuitive and industry-leading user interface, but doesn’t it’s so aesthetically pleasing. nice or crowded with so many screens and driving settings. The touchscreen interface is a weakness for many car companies, and it’s surprising that they don’t look to systems like this for valuable lessons. At the back of the center console, rear seat passengers have their own 6.8-inch touchscreen to control the heating and air conditioning vents.