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2022 Rivian R1T first drive review: Electric pickup tackles the trail

Bursting at the seams with capability, Rivian's R1T is not just the first battery-powered light-duty pickup, it's also just a really good truck.

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It's finally here.

Rivian

The age of the all-electric pickup truck is upon us, and the first manufacturer to begin delivering battery-powered trucks to customers is Rivian. The first examples of the R1T pickup started rolling off the assembly line in Normal, Illinois earlier this month. On that very same day, I settled behind the wheel of a 2022 R1T Launch Edition high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to see if Rivian's light-duty electric truck was worth the wait.

The truck

The R1T's exterior aesthetic is a minimalist take on classic pickup truck design. Both ends are dominated by strong horizontal light bars with the front fascia punctuated by vertical pill-shaped headlamp clusters that create an approachable, almost cartoonish face. One of my favorite hidden details is that the front light bar can double as a battery meter, filling up with soft green light as the pickup charges.

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The R1T's cartoonish design is highlighted by front and rear wraparound light bars.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The R1T measures 217.1 inches from the rooter to the tooter and is 81.8 inches wide. For scale, that footprint is a touch larger than the Ford Ranger, but a fair bit smaller than a Crew Cab F-150. However, the Rivian's 54-inch bed is about a half an inch shorter than even the compact Maverick's, so you'll need to drop the R1T's gooseneck-hinged tailgate to create a flat, uninterrupted 83.6-inch floor when hauling bulkier items.

What the R1T lacks in bed space, it makes up for with enclosed storage. Under the power-opening-and-closing hood is the front trunk with 11 cubic feet of space -- enough for about three or four carry-on suitcases with room to spare. Just ahead of the rear wheels is the Gear Tunnel, an 11.6-cubic-foot storage space that's accessible from either side of the truck. The Gear Tunnel's fold-out doors double as handy tailgating seats or steps for roof rack access, holding up to 300 pounds each. Beneath the bed is a 14.3-cubic-foot lockable storage space, which is home to the full-size spare tire on my tester. The 29.2-cubic-foot bed itself is also securable with a standard manual tonneau cover for the base Explore model or a powered cover for Launch Edition and Adventure trims.

The hardware

The R1T has a quad-motor electric powertrain that allows it to precisely control torque at each individual wheel. The front axle twists to the tune of 415 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque, while the rear wheels rock a combined 420 hp and 495 lb-ft of torque. All in all, you're looking at a combination of more than 800 hp and 900 lb-ft of torque. That's enough grunt to launch the R1T from 0 to 60 mph in around 3 seconds on tarmac in its Sport setting.

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Those motors are powered by a 135-kilowatt-hour Large Pack battery beneath the R1T's floor, good for an EPA-estimated 314 miles of range when equipped with 21-inch wheels. Optioning 20-inch all-terrain or 22-inch sport wheels will reduce the range by up to 15%, according to Rivian. Off-roading or towing the maximum 11,000-pound capacity can also slash the range by as much as 50%. Next year, a 180-kWh Max Pack will be added to the options list, bumping the estimated range over the 400-mile mark for an additional $10,000.

Able to DC fast-charge at speeds up to 200 kW, the R1T can rapidly add around 140 miles in just 20 minutes with an 80% charge taking a little more than 30 minutes. At an 11.5-kW home or public Level 2 charger, you're looking at adding around 25 miles per hour of charging or 12 hours to full from flat.

Every R1T has a standard air suspension, which enables automatic load leveling and ride height adjustment. At its lowest, the pickup kneels to 8.7 inches of ground clearance in Park mode. At its tallest, you get up to 13.1 inches of clearance for Off-Road mode and 15 inches during low-speed rock crawling. And yeah, you can ford up to 42.7 inches of water without being electrocuted.

Drivers can adjust the R1T's performance by selecting one of eight drive modes. All-Purpose is the default setting for daily driving. Sport stiffens and lowers the suspension while sharpening the throttle response. There are actually four off-road settings to choose from -- Off-Road Auto, Rock Crawl, Rally and Drift -- depending on how extreme the terrain is or how fast you want to go. Tow mode boosts stability when pulling a load, while Conserve mode maximizes efficiency by only powering the front wheels. Each of these settings can be further customized to the driver's liking, so if you prefer a stiff suspension in Rock Crawl mode or less regenerative braking in All-Purpose, the truck will remember that.

The trail

My journey took me up tight and twisting trails through the woods, over streams and mud and up rocky scrambles to the top of a mountain. The R1T handled everything I threw at it with aplomb and poise, requiring little more than smooth inputs to the steering and throttle and the occasional tap of the touchscreen to raise the ride over particularly large rocks.

The all-electric powertrain is, in many ways, ideally suited for casual to moderate off-road performance. For starters, it's nearly silent in operation, which means you can more clearly hear the sounds of nature -- a nearby stream, the birds overhead -- and the scrabble of the tires on the terrain. Additionally, the R1T's power output is not affected by altitude since it doesn't need to combust oxygen. My journey began at around 9,400 feet above sea level and peaked at somewhere around 12,400 feet and the truck crawled confidently the entire way.

The ability to precisely and instantly send gobs of torque to the right wheel at exactly the right time gives the R1T a pretty big traction advantage over most gas- or diesel-powered trucks. It doesn't need locking differentials or axles to find traction on loose, uneven or slippery surfaces, which allows it to maintain maneuverability when making its way up tight switchbacks. The precise throttle imbues the R1T with a strong sense of control and confidence on the steeper parts of the trail, particularly on the descent where the one-pedal regenerative braking mostly eliminates the need for a specific brake-based hill-descent control feature. And with less wheelspin overall, the R1T tears up the trail less, which means a little less erosion and a little more enjoyment of that trail and nature for years to come.

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The quad-motor powertrain allows for a precise application of massive amounts of torque.

Rivian

Because the battery forms the floor of the R1T's skateboard chassis, the underbody is completely flat from bumper to bumper. This yields aerodynamic improvements on the road, but also means there's nothing to get stuck and ripped off on the trail. Rivian's engineers tell me that the R1T's battery pack itself is protected by multiple layers of steel and composite to prevent a puncture in the event you bash the bottom on a sharp rock or log. That said, drivers who plan on doing intense rock crawling should probably consider the $2,000 Off-Road Upgrade kit which further reinforces the underbody shield and adds dual front bumper tow hooks. Fortunately, I never needed to put the undercarriage's integrity to the test, thanks to the generous ground clearance and the standard trail cameras which aid in proper wheel placement.

The tech

The R1T's cabin is home to vegan leather upholstery, a full-glass panoramic roof and, for Launch Edition and Adventure models, an ash wood dashboard with a natural-grain finish. Front and center in that dashboard is a 16-inch multimedia touchscreen. Just ahead of the steering wheel is a second 12-inch display that serves as the digital instrument cluster.

The software powering those displays is very well organized with a bright, minimalist design and phonelike shortcuts to the various pages for navigation, audio source, climate control, drive mode selection and other features along the bottom edge of the screen. The maps for navigation look good and destination entry is simple enough, though at least once during the street portion of my two-day drive I noticed the turn-by-turn directions lagged enough to almost make me miss a turn. For the most part, however, I found the rest of the software to be fairly responsive and very easy to use.

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Almost all of the R1T's controls live on the16-inch touchscreen.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Almost all of the R1T's controls live on the touchscreen; in fact, the only physical buttons I could find were the window rockers and the steering wheel thumb buttons. This results in some weird interactions, like having to adjust the wing mirrors or the steering wheel tilt with the steering wheel buttons, or swiping on the touchscreen to aim the air conditioner's vents. I didn't find this too off-putting since these are things I don't fiddle with much while driving, but not everyone will be a fan. Fortunately, the R1T's software features multiple driver profiles, so once you get your seat, mirrors and steering wheel set, the R1T will automatically recall their positions at the start of each trip.

Rivian's infotainment does not feature Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity, which seems like a bit of a miss. Theoretically, a future update could add these features later, but there are currently no plans to do so. However, standard 4G LTE connectivity brings apps like Amazon Alexa, Spotify and TuneIn to the dashboard, and you can search for charging stations, as well.

Rivian's entire driver-aid suite is standard for all R1T trims, which is good. This means automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and more. The R1T doesn't feature any sort of automatic parallel or perpendicular parking, but it does feature standard front, rear and side exterior cameras and 360-degree distance sensors to help you get the job done yourself. The front and rear cameras also come in handy on the trail, aiding in proper wheel placement over tricky terrain. However, I'd like to see Rivian add the option for a bird's-eye 360 view or at least steering trajectory lines on the front camera like those on the rear.

While I was mostly pleased with the R1T's suite of driver aid technologies, I think the Driver Plus highway assist still needs a bit of finessing. This feature keeps the truck centered in the lane with steering assist during ideal highway conditions. It's a Level 2 hands-on system with capacitive sensors to detect the driver's hands on the wheel, but feels like it wants to be or was perhaps designed to be hands-off. The steering assist is particularly strong, yet whenever I impart any torque to the wheel, it instantly deactivates. That means changing lanes without using the built-in lane-change assist function or sometimes just holding the steering wheel too tightly causes it to give up, going instantly from strong assist to almost none at all. This is especially annoying because Driver Plus doesn't automatically reactivate when I loosen up or complete the lane change, requiring me to manually reengage the feature every time. More often than not, I simply left it off.

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Driver Plus offers very strong lane keeping assist, but could transition more smoothly to human-led steering.

Rivian

Other steering assist systems -- like GM's Super Cruise or even Nissan's Pro Pilot Assist -- handle the transition between assisted and human-led steering more gracefully. Fortunately, the Rivian engineers I spoke to assured me that the automaker is constantly working on refining its software and will be pushing improvements to its safety, infotainment and even vehicle dynamics systems via over-the-air updates. That said, OTAs are nice, but I strongly believe you should base your decision on the truck as it is when purchased, rather than on the promise of what it may eventually have.

The bells and the whistles

The cabin allows for more storage with a cubby area beneath the center display, a large center console and compartments under the rear seats. There are six USB Type-C ports scattered around the cabin, including an easy rear-access port in each of the front headrests, and three 120-volt AC outlets -- one on the second row, one in the gear tunnel and one in the bed. Pop the driver's door open to find a removable LED flashlight that recharges automatically when stowed. Likewise, the center console hides and charges a removable Bluetooth camp speaker with a built-in lantern and USB Type-C charging for phones while away from the truck.

The R1T is packed with optional features and gear aimed at enhancing the "adventurous lifestyle" of its prospective buyers. For example, the Camp Kitchen is a 1,440-watt dual burner electric stove with accessories that can be installed in and then deployed from the gear tunnel for mobile cooking.

Rivian's Gear Guard is an in-bed cable locking system for things like bikes or kayaks and has built-in tamper detection. When triggered, it sends a notification to the owner and stores video recordings of the bed and the area around the truck for retrieval later. There's an optional in-bed automatic air compressor that's good for airing up the tires after a day of low-psi off-roading. The R1T also features a bespoke Yakima-mount crossbar system that can quickly be installed or removed from the roof or across the bed to hold bikes, skis or even a three-person tent.

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The options list includes everything you could need for camping, including the kitchen sink.

Rivian

Worth the wait

The $74,075 Launch Edition I drove -- $76,075 as tested with the off-road upgrade -- is already sold out, snatched up by early deposit holders. However, you can still put down a $1,000 reservation to get in line for one of the 2022 Rivian R1T's two trim levels.

The $68,575 base price gets you the R1T Explore with a manual tonneau cover, matte black interior and, of course, the quad-motor powertrain, air suspension and 314-mile range. Also starting at $74,075, the Adventure trim is almost identical to the Launch Edition, and gets you a powered tonneau cover, Rivian's Gear Guard system and nicer heated/ventilated seats with lumbar adjustment and higher-quality cabin materials. Those prices include the $1,075 destination charge, but not any qualifying state or federal EV incentives and rebates. Deliveries of Launch Edition models are already underway with the first Explore and Adventure examples expected to start rolling off the line sometime in January 2022.

The wait for the electric truck is over; it's here and there will be more to follow when the F-150 Lightning, GMC's Hummer, the electric Chevy Silverado and eventually the Cybertruck join the market over the coming years. As the first vanguard of this growing class, was the Rivian R1T worth the wait? Most definitely. It's powerful and confident on the road and more than capable enough to do truck stuff on the trail. The 2022 Rivian R1T is not just the first electric truck, it's a really good truck. Full stop.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.