2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
Caleb Wallace/Rebelle Rally

The Rivian R1T electric truck was a near-perfect rig for the 2021 Rebelle Rally

Despite a few hiccups along the way, Rivian's electric pickup was a champ during this grueling off-road test.

Last year, I drove a pre-production Rivian R1T pickup truck in the Rebelle Rally, a week-long off-road event where you use a compass and a map to hit checkpoints throughout the desert. That truck was impressive, but far from complete, which is why my navigator Rebecca Donaghe and I went back to the 2021 Rebelle Rally in a slightly more complete example of Rivian's all-electric truck. Long story short: The Rivian R1T is the most capable stock pickup truck I've ever tested.

My Rivian had the 135-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Over seven days of competition plus one pre-drive day -- or "prologue day" -- I averaged 192.5 miles of driving per day. The shortest day was a 91-mile stint through the dunes of Glamis, California, while the longest was the 245-mile prologue, which was largely spent on pavement.

2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
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2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T

The Rebelle Rally doesn't allow any GPS devices, just a map and a compass.

Nicole Dreon/Rebelle Rally

Rebecca and I kept track of our range using a percentage system, where ideally 1% equaled about 1.5 miles. In the dunes of Glamis we were only able to eke out 1.1 miles per 1%, but during other stages, we saw 3 miles per 1%, sometimes more. When all was said and done, and we converted the math back to miles per full charge, we averaged 227.6 miles of range.

The EPA rates the 135-kWh R1T at 314 miles of range when equipped with the 21-inch wheels. Rivian said to expect a 10% to 15% decrease in range with the 20-inch wheels our truck wore. That meant my test truck should've been good for 266 to 283 miles per charge in ideal conditions. Losing just 14% to 20% of that while off-roading -- including a punishing day in the sand dunes -- is seriously impressive.

I honestly expected the range to be a lot worse. I drove the Rivian over rocks, through sandy washes, on gravel roads and in soft sand and never once did I worry about whether or not I was going to make it to the end of the day's stage. In fact, though I charged the R1T every day thanks to Renewable Innovations' Mobile Energy Command truck, I didn't have to. But when someone comes to the desert with a 53-foot trailer with hydrogen fuel cells capable of providing 500 kilowatts of charging power, it'd be dumb not to use it as often as possible.

2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
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2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
Richard Giordano/Rebelle Rally

Next year, drivers can opt for a larger battery pack with 400 miles of range. A smaller, 250-mile pack is also in the works, as is the Rivian Adventure Network of chargers installed at key off-roading locations throughout the US.

Of course, when it comes to piloting an electric truck off road for seven days, range is only part of the equation. You need the whole chassis and powertrain to be top notch, and across the board, the R1T is nearly unstoppable. The Off-Road driving mode can be split into Auto, Rock, Rally and Drift settings and the carbon fiber-protected skateboard platform underneath makes it easy to slide the R1T over obstacles.

The R1T's air suspension can raise the truck to a maximum of 15 inches of ground clearance, meaning I could just drive over rocks that would usually require trickier crawling. This also gives the truck a 35.5-degree approach angle, 30.0-degree departure angle and 26.4-degree breakover angle, which beats just about every truck out there -- Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, hell, even the Ford F-150 Raptor on its 37-inch tires. The only truck that does it better is the Jeep Gladiator Mojave with its incredible 44.7-degree approach.

My Rivian came shod in 275/65-series Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tires and I kept the pressure high, to decrease rolling resistance. The Scorpions are usually set to 48 psi for street use, but I kept it around 35 psi most of the time, airing down to 20 psi when I hit the soft sand of Big Dune, Dumont Dunes and Glamis. These Scorpions took everything I could throw at them without a hiccup. I even slammed the rear driver's side tire against a hidden rock and thought for sure I'd gotten a flat, but no, just a little nick in the sidewall. No big deal.

Since the R1T has over 800 horsepower and more than 900 pound-feet of torque, I could pretty much just power out of any obstacle. When I needed ultimate punch, I could hit Sport mode, mash the throttle and go go go -- hence the Rivian's 0-to-60-mph time of 3 seconds. Really, though, the instant torque made the Rivian great for off-roading, where low-speed power is key.

2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
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2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T

Sometimes you have to dig.

Caleb Wallace/Rebelle Rally

A tough rally

Though my general takeaway of the Rivian R1T is positive, we had a number of issues during the rally. Problems started the day before the rally when one of the air suspension's actuators began to leak. On the second day, a hard hit pinched the kinetic lines and we lost both compression and rebound for the front suspension. Unable to fix this on the go -- we had the parts but lacked the knowledge -- Rebecca and I ran all day with the truck in limp mode, defaulting to front-wheel drive and a maximum speed of 32 mph. Still, we were able to hit enough checkpoints to be in third place by the end of the day.

Another actuator leak led to more problems. Thanks to an apocalyptic dust storm and a required self-camp night, we ran three days with our driver's side upper control arm banging on the frame of the truck before we were able to get the R1T to mechanics. We were still able to scrap our way in and out of contention, but gave up a lot of points in the process.

The rally ended in Glamis, California, at the largest dunes in North America. To say I had a bad driving day here might be the understatement of the year. I got us stuck twice and came down hard on the plastic skid plate, damaging the cooling pump for the batteries. We also had some navigational errors, and at the end of the competition, came in fifth place in the 4x4 category. Not the finish we wanted, but at least we won an individual stage on Day 6, proving the Rivian could hold its own in this super-competitive rally.

2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
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2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
Nicole Dreon/Rebelle Rally

Rallying the R1T wasn't a total piece of cake, though. For example, let's talk about dune driving. In the Glamis dunes, the Rivian was a bit more difficult to drive than your average Jeep Wrangler or Toyota Tacoma. First of all, the truck is heavy -- about 7,000 pounds, and that's before you load up any gear. In the dunes I had to carry a bit more speed than I wanted just to stay on top of the soft sand. On top of that, when cresting a dune in a car with a gas engine, I can just lift off the accelerator and coast over the top. In the R1T, as soon as I lifted, the regenerative braking kicked in and tried to bring me to a stop. The Rivian has three different regen levels, but even at its lowest I still had to keep my foot on the throttle. It's not difficult, just a little weird for a seasoned off-roader.

Slow, steep descents also took some rethinking. You can put a gas-powered truck in low-range four-wheel drive and use the crawl ratio to keep you moving slowly down a hill without riding the brakes. But during the rally, I tackled four or five incredibly steep descents first thing in the morning when the truck had a nearly full battery capacity. I lifted off the throttle to slow the truck down with brake regen, the R1T's version of low range, but it hardly slowed at all. With a nearly full battery there was just no place for that energy to go. I ended up using the mechanical brakes a lot more than I'd otherwise have to.

A great truck

The Rivian R1T has completely changed my mind about what a unibody truck with an independent suspension can do. Despite my pre-production truck's troubles, the R1T is by far the most capable stock truck I've ever driven and unless you're bombing through the dunes, it's really easy to drive. Sure, there are some drive modes to choose from but there are no mid-trail hiccups like, "Oops, I should be in low-range four-wheel drive here," or "I wonder if I should use my differential locker in this section?" The truck's instant torque and fancy-pants traction control system do all the work for you.

One thing to love about the Rivian R1T is the ample storage space. Sure, the bed is only 4.5 feet long, but that was enough to carry two full-size spare tires, a floor jack, a box of tools, a box of spare parts and 5 liters of water. We used the 11 cubic feet in the gear tunnel to store our six Maxtrax recovery boards and a bag each of personal items. The additional 11 cubic feet in the frunk stored a few spare parts, sleeping bags, two Rumpl blankets, a set of clean clothes, Rebecca's pillow and two bags of rally swag. This left enough room in the rear seat for an ARB refrigerator, our first aid kit and a bag of food and water bottles. If you have a lot of gear, the R1T can handle it all.

2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T
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2021 Rebelle Rally Rivian R1T

Fifth place in the rally, first place in my heart.

Richard Giordano/Rebelle Rally

But again, this truck isn't perfect. The skid plate is plastic and held in with plastic tabs. This is not nearly enough protection for the cooling pump that regulates the battery temperature. Also, there's no way to see your current tire pressure nor are there any off-road pages in the infotainment system or auxiliary gauges that give information on battery temperature, pitch, roll or current battery usage. The climate controls are all on the screen, too, so even directing airflow requires the driver to take their eyes off the road. Oh, and the electric latch on the center console is just solving a problem that doesn't exist. A mechanical latch here would be simpler and better.

For its part, Rivian said tire pressure monitoring will be available as an over-the-air update and the company is actively exploring adding off-road data as well as a beefier skid plate. Rivian is also analyzing the rally vehicle's performance to learn how the R1T could be improved going forward.

Still, not many trucks can touch the Rivian when it comes to off-road prowess. Right now our EV charging infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired, but the R1T has plenty of range for day trips. You might need to plan your excursion a bit more, but believe me, the R1T's driving experience is worth it. I'd happily campaign one again.

Rivian's electric R1T takes on the Rebelle Rally

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