While it's hard to doubt that the Ford F-150 Lightning is the most significant electric truck of the moment -- outside of the hyperbolic (and still nonexistent) Tesla Cybertruck -- it's the Rivian R1T that seems to have captured the hearts and minds of most would-be EV truckers. Fast and capable with tons of range, the all-electric R1T is the perfect solution for a lot of the EV-curious out there, even though its recent price hike made it even less attainable than before. However, the R1T was always intended to be just the first wave, the tip of the consumer spear for this California-based startup automaker. The followup is the R1S, which takes the same basic formula and packages it in a likable SUV shape -- still with the same battery-powered core.
On the surface there's little that differentiates the two Rivians. From head-on they look all but identical, and that familiarity continues from the driver's seat, too, where the dash, interior design and seating position again are the same. The specs are largely cloned, as well. Both tip the scales at around 7,000 pounds and rely on 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet of torque to move that mass around, resulting in a claimed 3-second 0-to-60-mph sprint. Power comes from four electric motors, one per corner, though a less powerful (and $6,000 less costly) dual-motor variant is coming.
Both Rivians will also go over 300 miles on a charge with the larger battery pack, the R1S having a slight advantage of 316 miles versus 314 for the R1T. A smaller pack will soon be available, dropping the range to around 260 miles (and again saving $6,000).
However, despite the extreme similarities, there are some substantial differences, most notable being length. The R1S SUV is more than 16 inches shorter than the truck, rolling on a 14-inch shorter wheelbase. It loses an inch in height, too. Despite that abbreviated posture, the R1S still makes room for a third row of seats. And while entry and exit is decidedly awkward and legroom in the way-back is at a premium, it's actually reasonably comfortable back there. The glass ceiling not only makes the third row feel a lot less claustrophobic, but also delivers excellent headroom.
The R1S' total cargo capacity is 104.7 cubic feet, with a generous 11-cubic-foot frunk at your disposal. However, you do lose the ingenious gear tunnel that bisects the R1T. That's a bummer, but you gotta put those passengers and their feet somewhere.
On the road, the R1S still has a truck-like feel. You're sitting way up tall, no surprise there, but the ride and resistance of the steering definitely have a lot more in common with a typical half-ton machine than your average car-based crossover. That's not a bad thing, mind, and if anything it ties into the seemingly infinitely capable nature of the R1S.
Want to drop the R1S for maximum aerodynamics on the highway and disable the rear motors for maximum range? No problem. Want to jack it up for a ridiculous 15 inches of ground clearance and a 3-foot wading depth? Easy peasy. Just a few taps on the generous central touchscreen and the car repositions itself appropriately, rising or dropping with enough rapidity to seriously disorient your passengers if done without warning.
In fact, there's plenty of opportunity for inducing nausea in the R1S, a warning that adventure-seeking parents should heed. Between the outrageous acceleration and aggressive regeneration, with a ride that's either bumpy on stiff or floaty on soft, it'll take a smooth driver to ensure that kids in the way-back can happily stay glued to their iPads. Don't forget the ginger ale and Dramamine on your first road trip.
When the road ends and the trail begins, though, all that is forgotten. EV off-roading is amazing on multiple levels. With all that torque available at any speed, you can just ease your way up and over obstacles, never worrying about falling out of a powerband or stalling. The SUV's four motors send power where you need it automatically, so locking differentials are history, but best of all is the near-silence. Windows-down cruising through the woods feels more like hiking than driving, and that's a lovely thing.
I ran through a very aggressive off-road course with rocky ruts so deep I thought for sure I'd be grinding the half-shafts, yet again and again I was told to aim for the rut and every time I had room to spare. The nine exterior cameras make this process a lot easier, spotting lines and obstacles, though the cameras themselves are disappointingly low-resolution. Blown up to full-screen on the R1S' 15.6-inch central touchscreen, the view outside looks a lot like a municipal streaming weather cam installed in 1998.
Overall the interior is comfortable, premium and well-equipped. The full-length glass roof makes everything bright and airy, though a sunny day has me wishing for a deployable shade. All three rows are comfortable enough and power options abound: A whopping eight USB-C ports are scattered throughout the cabin, plus three 12-volt and two 120-volt outlets. And if all that's not enough, there's a wireless charging pad, too.
The infotainment experience is generally good, with clearly laid out menus, but some options are lacking. You can't, for example, tune the level of resistance on the steering nor opt for a more relaxed throttle mapping. And perhaps most problematic, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both still missing. Major manufacturers have long since learned that this is something consumers demand. It's time for the EV startups to figure it out, too. A third-rate navigation experience on a $100,000 SUV is unacceptable.
Yes, you can spend about that much on an R1S, which starts at $5,000 more than a comparable R1T. A base R1S Explore starts at $73,575, including $1,075 destination. Load yours up with the quad-motor setup, bigger battery pack, sport wheels, premium interior and some other niceties, and you're looking at $98,325 fully loaded. That's far from cheap, but then this is a premium vehicle through and through.
Does the R1S live up to the hype set by its open-bed brethren? Its all-electric performance certainly doesn't disappoint and it shares the same high-end, distinctive design that I and so many others love on the R1T. Sadly, the R1S loses its pricing edge, which means it's not a sure bet for anyone. But for those with the means, this SUV will not disappoint.
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 CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.