As guests of Rivian in Breckenridge, Colorado we had the opportunity to test drive the emerging brand’s first vehicle and spend time with the lead designers and engineers who created it. Everything about this experience was remarkable: the electric truck is very impressive, the team incredibly inspiring and the environment we were in—a breath of fresh air. The most profound realization, however, is how well the R1/T is poised to be the catalyst for a culture shift in the US. It’s a pick-up truck and off-road vehicle that moves silently with minimal environmental impact all while wearing a joyful face.
For the R1/T, Rivian put a happy, accessible facade on a vehicle type that typically presents as strong, stoic and at times even mean. “One of the key areas that we look at from a design perspective, that’s a challenge for us as a new brand, is the front end—coming up with a unique face,” shares Jeff Hammoud, Rivian’s head of design. “There are so many different brands out there, so many different grille shapes,” he explains. “For us, a challenge was that trucks traditionally differentiate themselves with a big grill. That’s how they communicate power and strength.” Wanting a capable-looking vehicle meant following some of the expected design cues for a pick-up, like a strong and boxy nose with a significant vertical presence, but instead of that volume housing a big internal combustion engine, it’s additional storage space that can even function as a cooler.
The lighting package is also a key definition point for the personality of a vehicle and, in the case of Rivian, their first pass was a modern, minimalist horizontal light bar. That felt a bit ambiguous, Hammoud tells us, so the design team reviewed objects and materials from the outdoor adventure world. Inspired by a carabiner, members of the design team collaborated to land on the “stadium”-shaped eyes that intersect the light bar. “As soon as we saw that, we were like, ‘That’s it, that’s the front end.’ We wanted something that, when driving behind it or you see it coming up, it’s instantly recognizable. Or if you were to leave here and describe it to somebody, you could draw it on a piece of paper very, very simply, which is not always the easiest thing to do for a new brand,” he elaborates.
Yes, Rivian is a mobility company but the moment we get in to the R1/T it’s clear they’re also a technology company. Two large screens comprise the entire vehicle interface beyond the steering wheel and stalks on either side of it. While controlling everything—from entertainment to drive mode to air vent direction—through a touchscreen is a paradigm shift from the typical truck, it’s commonplace for tech-forward EVs. Plus, keeping as much control on-screen as possible means that new features, updated functionality and evolved interfaces can all be delivered over the air through a simple software update.
The moment we set out on the road, the power of the R1/T’s four electric motors is apparent. The massive torque and insane accelerations of most EVs is honored and felt in this vehicle. It drives unlike other pick-ups we’ve experienced: fast, agile and fun in turns. While the driving position is pretty high up, the truck’s battery pack brings the center of gravity down to afford a more responsive ride. Making a u-turn, however, we’re reminded it’s a truck as the radius is pretty hefty in contrast with its sports-car-like road performance.
Where our heart for this vehicle really began to sing was when we took it to the trail. Off-roading quietly and gently feels immediately harmonious and wildly different from how we’ve ever done it before. No more conundrum of getting out in to nature while simultaneously damaging it. Driving on the gritty, rocky, steep, muddy, narrow and complicated tracks around Breckenridge and through the White River National Forest with the windows open we hear babbling brooks and the breeze in the trees with the only sound created by the R1/T being the crunch of rocks below the tires. Our day of off-roading rivals the complex and technical courses we’ve tackled in Land Rovers and G-Wagons. By dedicating an electric motor to each wheel, giving them independent air-suspension with active dampening and programming their performance to handle virtually any scenario, the engineering team at Rivian has made the most capable and delightful electric off-road vehicle we know of to date.
Storage space is another differentiator afforded by the nature of being an EV. There are plenty of climate-proof spaces to store everything from groceries to luggage to gear to equipment—a total of 68 cubic feet worth. And two of them even include drain ports so they can be filled with ice and used as coolers. This also opens the door to new customers who need a vehicle that fits in to a day-to-day home life and is ready to get out on the trail or to a job site at a moment’s notice.
The most unique of these spaces is the Gear Tunnel, which runs laterally between the rear seats and the truck’s flat bed. Throughout our time with the Rivian team, all meals are prepared using the Camp Kitchen accessory option that slides perfectly in and out from the Gear Tunnel. The console features two induction burners, a sink and a four-gallon water tank, plus a 30-piece Snow Peak cooking and dining set. We can’t think of a more comfy and capable car camping set-up than an R1/T equipped with a Camp Kitchen and the three-person Yakima Skyrise HD Rooftop Tent accessory.
In terms of being an EV, it offers great range considering its weight and that the batteries are powering four motors. Base range is 300+ miles with over 400+ miles available through a battery upgrade. The R1/T’s efficiency is gained through refined aerodynamics and proprietary control of its off-the-shelf electric motors.
Pre-orders of Rivian R1/T started delivering this month. The base “Explore” configuration starts at $67,500 and the “Adventure” configuration at $73,000, though by the time we finished building our fantasy set-up we crossed the $100k mark.
Hero image by Josh Rubin