2022 Rivian R1S Review: Feels Like a Throwback Adventure SUV, Only Electric

If you don’t have an electric Rivian R1S SUV reserved already, you probably aren’t getting one anytime soon. They aren’t being built in full force yet, and the direct-to-consumer waiting list grows by the day. However, stories about the R1T pickup‘s crazy-quick acceleration and revolutionary off-road capabilities have built a heap of hype, and this people hauler promises more of the same. I finally got to spend some time on backroads and in mud bogs with one, and what ended up impressing me the most was its everyday casual–pace driving experience. It’d be a shame to wait forever on a rig you don’t enjoy, but so long as you aren’t in a hurry, I really doubt you’ll regret an R1S.

A relatively short country drive and off-road excursion in the truck didn’t tell me everything about what it’d be like to own a vehicle from this young brand. But even as a diehard fan of fossil-fueled vehicles, I have to say this is a seriously sweet choice in a very competitive class of high-end, three-row SUVs.

The rear three-quarter of the Rivian R1S

2022 Rivian R1S Specs

  • Base price (as tested): $73,575 ($97,075); both including $1,075 destination fee
  • Powertrain: 135 kWh battery | quad-motor all-wheel-drive | single-speed transmission
  • Horsepower: 835 (front axle: 415, rear axle: 420)
  • Torque: 908 lb-ft (front axle: 413 lb-ft, rear axle: 495 lb-ft)
  • Wheelbase: 121.1 inches
  • Dimensions (length | width | height): 200.8 inches | 87.1 inches (including mirrors) | 77.3 inches (including antenna)
  • Seating capacity: 7
  • Max towing capacity: 7,700 pounds
  • Off-road angles: 35.6° approach, 29.6° breakover, 34.3° departure
  • Max ground clearance: 15 inches
  • Curb weight: “just under” 7,000 pounds
  • Max payload capacity: 1,764 pounds
  • Efficiency: 73 mpge city | 65 highway | 69 combined
  • EPA estimated max range: 316 miles
  • Quick take: An innovative adventure vehicle that’s classy and comfortable.
  • Score: 9/10

Rivian’s name is a stylization of “Indian River,” specifically one in Florida, which seems to have had some significance for the company’s founding folks but was mostly picked because it sounds cool. The diamond-shaped logo was designed to invoke a compass. With all that said, more critical context is also important when it comes to discussing this brand. Rivian is still early in the evolution of its manufacturing process and as a result, customers are likely looking at months-long wait times to get an R1S. And while the many reps I interacted with seemed fired up to work there, Rivian has raised some serious flags when it comes to corporate culture.

We’ll keep the rest of this writeup focused on driving impressions. You’re here to find out if this thing could actually replace your precious seven-seat 4×4 family truckster and plow through puddles without needing to be submerged in a big bowl of rice afterward, right?

Rivian R1S interior during off-road driving.
Steve DaSilva of Jalopnik steers an R1S through an off-road course in Upstate New York.

From the outside, the R1S’s look does a great job communicating a modern take on the classic SUV. The silhouette is a familiar broad-nosed brick, but spaceship-looking lights and a slightly emoji-esque face give it some distinctive present-day personality. I love how the look’s got a bit of off-roady edge but predominantly feels friendly.

All those design themes continue into the cockpit and interior—the aesthetic is clean and modern but with enough flourishes to keep it from seeming sterile. Fit and finish on the test cars I was loaned gave me nothing to complain about; almost every touchable surface felt fancy and all the pieces I played with opened and closed with a satisfying seal.

Mud-covered Rivian R1T truck.
Rivian’s people were very proud of the door seals on their vehicles at the R1S launch event. And yeah, the driver here was able to get out with clean pants after giving this R1T a serious mud bath. Unfortunately, the SUV does not have those side-opening cargo doors though.

Using this vehicle is a fun experience from the moment you pick up the fob, which is nicely rubberized and looks like a carabiner. The locking chirp is a little bird sound—it’s cute! I’m a sucker for stuff like that, and a little whimsy goes a long way.

Loading yourself and your stuff into the SUV is easy. Front and rear cargo doors are power-open and passenger access is smooth, even for adults sitting in the way back. I’m six feet tall and as long as the second-row sitter didn’t lounge too aggressively, I could occupy the third row without being too bummed out. Even with all seven seats in place, there’s room for luggage behind the rear-most passengers, and I’ve written an interior layout deep-dive to talk more about exactly how much the Rivian R1S interior can fit.

Back up front, I did find some fairly rough wood in insets. Company reps talked about how it was sustainably sourced and picked to feel natural, which, sure, but I found myself wanting to bust out fine-grit sandpaper and smooth some spots out. Though I guess over time, you would naturally wear the touchpoints down in a pleasing way.

The heavily tinted panoramic roof can’t be opened or closed, but it does add a huge breath of visual airiness to the R1S interior. I love glass car roofs, but if you don’t, the lack of a cover screen up there might be a little annoying despite its very deep tint.

As a driver, you’re greeted by an interface layout that’s currently pretty common in high-end cars: two wide rectangular screens, one in front of the steering wheel primary doing gauge duty, and a big one between the front seats for climate controls and infotainment. There are basically no physical buttons at all. There’s not even a power button, let alone a place to insert a key. The vehicle just knows when you’re ready to roll based on the presence or absence of the key—such commitment to automation weirded me out a little but I didn’t have real problems with it during my test drive day.

The resolution on the screens is crisp and the graphical displays are generally pleasing. Several Rivian reps were proud to point out that the little animation of the vehicle on the dash matches the actual car in coloring and options. That’s fun, but I remain unconvinced that screens beat old-fashioned analog needles and buttons for form or function. So much screen space on this thing is just blank, forcing unnecessary light on your eyes. There is a dark mode but the fact remains that the majority of the pixels are empty or filler content. Do you ever really need, like, four square inches of album art on the dash or a giant picture of the car you’re driving on a screen?

Rivian’s people kept talking about potential customizations and updates to the display that could be added at any time, but my suggestion of “make a mode where most of the screen turns all the way off” wasn’t met with much enthusiasm.

Once I finally shut my test rig’s door, nudged the R1S out of the parking lot, and sent it down a windy Hudson Valley road, my appreciation for this vehicle swelled immediately and immensely. For all the whiz-bang coolness, neat design features, and lovely microsuede-looking headliner I’d admired on the Rivian at rest, I kept thinking “yeah, but can this oversized slot car cruise with the lumbering swagger of my 1975 Scout or lifted Montero?”

Rivian R1S fording water.
You don’t have to put the R1S in rice if you get it wet. In fact, Rivian claims this vehicle could drive through three feet of standing water. Andrew P. Collins

Man, it does. In the most important ways, it really does. Between the expansive hood you’re looking out over, general posture, and most importantly, just the vibe the R1S carries itself with, I had all the big-truck energy I enjoy in my old 4x4s plus an immeasurably more forgiving cornering experience and, of course, almost distressingly intense acceleration capabilities. 

Well, I’ll walk that back just a touch to say: I have a very strong emotional bond with the trucks I own after countless adventures and hours tinkering on them. But the Rivian R1S proved to me that an adventure rig doesn’t need a liquid-burning engine or straight axles to have soul, and frankly, I’m not sure there’s higher praise I could heap on the thing. At a cantering pace, it has the presence and confidence of a traditional truck and I didn’t even really miss my engine burbles. The R1S’s quietness is so perfectly paired with how graceful it is—it’s so unflappably smooth!

R1S climbing.

As for the SUV’s crazy speed specs, yeah, this is one area of EVs I don’t find appealing. If you mash the tall right pedal in an R1S you’re granted rollercoaster-level intensity, but I wouldn’t describe driving this thing fast as fun. It’s capable of absorbing turns at speeds a three-ton SUV has no business achieving. But that “soul” I was talking about applies to the R1S’s aura, not so much how rewarding it is to fling around. Without looking at the speedometer, it’s tough to feel if you’re going 30 or 75 mph, which tells you a lot for better or worse.

Rivian R1S side profile.

For the better, Rivians provide a level of cabin calmness and insulation from automotive noise, vibration, and harshness that’s simply sublime. Of course, you’ve got no engine or driveline noise drone to drown out with music, but even all-terrain tires and the wind-fighting exterior shape aren’t much of an auditory bother which makes for a sweetly serene ride. In fact, I beeped the horn and found myself thinking it was pretty quiet for a truck tooter—only to hear it from the outside and realize, no, it’s just a really well-sealed cockpit.

The Meridian-branded stereo system in our test cars was touted as being awesome but I, very much not an audiophile, was kind of whatever about it. Seemed fine.

As nice as the R1S’s near-silent operation would be on a cross-country highway cruise, it’s absolutely excellent at low speed and off-road. We spent hours plodding through muddy forest trails in upstate New York in driving rain to a soundscape dominated by animal sounds and splashes, and it ruled.

Speaking of sovereignty, the traction management tech on this thing absolutely dominated the slippery climbs and slop we tossed it through. I had a little trouble getting used to the go-pedal; EV driving is just so different from an old carbureted truck that I won’t even try to articulate the specifics, but even with some herky-jerky control application the R1S was able to convert my inputs to a confident and consistent march forward. In other words, the vehicle would be extremely forgiving to inexperienced drivers and largely effortless to somebody with skill.

By the time I glided my R1S loaner back to the hotel we’d left in the morning, I was completely sold on the thing. As an adventure truck enthusiast and a lover of outdoor recreation, this vehicle doesn’t really leave anything to be desired as an SUV. But there are still some huge question marks about Rivian as a company and a car-seller that its first customers are just going to have to be willing to take the plunge on.

R1S in a puddle.

And being an early adopter here isn’t cheap, either. The Rivian R1S in its base Explore Package trim lists for $72,500, which you’d have to have in silver with a dual-motor powertrain and standard battery claiming 260 miles of range. Stepping up to the Adventure Package gets you ventilated seats, an upgraded stereo, and recovery tow hooks for just $5,500 more. But the bigger upgrades quickly push pricing towards six figures. Upgrading from a dual-motor drivetrain to a quad costs $6,000, unlocking better off-road traction and a three-second zero-to-60 mph sprint instead of four. If you order quad motors you’ll also need the large-pack battery, $6,000 again, bringing the range claim to 316 miles. Colors and wheels cost extra, too.

The Rivian vehicle configurator

I built and priced the R1S I’d order on Rivian’s configurator to $93,575. It’s a lot of money, but really, a pretty aggressive price against similar high-end seven-seaters like the BMW X7, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Cadillac Escalade ESV, and Lexus LX. And none of those can claim zero emissions or engine noise while underway.

From the basic “how soon will my vehicle order actually be filled,” to the more abstract “will this company be around in 20 years,” not to mention the longevity of the vehicles themselves and all the concerns that come with electric car ownership in 2022, we simply won’t know until we know. But company reps seemed earnestly confident that Rivian can deliver, and if can deliver vehicles like the R1S I drove at a good pace soon, you should seriously think about getting yourself one.

R1S in Compass Yellow


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