The Rivian R1T recently became the first of an expected mini-mass of electric trucks to hit the market. It’s already carved out a niche for itself as stylish – but rather expensive – outdoor gear, much like a Tesla in flannel and hiking boots. I was looking forward to my first chance to try it and couldn’t wait to get it out of the big city.
Besides its eye-catching color, the Rivian R1T is unlike any other pickup on the road. It’s not as drastic as the Tesla Cybertruck but, in reality, the Cybertruck just follows a general industry trend in pickup truck design. It’s scary. Angular and sharp, it looks intimidating and dangerous. Most gasoline and diesel pickups aim for similar levels of awe with massive grilles and headlights that look like squinty eyes measuring your potential as a snack.

The Rivian R1T, on the other hand, seems to want to borrow your teddy bear. Its eyes are large ovals. There is only the slightest grid visible, like a friendly half-smile. A strip of soft light runs like a unibrow across the top of those soft “eyes”. You don’t want to run away from this truck. You want to stroke it.

Amazon has a bit more leverage with Rivian than most pickup buyers since it owns 20% of the business, as recent financial documents have revealed.

The R1T differs from other electric pickup trucks such as the Cybertruck, F-150 Lightning, and GMC Hummer EV in another critical way. It’s in production now. Pickup manufacturing has started slowly at the Rivian plant in Normal, Ill., While others are months away at best.

However, cost is a challenge the R1T will face. Prices start at $ 67,500, which is roughly $ 60,000 once a $ 7,500 tax credit is factored in. It’s not an incredible price for a truck these days, but it puts the R1T firmly in the “luxury truck” category. This makes comparisons with larger, more fully equipped, more spacious and even more capable gasoline-powered pickups difficult.

For those who really want an electric truck to get things done, the Ford F-150 Lightning and its starting price of $ 40,000, not even including the tax incentives, should be considered. The smaller R1T, with its 4.5ft bed, falls into the midsize category where it also rivals gasoline models like the newly redesigned and very good Ford Ranger and Nissan Frontier. Neither is as elegantly decorated as the R1T, a true luxury item, and they do have gasoline engines, but they essentially fulfill the same roles and cost half the price.

Rivian is not Tesla.  This is exactly what these buyers want

What is it to drive

We couldn’t take the R1T off-road which is a bit of a shame. It would have been fun. With its four electric motors, one powering each wheel, the clamor on muddy, rock-strewn trails and sand dunes is said to be a basic truck skill. Given how off-road it is supposed to be – Rivian says it can traverse three feet of water and climb a 45-degree incline – its performance on the pavement was particularly impressive. The tires appear aggressive and gnarly, but provide a smooth, quiet ride.

Beyond that, the R1T offers a truly “car” driving experience. It doesn’t look like a big heavy truck. This is not going to appeal to everyone. Many traditional truck buyers like to feel like they’re driving a proper platform, not a crossover SUV. But the R1T, with its adjustable air suspension and hydraulic controls to minimize body tilt when cornering, looks like a large luxury sedan. Also, it’s fast. When melting on the freeway – Rivian claims times from zero to 60 mph of around 3 seconds are possible, comparable to a high-end Porsche – R1T drivers must give at least as much watch out for vehicles in front of them and those coming from behind.

The interior design of the Rivian R1T follows Tesla’s minimalist aesthetic but with a nicer design and nicer materials. The dashboard and parts of the steering wheel are covered with “reclaimed” wood. The seats are also covered in faux leather and an optional glass roof gives the car an airy feel.

Functionally, the R1T suffers from the same phobic design found in many electric vehicles. Even things like adjusting the mirrors and steering the air vents are done via the truck’s large central touchscreen. Automakers always say, as Rivian does, that many customers prefer this. Maybe this doesn’t bother some customers, but it’s hard to believe that someone would actually rather go through the menus to adjust the steering wheel instead of just doing it with a single lever.

The Rivian’s true claim to functional ingenuity lies between the cabin and the bed. Rivan calls it the “Gear Tunnel”. It’s a big hole in the middle of the truck with a door at each end. The doors are strong enough to be used as steps when stowing or retrieving equipment on the roof. A long platform can slide out and be propped up on a folding leg to make a bench. Rivian offers an electric “camping stove” for around $ 5,000 that goes in and out on this platform. It even has drawers to hold pots, pans, and silverware.

There is also storage space under the large square hood of the Rivian. It’s not as big or as useful as the space under the hood of the F-150 Lightning, which can be used as a work surface, but it does provide good lockable storage. The bed also has specially designed tie-downs that work with nifty cables that lock when the truck is locked to secure your gear.

It appears, however, that the R1T could use more and more easily accessible traditional fasteners. Plus, the truck’s rear bumper is, annoyingly, almost flush with the tailgate. In most trucks, the rear bumper protrudes and makes it easy to get on and off the bed. Not in the R1T, however.

Finally, the R1T does not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto because, insists Rivian, its interface is better. In experience, Rivian’s navigation was almost not as good as Google Maps when it came to finding a way out of city traffic. Rivian might be better at some things, but not at this.

Beyond these few relatively minor inconveniences, the R1T probably makes up for in performance and personality what it lacks as a work tool.

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