The biggest compliment I can give to the Rivian R1S is that it makes life easy. Exemplified by a recent trip I took to Big Bear with friends — prior to the record-breaking snowstorms that slammed Southern California — the R1S is one of the most comprehensively well-designed and engineered vehicles I’ve ever experienced.
Rivian’s first sucker punch against established automakers is the R1S’s styling. Being a from-scratch startup is one of the company’s biggest advantages, as there’s no design heritage that has to be pulled from and no old platform or technology that needs to be adapted with compromises.
This is one of the best-looking SUVs on sale — maybe ever — with perfect proportions and interesting detailing. Its oh-so-cute face bucks the ever-growing trend of trucks and SUVs looking imposing and aggressive, and the body has wide fenders and clean surfacing.
The R1S’s best view is the rear three-quarter angle, which showcases the chrome-accented roofline’s perfect curves. At 200.8 inches long and 77.3 inches tall, the R1S is about the same size as a new Land Rover Defender 110 and a smidge smaller than a Chevy Tahoe; its 121.1-inch wheelbase is 14.7 inches less than the R1T pickup, and the R1S is 16.3 inches shorter overall.
Practicality isn’t always boring
Interior quality is impeccable. Rivian uses high-quality vegan leather, real metal, and open-pore ash wood trim to great effect throughout the cabin, especially in the flowing design of the dashboard. The driving position and view out are fantastic, and the R1S’s door panels are ergonomically perfect for resting your elbow on the top of the door or the actual armrest. I personally love the tinted panoramic glass roof, which extends all the way back to the standard third row, but some may be put off by the lack of a sunshade. Personally, I’d also spend the $2,000 to get the Ocean Coast white or Forest Edge green interior color schemes, which really help make the cabin look more interesting.
Heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and second-row bench, an excellent 19-speaker Meridian sound system, eight USB-C ports, multiple power outlets, wireless charging, and Wi-Fi connectivity are all standard. A removable Bluetooth speaker is built into the center console, and there’s an air compressor located in the rear cargo area. The only feature I’m really left wanting is massaging seats, which Rivian currently doesn’t offer.
This is one of the best-looking SUVs on sale — maybe ever
The interface of the R1S’s 15.6-inch center touchscreen is snappy and easy to use, and I don’t encounter any glitches or other software issues that have plagued Rivians in the past — chalk that up to Rivian releasing consistent updates about once a month. Rivian’s infotainment still doesn’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet — nor is it likely to, at least according to comments made by CEO RJ Scaringe in a recent interview with Marques Brownlee — but this is a case where I don’t really mind. The native navigation system is pretty great, and Rivian offers integrated Spotify, TuneIn, and Tidal.
Rivian’s infotainment is powered by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, and the graphics are wonderful. Unlike with most other brands, the screen shows fully rendered and animated images of the vehicle in its exact spec, and I appreciate how the visuals change depending on the drive mode. The menus are easy to navigate, and there’s plenty of nerdy information available on the trip computer and performance pages. I do wish there were a sort of homescreen that could display a combination of different apps instead of having to switch between full-screen tabs to control nav or music. Climate vent, steering wheel, and mirror adjustment are all done through the screen, which can be annoying.
Interior quality is impeccable
Thanks to the huge power-operated frunk and ample rear cargo area, I’m able to fit six people in the R1S, including a weekend’s worth of luggage for each person, without impacting outward visibility. Even my friends relegated to the third row have enough headroom and legroom and never complain about comfort, and there’s a separate climate control panel for the second row.
The second and third rows fold almost completely flat, and the split tailgate makes loading and unloading easy — plus, with a 500-pound weight limit, it’s great for tailgating. You don’t get a gear tunnel like in the R1T, but both the cargo space and frunk have covered storage compartments. Third-row passengers have their own armrests, cup holders, and storage cubbies, the door cards and seatbacks have clever pockets, and the front seats have hidden compartments underneath.
King of the mountain
Good design still needs to be backed up by the driving experience, and in that area, the Rivian excels. The R1S has an electric motor at each wheel for a total of 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet of torque, making it the second most powerful SUV on sale behind the Tesla Model X Plaid. It takes just three seconds flat for the R1S to hit 60mph, and the quad-motor setup enables wonderful torque vectoring that constantly adjusts how much thrust is going to each wheel independently.
There’s no artificial “engine” noise piped into the cabin, with Rivian’s engineers opting to highlight the nice whirs genuinely made by the motors. But the R1S is just as enjoyable toddling around town as it is launching from stoplights and getting tossed into corners. Regenerative braking is strong enough for excellent one-pedal driving, and in the Conserve drive mode, the R1S deactivates the rear motors for an even calmer experience.
Rivian’s infotainment is powered by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, and the graphics are wonderful
Twenty-inch wheels with Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tires are a $3,600 option bundled together with underbody shields and a full-size spare tire, which is money well spent if you want to maximize the R1S’s off-road capabilities. (To note, 21s with all-season tires are standard, while 22s with slightly sportier rubber also cost $2,500.) The all-terrain tires have a super chunky tread and are snow rated, which means I don’t have to fit chains when driving around the mountain, and they’re more than capable enough for the vast majority of off-roading that customers will do. Opting for the all-terrain rubber does come with a hit to efficiency: the EPA estimates a range of 289 miles versus 321 with the standard 21s.
Rivian recently added a Snow drive mode to the R1 models via an over-the-air update, and it makes a noticeable difference. To make driving in the white stuff a much smoother, steadier, and easier experience, Snow mode softens pedal response and introduces a new low regenerative braking setting to reduce wheelspin. With Snow mode engaged, I encounter zero traction or slip issues; even in the grossest slush and hilliest terrain, driving the R1S is effortless. But no matter what drive mode it’s in, the R1S always feels sure-footed and stable, and it’s hard to think of another vehicle I’d rather drive through an intense winter.
Good design still needs to be backed up by the driving experience, and in that area, the Rivian excels
Air suspension is standard on the R1S, providing more than six inches of selectable height adjustment and automatic leveling for towing. In its highest setting, the R1S has 14.9 inches of ground clearance, more than enough to bash over snow banks or crawl over big rocks. The R1S’s variable active dampers have two different stiffness settings, and Rivian uses an electrohydraulic roll control system in place of traditional mechanical anti-roll bars to minimize lean and body roll both on and off the road.
While the R1S feels much lighter and more nimble than its near 7,000-pound curb weight would suggest and its electronic power steering is among the best out there in terms of feedback, the R1S does have some ride quality issues not present in its R1T truck sibling. The R1S’s ride can get choppy over rough tarmac or expansion joints, with occasional unsettling floatiness and porpoising.
At least the R1S is well insulated and quiet at highway speeds despite the chunky tires; only a small amount of wind noise enters the cabin. Rivian’s standard Driver Plus suite of driver-assist features includes adaptive cruise control with steering assist, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warnings and lane-keep assist, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, trailer assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. All of it works fairly well, though the Highway Assist function that handles steering, acceleration, and braking on select freeways can be overly sensitive. Parking sensors and a 360-degree camera system are standard, but the image quality is some of the worst on the market.
The R1S does have a Tesla-like motion-activated Gear Guard sentry function that monitors and records what goes on outside of the car, saving videos to the onboard computer, and there’s a super cute Sasquatch mascot to go with it. A new lawsuit has just been levied against Tesla for the inappropriate sharing of videos taken by the cameras of owners’ cars, as they are accessible by employees — Rivian says that the Gear Guard’s videos aren’t shared with the company or any third party, and owners can add further privacy protections by restricting location data.
The R1S’s range estimates are accurate, if a little conservative, and the navigation system can automatically direct you to a charging station or pick an alternative route for better efficiency. Using a DC fast charger, the Rivian’s 135kWh battery pack can gain 140 miles of range in 20 minutes or go from 10 percent to 80 percent charge in around 45 minutes.
The second night at our cabin, I plug the R1S into a regular wall outlet using the included weatherproof charge cable; left to charge in below-freezing temperatures in the snow and sleet, the R1S gained 20 miles overnight. The previous night, when left outside in the same conditions without being plugged in, the R1S lost about 10 percent of its charge.
The R1S’s ride can get choppy over rough tarmac or expansion joints
Rivian’s smartphone app can control many major functions of the R1S, from locking and unlocking and checking charge status to preconditioning the climate control and sending navigation routes straight to the car’s infotainment. (The cabin preconditioning is particularly lovely in winter, as the Rivian’s flush door handles can get annoyingly frozen shut.) The key fob looks awesome, with a design that doubles as a carabiner, but the buttons are hard to read at night, and I always hold it the wrong way. Leaving the key at home and just using my phone is more appealing to me anyway.
In a class of its own
The quad-motor R1S starts at $93,800 including a $1,800 destination charge, with the All-Terrain Upgrade and $1,750 Glacier White paint on my R1S adding up to a $99,150 as-tested price. Rivian will soon start deliveries of the dual-motor R1S, which uses electric motors built in-house by Rivian. The 600hp dual-motor R1S starts at $79,800 and uses a smaller battery pack that has a 260-mile max range, but the larger 340-mile pack that comes standard on the quad-motor R1S is available for an extra $6,000. Rivian also recently introduced a new Performance dual-motor model that offers 700hp and a zero to 60mph time of 3.5 seconds for a $5,000 upgrade over the standard large pack dual-motor model.
The R1S’s range estimates are accurate, if a little conservative
It helps that the R1S has no real competition. The electric Mercedes-Benz EQG and Land Rover’s Range Rover and Range Rover Sport EVs won’t be unveiled until next year, and the GMC Hummer EV SUV is more like a supercar than an actual practical vehicle. (Plus, the Hummer doesn’t have a third row, and the EQG won’t either.) The fantastic BMW iX is priced competitively to the R1S, but it’s only got two rows of seats and minimal off-road capability — and extremely divisive looks. Mercedes’ EQS SUV is available with a third row, but it’s much more luxury-oriented and a lot more expensive than the Rivian, with a starting price of over $105,000. Kia recently unveiled the awesome three-row EV9, which will be more affordable than all of those other SUVs, but it’s still months away and will have tamer performance.
But I don’t think the onset of more direct competitors will dull the Rivian’s shine. Its combination of on-road performance, off-road capability, and thoughtful design is remarkable, and as a first effort from a new automaker, it’s even more impressive. More R1 variants and updates — both hardware and software — will be rolled out in the coming months, and Rivian is currently working on new, more affordable model lines that will be built in Georgia. In the meantime, the R1S will continue to reign as king of both the literal and figurative mountain.
Photography by Daniel Golson for The Verge