Review: Rivian’s four-wheel-drive R1S SUV has some serious chops, but it’s not cheap

Review: Rivian’s four-wheel-drive R1S SUV has some serious chops, but it’s not cheap

Images are not available offline.

2023 Rivian R1S SUV.

Jason Cher/The Globe and Mail

When most electric cars had a range of around 200 kilometres, the rule of thumb was to go easy on the gas pedal if you wanted to get where you wanted to go.

But when I stepped on the accelerator on the $150,000 Rivian Quad-motor R1S, a three-row SUV with acceleration numbers for a supercar, I was surprised to see that I didn’t lose any range at all.

Rivian, an electric vehicle startup based in Irvine, California, sells two vehicles — the R1T pickup truck and the R1S SUV — built on the same platform. Why a truck and an SUV? Well, they make up about 80 percent of sales in the U.S. and Canada, Rivian said.

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After some delays, Rivian delivered its first vehicles to Canadian customers last November. However, it is rarely seen on the roads and the company did not say how many cars it sold in Canada. But in the first nine months of this year, it reported manufacturing more than 39,000 vehicles and selling more than 36,000 in total.

The R1S I drove from Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia and back came with a massive 135 kWh battery (a medium-sized option, but it’s called Large), 20-inch all-terrain tires, and a range of 425 kilometers. The range depends on the type of tires and wheel size. The R1S is fitted with 21-inch road tires and has a range of 517 kilometres, Rivian said.

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The four-wheel-drive vehicle has three rows of seats and the acceleration numbers of a supercar.

Jason Cher/The Globe and Mail

I drove it the same way I would any large gas-powered SUV on a 26-degree day — I didn’t go easy on the throttle and turned on the air conditioning — and got about the same range as Rivian claimed.

Rivian said it can charge at speeds of up to 215 kilowatts using a fast charger on Rivian’s charging network, adding a range of up to 225 kilometers in 20 minutes. The speed could increase with future over-the-air software updates, she said.

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Rivian vehicles can also use public fast chargers, and starting next year, they’ll be able to charge on the Tesla Supercharger network.

With Level 2 chargers, you can add about 25 to 40 kilometers of range per hour, depending on the speed of the charger, Rivian said.

Unlike the electric cars produced by some other startups, the R1S looks ordinary. It’s big, powerful and luxurious, but other than the headlights, there’s nothing weird about it.

Four engines or two?

By looking at it, you might not guess that the R1S, like the R1T, was designed for off-roading and rock crawling.

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Rivian launched both the R1S and R1T with a quad-motor engine – one motor for each wheel.

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The interior isn’t quite Escalade-level luxury, but there’s plenty of space in the first two rows.

Jason Cher/The Globe and Mail

That means 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet of torque, but that may be overkill for some buyers looking for a seven-seat SUV, Rivian said.

In August, Rivian began offering a dual-motor version. It’s still all-wheel drive, but it has two motors – one for the front wheels and one for the rear.

That means less power – 533 hp for the standard twin motor and 685 hp for the high-performance twin motor. But its range is better – up to 644 kilometers in the R1S model with the largest battery. It’s also cheaper, with the dual-motor R1S starting at $116,500.

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“(The dual motor) has a lower price point, so implicitly it will expand the market,” Rivian CEO Robert (RJ) Scaringe said in an interview.

The dual-motor Rivians use the company’s new Enduro motor, the first that Rivian has designed and built itself – the quad-motor Rivians use Bosch motors.

It’s part of a plan to boost Rivian’s sales. While it manufactured 25,000 vehicles in 2022, it hopes to build 52,000 vehicles this year.

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Removable and rechargeable flashlight placed in the driver’s door.

Jason Cher/The Globe and Mail

I was able to compare the dual- and four-wheel drives in an R1T pickup truck on a test track and off-road at Rivian’s Illinois plant — a former Mitsubishi plant in an area with hundreds of wind turbines.

The four-motor version had a small edge on the track. Rivian said it reaches 100 kilometers per hour in about 3.5 seconds, half a second faster than the dual motor. While both versions confidently handled off-road trails and steep rocky climbs, the duo took a little more effort.

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“If you’re out there with a stopwatch, the foursome will beat the twosome,” Scarring said. “But you really notice the quad when it’s off-road.”

Scaringe says he believes the cheaper, twin-motor version will account for at least half of R1S and R1T sales.

There will be three battery packs: standard (size hasn’t been announced, but rumored to be 105 kWh), large (135) and maximum (149) – or large and bigger and bigger. Initially, only the large battery pack was available – the average size for the trio. This fall, after delays, Rivian began selling vehicles with the largest range, and expects to begin selling vehicles with the smallest range early next year.

If you order the R1S today, it will be available in 2024, the company said.

Technical specifications

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The car is boxy, but the design is clean and traditional.

Jason Cher/The Globe and Mail

2023 Rivian R1S four-wheel drive with large battery
  • Base price/as tested: $137,500 / $146,400, before delivery charges and taxes
  • Powertrain/Battery: 835-horsepower four-wheel electric motors/135 kWh battery
  • payment system: Electric four-wheel drive
  • ranges: 425-617 kilometers (depending on tire and wheel size)
  • Alternatives: Mercedes EQS, Tesla Model

Look

From the side and back, the R1S is a handsome, rugged-looking SUV. Sure, it’s boxy but the design is clean and traditional. That is until you get to the front, where the headlights make the R1S look like an anime character. It makes Rivian instantly recognizable. Anyway, the look works.

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Interior

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Almost everything on the 2023 Rivian R1S is controlled using the touchscreen.

Jason Cher/The Globe and Mail

Inside, it’s comfortable, but not Escalade-level luxury. The design is clean and simple with high-quality materials, including faux leather and reclaimed wood. There is plenty of space in the first two rows. The third row is cramped. There’s plenty of headroom under the glass roof.

Similar to Tesla, Rivian moves almost all controls to the touchscreen. You have to go through the menus to adjust the side mirrors, seats, steering wheel, and even the air vents. While Alexa works for most functions, a few buttons would be nice.

The seats are firm but comfortable. There are useful extras, including a removable, rechargeable flashlight, a portable Bluetooth speaker that charges under the console between the front seats and a built-in air compressor that can inflate tires.

performance

The R1S confidently took to the curves on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. It certainly doesn’t handle like a sports car, but it doesn’t feel like a large three-row SUV either. She has a lot of enthusiasm and strength. It will have no problem overtaking almost every other vehicle on the road, even though its top speed is limited to 185 kilometers per hour.

Unlike some electric cars, you can’t stop driving with one pedal. But the renewed braking seems less surprising than some. You can raise the air suspension to approximately 15 inches of ground clearance, depending on the size of your wheels, for off-roading. It is rated to tow 7,700 pounds.

technology

The R1S has all the standard accident-avoidance technology, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. It has its own GPS, but it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It doesn’t have Sirius XM radio either. GPS uses Better Route Planner, a popular electric vehicle charger-finding app, to display chargers along your route.

the goods

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The front boot has 314 liters of space and a drain if you want to put ice in it.

Jason Cher/The Globe and Mail

At 314 litres, the R1S’s front trunk is large, even if it’s not quite as large as the Ford F-150 Lightning’s trunk (396 litres). It has a drain, in case you want to fill it with ice. With the second row down, there are 2,966 liters of storage space. With the second row up, capacity is 1,322 litres.

Judgment

With three rows, plenty of power and a wide range, the premium all-wheel-drive Rivian R1S is an electric SUV that can be used both on and off-road – but it’s not cheap.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. The content was not subject to approval.

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