Manufacturers will tell you otherwise, but it’s rare to drive a new car that feels really groundbreaking. In most cases, the vehicle does what it says on the label and is some mix of competent and impressive. Those two traits can make for a solid family purchase or a tremendously silly enthusiasts’ car or anything in between, but they likely don’t change the automotive game too too much. And then there are others – whole vehicles or new drivetrains or exciting technology – that do move the needle. The 2023 Rivian R1T is one such vehicle.
I’ve been trying to get my hands on a Rivian for quite some time, but the company’s priority on customer deliveries means they don’t have much of a press fleet outside of a few key areas. I found myself in Los Angeles for a variety of reasons and Rivian’s PR team offered up a truck. Knowing this may be my one shot behind the wheel for a while, I ended up spending nearly 19 hours behind the wheel covering almost 700 miles. And while the 2023 Rivian R1T isn’t perfect, it is damn good. Let’s dive in.
What Is It?
The 2023 Rivian R1T is the brand’s first product. Orders opened up in late 2020 and the first trucks were delivered to customers in late 2021. As production ramps, everything that Rivian makes will be all-electric. Since the R1T has gone on sale, the R1S SUV and bespoke Amazon delivery van have also joined the lineup.
Both R1T and R1S are fundamentally identical, with the truck riding on a slightly longer wheelbase (135.8 vs 121.1 inches) and sized between a Toyota Tacoma and Tundra overall. Right now, every R1T being delivered is a “Quad Motor” example, which equips each wheel with its own electric motor and brings marked performance benefits as a result. Dual Motor trucks are coming, trading some power for greater battery range and lower cost.
Power and torque figures on my 2023 Rivian R1T Adventure were impressive, to say the least, at 853 horsepower and 908 lb-ft. As with anything, those numbers mean squat without curb weight, and while the R1T is no 9,000 pound Hummer EV, it does come in at a well-fed 7,148 pounds. Eep. Such is life with current battery technology; no EV is really immune.
Thankfully, though, range from the “Large” battery pack is an impressive 328 miles, recently increased as part of an Over-the-Air update that helped efficiency and unlocked a bit more usable capacity. Rivian will be offering a “Max” extended-range model that they claim can provide over 400 miles on a charge.
Every R1T includes four-corner air suspension and adjustable dampers, with a plethora of wheel and tire options to be bolted to the hubs. My particular truck rode on twenty-two inch “Sport wheels” with Pirelli all-season highway tires. Smaller wheels with all-terrains are optional, though you’ll take a slight range hit for the off-road-y tires.
MSRP of my L.A. Silver over Black R1T came in at $93,300 plus destination.
It’s Just So Clever
Right away, I was impressed with how Rivian took the notion of a pickup truck and re-thought what that could mean as an EV. By comparison, Ford’s F-150 Lightning retains the ICE truck’s design entirely, and thus much more like an electrified “regular truck.” So then, if you had more freedom of design, what would you do?
There’s the much-vaunted Gear Tunnel, a tunnel that runs the width of the truck between the cab and bed. It’s big enough for a single Jake (I crawled inside) or a few suitcases, and it locks with the doors. Rivian includes an air compressor on board to air your tires up after off-roading – and the hose for the compressor tucks in to one of the Gear Tunnel’s doors. Oh, and you can stand on those doors, they’re strong enough.
In the cab, the rear seat armrest offers a pass-through if you need to access the Gear Tunnel from inside. Storage is abundant otherwise, with door pockets, a deep center armrest, a large rubber-lined floor tray, and of course, a front trunk. My truck included an optional full-size spare tire, which lived under the bed floor. Without the spare, that space also opens up as more storage.
Even the key is useful, able to be clipped to your belt loop or bag like a carabiner should you want to bring it along. If you don’t, fine, you can use your phone as a key or send temporary key access to a friend’s phone.
Rivian’s approach to how the R1T drives is clever in itself – and it’s very good both on-road and off-pavement.
It’ll Keep Up With Sport Bikes
I’d run the new Chevy Colorado down a way-too-tight-for-a-truck canyon road prior to getting the R1T’s key. Naturally, I had to go back and see what Rivian’s truck could do in the same environment. My friend Noah came along on my first day of canyon runs, and I joined several friends the next day for more of the same. Everyone’s first reaction was similar – a raised eyebrow and “Sure Jan” when I asked to be toward the front of the pack.
They didn’t need to worry. I set the R1T to Sport mode, which lowered the suspension and firmed up the dampers. Past that, all I had to do was aim it where I wanted in order to simply run away from whoever was behind me. The chassis proved to be neutral and willing to rotate, helped by the four motors working in tandem to send power and torque where it was needed most. Steering was direct and appropriately weighted, giving confidence as I cranked on the wheel to follow whoever was ripping around in a much smaller, more appropriate vehicle.
Brakes were my only letdown, and even then, not by much. While the R1T does offer one-pedal driving, I always wanted a bit more regen than I could get. I had to use the actual brake pedal in the canyons, of course. It had good “blended” feel (combining regen and actual caliper use) with nice initial bite, though the pedal travel went a bit long as I drove harder – to be expected as you hustle 7,100 pounds of truck this hard.
And hustle we did. I kept up with someone on a sport bike who was dragging their knee through hard corners, as you do (I guess, I don’t ride). Those dampers do a lot of the work, operating similar to those of a McLaren by increasing hydraulic pressure to the shock diagonal from the corner where you’re getting roll. There are no anti-sway bars, these shocks handle their business on their own. I drove the R1T hard enough to rub half of the “P” in Pirelli off of each sidewall. Try that in your F-150.
Off-Roading in Easy Mode
Noah and I met up with our friend David, of The Autopian fame, who had a new Chevy Silverado ZR2 on loan. The ZR2 is a monster of a half-ton truck, with big all-terrain tires, locking front and rear differentials, and optional rock sliders that collectively give it a ton of capability. Noah and his boyfriend own a Lexus LX 450, also on fresh all-terrains. And here I was with highway tires, four motors, and very smart software.
David naturally pointed the three of us toward an incredibly steep uphill section of the off-road park. Noah and I weren’t so sure either of our rigs could handle the climb after watching David in the ZR2. With a bit of persuasion, I was convinced to give it a shot as David spotted. I put the Rivian in its Rock Crawl mode, which raised the suspension to a high but not highest 13.5 inches of ground clearance and told the electric motors to get clever. At the same time, the truck dulled the throttle response significantly, so I couldn’t accidentally apply way too much power as I hit a big bump.
I picked a line, David spotted, and with steady throttle, the R1T just… went. It wasn’t as effortless as the ZR2, but it was damn close. With no engine sound in the way, I could easily hear each tire doing its thing and finding grip as I ascended. The process was ultimately easy and seriously impressive – doubly so when you remember I had been chasing a motorcycle in the same truck only 24 hours prior.
Going back down the same grade was just as easy. I was able to one-pedal it most of the way down, adding brakes as necessary to maintain my low speed. In both cases, the truck’s cameras were super helpful, both for the front view and front tire views showing me where I was placing the vehicle.
On all-terrains, the 2023 Rivian R1T would go very, very far before having issues. David claims its quad-motor setup isn’t quite as guaranteed-helpful compared to locking differentials, given the truck has to sense some wheel slip before moving power around. But I think for most people doing most things, it’s a fantastic configuration bolstered by smart software that’ll take you just about anywhere.
Highway Driving Reveals Some Imperfections
Most buyers won’t be blasting down canyon roads or crawling up 30-degree inclines on the daily, so the 2023 Rivian R1T has to be good on the highway as well. It was here where I found the most room for improvement, though nothing is a show-stopper for me.
Rivian controls everything through a gigantic center touchscreen. It’s a good setup as “screen only” systems go, though I still loathe them as a concept. But it’s snappy, easy to use, and intuitive overall, so not all bad. I had to learn the reset procedure (by Googling on my phone, given the owners’ manual is contained… in the screen) when the truck had a mild panic attack and wouldn’t accept any touch entries. If you’re wondering – hold the far left and far right steering wheel buttons until it restarts.
That magical adaptive suspension that offered such confidence in the canyons was a bit much in day to day driving. I found the “Soft” mode too pillowy and lacking in compression control up front, as the front of the truck would sort of heave over bumps and bigger expansion joints, showing its curb weight. “Stiff” mode was indeed… that, which was great if road imperfections meant anything in Braille. I need a Goldilocks setting for the dampers, I think.
Rivian’s driver assistance tech could also use more refinement. Activated by a Tesla-esque double-tap on the shifter, the R1T enables adaptive cruise control and lane centering easily, but it’s hit or miss as to how well either system will work. Adaptive cruise frequently over-slowed for cars way ahead of me in the lane, even with the gap set to its shortest setting. Lane centering, meanwhile, had a hard time doing the centering bit. Los Angeles freeways are all concrete with hard-to-see lane markings, so perhaps the truck had a tough time reading the road, much as I did during my visit.
The R1T is Impressive, and Doubly Impressive
Taken as a whole truck, the 2023 Rivian R1T is impressive. I would say that no matter whose badge was on the airbag cover and wheel center caps. Build quality is fantastic, it drives oh so well, and it’s got a level of poise and polish that I haven’t seen from some manufacturers who have been at this car-building thing way longer than Rivian has. To drive the R1T and realize it is the literal first production vehicle from a new company, first shown as a prototype in 2018, makes it even more impressive.
Sure, the R1T’s bed could be a bit longer. Payload is acceptable at roughly 1,500 pounds, and Rivian claims it’ll tow up to 11,000 pounds. I can’t wait to get one in the DC area and tow with it for myself.
Despite some imperfections, it’s clear that the Rivian team of designers and engineers labored tirelessly to build a thought-through truck that started with a “no limits” sort of ethos on how a truck should be built. Some friends of mine derided the R1T as “a lifestyle truck,” implying it couldn’t do what other trucks do. I think they’re nuts. Trucks have been predictable for decades, and it’s nice to see someone reimagining how the same basic shape can be improved upon while retaining functionality everyone expects.