Back when most EVs had ranges of about 200 kilometres, the cardinal rule was to go easy on the “gas” pedal if you wanted to get where you needed to go.
But when I floored the accelerator on Rivian’s $150,000 quad-motor R1S, a three-row SUV with the acceleration numbers of a starter supercar, I was surprised to see that I hadn’t lost any range at all.
Rivian, an EV startup based in Irvine, Calif., 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 per cent of sales in the United States and Canada, Rivian said.
After some delays, Rivian delivered its first vehicles to Canadian customers last November. However, it is rare to see them on the roads and the company won’t say how many it has sold in Canada. But in the first nine months of this year, it reported building more than 39,000 vehicles and selling more than 36,000 in total.
The R1S I drove from Vancouver to Whistler, B.C., and back came equipped with a massive 135-kilowatt-hour battery (the middle size option, but called large) and 20-inch all-terrain tires, and had a range of 425 kilometres. Range depends on the type of tires and the size of the wheels. With 21-inch road tires, the R1S has a range of 517 kilometres, Rivian said.
I drove it the same way I’d drive any big gas SUV on a 26-degree day – I didn’t go easy on the accelerator and I blasted the air conditioner – and got about the same range that Rivian claimed.
Rivian said it can charge at speeds of up to 215 kilowatts on a fast charger on Rivian’s charging network – adding up to 225 kilometres of range in 20 minutes. It said that speed could increase with future over-the-air software updates.
Rivian’s vehicles can also use public fast chargers and – starting next year, they will be able to charge on Tesla’s Supercharger network.
At Level 2 chargers, you can add about 25 to 40 kilometres of range per hour, depending on the speed of the charger, Rivian said.
Unlike EVs from some other startups, the R1S feels, well, normal. It’s big, powerful and luxurious, but other than the headlights, there’s nothing particularly quirky about it.
Four motors or two?
From looking at it, you might not guess that the R1S, like the R1T, is built for serious off-roading and rock-crawling.
Rivian launched both the R1S and R1T with its quad-motor drive – that’s one motor for each wheel.
That means 835 horsepower and 908 lb-ft of torque, but it might be overkill for some buyers looking for a seven-seater SUV, Rivian said.
In August, Rivian started offering a dual-motor version. It’s still all-wheel drive, but has two motors – one for the front wheels and one for the back.
That means less power – 533 horsepower for the standard dual motor and 685 horsepower for the performance dual motor. But it has better range – up to 644 kilometres in the R1S with the biggest battery. It’s also cheaper, with the dual-motor R1S starting at $116,500.
“[The dual motor] has a lower price point, so it implicitly will broaden the market,” Rivian chief executive officer Robert (RJ) Scaringe said in an interview.
The dual-motor Rivians use the company’s new Enduro motor, the first motor 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 built 25,000 vehicles in 2022, it hopes to build 52,000 this year.
I got to compare the dual- and quad drives in an R1T pickup on a test track and an off-road run at Rivian’s Illinois factory – a former Mitsubishi plant in a region with hundreds of wind turbines.
The quad-motor version had a small edge on the track. Rivian said it sprints to 100 kilometres an hour in about three seconds, a half-second quicker than the dual motor. While both versions confidently handled an off-road track and a steep rocky climb, the dual took a little more effort.
“If you were there with a stopwatch, the quad is going to beat the dual,” Scaringe said. “But you really notice the quad when you’re off-road.”
Scaringe says he thinks the cheaper dual-motor version will count for at least half of R1S and R1T sales.
There will be three battery packs: standard (the size hasn’t been announced, but it’s rumoured to be 105 kilowatt-hours), large (135) and max (149) – or big, bigger and biggest. Initially, only the large battery pack – the middle size of the trio – was available. This fall, after delays, Rivian started selling vehicles with the biggest pack and it expects to start selling vehicles with the smallest pack early next year.
If you order an R1S today, it will be available in 2024, the company said.
2023 Rivian R1S quad motor with large battery pack
- Base price/as tested: $137,500 / $146,400, before delivery fees and taxes
- Powertrain/battery: Electric motors on all four wheels with 835 horsepower combined/ 135-kilowatt-hour battery
- Drivetrain: Electric all-wheel drive
- Range: 425-617 kilometres (depending on tire and wheel size)
- Alternatives: Mercedes EQS, Tesla Model X
From the side and back, the R1S is a handsome, capable-looking SUV. Sure it’s boxy but the design is clean and traditional. That’s until you get to the front, where the headlights make the R1S look like an anime character. They make the Rivian instantly recognizable. Over all, the look works.
Inside, it’s comfortable, but it’s not quite Escalade-level luxury. The design is clean and simple with nice-quality materials, including wood and fake leather. There’s plenty of room in the first two rows. The third row is cramped. There’s lots of headroom under the glass roof.
Similar to Tesla, Rivian relegates nearly all the controls to the touch screen. You need to go through menus to adjust the side mirrors, seats, steering wheel and even the air vents. While Alexa works for most functions, some buttons would be nice.
Seats are firm but comfortable. There are handy 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 the tires.
The R1S confidently took on the curves on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Sure, it doesn’t handle like a sports car, but it doesn’t feel like a big three-row SUV, either. It has plenty of pep and power. You should have no problem passing almost all other vehicles on the road, even though its top speed is limited to 185 kilometres an hour.
Unlike some EVs, you can’t turn off one-pedal driving. But the regenerative braking feels less abrupt than some. You can raise the air suspension to nearly 15 inches of ground clearance, depending on the size of your wheels, for off-roading. It’s rated to tow 7,700 pounds.
The R1S has all the standard accident-avoidance technology, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping 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. The GPS uses A Better Route Planner, a popular EV charger-finding app, to show chargers along your route.
At 314 litres, the R1S′s front trunk is big, even if it isn’t quite as big as the Ford F-150 Lightning’s frunk (396 litres). It has a drain, in case you want to fill it with ice. With the second row down, there is 2,966 litres of storage. With the second row up, it’s 1,322 litres.
With three rows, ample power and plenty of range, the outstanding quad-motor Rivian R1S is an EV SUV that’s at home on road and off – but it doesn’t come cheap.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the Rivian R1S quad motor accelerates to 100 kilometres an hour in 3.5 seconds and the reclaimed wood is used on the interior. The quad motor accelerates in three seconds and the wood is not reclaimed. This version has been updated.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.