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2023 Rivian R1T quad-motor all-wheel-drive review: The real deal

Like buying gas station sushi for lunch, purchasing from a startup company is always risky. Are the products any good, what support is offered, will the manufacturer still be around in 3 or 4 years? Bucking convention, the Rivian R1T all-electric mid-size pickup seems to sidestep many of the issues that plague vehicles from upstart automakers. This truck feels well engineered, the build quality is solid, nothing seems frail or flimsy, there are plenty of clever features and the infotainment system is one of the most expedient ever fitted to a vehicle. In short, there’s a maturity to this product you would never expect, and that, in part, makes this Rivian one of the hottest EVs available today.

Going boldly where no mid-size truck has gone before, the R1T is loaded with clever features. The most innovative among them is the Gear Tunnel, an ingenious storage space that runs the width of the vehicle and is situated between the bed and back seat. With around 11.7 cubic feet of space, there’s plenty of room to accommodate several gym bags, your grocer shopping or even building supplies that are up to 65 inches long. The Gear Tunnel is accessible via fold-down doors, one on either side. These swing panels are slick in their operation and feel incredibly solid, each one being rated to support up to 250 pounds. This makes the doors a great stepstool for reaching the R1T’s roof or just a comfortable place to sit while putting on hiking boots.

Other innovative features that set this mid-size truck apart from your workaday Chevy Colorados, Ford Rangers and Toyota Tacomas include an available in-door flashlight that pops out with the push of a finger and has up to 18 hours of battery life. The Rivian Torch as it’s called, pumps out up to 1,000 lumens and has a dense, high-quality feel. There’s also a Honda Ridgeline-style in-bed storage well that keeps the spare tire clean and can even be used as a cooler. Making life far easier while off-roading, the R1T also comes with an air compressor right in the carbo box, so you can pump up your tires after a day of rock crawling or blow-up beach balls or other inflatables. And of course, there’s also a front trunk, which provides an additional 11.1 cubic feet of cargo space.

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The Gear Tunnel is, arguably, the R1T’s most innovative feature. Photo credit: EV Pulse / Craig Cole

Whether you live life off the beaten path or at the end of a subdivision cul-de-sac, this Rivian offers incredible performance. The truck can tackle 100% grades, offers up to 14.9 inches of ground clearance and can drive through more than 43 inches of water. Throw in great approach, breakover and departure angles and loads of electric torque and you have a truck that can climb like a mountain goat yet is still impressively refined for weekday commuting. Serious off-roaders will want the optional $3,850 All-Terrain Package, which includes unique 20-inch wheels wrapped in aggressive all-terrain tires and reinforced underbody shielding to protect delicate componentry.

Speaking of performance, the R1T impresses. The top-dog quad-motor all-wheel-drive model evaluated here is graced with 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet of torque, enough for a 0-to-60 sprint of 3.0 seconds flat. Yes, this truck is seriously quick, even if it doesn’t feel quite as potent as the numbers suggest. You’re never wanting for torque – like, ever – but this setup feels vaguely like an internal-combustion powertrain because the power delivery is linear, the truck pulling strongly at higher speeds, not just off the line.

Of course, less potent and more affordable powertrains are offered in this pickup, though they still deliver incredible amounts of power and torque. When it comes to range, the R1T is available with three battery sizes, though quad-motor versions are only offered with the middle configuration, which provides an EPA-estimated 274 miles of range in this particular model, a good, if not outstanding performance.

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This is one handsome truck. Photo credit: EV Pulse / Craig Cole

Aside from instantaneous acceleration, the R1T is otherwise pleasant to drive. The overall platform, which is made of aluminum, high-strength steel and carbon fiber is as sturdy as a highway overpass abutment, with zero apparent flex or twisting. This solid foundation not only provides a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the organization’s highest score, but it also delivers good dynamics. The steering is well weighted, the brake pedal feels natural and the handling is appropriate for a truck. The R1T’s adjustable air suspension keeps the body well controlled and provides a smooth ride (or a significantly stiffer one if you prefer), though it can sound a little clunky over bumps. There’s also a touch of wind noise around the A-pillars and front window glass, though this is not a deal-breaker.

Rivian’s Driver + suite of advanced technologies is standard on the R1T. This includes the usual suspects, items like blind spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and much more. You also get adaptive cruise control with lane centering, a setup that works surprisingly well, though you do have to keep your hands on the wheel, unlike Super Cruise or BlueCruise.

Enabling all these driver aids are more sensors than a science lab. The R1T has some 10 exterior cameras, four corner radar units and one forward-facing array plus 12 ultrasonic sensors.

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Rivian knocked it out of the park with this interior. Photo credit: EV Pulse / Craig Cole

Step inside and this Rivian further impresses. The cabin is elegantly designed and unexpectedly clean, with a strongly horizontal dashboard punctuated by two displays: a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a vibrant 15.6-inch central touchscreen. The materials used are all high quality and the Forest Edge with Warm Ash color scheme looks great, both comfortable and inviting. The open-pore wood furnishings on the dashboard are also exceptionally nice, with an unexpectedly coarse texture.

Unfortunately, a glovebox is not offered in this truck, which is a shame. The center console is generously sized, but it’s always nice to have additional storage ahead of the front passenger. Additionally, Rivian designers and engineers have eliminated many common controls. For instance, there are no volume or tuning knobs on the dashboard, there are no physical door lock switches, the truck lacks a traditional ignition button and the steering wheel spokes have a limited selection of unlabeled multimodal buttons; these operate both the cruise control and audio systems, and they’re how you adjust the steering column and exterior mirrors. Naturally, if you own one of these pickups, you will learn how everything works, but just jumping in, things can be confusing since there are so few controls and many aren’t labeled.

As for the multimedia array, Rivian has done a fantastic job with its infotainment system. Not only is the 15.6-inch panel clear and bright, but the software aboslutely flies. Powered by Epic’s Unreal Engine, it’s easily one of the most responsive systems I’ve ever used, no questions asked. Also, the infotainment system itself looks great, clean and elegant, plus it’s extremely intuitive and easy to understand. Other automakers need to copy what this setup can do. The only problem is, Rivan doesn’t support smartphone mirroring. The company believes it can provide a better, more-integrated experience with its own software, so no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, for now, at least.

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The infotainment system is one of the best ever fitted to a vehicle. Photo credit: EV Pulse / Craig Cole

One other noticeable downside to the R1T is the key fob. While I appreciate the carabiner-style end that makes it easy to clip the lozenge-shaped controller to your beltloop, this is the worst fob I ever recall using. The truck is militaristic about locking itself when you walk even a few feet away, and yet, half the time it won’t automatically unlock when you stroll up to the driver’s door. Hitting the unlock button often doesn’t immediately work, either, exacerbating the frustration. Rivian also includes a pair of keycards. You can keep one in your wallet or purse to easily access the truck… in theory, at least. You hold the card over the driver’s side door handle (for up to 8 seconds) and the R1T is supposed to unlock, except neither one worked at all in my testing, a bummer because it’d be great to keep one in your pocket and not have to worry about carrying the bulkier fob.

The 2023 Rivian R1T is not a perfect vehicle, but considering it’s manufactured by a startup automaker the truck comes far, far closer to excellence than could ever be expected. A few minor annoyances notwithstanding, I’m blown away by this EV. It’s thoughtfully engineered, well built, comfortable and incredibly versatile. It’s also expensive.

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Check out the Rivian R1T. It doesn’t disappoint. Photo credit: EV Pulse / Craig Cole

Excluding any rebates or tax incentives, the as-tested price for this example is around $96,400 including $1,800 in destination fees. That’s a lot of Benjamins for an unproven nameplate from an all-new brand, and I question whether the R1T is actually worth that much, however, this truck’s base price is much more palatable, around $74,800 with delivery, and the good news is, you don’t give up many innovative features or much performance by going with the entry-level model, making it a much better value and an EV that’s absolutely worthy of your consideration.

At a glance

  • Year: 2023
  • Make: Rivian
  • Model: R1T
  • Trim: Quad-motor all-wheel drive
  • Type: All-electric mid-size truck
  • Horsepower: 835
  • Torque: 908 lb-ft
  • Range: 274 miles
  • Pros: Strong performance, lightning-fast and intuitive infotainment system, gorgeous interior, thoughtful features, superb off-road capability, handsome good looks
  • Cons: Erratic key fob performance, no support for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, a touch of wind noise at speed, not cheap
  • Estimated Base price: $74,800
  • Estimated as-tested price: $96,400 including $1,800 in destination fees

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Written by Craig Cole

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