Jan 19, 2024 - Technology

What we're driving: The Rivian R1T electric pickup

Image of a red Rivian electric pickup truck in a dusty mountain environment

The 2022 Rivian R1T electric pickup is designed for outdoorsy adventures. Photo courtesy of Rivian

The Rivian R1T electric pickup earns high praise from automotive publications like Car & Driver for its incredible acceleration and impressive off-road chops.

  • But as with many electric vehicles (EVs), I discovered it takes some getting used to as a daily driver.

Why it matters: Driving an EV is different than driving a conventional gasoline car.

  • It takes time to master tricks like "one-pedal driving" or optimizing the car's battery range.
  • Plus, many EVs — including the Rivian — rely too heavily on giant touchscreens to control basic functions, drawing your attention away from the road.

The big picture: The R1T was the first electric pickup on the market in September 2021, setting the bar for others to follow, including the F-150 Lightning, Chevrolet Silverado EV and Tesla Cybertruck.

  • The Rivian is every bit as cutting edge as a Tesla, and the design is fresh, without being a caricature.

I recently test-drove an R1T for a wintry week in southeastern Michigan, where the roads were sloppy, but nothing like the kind of off-road adventures Rivian owners aspire to.

  • My $89,600 test truck was the R1T Performance all-wheel-drive, large battery pack version, with an EPA-estimated driving range of 307 miles — more than enough for a week's worth of local driving.

Driving impressions: Like other EVs, the R1T comes with a regenerative braking system, which captures kinetic energy to replenish some lost range.

  • The Rivian's regen system, even in "standard" configuration (as opposed to "max"), seemed more sensitive than most.
  • As I lifted my foot off the accelerator approaching a stoplight, for instance, the truck would slow abruptly and prematurely.

It took me a full week to learn how to "feather" the pedal to coast to intersections at an appropriate speed without touching the brake pedal — what EV aficionados call one-pedal driving.

  • I had a similar issue trying to back out of my driveway — I had to press more heavily on the accelerator than seemed appropriate, which made me worry about backing into my neighbor's car.

Rivian's infotainment system was also difficult to master.

  • There are no buttons or switches on the dashboard, just two scrolling toggles on the steering wheel. They're unlabeled and their functions are contextual — meaning they do different things depending on which mode the screen is in.
  • The display itself is gigantic, like a Tesla's, and virtually all of the controls are adjusted here — the mirrors, seats, steering wheel position, lighting, climate, driving mode and, of course, entertainment.
  • I learned that you must absolutely set your preferences ahead of time or you'll find yourself distractedly jabbing at the screen while driving.
  • No one should be trying to operate a computer while also steering a 7,000-pound machine at 70 miles per hour.

One example: I was getting blasted with hot air and wanted to turn down the fan and adjust the vents.

  • That required me to pull over and navigate through various screens until I found the one where I could drag my finger across a virtual dashboard to redirect the air flow.

Yes, but: At least the Rivian is equipped with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant to help handle some of these commands.

The touchscreen on a Rivian R1T pickup shows how you can adjust the airflow from the vents by dragging your finger across the virtual dashboard.
Adjusting the vents on the Rivian R1T is done by dragging your fingers across a virtual dashboard on the touchscreen. Photo courtesy of Rivian

One feature I did like: The navigation screen, which is intuitive like a smartphone, allowing you to pinch or drag your fingers to adjust the view.

  • The Rivian app also incorporates A Better Route Planner's trip-planning software.
  • You can choose your starting range and preferred arrival range to see what your route will look like, where to charge and how long your charging stops will be.
  • You can then send the trip from the Rivian app to the vehicle's nav system.
  • While en route to a charger, the truck will automatically precondition the battery in preparation for fast charging.

Another delightful feature: The built-in Spotify app.

  • Just click the icon and a QR code pops up on the screen that you can scan with your phone's camera (like a restaurant menu) to automatically log in to your favorite music.
  • The Rivian also comes with the TuneIn radio app, which lets you listen to sports, news, podcasts and over 120,000 streaming radio stations —including AM. (Rivian and many other EVs don't offer broadcast AM radio because of potential interference from their electric motors.)
  • Such features may help soften the disappointment that there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto phone-mirroring feature.

The bottom line: Rivian's R1T is innovative and fun to drive but requires a pretty steep learning curve for anyone transitioning from a conventional car.

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