Rivian R1S review and 1st drive: The best SUV ever made?

One simple fact is going to tell you more than all of the Rivian R1S Review words, images, and video below: I’m in line to buy a Rivian R1S, and after a few days on and off the roads of upstate NY, I’m more excited than ever to get my hands on it.

But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you about this mighty, electric seven-seat off-road SUV and why it is on my, and many many others’ dream car list – from the perspective of someone who is test-driving their next vehicle.

First of all, most people reading Electrek will know that the Rivian R1S is basically the R1T pickup truck with an enclosed rear area and a third row. So hopefully you are updated on the R1T. If not, read our first drive here and Rivian R1T full review here. Electrek named the R1T the 2021 vehicle of the year, and to say we gushed over it might be an understatement.

Rivian R1S vs. R1T

From the B-Pillar or front seats forward, there are only two microscopic hardware differences in the R1S and R1T:

  • There is a rear windshield wiper activation button on the left steering column stalk on the R1s. Doesn’t exist on R1T.
  • The (controversial and polarizing) chrome wraparound on the top of the cab. This is the easiest way to tell the difference between an R1T (no chrome) vs. R1S from the front.
  • Obviously the software on the display is different, but that’s just electrons really.

So, from this perspective, these vehicles are remarkably similar, and they come off the same line at the plant in Normal, Illinois. They have the same monster 11.1 cubic foot frunk. The same 78-ish inch height and 81.8″ (221 cm) width windows folded, 87.1″ (221 cm) unfolded. Both vehicles weigh in at just under 7,000 lbs. They both offer the same tire options.

Rivian R1S

Once you get to the back seat, things start changing fast however.

  • The R1S is overall 17 inches shorter than the R1T. The wheelbase of the R1T is 135.8 inches, and R1S is 121.1 inches. Those 14.7 inches make a noticeable difference in turning radius and off-roading, which I’ll discuss later. Performance and range are mostly unchanged.
  • Instead of that amazing storage under the seats of the R1T, you have a sliding seat and foot room for the third row.
  • Gear tunnel? Camp kitchen? Nope and nope. The gear tunnel is more legroom for the third row passengers. (But we have heard there is a smaller R1S camp kitchen that will go behind the rear seats in development. But Rivian had nothing to share.)
  • The R1S actually has some pretty impressive third-row seats.

Rivian R1S third-row seats

Honestly, if you aren’t here for the third-row seats, I’d probably tell you to get an R1T and maybe a cab for storage. Rivian doesn’t currently offer a R1T cab, but it isn’t rocket science and someone will do it soon.

If you are here for the third-row seats, I have some pretty good news for you. They are not only relatively easy to get into and out of, but they are also quite comfortable to sit in, even for adults. I wouldn’t want to go on a roadtrip back there, but a 30-minute ride to an airport would be doable. For kids, these are great seats they could spend hours in.

The third row even has convenient storage boxes in the outside arm rests including a USB-C port for device charging. There’s no center arm rest however, which would have been nice. The seat release is on top of the second-row seat back for easy exit and entry.

The second row splits into a 40/20/40, and you can technically fit three baby seats there, but the center one will be tight.

And I can only imagine how nice this would be if Rivian built this vehicle with the extra foot of wheel base, and therefore legroom, of the R1T frame. I spoke with a few of Rivian’s designers and didn’t really come away with a firm understanding of why they cut the size of the R1S short. It does add the turning radius and off-roading advantages, but in reality, that extra room would have been really appreciated inside the R1S, especially in the third row.

There’s really not a bad seat in the car. The second row is roomy, even the middle seat. A family of seven could happily manage hours of travel in this thing.

R1S storage

Even with the third row up, there is significant storage in the back. You can see above that there’s a nice amount of space for strollers and suitcases, and there are also two false floors where a small spare could also be hidden. Put the third row down and you’ve got enough room for bikes or golf clubs.

rivian Frunk

Don’t forget that huge frunk in your storage calculations. The frunk also has a drain for ice when tailgating and a false floor for storing cables neatly. There’s also enough room for about eight brown paper grocery bags. I’ve submitted my proposal to Rivian for them to refrigerate the front trunk for groceries and camping, but I’m not sure if the company thinks it is worth the battery hit.

There’s no gear tunnel here, however.

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe did a pretty good video showing the amount of space in the back of the R1S as well as how easy it is to put down the seats from the back.

What’s also notable here is the 70/30 rear doors. I asked Rivian why they chose this versus a 50/50 back door or a full back door with the option of a roll-down window. Turns out, it is a mix of things. They wanted to have a bench that you could sit on and still be covered by a top door completely in case of rain. Also the smaller bottom door allows for shorter people and kids to reach in a lot farther.

It works fairly well in practice, and most importantly, I didn’t bash my head on the top door.

Rivian R1S car camping

If you are like me, you take one look at all the space in the back and you think this is going to make a great camper. Sure, there are tent attachments from Yakima for the roof and plenty of storage to haul large tent structures, but with the back two seat rows down, this will fit a big enough mattress for two intimate people. With the glass ceiling and USB-C and AC options, there’s a pretty good chance you can leave the tent at home and just chill in camping mode all night.

Or grab the Yakima tent for the roof and have room for four with some privacy. Hopefully, the R1S camp kitchen materializes for these types of adventures.

Rivian R1S off-roading

I called the R1T pickup the best pickup I’d ever driven on or off road. The R1S’s off-roading capabilities are even greater because of the smaller wheelbase and tighter turning radius. Rivian took us on a little trail where we got to ford some 2-foot deep waterways, climb and descend some insanely steep hills, and drive though tons of rocks. This is all stuff I’d never even attempt in real life, but for those who would, the R1S can handle just about anything.

If that weren’t enough, we got some seat time in the R1T to try the Drift Mode settings with a professional driver. Again, it is nuts what Rivians can do. Make sure to scroll around in the below 360 video:

What does Rivian need to work on?

It almost feels sacrilegious to ding Rivian on their charging availability because, besides Tesla, they are the only company really working on their own fast-charging network. However, it is behind schedule and mostly nascent currently. Rivians are still stuck using the notoriously unreliable and often slow third-party fast-charging networks.

Rivian showed off some of their own Level 2 destination chargers at the event, which are going to be permanent at the Eastwind Hotel near the Windham resort in upstate NY. There are three chargers there, all charging at 7.6kW (11kW capable). Because Rivian’s packs are so large, these won’t fill up an empty battery in 12 hours however.

Like I said before, I still don’t understand Rivian’s decision to cut 17 inches off the size of the R1S (from the R1T). It would have given the third row an extra foot of legroom without forcing the second row to move up. Also much more cargo and camping space. Maybe an “R1S Extended” could be made at some point in the future.

The vehicle itself is almost perfect, but the software is still a ways behind Tesla in terms of functionality. Rivian has made some major improvement in the reliability of its software in the year since the R1T drive, but we had a GPS issue as we started out on our trip that required restarting the system (holding down two outside steering wheel buttons for 15 seconds). Here’s a quick run-through of Rivian’s OS:

I would love to see Rivian add some multimedia applications. Obviously since Amazon owns a huge chunk of Rivian and got Alexa onto the OS, the next step would be getting Prime Video on the vehicles along with Netflix, Youtube, and maybe even the Amazon Kindle Fire App Store for games and other apps. Sure, a $400 iPad will do all of this stuff a lot better, but having it built in and connected via 5G would be a nice touch.

Or you know what might be better? CarPlay/Android Auto. I know this isn’t going to happen because Rivian wants to keep control of its platform, at least from non-investors, but this would be a better user experience right now and the hardware Rivian has supports it.

We somehow didn’t go on any approved roads to try out Rivian’s Driver+ Autopilot feature, but I would also like to see that application make some progress since using it in Denver. We also didn’t get to do any DC fast charging, which if you’ve read my reviews, is a pet peeve of mine. Rivians are maxing out near 225kW these days.

Rivian’s prices are also quite steep. I realize the company is on the upward path when it comes to scaling and has a smaller pack and two motor options coming down the pike. But at the moment, its vehicles are limited to close to six-figure prices as we are heading into a recession.

And finally, deliveries. Rivian has been missing deadlines and pushing back orders for awhile. When I ordered my R1S, I thought I’d have it by now. Current guesses are into 2023. To be fair, supply chain shortages mean late deliveries are also the case for just about every other electric vehicle out there, so there’s really not any concern for Rivian customers jumping onto other vehicle lines.

Electrek’s Take on the Rivian R1S

Look, I can find lots of small quibbles with the R1S and Rivian in general, but overall, this is the most lust-worthy vehicle on the market (IMO of course). To run down why this vehicle is unique:

  • 0-60 time of 3.0 seconds. That’s supercar speed and the fastest vehicle of any kind you can get for under $100K (Tesla Model 3 Performance is a close second at 3.1 sec). Update My bad: $70K Corvette with Z51 package will do it in 2.9 secs.
  • One of the best off-road production vehicles, if not the best, out there at any price
  • 7 seats, all comfortable and not claustrophobic, cupholders and USB-C ports everywhere
  • Handles like a sports car, 4 motors and independent suspension
  • Tons of storage in frunk and back, yet will fit in most garages
  • Over 300 miles of range and fast ~250kW charging for trips
  • 1.5kW of 110V AC home backup power or power to a worksite or camp
  • Intangibles like built-in flashlight, Bluetooth speaker, air compressor, etc.
  • A pretty good-looking vehicle, even if those oval headlamps haven’t yet grown on you
  • Rivian is a great company that seems to care about the planet, or at least it doesn’t feel gross giving them my money.

There is simply nothing else like it. Sure a Tesla Model X Plaid will seat seven and go 0-60 faster, but it doesn’t have nearly the storage nor will it go off-road. Hyundai’s EV9 looks like it will be a similar form factor but will almost certainly be “underpowered” (0-60 in 5 seconds), relatively speaking. VW’s resurrection of the Scout (and pretty obvious ripoff of Rivian’s product segments) won’t be around until 2025 at the earliest.

Everyone, including Tesla, Cadillac, Audi and Mercedes is making premium Electric “Crossover” SUVs but almost none of them can really go off road. I wouldn’t take a Jeep or Land Rover to places where the Rivians shine.

Both of Rivian’s consumer vehicles, the R1S and R1T are alone in their class in terms of what they can do. That’s why I’m bullish on the company even if it is hemorrhaging money now. Demand won’t be a problem for the foreseeable future.

On a more micro level, I can’t wait to get my R1S, and this drive, rather than alleviating, only heightened the anticipation.

For those interested I currently have the “Cocaine White” base $75K vehicle on order and plan to remove the Chrome.

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Avatar for Seth Weintraub Seth Weintraub

Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites. Tesla Model 3, X and Chevy Bolt owner…5 ebikes and counting