Expert Reviews

Rivian R1S First Drive Review

Rivian is a relatively new automaker based in Irvine, Calif., that claims it makes “electric adventure vehicles.”

Its first products are the fully electric R1T pickup truck and the R1S SUV, and while the hype over startup electric vehicle (EV) makers tends to fizzle out, Rivian has sustained the buzz. A brief drive of the 2022 Rivian R1S proved why it’s worthy of the hype.

Style for Days

Rivian’s vehicles are easily among the coolest-looking around right now. The company managed to lean into a retro design aesthetic while still projecting a thoroughly modern but also rugged image. Boxy and upright, I love the R1S’s cartoon-like face, its unique oval headlights, the futuristic light bars front and back that span the whole width of the SUV, and the fact that it doesn’t look like it’s scowling. SUVs can look overly aggressive with huge, gaping grilles and angular vents, but the R1S looks fun and friendly, like an affable robot sidekick from a Disney movie.

The brand uses sustainable and recycled materials to create an upscale yet rugged interior. I love the open-pore wood accents, the uncluttered look of the dashboard, and the airy cabin. The vegan leather seat coverings also feel high-quality, and the fit and finish is good except that a few panels will move slightly if you push them. For comparison’s sake, the interior feels much higher quality than a Tesla. It’s not Audi or Porsche solid, but is still pretty impressive.

An Excellent Powertrain and Chassis

The Rivian R1S’s battery pack is integrated into its frame, and the company says it’s capable of DC fast charging at 200 kW for sustained periods. There was no charging or off-roading during this brief drive, nor was there enough time for a proper range test, but the powertrain proved impressive nonetheless.

With the standard battery pack, range is estimated at 415 km – a number that grows to 515 km with the larger battery. All Rivian models currently have a quad-motor all-wheel drive setup that enables four-wheel torque vectoring. The automaker says this setup is good for a combined 835 hp and 908 lb-ft of torque, which gets the SUV to highway speeds from a standstill in just over three seconds. A more affordable dual-motor setup will be available later with about 600 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque.

Acceleration on the road is strong, which is unsurprising because most EVs are quick. But when you consider how large and heavy the Rivian is, it seems even more impressive. The R1S doesn’t feel like a large or heavy vehicle to pilot; it’s easy to manoeuvre and park, and the visibility is great with big, boxy windows, and a tall seating position.

The SUV is very stiff over broken roads, even in its softest setting, but that’s also not uncommon for EVs. Rivian offers a fair amount of customization for how the R1S feels and behaves from ride height (all come standard with a variable air suspension), regenerative brake feel, steering, and more. The steering was a highlight, and the regen braking felt strong without being too twitchy. Wind noise was quite loud on the highway, perhaps the only minor fault that made itself known during this short drive.

Endless Practicality

The R1S is impressively practical. With three rows of seats and lots of clever storage solutions, outdoorsy families are sure to find this SUV very accommodating. There is a large frunk with hidden storage underneath a cargo divider that holds a generous 313 L of cargo. That divider is there to reduce the lift-in height, but it can be stowed upright magnetically to make room for taller items.

With all the rear seats folded flat, there’s 2,966 L of cargo space and yet another under-floor storage compartment. That divider can be used as a shelf to create a flat load floor so you can slide longer items in with ease. The third row folds manually, but the second row can fold electronically with buttons in the trunk. The second row was a bit heavy to put back into place and I needed to put my whole weight into it, so I’m not sure a child would be able to do it themselves. The second row slides front and back to make more room for third-row passengers, and can be moved in one action for easy access into the third row.

Is the Rivian R1S User-Friendly?

The R1S’s interface takes a bit to get used to because, like many EVs these days, Rivian opted for a minimalistic design with no hard buttons. All the settings and functions are accessed through the huge central touchscreen or through buttons on the steering wheel. To adjust the side mirrors or the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, for example, you have to bring up the menu on the touchscreen and then use the multi-function steering wheel buttons to make the adjustments.

There is a learning curve to mastering it, but it’s not a huge one because there are plenty of shortcut buttons that are always present, which makes it easy to find what you’re looking for pretty quickly. The iconography is mostly obvious, too, and the menus are logical so there’s not a lot of guesswork needed.

There’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but that’s not a huge drawback since the interface is smart and easy enough to use on its own.

Gimmicks Galore

The R1S doesn’t have as many gimmicks as the R1T pickup truck because it’s more focused on practicality, but an engineer from the company says it still has a lot of features “that make great 10-second TikToks.” The R1S is packed full of fun Easter eggs and clever features that will be useful beyond showing off to your friends. They make the R1S even more practical for those outdoorsy people the brand is going after.

A fan-favourite is the flashlight that’s hidden inside the driver’s door. With 1,000 lumens of power and different brightness settings, it’s integrated beautifully, charges when it’s stowed, and is satisfying to use.

There’s also a portable and removable Bluetooth speaker stored under the centre console that should come in handy during camp outings or a beach day. The speaker, which also charges automatically while stowed, doubles as a lantern and can be used to charge your phone. The wireless phone charger is large enough to handle two phones. Even the key itself speaks to the outdoorsy nature of the brand – it has a carabiner clip integrated into it, but the brand also offers phone-as-key support, a key card for your wallet, or a waterproof NFC bracelet that can all be used to lock and unlock the SUV.

One other majorly useful party trick is the integrated air compressor, which will come in handy if you need to inflate your tires after airing down for an off-road excursion, need to adjust your air pressure on the go, or inflate a camping mattress or bike tires.

Rivian R1S Canadian Pricing and Availability

The only real downside (and it’s a significant one) is that Rivian EVs are not yet available for all Canadian drivers to purchase. A Rivian spokesperson said the company is on track to make its first Canadian deliveries in British Columbia in late 2022 or early 2023, and will expand to more provinces throughout 2023.

Canadian pricing for the Rivian R1S starts at $105,250 before destination. Dual motor AWD is standard, quad-motor AWD adds $11,000, and the large battery pack is an additional $8,250. Any colour except silver adds between $2,400 and $3,400, and there are a bunch of upgrades and add-ons available like bigger 22-inch wheels, a full recovery kit, rooftop tents, and more. It does seem a bit expensive, but the good news is that it feels worth it and most of the desirable features and safety equipment is included as standard.

Final Thoughts

The 2022 Rivian R1S can easily be considered one of the most compelling EVs on the market at the moment, but also one of the most compelling three-row SUVs, period. Not only does this SUV live up to high expectations, but it goes above and beyond to exceed them. The fact that it looks super cool pushes it over the edge, but it’s also well-rounded, user-friendly, has an excellent powertrain, and offers unique and clever features, all of which makes it a real winner.