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2022 Rivian R1S first drive review: An EV SUV fit for an expedition or a drag race

Rivian beat the likes of Ford, General Motors, and Tesla to market with an electric pickup truck, but now it’s time for act two.

The 2022 Rivian R1S shares most of its DNA with the Rivian R1T pickup released late last year, but in place of a bed, it has a three-row cabin with seating for seven. It retains the R1T’s distinctive styling, impressive off-road capability, and improbable acceleration, but in a package for drivers who need to carry people instead of stuff.

Front three quarter view of the 2022 Rivian R1S electric SUV.

Rivian unveiled the R1S unveiled alongside the R1T at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, but is just now starting to ramp up production at its Illinois factory. While some vehicles have been delivered to employees, the first customer deliveries aren’t scheduled to start until September of this year.

We spent a day driving the R1S Launch Edition on twisty roads in New York’s Catskill Mountains, and over a short off-road course set up by Rivian. The Launch Edition starts at $90,000 before destination, but is already sold out. Rivian is taking reservations for the Adventure (starting at $78,000) and Explore ($72,500) models, though.

Design and interior

The 2022 Rivian R1S electric SUV's interior.
Stephen Edelstein / Digital Trends

The R1S is essentially an SUV version of the R1T. The two vehicles share Rivian’s “skateboard platform,” which houses the powertrain, battery pack, and running gear, as well as most exterior sheet metal. The R1S sports the same distinctive squared-off front end as the R1T, with Rivian’s eye-catching front lighting signature, and a crisp rectangular profile at the back. It looks like a modern interpretation of classic 4x4s like the International Scout or Jeep Wagoneer.

The interior largely carries over from the R1T as well, maintaining the pickup’s minimalist design. The dashboard is bare except for a pair of screens comprising the instrument cluster and infotainment touchscreen. Vegan leather and available ash wood trim (sustainably sourced, Rivian claims) justify the R1S’ high starting price while giving the interior a more rugged look than traditional luxury SUV cabins. And unlike any traditional luxury SUV, the R1S has a built-in air compressor that can be used for inflating air mattresses. It also boasts a panoramic glass roof and a removable Bluetooth speaker.

Vegan leather and available ash wood trim justify the R1S’ high starting price.

The R1S lacks the R1T’s Gear Tunnel — a tube-shaped storage area below the truck bed — but still has plenty of storage space, including a large 11-cubic-foot frunk that outclasses other electric SUVs. Rivian doesn’t break down storage space with the seven-seat R1S’ second and third rows folded, only listing 105 cubic feet of total cargo space with all rear seats folded. But there appeared to be more cargo space behind the third row than the narrow shelf you get in most three-row vehicles. The third row doesn’t fold flat, however, as there’s still a lip between the folded seats and the rear cargo area.

The Rivian has more front legroom than other current electric luxury SUVs, but the BMW iX has a smidge more headroom. The R1S beats the Bimmer by a fraction in second-row headroom, but legroom in that row is more constricted.

Aside from the R1S, only the much pricier Tesla Model X offers a third row, which feels claustrophobic because of the Tesla’s sloping roof. The Rivian doesn’t have that issue, but legroom is still at a premium. Overall, the third row is likely best reserved for children, but still impressively usable for a vehicle of this size. The R1S still has more third-row headroom and legroom than a Lincoln Aviator, for example.

Tech, infotainment, and driver assist

The 2022 Rivian R1S electric SUV's central touchscreen.
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Like the rest of the interior, the R1S’ infotainment system carries over from the R1T.  It includes a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 15.6-inch central touchscreen. Rivian includes an AT&T-network 4G Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth, but currently has no plans to offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in its vehicles.

Fortunately, Rivian’s native interface offers impressive graphics and a very responsive touchscreen. That’s important, because nearly all controls are routed through the screen. Even adjusting the vents requires pulling up a menu and dragging icons. To move the steering wheel or mirrors, you need to tap an on-screen icon that activates thumb controls on the wheel. While eliminating buttons and knobs makes the dashboard less cluttered, it comes with a learning curve. After trying it in both the R1S and its R1T sibling, this interface hasn’t gotten any more intuitive.

Rivian vehicles also have over-the-air (OTA) update capability, and the automaker has already added a few features since it started shipping vehicles to customers in late 2021. Some of the new features include a Pet Comfort mode, a driving mode for soft sand, Car Wash Mode, and Show and Tell Mode, which keeps the exterior lights and screens on when the vehicle is parked.

Rivian’s native interface is good, with impressive graphics and a responsive touchscreen.

In addition to new features, Rivian recently made software tweaks to improve DC fast charging and the infotainment system. It also added a few features that were already available in many other vehicles, including a garage door opener link, camera bird’s eye view, and battery preconditioning.

Rivian’s Driver+ system includes the expected array of driver-assist features, such as adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. A feature called Highway Assist combines adaptive cruise control with automated lane centering for highway driving. We didn’t get to take the R1S out on the highway for a test of this system, but it doesn’t seem to be pushing the boundaries of capability, anyway.

Driving experience

Detail view of the 2022 Rivian R1S.
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The R1S launches with the same quad-motor powertrain as the R1T, sending 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels. That will get you and six of your friends from zero to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds, according to Rivian. That’s 1.0 second quicker than a Porsche 911 Carrera. A dual-motor version with around 600 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, retaining all-wheel drive, is scheduled to start shipping in 2024.

Most automakers offer multiple drive modes at this point, but in the R1S they’re truly integral to the way the vehicle performs — and cover more situations than most. The R1S has All Purpose, Sport, Conserve, and Towing modes aimed at on-road driving, plus five off-road modes: All-Terrain, Rock Crawl, Rally, Drift, and Sand. Each mode affects throttle mapping, ride height, and suspension firmness. You can also change the ride height (which has five settings), suspension firmness, and the level of regenerative braking individually. In its most aggressive setting, the regenerative braking allows for one-pedal driving, while still blending nicely with the friction brakes.

We were impressed with how easy the R1S was to drive over rough terrain.

A shorter wheelbase than the R1T means better approach, departure, and breakover angles that make it less likely that you’ll get stuck or damage the vehicle while off-roading. Though it’s shorter than the R1T as well, the R1S boasts 15 inches of ground clearance with its suspension fully jacked up, which allowed us to simply drive over rocks and other flotsam. Rivian also claims the R1S can wade into up to 3 feet of water. We got it pretty wet during a couple of creek crossings but didn’t go that deep.

As with the R1T, we were impressed not only with the R1S’ off-road capability but also with how easy it was to drive over rough terrain. With no mechanical four-wheel-drive system or differential locks to deal with, you simply select a drive mode on the touchscreen and go.

Rear view of the 2022 Rivian R1S.
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

And while traditional off-roaders can be a chore to drive on the road, the same software imbues the R1S with handling to match its sports car-like acceleration. Despite its substantial weight and high center of gravity, the R1S felt genuinely nimble on twisty roads, and the Sport tire option we sampled offered plenty of grip. On a mountain road, your back-seat passengers will lose their composure before the R1S does.

While we were impressed by the handling, there were some flaws. The R1S felt well-damped, soaking up bumps nicely, but still had a significant amount of body motion that caused it to jiggle side to side as weight shifted. And while this SUV could take corners like a sports car, the experience wasn’t much fun. Rivian as a company seems much more focused on pure capability than the sensations a driver feels.

Rivian quotes a 7,700-pound maximum towing capacity, which is less than the R1T pickup’s 11,000-pound maximum, but still respectable.

Range, charging, and safety

Detail view of the 2022 Rivian R1S' front passenger seat.
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

In launch trim, the R1S has an officially rated 316-mile range, with efficiency ratings of 69 MPGe combined (73 MPGe city, 65 MPGe highway). However, Rivian expects a 40-mile range reduction with the optional 20-inch wheels and all-terrain tires, and a 21-mile penalty with the 22-inch sport wheel/tire combination. As with all EVs, expect range to be significantly reduced when towing as well.

These figures apply to the quad-motor powertrain with the Large battery pack. After launch, Rivian plans to release a dual-motor all-wheel-drive version with the same pack, good for an estimated 320 miles of range, as well as a dual-motor model with a smaller Standard pack aiming for 260 miles of range.

Charging options match the R1T: Rivian estimates the R1S can recover 25 miles of range per hour of charging from an 11.5-kilowatt AC source, or 140 miles in 20 minutes when DC fast charging at its maximum rate of around 200 kW. Rivian is building its own Adventure Network of DC fast charging stations, along with a network AC chargers called Waypoints, but only a handful of the DC fast charging sites have opened so far.

Rivian offers a five-year, 60,000-mile, new-vehicle warranty and eight-year, 175,000-mile, warranties for the battery pack and powertrain. The battery warranty guarantees the pack will retain at least 70% capacity for the eight-year term, and includes the most mileage of any current EV battery warranty. An eight-year corrosion warranty with unlimited mileage is included as well.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not released safety ratings for the R1S at the time of publication. That’s expected, as Rivian hasn’t fully ramped up production yet.

How DT would configure this car

Rear three quarter view of the 2022 Rivian R1S electric SUV.
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

With the Launch Edition sold out, that leaves the Explore and Adventure versions. The latter gets a few extra features, including a Meridian audio system, ventilated seats, ash wood trim, and front tow hooks, which would justify the $5,500 price premium from our perspective. It’s a fairly small amount considering the overall price of the vehicle.

However, it’s important to note that both the Explore and Adventure only get the dual-motor powertrain and the smaller Standard battery pack as standard equipment. Upgrading to the quad-motor powertrain adds $6,000 to the sticker price. That also requires selecting the Large battery pack, which is another $6,000 (the bigger pack can also be added to dual-motor models).

The Large pack is probably a good idea if you plan on towing regularly, but the Standard pack should be adequate otherwise. However, because that pack is only available with the dual-motor powertrain, and vehicles with that powertrain don’t start production until 2024, selecting that option means a longer wait for your SUV.

Our take

Most new cars arrive with a predetermined competitive set, but the R1S is pretty much in a class of one. No other SUV offers its combination of off-road capability and towing ability with an electric powertrain and third-row seats.

A Land Rover Discovery or Range Rover will get you pretty far into the wilderness in style, but Land Rover hasn’t launched an EV yet. And none of the current electric luxury SUVs — including the Audi E-Tron, BMW iX, Cadillac Lyriq, Jaguar I-Pace, and Tesla Model X — offers true off-road capability. The Tesla does at least have a third row, but it’s priced much higher than the Rivian, starting at $126,490.

A direct R1S rival doesn’t appear to be on the horizon either. The Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV will offer third-row seating but will focus on comfort and refinement rather than mud-slinging ruggedness. Jeep is preparing to launch a full line of EVs, but they won’t be here for a few years. For now, the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid enables some electric off-roading but still relies on a gasoline engine.

Should you get one?

Yes. If you want a rugged electric SUV, the R1S is literally the only choice.

Editors' Recommendations

Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
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