The Rivian Pickup Truck Review

The Rivian Pickup Truck Review

This review is written newspaper style, such that the key takeaways are presented in the first half page, and the details presented thereafter are for those seriously contemplating a truck purchase.

Three years ago I compared five prospective EV pickup trucks ( The main takeaways were:

  • Tesla Cybertruck and Rivian R1T were nearly matched in specifications, but the Rivian was projected to be about $10K more expensive.
  • Rivian pros: longer range (400 mi), better visibility, not Tesla (I didn’t trust Elon’s hype).
  • Tesla pros: Tesla engineering, charger network, and batteries; tailgate could be used as ramp; rugged design.

After a 3.5-year wait, I finally got my hands on a Rivian; how does it stack up in practice?

My assessment here of Tesla performance is based largely on an excellent review in Motor Trend (, which ranked the EV pickup trucks: 1) Rivian R1T, 2) Tesla Cybertruck, 3) Ford Lightning. See also the delightfully snarky Cybertruck review in ( and CarAndDriver ( The latter ranked the EV pickups from top down: Rivian, Ford, Tesla, Chevy Silverado, and Hummer.

Cost turns out not to differ appreciably among the three models now in mass production (Ford, Rivian, Tesla).

The Cybertruck (now with a 318 mi range) has yet to produce the variant with a projected 500+ mi range, but the current plan is for a 470 (claimed) mile total range due to an augmented battery, which will however consume 1/3 of the truck’s bed and entail an additional cost of $16,000.

In bringing it to production, Tesla’s aspiration to have the tailgate double as a ramp disappeared. An ability to steer with the rear wheels was added (for tighter turns, though the difference is not large: Rivian: 44.9’, Tesla 43.5’, and Ford 48.0’).

Tesla’s unique and flashy body design entails severe compromises in visibility. Looking foreward, the A column blocks view of vehicles approaching, especially from side streets. Sidewards, the B column excessively blocks the view. And, worst of all, the tonneau cover eliminates direct rearward visibility; if the tonneau cover is opened it entails a 10% aerodynamic penalty – appreciable range loss – and for most drivers provides only a minimal “gun-slit” downward view of the following car’s tires. Tesla’s side mirrors are tiny and triangular (cute, but these expand one’s blind spots). A rear camera view can be seen on the central screen while driving forward, but that screen is so far distant from the interior rearview mirror that using both rear views requires a hazardous delay from watching the road ahead.

Some also see a problem with discoloration of the Cybertruck’s stainless steel skin by fingerprints; are you able to keep your stainless steel refrigerator free of hand prints? Some Cybertruck owners are also experiencing rust problems.

Cybertruck functions rely almost entirely on touch screen menus. For example, to shift from drive to reverse. To turn on the windshield wipers you need to both move a switch and find the requisite setting in the central touch screen menus.

Motor Trend’s overall verdict on the Cybertruck is: “The electric truck for digital natives who crave attention more than they do adventure.”

Their equivalent summation for the Rivian is: “A just-right blend of distinctive design and accessible innovation that encourages outdoor exploration.”

Motor Trend summarized the Ford as “The safest choice for folks who frequently curse at their phones, computers, ATMs, or smart TVs.”

As that describes me, I should embrace the Lightning, but the auto magazines were unimpressed, as am I. Ford goes out of their way to brag that they changed nothing about the conventional F-150 except the power plant. An enormous opportunity sadly lost. Just one example, both the Tesla and the Rivian have air suspensions which support variable clearances of 7.9 to 15 or 16”; the Ford is unchangeable at 8.4” and that claimed clearance ignores various items (differentials, shocks, etc.) which protrude down into that space where rocks boldly go. Off-road, the Rivian is the clear champion.

The Rivian underwent years of pre-sale off-road testing. They drove prototypes to Tierra del Fuego and climbed every climbable rock gully in Moab with street tires. Rivian tried to market itself as the un-Tesla for its pre-release attention to design details. No moving fast and breaking things. Switches instead of touchscreen menus. This caused Rivian some delays and price increases that were extremely annoying to me at the time, but I think I’ll get over it. The result is a very well-integrated vehicle.

One example. For two months I have been alternating trips to Durango between the massively heavy R1T with its 410-mile battery (7150 lbs total) and electric driving of our 2021 RAV4 Prime, which has a 42-mile battery (4300 lbs total). They are both high-clearance AWDs. The round trip is about 32 miles and the net climb out of Durango is about 700 feet. Speeds range from urban stop-and-go to 55 mph. The primary uncontrolled variable is the air temperature (which I record at the beginning and end of each sojourn and use the average air temperature as a “covariate”). My expectation was that the much lighter RAV4 would have much higher efficiency for any given temperature. For both vehicles the range of experienced efficiencies varied 1.0 to 4.0 miles/kwh.

Preliminary results (more coming with the change of seasons): The Rivian is apparently much better conditioned thermally, in the sense that temperature makes very little difference to its range and efficiency. Conversely, the RAV4 has substantially higher efficiency at warm temperatures, but is less efficient than the Rivian below 35⁰F. If you are traveling in our area in spring and fall (when average temperatures hover above freezing), the hefty Rivian is just as efficient as the much lighter RAV4. In winter the Rivian is more efficient. No matter how cold the air temperature in our unheated detached garage, the Rivian starts its journey with a battery temperature of about 50oF (warmth drawn from the grid, not the car’s propulsion battery). That causes some electricity use while the truck is plugged in, and that feature is at least partially responsible for the Rivian’s high “parasitic” power drain when it is not moving and not plugged in. The RAV4 also conditions the battery somewhat, but relies primarily on waste heat from the gas engine for extra warmth when needed. Of course, a cold gas engine has very low efficiency, and emits copious greenhouse gases in addition to the waste heat used to warm the propulsion battery. The Rivian appears to prioritize battery longevity over minimizing stationary power consumption.

The Rivian is notably smoother and quieter, especially on our rough dirt roads. The Rivian has active noise cancellation and is conspicuously smoother handling than either the Ford or the Tesla according to Motor Trend and The Rivian has the lowest coefficient of air resistance of any pickup (0.30).

Our R1T build includes only two motors (665 hp; the four motor version has 800 hp, which is way more power than ordinary drivers need) and comes with excellent street tires (these add at least 30 miles of range). This variant has only three drive modes: regular, off-road, and snow. For each of these variants there are choices about ride height, regeneration rate, stability control, and so forth. I find the default choices to be exactly right, so I have found no reason to alter them. That produces a simplicity of driving that appeals to my non-digital native self.

The snow mode proved its mettle the other day, when I easily cruised by a semi that was disabled by snow while climbing the hill toward Ben Nighthorse reservoir in a blizzard. I have seen the video showing an R1T towing a semi back onto a road after it has skidded into a ditch.

The off-road mode raises the clearance to about 15” and slows the maximum speed down to 20 mph (from about 112 mph), which gives you superb throttle control for carefully crawling over rocks and other obstacles. If desired, one can lower the tire pressure for even greater grip. When back on road, the Rivian provides an onboard air compressor (which doubles as a raft, bike tire, mattress, or ball inflator). A Rivian can go around switchbacks so steep that two of the four tires leave the ground. The dash shows pitch and roll indicators. It can ford streams up to 36” deep. I have seen no claim that any other car, electric or otherwise, can surpass Rivians at off-roading.

When required to stop as quickly as possible from 60 mph, both the Ford and Rivian stop in 123 feet (the Tesla is a little further, at 126’), but the Ford’s brakes smoke after one such stop, and fade thereafter. The Rivian does not smoke or fade in at least ten repeated panic stops.

In a figure-eight race course, the Rivian beats the Ford (2nd place) and Tesla (3rd), according to Motor Trend’s review.

When fast charging, the Rivian and Tesla are indistinguishable in full charging time required (the Ford takes an extra 37 minutes, as maximum charging rate is capped at 150 kw), though the Tesla reaches a peak charge rate sooner, but then slows down more (The Rivian is faster for charging durations of 30-45 min). In theory, the Ford has the fastest level 2 charging (19.2 kw), though I know of no 19.2 kw public level 2 chargers, and most homes do not have the capacity to support 19.2 kw charging. None of the popular residential chargers supports wire sizes to accommodate 19.2 kw. Rivians (and Fords) are now supplied with adaptors to use all Tesla Superchargers; in the coming year Rivians will switch over to the new NACS (uniform national standard) fast charging connectors.

The Rivian has a wonderful diversity of storage places. Though it lacks a glove box, it has a big storage bin on the floor in the middle of the front row of seats, generous door pockets (each hold about six water bottles), small bins for valuables in front of each front seat, and pockets behind each front seat for maps, hats, etc. There is a large console compartment between the front passengers for cameras, books, etc, and a smaller one that can be lowered to between two back seat passengers if the middle seat is unused. The frunk is huge and nicely arranged to compartmentalize items if desired or tuck the dividers out of the way if preferred. There is a large bin under the rear seats (for sleeping bags, etc.). The famous gear tunnel (see opening pic; equipped with 12 V and 120 V outlets) extends a child-sized lockable space from side to side behind the rear seats and is roomy enough for skis or big tools (if a child is locked inside, he or she can release the doors by touching a lighted emergency egress button, also present in the bed and frunk). The bed of the Rivian is a little smaller than those of their competitors, requiring the tail gate to be dropped to accommodate horizontal 4 x 8’ sheets of plywood, for example. Length by width is 54.1 x 55.1”, compared to the big Ford bed (67.1 x 65.2”). The Tesla’s bed is skinny but long (72.9 x 51.0”). A full-size spare tire will fit in the provided under-bed compartment.

As with most current EVs, the Rivian is rife with outlets (120 V, but not 240 V) and convenient USB-C ports. You can purchase a hot-spot capability for the R1T, though most personal phones have that capability and therefore many owners will have no need for the extra cost. The USB-C ports in the console have a matching groove through which a wire will naturally go to charge a phone, but i-phones are automatically charged wirelessly if they are left on the console’s platform. There are convenient notches for holding a phone upright for viewing. There is a rear touch screen for those in the back seat to entertain themselves. The standard tinted moonroof brightens up the drive for back seaters.

The Rivian comes with a detachable Bluetooth speaker/lantern, that provides high fidelity sound and bright indirect light for illuminating a picnic table. There is also a removable flashlight in the driver’s door, for blazing portable light when needed. Both are recharged automatically anytime the truck is moving. The Rivian has an array of ground-facing lights that surround the car for convenience when camping, and the car levels itself for horizontal sleeping on sloping sites.

Climate control is excellent, with heated and cooled seats (front and rear) and steering wheel, easily aimed vents, and complete control over the temperature of the air emitted. Much less confusing that other late model vehicles we have tried, though hard to change safely while driving (set climate controls while stationary).

Driver visibility is excellent and further enhanced by ten cameras, the images of which are stitched together to provide a 360-degree overhead view of the car’s surroundings, particularly helpful for parking and backing out:

There is also a camera facing the bed, useful for checking the positioning of contents, and deterring theft (the camera feed can be recorded on a memory stick in the console). Theft of bicycles and other objects too large to fit under the tonneau cover is avoided by a cable that threads through such objects and locks into the side of the bed.

I love the Rivian’s navigation screen. It automatically compensates for up to four different trailers (trailers reduce the range). You simply enter in the address of the destination, and it gives you turn-by-turn mapping and verbal instructions for reaching the destination. If you need to charge along the way, it will take you to the most efficient charger (you can specify brands of charger) and tell you how many minutes to charge there. It will also tell you how much range you will have remaining at the destination and you can specify more extra miles if desired. For example, as I drove it to the Four Corners from Denver in January it told me that I needed to charge for 9 minutes at the Rivian charger in Salida. I didn’t trust that estimate, so I charged for 15 minutes, and therefore had extra miles left when I got home (its estimate of battery miles needed was very close, despite the season).

The algorithm it uses for charging planning appears to be very sophisticated, and accounts for terrain (more fuel needed for uphills), speed limit, and air temperature. It does not account for wind speed, though this can be important when towing. It tows up to 11,000 pounds ( You can sense the effect of wind by the changing value it estimates for charge remaining at your destination: if traveling against the wind, the estimated range remaining declines steadily (or vice versa). When you unplug a trailer, all of the range estimates and navigational computations are recalculated to incorporate the improved range (the Ford keeps using the trailer-towing range until you delete the trailer from memory).

My biggest Rivian gripe is that it lacks a suspend/resume function for cruise control. I think that acceleration under cruise control is more efficient than is manual acceleration, so I use that resume feature whenever available (e.g., most cars). The Rivian does have the ability to adjust the cruise control set speed to the posted speed limit or by 5-mph increments, which is lovely. The posted speed limit remains on the dash for only about 1 mile (why not until the limit is changed?).

When you get home, the Rivian allows you to train the truck to give the electronic signal for as many as ten different garage door openers. If you have a passenger that would benefit from lowering the car or moving the seat for easier entry or exit, that feature is easily automated.

One worry shared by all prospective EV buyers is that the battery might need to be replaced someday. This fear is generally unwarranted for undamaged batteries, but defective products are always possible, and especially worrisome for vehicles that have no local dealership (Rivian, Tesla). Batteries in the three pickup trucks are all warranted for 8 years, but they differ in the number of miles covered in those eight years: Rivian (175,000), Tesla (unlimited), and Ford (100,000). Rivian and Tesla are clearly confident of the durability of their batteries. This fits with Rivian’s design prioritization of any feature, such as thermal conditioning, which will extend the life of their batteries. For roadside assistance the warranties are more variable: Rivan (8 years or 175,000 mi), Tesla (4 y/ 50,000 mi) and Ford (5 y/ 60,000 mi).

Rivian appears to be pinning its future on producing truly world-class vehicles. They are hitting the mark as the un-Tesla. Unlike the U.S. legacy companies and Tesla, they are running their factory continuously at three shifts and sales are up sharply (70% year-on-year: NYT 4 Apr 2024). And they are planning three new models, none of which is a pickup truck. The first, R2 is roughly equivalent to an Outback. The next two – R3 and R3X – align more closely with a Subaru Forester. If anyone has a R1S (an existing Rivian model that mimics a Four Runner) that they would be willing to review, is all ears! R1S sales are currently outpacing R1T sales about 3.5:1.