2022 Rivian R1S First Drive: The Three-Row Luxury Family SUV Goes Electric
2022 Rivian R1S First Drive: The Three-Row Luxury Family SUV Goes Electric
The R1T pickup is only just becoming a familiar sight on the road, but Rivian’s next act is the R1S SUV. In a relationship similar to the Honda Pilot and Ridgeline, this three-row ute is almost identical to its pickup sibling ahead of the B-pillar. John Voelcker

The marketers at electric vehicle startup Rivian have a very specific idea of the brand’s customers. They’re adventurous, eco-conscious and affluent—and they need EVs that can do strenuous off-roading during those adventures.

Accordingly, the first press drive for the 2022 Rivian R1S sport utility vehicle encompassed not only around-town and country-road driving, but a 20-minute off-road course used by 4x4s from the likes of Jeep and Land Rover. Still, the driving event reflected the SUV’s likely duties, especially compared to the off-roading abilities of the Rivian R1T electric pickup truck. On-road miles and driving time came first, with off-roading as a secondary use case.

The R1S midsize SUV can be viewed as half of an R1T pickup, from the front bumper to the center post between the doors. After that, the two diverge sharply. Despite its third row of seats, the SUV’s 121.1-inch wheelbase is 14.7 inches shorter than the pickup’s, and its rear doors are longer. It doesn’t have the pickup’s clever transverse “gear tunnel” behind the rear seats, because the rear wheels sit there instead. Overall, it’s about 16 inches shorter—which makes it slightly more agile for off-roading. 

2022 Rivian R1S off road
With the same mechanical pieces as the R1T, the R1S is just as capable off-road, offering precise control and instant torque for an experience few traditional SUVs can quite replicate. Rivian

Classic SUV Style, but Electric

The Rivian is a restrained but distinctive vehicle. Unlike many electric SUVs that work to disguise lines closer to a hatchback with a steeply angled tailgate, the R1S is a classic, upright SUV. Its lines are clean, and we’re getting used to the peculiar thin vertical headlights in its otherwise smooth, blank front “face.” 

Just as the R1T pickup immediately reads as a truck, the R1S says “classic SUV” from a distance. No one will mistake it for the rotund, slightly overinflated look of a Tesla Model X, its closest competitor in the small category of luxury electric SUVs.

Under its full glass roof, the interior of a Rivian is an elegant, soothing place. The company’s material choices and color palette aren’t something you’ll see in any other luxury vehicle, and we found them a pleasure to spend time in. 

The dashboard is sleek, with very few actual knobs, though the steering wheel has conventional stalks and a digital screen serving as an instrument panel behind the wheel. Again, no Tesla-style reinventing the interior here—except, that is, for some of the controls. We’ll get to them shortly.

2022 Rivian R1S
The front of the R1S, and those vertical headlights, are familiar from the R1T. John Voelcker
2022 Rivian R1S rear
But the rear half of this new Rivian blends the company’s themes with some Land Rover cues. John Voelcker

Drag Race Ready for the SUV Crowd

The R1S has similar specs to its pickup sibling: A 135-kilowatt-hour battery pack powers four motors, one per wheel, allowing individual control of each motor separately for the most effective all-wheel drive traction. At the front, maximum power is 305 kilowatts (415 horsepower) and torque is cited as 413 pound-feet, while the rear comes in at 314 kW (420 hp) and 495 lb-ft.

Even in a vehicle whose EPA test weight was quoted at just under 7,000 pounds, this gives owners the ability to shock other drivers as the large SUV rockets forward. Acceleration from zero to 60 mph is estimated at 3 seconds, fast enough to make at least a few passengers queasy. 

Those speeds won’t get you anywhere near the EPA estimated range of 316 miles, of course. In roughly 170 miles of mixed sedate and aggressive driving through the hilly country roads of upstate New York, we estimated we’d have ended our day at a total of 280 miles of range—more than enough for anything less than a road trip.

Behind the wheel, the R1S is fine for everyday suburban use. The driving feel doesn’t have a lot of character to it, but all the controls have the desired effect. Still, our pre-production test vehicles proved a bit less composed through curvy, hilly roads than we expected. And it made us wonder: Beyond sheer capability, of which any Rivian has quite a lot, what is the character Rivian wants for its vehicles?

2022 Rivian R1S roof
The big glass roof makes this dark cabin much airier and is reminiscent of the glassed-in greenhouses on offer from Tesla and Lucid. It’s a distinctly luxurious experience. John Voelcker

We experimented with combinations of different suspension and drivetrain settings: Mode (All-Purpose, Sport, Conserve, Off-Road or Towing); Ride (Soft or Stiff); Regenerative Braking (High or Standard); Stability Control (On or Off); and Suspension Height (Highest, High, Standard, Low or Lowest). But we didn’t find a combination that tamed the SUV’s slightly floaty motions over undulations without adding noise and ride harshness. Perhaps there’s fine-tuning still to come.

As family transport for affluent new-vehicle buyers, however, the R1S will be judged largely on its suitability for suburban duties like school runs, after-school event shuttling, big-box store visits and longer family trips to relatives or getaway spots. Its front seats are comfortable, and the middle row works for real adults, with adjustable backrests and heated seat surfaces. As in most vehicles beyond some minivans, the third row will likely be confined to kids. 

Inside, we noticed that flipping down the second-row backrest doesn’t provide a level load floor, unlike some other SUVs. Rivian quotes 17.6 cubic-feet of load-bay space with all three rows up, 46.7 with the third row down (it splits 50-50), and 88.2 with the 40-20-40 split second row down as well. It also notes the R1S can accommodate up to five separate child seats, which should satisfy the other parents with whom you trade-off kid-ferrying duties.

2022 Rivian R1S third row access
The third row is small and best suited to kids, but so are most wayback seats in SUVs this size. At least Rivian makes it easy to access. John Voelcker

Too Much Screen, Not Enough Knobs

As noted in our R1T review, Rivian defaults too heavily toward onscreen controls for functions that ought to have hard knobs. Adjusting dashboard air vents to point nearer or further away shouldn’t require effort, much less multiple touches on a central screen. Tap the temperature reading, tap the vent icon, then manually slide the on-screen vents to where you want them. Versus… grabbing the vent stalk and moving it. 

Rivian suggests owners will set the vents once and the vehicle will provide what they want. We humbly suggest that’s not how many people drive vehicles in the real world. Not to mention, how on earth do you adjust vents while jouncing around off-road?

Another odd quirk: While the R1S has no fewer than six wiper modes—Auto, and then in ascending order, Sprinkle, Drizzle, Shower, Storm and Downpour—we found the highest setting to be barely adequate at keeping up with a summer storm. And, of course, you have to use steering-wheel controls and a pop-up menu in the digital cluster to change from one to another. There’s a flick-wipe switch at the end of the turn signal, but no conventional wiper stalk of the sort used in every other vehicle except a Tesla. Grumble.

2022 Rivian R1S dashboard
As in the R1T, Rivian’s screens look great and feature lots of sharp graphics. Unfortunately, as on the pickup, too many functions are routed through them when buttons would be better. John Voelcker

We also found a peculiarity that likely won’t matter in a few years: only USB-C ports—a whopping six of them—for devices, along with two 12-volt ports (nee “cigarette lighter sockets”) and a remarkable three 120-volt outlets. Given the number of vehicles in all price classes that provide a legacy USB-A socket as well as the newer USB-C, it seemed a slight omission in a vehicle whose Launch Edition price starts at $90,000. Wireless charging is available.

A Charging Conundrum

Finally, to the question of charging: Rivian held its drive event next to brand-new Rivian-branded Level 2 charging stations, so we didn’t have the occasion to charge during the day’s drive. That’s likely typical for a Rivian buyer, who’s unlikely to exceed 250 miles in daily family or work use. Most new EVs will be charged at home for most of their miles. 

On road trips, though, the Rivian suffers a drawback against the Tesla Model X: It uses the CCS standard for DC fast charging. While that’s offered by multiple independent EV charging networks, it can be sparse in some areas, although new sites are being added at a rapid clip. For the moment, the Tesla-only Supercharger network is the hands-down winner for on-road fast charging. Rivian is building its own charging network, but it’s far from catching up.

But to access the Supercharger network, the closest comparable Tesla is the Model X, which starts at over $120,000. Less expensive R1S models starting at $72,500 will arrive after the initial batch of the $90,000 Launch Edition is delivered. Rivian says customers will see R1S deliveries begin in August and into September. 

Being First Counts

Overall, the Rivian R1S is a handsome, comfortable and capable family SUV that will likely start appearing in affluent households as soon as the company can deliver them. A mid-size SUV is a sweet spot in the market second only to compact crossovers, so the company could well sell more R1S SUVs than R1T mid-size pickup trucks.

Sometimes, timing is everything. Rivian got the press and its paying customers into the R1T pickup truck before the massive onslaught of media for the Ford F-150 Lightning and GMC Hummer EV. This time, it’s got an all-electric three-row SUV before Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia or anyone else does. If the company can start delivering them beyond employees and CEO RJ Scaringe by August and September, it will have stolen another march on its competitors.

We’re just curious to see what customers say about those air vent controls. An off-the-record chat with a Rivian engineer suggested we’re not the only people to have complained. And one advantage of being a startup is that you can make changes quickly, as the company says it has done multiple times with over-the-air software updates for multiple features and functions. 

2022 Rivian R1S Dirt Driving
If the R1S is as popular as the R1T, these are taillights you’ll soon be following around town. Rivian

Rivian provided lodging and meals to enable Forbes Wheels to bring you this first-person drive report. Although Forbes Wheels sometimes participates in manufacturer-hosted events, our coverage is independent, unbiased and aimed at offering consumers an objective view of every vehicle we test.