Seasoned Off-Roaders Don't Approve of the Quad-Motor Rivian R1S, Here's Why

Rivian R1S in Little MOAB 13 photos
Photo: Tyler Jacobs on YouTube | Edited
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Rivian's midsize, three-row, seven-seater, all-electric SUV is one of the coolest "zero-emission" rides you can buy today. But does it really have what it takes to be as adventure-ready as its maker says? Even though they agree in principle that the R1S is very good for seldom going beyond the beaten path, off-roading enthusiasts can't honestly say that the EV can do much more than that.
An all-electric 872-hp vehicle with a flat floor, no rear differential bulge, monster instantaneous torque (908 lb-ft in total), a motor for each wheel, and a McLaren 720S-derived "Kinetic" air suspension setup that renders anti-sway bars useless sounds like a dream.

For many, it will remain as such. The eSUV that should be able to take your entire family almost everywhere has a starting price of $92,000. That's what anyone will see when they check out the version with the four Bosch motors. Currently, that powertrain can only be paired with the large-pack 321-mile, 135-kWh battery. So, the R1S may not be a ride for the everyday American.

Even leasing (available only in a few states) doesn't make too much sense for people who remain with around $3,000 after covering all other important expenses. This solution includes the EV tax credit in the rent agreement, but you're still left with a $1,000+ monthly payment and a chunky buyout.

So, the quad-motor R1S has a lot of work to do to convince prospective buyers.

R1S Off\-Roading
Photo: Tyler Jacobs on YouTube

Yes, it can!

Fortunately, it's pretty good. In fact, it is not just comfortable, loaded with tech, silent, spacious, and capable on the road, but it can also impress while visiting complicated off-road trails. Last year, a stock Rivian R1S visited the 12-mile-long rocky Rubicon Trail. That's a 10 out of 10 on the difficulty scale.

It emerged victorious at the end of the un-maintained and scenic road without needing new tires or experiencing any type of failure. The suspension system and the motors behaved perfectly and did not overheat. Of course, there were backup vehicles on the scene, including a modified Jeep. However, their help wasn't needed.

Still, off-roaders aren't impressed with the R1S.

We previously looked at a Ford F-150 Lightning Platinum that was put through some mild off-road testing conditions and didn't manage to convince the driver that "zero-emission" off-roading was the way forward.

Nobody expected it to be a clean Ford F-150 Raptor. However, the Blue Oval's first all-electric pickup truck should've at least been a bit more capable of inspiring its owner about leaving the pavement.

R1S Off\-Roading
Photo: Tyler Jacobs on YouTube
But the R1S is almost 32 inches (813 mm) shorter, has better ground clearance, has two more motors, comes with better drive modes, and enjoys an improved suspension system. Just the independent torque control is enough to get one excited about venturing into the wild.

Then, there's the instant power output, the software that allows for more acceleration control, and the silent powertrain that gives the driver peace of mind to focus on navigating the rough terrain without requiring extraction or pricey fixes.

Nope, nuh-uh

People who are well-versed in venturing off the beaten path do not agree that the Rivian R1S is the Porsche 911 Turbo S of the off-road world. While it certainly can take you through forests, rocky paths, sand, mud, deep snow, and even some rivers, off-roaders wouldn't put the EV up there with the Jeeps and Toyotas that were altered to serve as very capable all-purpose internal combustion engine-powered chariots.

They claim that one big problem is the EV's weight. The R1S tips the scales at 8,532 lb (3,870 kg), which includes seven average passengers and some cargo. The curb weight is 6,870 lb (3,116 kg). The high-voltage (400V) lithium-ion battery alone weighs 1,755 lb (796 kg), according to the EPA documents Rivian submitted. The SUV is perfectly capable of dealing with so many pounds and whatever else the driver might throw at it, but in the wild, things are different.

Experienced adventurers claim that a heavier vehicle will require more oomph to go over an obstacle, and that might mess up your ability to control the vehicle. Accelerating a bit too much to go over a big rock or a tree stump may result in putting too much pressure on the air suspension system. Moving all that weight all of a sudden may break the compressors or ruin the somewhat delicate articulations.

R1S Off\-Roading
Photo: Tyler Jacobs on YouTube
The air suspension may provide great ground clearance (14.9 inches), but it's not very good for particular situations like the ones above. When the EV has to deal with a complicated terrain surface where it needs increased ground clearance, the raised suspension gets firm and limits down travel. That's not what you want. You need articulation to have the wheels connect with the ground.

Moreover, the compressors can overheat and return to the normal setting. Then, you'll be forced to wait for them to cool off. The self-leveling feature is great for exploring and soft overlanding but not for what enthusiasts do with their amazing rides.

A few things to keep in mind

Maybe there's a reason why the Jeep Wrangler, the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, and the Toyota Land Cruiser have no air suspension. Even the off-road-ready Land Rover Defender doesn't get it.

Rivian owners who went off-roading with their R1S or R1T also noticed that certain drive modes are either too protective or not calibrated well enough. Some recommend using Drift Mode to conquer some hills. Otherwise, the stability control system may cut power when and where you don't want to.

Besides all that, these people say that playing around with four motors that rely on a combination of computers, sensors, cameras, and human input to work is not as good as a simple yet tried-and-tested differential locker that spins both tires evenly. The vehicle may not be able to figure out quickly that it needs to fully lock or transfer power from one wheel to another.

Rivian R1S Quad\-Motor is the first series\-production EV to conquer the Rubicon Trail
Photo: Rivian
Then, there's the question of fixability. If one or two motors fail, what can the driver do to fix them? On a conventional 4x4, most issues can be fixed by a driver that has at least some mechanical knowledge or access to the internet to check for possible solutions to their problem. But nobody is going to repair a motor or a fried suspension compressor while dealing with an off-road trail.

Another thing many EV enthusiasts haven't considered yet is that a low-range first gear gives more torque than the individual motors can. Low-range gearing multiplies torque to the wheel without forcing you to go fast. That's a mjor advantage because you get more control without any "side effects." That's why experienced Jeep owners are so in love with their rides, even though they're not that good for day-to-day activities.

Concluding, it's important to remember that the R1S is capable of off-roading. It can easily keep up with some of the world's most capable SUVs. It just can't deal with solid black diamond routes as easily as some modified vehicles can. That's not a drawback for a stock vehicle, but it's a reality check for those who believe that a pricey quad-motor seven-seater family eSUV can easily tackle trails that only some rides are able to.

So, don't sell your Rivian. But love it for what it is, not what you want it to be.

Drive safe!

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About the author: Florin Amariei
Florin Amariei profile photo

Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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