The R1T Rivian electric truck is shaping up to be a capable off-roader. To test the new Rivian pickup, Motor Trend took the Rivian off road. A team of journalists and engineers is attempting the first electric-powered transcontinental overland expedition; the crew is navigating the 5,000-mile Transamerica Trail with a pair of R1Ts.
The Transamerica Trail: an electric first
The Transamerica Trail (TAT) stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The overlanding trail begins in Nags Head, North Carolina, runs across the Mississippi River, over the Rocky Mountains, and ends in Port Orford, Oregon. It consists of public-access trails, dirt roads, and short stretches of pavement.
Many travelers camp in the woods along the remote TAT. Most of the trail’s traffic consists of off-road motorcycles. The technical train is challenging in a full-size 4×4 and has never been tackled in an electric vehicle.
When Motor Trend editor, Christian Seabaugh, first conceived of setting an electric vehicle record by navigating the TAT in a Rivian pickup, the Rivian company supported the idea. The startup suggested completing the expedition before the electric truck launched in September 2021.
No one predicted that extreme weather would render the Transamerica Trail nearly impossible to traverse. Intense rainfall, including 17-inches in a single day, flooded multiple sections of the trail. This unfortunate timing would put the Rivian pickup to the test.
What are the Rivian electric truck off road capabilities?
The electric truck marketplace is crowded with prototypes. However, two technological features set the Rivian R1T electric truck and Rivian R1S SUV apart.
Many electric 4×4 prototypes feature adjustable-height air suspension. But Seabaugh reveals that when you max out the ride height, many adjustable suspensions “get really flimsy.” But not the R1T. The Rivian pickup has a secret: a series of interconnected hydraulics, at all four corners, designed to dampen the ride and prevent body roll.
When Seabaugh dialed the Rivian electric truck up to 14.4 inches of ground clearance, he found that “thanks to those hydraulic elements of the suspension, the ride quality is maintained.”
The other class-leading Rivian electric truck feature is its quad-motor drive. While even the top-trim Tesla Cybertruck and Hummer EV models only have three electric motors, every Rivian features an electric motor at each wheel.
Quad-motor drive allows the Rivian to do advanced torque-vectoring by instantly putting more power to a tire that can use it. By the Appalachian mountains, Seabaugh said the Rivian pickup was, “ambling up and over everything in its path, never lifting a tire, never stumbling, and never letting us see it sweat.”
During this first leg of the R1T’s expedition, the reviewers concluded that the Rivian electric truck ‘Changes Everything.’ But they had yet to face the oncoming storm.
Motor Trend’s Rivian off road expedition
The Motor Trend team settled into a rhythm aboard its two Rivian electric trucks. They off-roaded for several hundred miles, drove into town to find a charger, then returned to the trail. Then in Mississippi, the skies opened up, and it dumped rain. On the trail, the team encountered a convoy of four-wheeler riders. The locals warned the group that the TAT ahead was impassable, flooded with five feet of water. The Rivian R1T can ford three and a half feet of water, but not five.
The locals revealed they had navigated the sinkhole by cutting through the woods. But they warned the journalists there was no room for a truck. The only problem was that the Rivian electric trucks were low on batteries; the Motor Trend team had counted on following the trail to the next town.
The overlanders soon arrived at the sinkhole. Very carefully, they wove their two Rivian pickups up through the woods and back onto the trail. But they had another big problem: A 6,400-pound problem.
The Rivian pickup comes to the rescue
The Motor Trend team, suffering from range anxiety, had brought along a Ram TRX as their chase vehicle. Unfortunately, the huge truck proved too large and too clumsy to follow through the woods.
The team had predicted the Ram might not fit in tight spots. They had thrown an electric chainsaw in its bed. They tried to plug the chainsaw into the Ram’s included 110-volt outlet but found it did not work.
Luckily, they had two rolling batteries: the Rivian electric trucks. They plugged the chainsaw into the Rivian pickup and cleared a path to help the Ram TRX. On the muddy trail, the Rivian pickup also stopped to rescue a Chevrolet S10 stuck in a ditch.
We will have to wait and see if the two Rivian electric trucks reach the Pacific. But they are already proving to be excellent off road ambassadors of the electric revolution.