Thursday, December 28, 2023

Rivian R1S Review After Six Months and 12,000 Miles

I haven't blogged much the past few years. I don't really expect that to change. I like writing, and I do write sometimes, but I publish a lot less than I used to. At some point I'll probably write a book. However, today, while I am on day four of a covid quarantine is as good as any to write a blog post about my switch to an electric vehicle. If you are looking for the quick answer of do I like it, yes, thumbs up! But like anything, the full feeling is more complex.

First Time Plugging It In

For starters, I had a reservation for two years before my number came up in June 2023 and I have something like vin number 11,XYZ so it's one of the first 12,000 R1S vehicles made. From an initial quality perspective it's been great! No rattles, nothing that bothered me about the early quality of the vehicle. I did take it into the service shop once, because sometimes when my wife would sit in the passenger seat the passenger airbags would be turned off, but turns out that it takes 125 lbs. of direct weight on the seat to activate the sensor, for people below that weight it's deemed more safe to not activate the air bag sensor. I had no idea but I guess that's US standard in 2023. 

Another feature I really like is not creating exhaust and emissions while I am sitting in traffic. I never really thought about it before, but I really like the feeling when stuck in traffic of not belching out a little smoke for all of the people stuck in traffic around me to breathe. Sure, somewhere there are emissions at a power plant that charges my car, but it's nice when it's not 12 feet away from me. It's a very satisfying feeling. I think many of us have gotten a heavy whiff of exhaust in our lives and coughed in reaction, and now I don't have that problem when I'm loading the car, like I did on my 4Runner occasionally.

As for general driving, 800 horsepower is seriously too much. I've only floored it a hand full of times maybe 12-15 and 0-60 in 3 seconds is about as fast as my brain can handle. It's a different world, by the time you realize you are moving, you're going 40 mph. It's changed how I drive, when I see an opening in traffic and I'm trying to change lanes it's easy to speed up and get over then let off the accelerator and let the regenerative braking slow me down. I can slide into a lane change so easily. 

One pedal driving is great! However, in stop and go traffic, like going from Denver up I70 in traffic there is a bit of jerky start and stop that will make my wife get car sick after enough time. Some software updates have made it a little better. The first two months of ownership July and August 2023 we drove in towing mode, but then the modes were changed in a software update and we drive in all purpose or snow mode. I wish low regenerative braking was available in all purpose, that might help with my wife's car sickness. Even by myself I normally drive in standard regen because it brakes so fast I rarely have to use the brake pedal and it's not as jerky as high regenerative braking. One software thought is that it would be cool is there was a deadband on the pedal between the accelerating and regeneration, like a comfort mode where the car could cruise without a lot of acceleration or braking, the way a gas car coasts when you let off the accelerator and before you press on the brake. In other words, the drive modes of Rivian are not quite caught up to Tesla. 

We've camped in the Rivian three times, and once was below freezing. It's a delight to camp in compared to the 2007 4Runner we used before, it's wider and longer so sleeping in the back is easier. Camp mode for leveling the SUV is really nice, it makes the bed quite flat, which again makes it easier to sleep.


I only have maybe 15 miles of four wheel drive road miles on it, it didn't get to Colorado until the end of August. But so far it works great. I haven't tried to push it's capabilities yet and with the 21 inch road tires that I have I don't plan to push it. It's very easy to drive off road and one pedal driving allows you to stop just where you want, there is no wheel rolling when you get off the gas and get onto the brake like there is in traditional gas car off roading. It's a smooth off road experience, although the air suspension does make it feel like a boat going up and down and rocking back and forth. I expect I'll put a lot more trail miles on next summer. I did not get the 20 inch all terrain tires for two reasons, they were like $1800 more expensive, and get about 10% less range, and I figured, correctly, that I would spend a lot more time on roads than on trails and a longer range would be a benefit. I might get the all terrain wheels in the future, when I'm more confident in my charging routines around the state of Colorado, but for now the 21 inch road tires is the right choice for me.

The cruise control with the car detection ahead is really nice, I use it most days on my commute to work. I don't use the lane keeping very often, I still have my doubts about that. 

The cameras are great! The overhead view when parking makes parking so easy. I like the rear doors, I think they are the perfect configuration of half fold up, and half fold down. Cup holders are mediocre, the 4Runner cup holders that can fit a Nalgene are probably my favorite. There aren't that many cup holders either. 

The front trunk is great! I use it to store the charging cable and camping gear and some towels and pillows. It's great for those "dirty" items that you don't want rolling around in the back. 

Pet Comfort Mode is great, it has made it so that the Rivian is our default vehicle all the time, because we can bring the dog along, heat or snow, from little errands to going skiing the temperature usually remains constant.

The Dog in the Rivian

I don't actually have the spare tire yet. I left it off to have a lower base price and have not purchased it yet. So that's a risk. I did have a tire chunk come out, so I went to Discount Tire and had them replace it, ouch $450! But they did then warranty all the tires from that happening again in the future. I have not rotated the tires yet either, I need to do that this month. I'm hoping that they will last a full year and since I generally don't drive the vehicle hard, I expect that will happen. I've never had a car less than 11 years old before, so I was unfamiliar with the fact that when you drive it off the lot, the tires don't fall under any kind of warranty.

Tire Gouge


Charging is a common question I get and I have a lot of thoughts on it. While charging is more about electric vehicles overall than Rivian specifically, I think it's the single biggest part of the switch to EVs to solve. So I'll break it up by charging level.

Level 1 Charging

Level 1 charging is 120 volt alternating current single phase, 12-16 amp changing. For the R1S I get 2-3 miles of range per hour when charging with a standard 120 volt plug. While it's low value, there is value there. In fact, I think more employers should simply add 120 volt outlets on the outside of their walls, where a lot of employees park because for many people, 8-10 hours of 1-1.5kw of power is enough to cover their daily commute. Plus, it's very cheap to install maybe $500-1000, and it will only cost the company $1-3 per day per employee, but it goes a long way toward supporting the EV adoption. 

I think level 1 charging is a huge overlooked way to support the transition to EVs. Canada and the north is a step ahead of most of us, because there are often outlets for block heaters on diesel trucks at hotels and public parking.

Level 2 Charging

Level 2 is 240 volt alternating current single phase, 15-80 amp charging. In my mind there is level 2A and level 2B, 2B being 6 kw (24 amps) and below, and 2A being 8 kw (32 amps) and above. Why do I say that? 6 kw is a pretty common level 2 charging speed, for the Rivian that's around 12 miles of range added per hour. For smaller sedans that's probably more like 20 miles of range per hour. While that's nice, that speed is almost useless for less than three hours of charging. It's useful at home and at work, maybe at a trailhead, but it's more or less useless at restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores, grocery shopping, or any place you would run an errand. Plus, for such a big battery as the Rivian, at 6 kw speed we're talking roughly 20 hours to fully recharge the vehicle from say 10% to 100%.  

That's why in my mind level 2A charging of 8 kw (32 amps) or 11.5 kw (48 amps) is a lot different. I have a home charger installed that gives the 11.5 kw, which is about 26 miles of range per hour. When I was in California I had 8 kw speed charging at my apartment, by unplugging my oven and plugging in my car. 11.5 kw is fast enough that I can charge the vehicle from 10% to 100% in about 10 hours. Which, in a hypothetical situation is deciding at 8 PM on Friday night that I want to ski Saturday morning, and for some reason the vehicle is nearly empty, I would still be able to leave at 6 AM. That gets to a big difference of EV ownership, you do have to plan ahead. You can't literally just go and figure out where to charge later. 

I'm very fortunate that I currently have EV charging at work, and during the week I have just enough charge left over from my commute that I basically only have to use my home charger on the weekends for various trips that I do, like going into the mountains. 

Most public level 2 chargers are 6 kw speed and again this really only makes sense if you are charging for multiple hours. While nice at a grocery store or restaurant, it's like putting 1/4 of a gallon of gas in your car, it's almost not worth the effort to open the gas tank, unless it's at a place like a ski resort, a hotel, or an apartment complex where you would park all day, or all night. 

A note on electrical usage. Most devices are designed to use 80% of the available power. So on a 60 amp circuit the charger will deliver 48 amps to the car. 48 amp chargers are the typical maximum hard wired level 2 speed. However, 80 amp and 100 amp circuits do exist, so there are a few third party 19 kw level 2 chargers, out there. I've never used one, it's kind of a mythical beast that would charge my car at about 44 miles of range per hour, now that would be cool at a restaurant! However, I've never actually used one.

Final note on level 2 charging, instead of installing $500-$1000 hardwired EV chargers, making a 240 volt 40 or 60 amp dedicated circuit with a NEMA 14-50 outlet is ideal if you want to future proof a garage, or have friends visit often with an EV. Sure you can't really charge people to use it, but it's very adaptable to all types of EVs and for residences and businesses is a small fraction of the overall new building electrical cost. Plus the outlet is "dumb" with no added software or hardware needed for EV owners. It can't really break, except to trip the breaker and would save $500-$1000. In other words, it's the simpler and cheaper solution than adding an actual level 2 charger, and accomplishes the same goal more reliably. 

Level 3 Charging

Level 3 charging is direct current fast charging typically 400 volts, but 800 volts is gaining traction, And 150-400+ amps. So when I moved back to Colorado from California we road tripped in the Rivian, pulling my old Honda Insight, and made 13 charging stops in 1,220 miles. Most EV charging is not at all designed for towing. Spots where you can pull through (like a gas station) are few and far between, maybe 5% of fast chargers. We probably could have done a few fewer stops, but towing really saps the range and we didn't want to be stranded. Here again I think of level 3 charging in level 3A 120kw+ and level 3B below 100 kw. There are a fair number of 50 and 62.6 kw chargers level 3B size, that make a lot of sense for restaurants or slow stops, when you will be there for an hour. But at those speeds, charging the Rivian from 10% to 100% will take a little under two hours. 

Georgetown ChargePoint

People out there reviewing chargers often make a big deal out of 300 kw speeds or some new 400 kw speeds, and while the Rivian does charge at up to something like 225 kw speeds, practically speaking, when I'm actually getting 150 kw, I'm happy. So often fast chargers are de-rated that you plug into a 350 kw charger with 30% battery and get 80 kw speed... it's super frustrating. The infrastructure of the US is just not ready for everyone to drive an EV yet. To give a specific example, the Electrify America level 3 charger at Walmart in Frisco, Colorado almost always has issues. It's a super high traffic spot, and that charger being broken will actively hinder EV adoption in Colorado. Just down the road the ChargePoint level 3 charger at the Target in Silverthorne is better, and often full, but the location is a little more out of the way. Another example, there is a 62 kw level 3 fast charger in Leadville with a single charging stall. We used it once and it was a good experience, but twice we've driven past and see someone towing using it... it's a nightmare location to try to get a trailer into, but it's a key location for a lot of adventures with the next nearest fast chargers all being 30 miles away, and usually crowded or broken. 

Another thing that's different with EVs is that you don't use 100% of the range. The lowest I have gotten was 13%, and I've only been that low once. I think we have gotten down to 18% three times I think. I would like to get down to 10% actually, as it's more efficient from the time spent and paid at fast chargers. Similarly, it's rare to charge above 80% at a fast charger, even charging above 60% will significantly slow down how fast it gives out electrons. In other words, on a road trip, charging from 10% to 60% is the best to minimize the length of the charging stop in a Rivian while still having a little buffer, and at a 150 kw fast charger or faster that is only about 25 minutes. 

I've started to think about fast charging stops as two different types, first is a bathroom break, and given that my wife and I usually have a dog with us, it takes us about 15 minutes to walk the dog and go to the bathroom. This is where 150kw+ is necessary, and second as a meal, a stop of 40-80 minutes where we do the walking the dog, and bathroom, and also get food. Unfortunately most of the fast chargers are not within a block or two of a restaurant. There are a few exceptions, the Rivian Chargers in Truckee, CA and Montrose, CO are great examples, the Chargepoint charger in Aspen is another good example.

Towing Rivians in Glenwood Springs

To get specific about my situation in Colorado, roughly the farthest spot in Colorado away from me is Telluride, which is 375 miles with a lot of ups and downs going over passes, per the Rivian app it suggests I drive a little over three hours to charge in Rifle for 23 minutes, and then again two hours later in Montrose for 14 minutes and then finish the last hour and 15 minutes for a total travel time of 7 hours and 9 minutes. The problem is, 23 minute stops only really work if there is fast casual dining within walking distance. I think a more realistic cadence is drive for two hours, take a 10-15 minute bathroom break, drive for another two hours, eat a meal for a half hour, drive for another two hours and another 10-15 minute bathroom break, another two hours and hopefully you are at the destination. From Denver, the normal outdoors destinations in Colorado are all within about 7 hours of driving and 400 miles. So with a 300 mile range, it should only take one fast charge on the road for 15 minutes to arrive at the furthest reaches. This of course gets more complicated going to places like Moab because highway speeds of 80 mph really eat into the range more than going 60 mph through the mountains. 

I'm still not explaining this well. It's common to see Tesla drivers at super chargers just sitting in their cars,  on their phones while their cars charge. Despite what people say, no one wants to do that. We essentially want the public interstate or state sponsored rest stop, where we can plug in a car to fast charge, and then use the bathroom and get a drink of water and talk a three minute walk. Then we want to also be able to charge the car while we eat a meal. The problem is the infrastructure is not at all set up for either one of those options to be convenient. Rest stops that gas cars use all the time are great, but due to how public utilities work it's unlikely that they will add EV charging because then the state would profit off selling electricity and the electricity companies do not like that, even though that's the perfect location for drivers.  And restaurants are not always a good place for fast chargers because it's not common to have 480 volt three phase electricity at restaurants. I used to think that Starbucks was missing out for not having EV charging, but then I found a few Starbucks that do have EV charging, and I learned how charging works and it makes less sense. You can assume that everyone with an EV wakes up with a full tank of electrons, so in the morning, on the way to the adventure, people don't need to charge, their batteries are probably at 80% or something, it's in the afternoons on the way back from the adventure, when they are getting a late lunch or eating dinner that they need to charge. 

I think they are a few possible solutions. 

  • One is to use large, battery banks, supplied by continuous 240V to fast charge cars. This would be easier from an infrastructure point of view. For example a 500 kWh or 1 Mw of batteries, basically a half semi trailer of batteries that could be supplied by a 240 volt circuit to continuously be charged, but would have enough to fast charge 10-20 people in a day, and in Colorado Saturday and Sunday have got to be the busy charging days. These could be at relatively remote locations.
  • Another solution is more level 2 charging at destinations. To my surprise there is a place I go near Grand Junction often that is 275 miles away from my house, but it requires going up and over three passes which all drain the battery. I think I could make it on a single charge without charging, but it would be close, and when I get there there is only 120v level 1 charging, so arriving with 8% battery would not be good, because sleeping over night I would wake up with something like 15% battery. This isn't a fear when I'm driving home, that's where I am not afraid to push the range a little bit because I know when I pull into the garage I have 11.5 kw power ready to charge the car at about 9% of battery per hour. If every parking lot and garage had level 2 chargers, especially 8 kw or 11.5 kw speed, a lot of Colorado road trips would not need a fast charger. 
  • Gas stations adding EV fast chargers. One option is to add the chargers along the side of the building, as most gas stations have a side lot. A second interesting option is to add the EV chargers on the gas pump islands, but further outboard from the gas pumps, so the pumps could be used, or the EV chargers.
  • Highway rest stops adding EV charging, preferably level 3, but honestly even level 2 would be nice. 

I realize that's a lot to say about charging, but frankly I think that's going to impact people's experience of owning an electric vehicle, and a Rivian in particular a lot more than the adjustability of the seats. In Colorado owning an EV is not an issue, I can drive from my house, up to Copper Mountain, go skiing, eat lunch and dinner in the mountains with the vehicle in pet comfort mode the whole time, and then drive back home without charging. There are fast chargers basically even 50 miles on the major roads, and yet it still takes a fair amount of planning, because there isn't excellent destination charging yet. 

To wrap up the review, it's an awesome vehicle and it works for me. I realize I'm a bit of an early adopter and frankly, a lot of people aren't ready for electric vehicles. I hope to have this thing for the next decade, and in 10 years when it's time to get a new vehicle, I hope that I can get the same capabilities or even longer range in a package that weighs 1000 lbs less.