My Rivian R1S: Initial ThoughtsMay 2023
I confirmed my pre-order for my Rivian R1S in February 2019. In February 2023, I finally got a delivery window. After some hassle, I drove away in the vehicle about a month ago. Almost immediately, I went on a 2,500 mile road trip to Colorado through Utah and Nevada. I'm at almost 4,000 miles on my odometer. So... how's it going?
How It Drives
The Rivian is pretty fun to drive. It's really nice being able to just take on any road. We went to a little hot springs in Colorado that had a really rough, rocky final stretch of road. I would have hesitated to drive down that in my Subaru Outback, but with the Rivian there was no concern. We also did several rounds of offroading in Nevada and Utah, and both were really fun.
Highway and city driving are also pretty good. One nice thing is that EVs are really quiet, which translates into a much more pleasant highway experience.
I had some battery and charger anxiety when considering buying an EV. Those anxieties are totally gone now. The 300-mile range means that it's actually kind of difficult to be too far from a DC fast charger. PlugShare helps me be confident that the chargers on the map will actually work. I haven't had to wait for a charging station yet.
The recommended route to Boulder from California would have taken us though Wyoming, which has few EV chargers. We opted to take a slightly longer route through Green River instead. Knowing what I know now, I think the Wyoming route would also be okay.
We were worried that we'd be waiting for the car to charge at our stops. In fact, it's mostly been the other way, with the car being fully charged while S and I are still dithering somewhere. On the drive back, because we were more comfortable with the charging infrastructure, we would stop for a quick bio break while the car gained 20% to 30% of charge, and then we'd head to the next charger. It's much nicer to hang out at most chargers than at gas stations (though we really miss windshield cleaning supplies at most charging stations).
My body is much happier with more, longer stops and opportunities to walk around and stretch while the car is charging.
Camping in the Rivian is much nicer than in my Subaru. It's much more roomy, and has fewer hard edges with the seats down. The glass roof is also quite lovely.
There's more storage space (the frunk!), so we didn't need to bring a cargo rack. The door opens in two halves, and I really enjoy sleeping with the bottom half closed. It feels like my bed is less likely to slide out of the car, and we can still keep the top half open for a nice breeze.
I really like all the camping settings in software. For instance, self-leveling is better than having to look for correct-sized rocks to put under the car. On the other hand, I've found the software quite buggy (see below). Our first attempt to use self-leveling in Nevada resulted in the car constantly adjusting it's height until the compressor overheated, and then we just had to wait for it to cool down and try again. On another occasion in Utah, I reset self-leveling while packing the car, and then when I got in it wasn't reset and I had to reset it again.
While I appreciate all the attempts to control lighting while camping, they, too, are very buggy. For instance, there's a "keep screens off" setting, which claims you'll need to press the brake to turn the screens back on. In fact, the screens come back on when you touch them. The light controls are sometimes-broken and sometimes-buggy. For instance, the tail gate light just keeps turning on whenever I open a door, despite me being in camp courtesy mode and also explicitly turning that light off several times. To avoid that bright light coming on whenever I exit the car to pee, I've resorted to just setting the car to "do not use energy" mode. It's nice that this exists -- but it also means that all the other lights don't work.
Finally, it seems like even in "do not use energy" mode, the windows still work. This is great -- in my Subie, I would have to insert the key and turn the car on to get fresh air or keep out bugs/the cold. However, at least once, the windows do not work in that mode -- another bug?
I'm used to the adaptive cruise control (ACC) from my Subaru. The Rivian's Driver+ adds more effective lane-keeping. This is great when it works, mostly on straight interstate highways. It does not work on any roads that are not the interstate. It turns off when you change lanes. It turns off in less-than-ideal visibility, like when it's raining ("camera blurry"). It turns off for some, but not most, tunnels. It also sometimes turns off for no reason, at the oddest time, with a loud beep, and then you swerve and catch the car before it smashes into something.
Part of the reason we didn't bring the cargo rack is that using a "rear accessory" turns off all self-driving features, including good-old adaptive cruise control. The Subaru still allowed me to use ACC with my cargo rack plugged in (it has brake and turn lights), so on a longer road trip with more outdoor/camping time, I would be pretty annoyed about that.
A common complaint on forums is about how Driver+ mutes your music for a moment whenever anything changes. This is indeed pretty annoying. Finally, I tried their lane assist, which is not full lane keeping, but does nudge you back into the lane if you depart it. This was pretty aggressive and I turned it off. They claim to have made it better in the recent update, but I haven't tested it yet.
The screens in this car are trying to kill me. They're so big and shiny and full of buttons that change position. As I navigate this 4-ton monstrosity down the public roadways, the screens are telling me, "Look at us, not the road!"
The in-car nav system is basic. You have to use it if you want to keep track of your state of charge, or have the car pre-condition the battery. But it barely knows about traffic. It sometimes doesn't work (like, it won't actually give you directions, or it will just sit there trying to compute the route). You can't just tap a destination and have it route you there. You can't add side trips (any new destination replaces the previous one). It's always routing me to the back of any business I try to go to. It includes some non-existent chargers, and excludes some existing ones. It doesn't know about the state of most chargers (e.g, Electrify America ones, which are most common on road trips). It doesn't know about speed traps or construction.
I installed a phone holder on my dash, but honestly having 3 screens to look at is too many, and so I end up just using the car nav system while disliking it. Much has been said about Android Auto and how Rivian is not going to add it. I think this is a customer-hostile move -- I just don't see how it benefits the customers, only the company's own dreams of world domination through software.
I have a version of the car with the Meridian-branded sound system, and it's ... okay.
I mean, it sounds fine, somewhat better than the Subaru, but mostly I think because the car is pretty quiet.
The bluetooth in the car seems fairly reliable, better than the Subaru.
Audio books work well in the
voice EQ preset, and I tend to use the
rock preset for all music.
I also use the in-car version of Spotify, which is barely passable. Basic things -- for example, searching for a song, and then adding it to the current playlist -- are not possible. But it's nice that there's music without having to connect my phone to the car.
This thing is maddening, and I honestly wish it didn't exist, rather than existing in it's current, broken state. It sometimes works okay, and sometimes it refuses to connect to my phone. It's so finicky and frustrating that S had to prevent me from just flinging it into the forest.
One time, I was having some people over, and I wanted to put some music on the camp speaker. I proceeded to spend 20 minutes trying to get the speaker to stay connected to my phone before finally admitting defeat. It did this thing where it would almost connect, like just for a moment, and then disconnect again, that was close enough to working that I Just. Kept. Messing. With. It. On another occasion, I finally got connected and was playing music, and then it just stopped working for no reason and I couldn't get it to work again. On yet a few more occasions, it powered on and made it's loud boot-up noises while we were sleeping in the car and the speaker was inserted into it's speaker-slot. This was alarming and embarrassing (because there were some people sleeping in the car next to us).
In short, I hate the camp speaker.
I like having the app as a backup way to get into the car. But I would prefer to use the key fob, which unfortunately is the worst. First, it has four identically-shaped, black-on-black buttons. After a month, I still don't know which one does what. Good look trying to figure out which side of the fob is even the one with the buttons in the dark.
Once you figure out what button to use -- good luck getting the car to respond. I just love standing in the rain with my friend and her 5-year-old, all of us getting wet while I repeatedly hit the unlock button while the car thinks about something. S also pointed out that this makes her feel unsafe. Imagine a lone woman walking to her car on a dark street -- she wants that car to freakin' unlock!
I don't understand why this could work instantly in my Subaru, but takes sometimes a minute on my Rivian. I bet it has something to do with the software. Speaking of which...
Okay, so, I'm a software guy. This car is chock full of software. And -- it's pretty bad. It's buggy as all hell.
I gave some examples already, such as the tailgate light or the display not staying off, or the nav being unreliable. Other examples:
- all of the lights will just come on for no reason
- the lights button on the rear screen and the front screen are not aware of each other
- the car forgets about it's leveling state
- the bluetooth will just randomly turn back on, even after it's been turned off
- sometimes battery pre-conditioning doesn't activate automatically; no way to do it manually
- sometimes the car will refuse to charge, and you have to hard-reboot it
Oh, Rivian support recommends a hard-reboot for most troubleshooting. I was worried enough about the update bricking my car that I avoided doing it until we returned from our road trip.
I'm honestly worried and annoyed about the state of the software.
Progress seems slow -- for instance, a major revision between January and May in Rivian software-land was hiding the trip odometer deeper into a settings sub-menu, despite people on forums asking for trip odometer to be more accessible.
It's not clear how to report software issues.
I have been using the
Service requests feature in the app, but clearly software issues are not service items.
Are these reports going anywhere?
I don't know.
There is a Rivian employee occasionally on Reddit, and people leave comments like "I really hope this person sees this comment". People repeatedly report the same software issue over and over, and there's no way to know if Rivian already knows about it or is planning to fix it or what.
I guess I bought this very expensive beta piece of software, and I was kind of resigned to the early user experience and helping to improve the product. But actually, with the other half-finished software projects I use, there's public issue trackers and road maps. Rivian has none of that. They're not telling whether anyone is even hearing me, much less if they plan to fix things. The end result is that I'm much more frustrated than I anticipated. On the basis of the software bugs alone, I would NOT recommend the Rivian to most people.
When we picked up the car, we noticed a problem with the head liner. There was no availability for an appointment at the service center for several weeks. So, the car is finally going in to get that fixed the week after next. This might be a blessing in disguise, since I've found a bunch of other issues that can be fixed in the same visit (dead USB-C port, broken floor matt pin, inoperable lighting, etc...). Though, I guess it would be better if the car hadn't come with a bunch of issues?
However, I'm also scared. People are saying that the service centers are chaotic and overwhelmed. Also, it seems like even minor accidents can result in huge repair bills. I'm worried that, if I need immediate maintenance, I might be out of luck. Thankfully, this is an adventure mobile and I don't critically need it, but it would suck to miss a trip.
The car goes out of it's way to hide kilowatts from you -- range is measured in
% or miles.
It does show efficiency in miles per kWh, but not how much kWh are left in the battery.
I would really like to connect the speed of the charger I'm pulling up to -- invariably in kWh -- to the capacity of the battery, which is a mystery and nowhere in the UI.
I would also love to see a live indication of how much power the car is using while camping.
There is no cruise control resume. If you brake because a car swerved into your lane, or because you stopped at at a sign on a long stretch of highway, you'll have to re-set your previous cruise control speed manually.
The camera button is hidden in an overflow menu. If you need help navigating into a tight parking spot, you'll have to pause and click around mid-park.
The windshield wipers are kind of hard to use manually. The control is small, and the first tap only shows you the current setting, so you always need at least two. I would love to just leave it on auto, but it's often way too fast in low-rain conditions.
The AC controls decide on their own whether the car is heating or cooling. I really miss just having a fan blow outside air. This would be especially nice while camping, where I don't want to use power for heat or AC, but a little extra airflow would be lovely (and help keep bugs off me!).
I am definitely really enjoying having an EV. It's also really fun to have a very capable off-road vehicle. On the other hand, I'm finding it frustrating to be a Rivian early-adopter. The car is buggy, and there's not really a good communication channel to the company to help resolve the bugs. I fear that I'll be stuck living with these bugs forever.
Hopefully, in the next year, Rivian will improve the quality of the software (though I think some things, like Android Auto, are never going to happen). They might also add features I'm really hoping for, such as V2H/V2G. I'm also excited about all of the other electric SUVs and adventure vehicles coming onto the market in the next few years. Hopefully, there will be less-buggy, more-polished alternatives to the Rivian available in the next few years, and those might be worth waiting for.
Finally, I'm also just pretty scared of the high-software closed-source proprietary-nonsense vehicle future that we're entering. What happens when Rivian burns through it's cash and runs out of money? Will I be left with an expensive brick? Why does my car need always-on internet connectivity? Who are they selling my location data to, or sharing it with? I'm sad that the EV transition is also being used as an opportunity to take control away from vehicle owners and transfer it to car companies and their big-business allies (in Rivian's case, Amazon).
I really wish there was a car company that was transparent and consumer-friendly. Alas, I don't think that's Rivian.