It has only been a few months since Rivian began delivering the R1T pickup truck to customers, but the company is about to launch the R1S SUV.

I spent the day with a few early production R1Ss at a Rivian media event and it came off as an impressively capable and useful family vehicle, considering it starts at $72,500 and options up to $90,000. Rivian is a new company that has yet to make any of its cars. Getting an R1S might be the biggest adventure of all, since 10,000 of them will be Amazon delivery vans.

Rivian R1S and R1T next to each other
The R1T and the R1S are more alike than different

The R1S is the same vehicle as the R1T. The Rivian communications manager says there are no differences between the car and the one before it. The suspension is the same and the 12.3-inch instrument cluster is the same.

Rivian has a built-from-scratch hardware and software architecture. Most car companies buy finished components and subsystems from suppliers and assemble them into finished cars with different features and flourishes. Most carmakers are dependent on suppliers to update the software in their cars, just as Dell and Samsung are dependent on suppliers to update the software in their machines. You can listen to a lot of Decoder car CEO interviews to understand how they are thinking about this.

A yellow Rivian R1S with a flat front tire
In fairness, I told them I would probably break something.
Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge

Rivian is a new company with no existing relationships or dependencies and the ability to build a team with the required software expertise from the beginning. Rivian is much more similar to a Windows laptop maker than it is to Apple.

Rivian's software team wrote almost all the code for the R1 vehicles, even down to the bootloaders, according to the vice president. Upcoming features include plans to add quad-zone climate controls and other capabilities to the rear screen.

The interior of the Rivian R1S showing the displays
Rivian’s user interface runs on Unreal Engine

The R1S is a nice three-row electric SUV with the ability to fit five carseats, but what really distinguishes it is the software experience. The graphics are handled by the Unreal Engine, which allows for realistic renders of the truck to appear on the displays, and virtually everything you can think of is controllable from the touch screen. Rivian's vent controls in particular are software overkill: changing where the air is blowing requires bringing up a full screen render of the car interior that you move vent icons around It is not better than having a regular old vent that you can use with your hands.

The current software isn't close to maxing out the available compute power in the R1, according to the vice president of hardware engineering. Rajagopolan and I talked about the benefits of Rivian's clean sheet design, something traditional automakers have been slowly moving towards for a decade now.

A Rivian R1S from the rear with the liftgate open
The R1S has a split rear tailgate and plenty of cargo space.
Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge

R ivian Rivian planned a two-hour drive down a winding mountain highway in an R1S with 21-inch wheels to an offroad course where more R1Ss with 20-inch offroad wheels and tires were waiting as our test loop for the day.

The R1S was a great off-road vehicle, it had a shorter wheelbase than the R1T and was easier to navigate through Rivian's course. The R1S was easy to drive, unlike traditional off-roaders, which typically require managing the transmission and differentials through various four-wheel-drive modes to make sure power from the engine is getting to the right wheel at the right time. A dedicated rock-crawl mode with a max speed of 19mph makes driving through muddy ruts, small creeks, and up rocky hills almost too easy. I made our unit suffer by hitting some rocks in the creek and popping a tire. Rivian had a lot of spare parts.

A red Rivian R1s from the rear
A red Rivian R1s from the rear.
Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge

The off-road capability of the R1S is part of the appeal but rarely part of the experience. The R1S was composed and confident on the highway and a few small town streets. Highway passing is made easy by the delightful instant EV Torque that comes from the quad- motor drivetrain. An SUV that is bigger than a BMW X5 is not a normal thing to experience, but the R1S can do it.

Rivian's Driver+ advanced driver assistance system allows for hands-free driving on select highways, but it wasn't available on the roads we traveled. Even though Rivian offers a hands-free driving mode, it doesn't offer the combination of adaptive cruise control and automatic lane-centering that systems like Ford's BlueCruise have as a nice half-step on highways that aren't mapped for hands-free driving.

Rivian is perhaps too committed to the touchscreen; some physical HVAC controls would be nice.

The R1S with the standard battery pack and dual motor is rated at 260 miles of range, but the $6,000 extended pack increases that to over 300 miles. If you choose quad motors, you need the extended pack. If you put the quad motor to good use in the passing lane, you will get less range, which is a great tradeoff. We didn't have an opportunity to try out any at- home charging options, but Rivian is building out its own charging network and uses the standard CCS combo connector, with support for "over 200 kilowatts" Rivian promises speeds of up to 300 kilowatts with a software update in the future.

Close-up of a blue Rivian R1S charging port
Rivian uses the standard J1772 charging connector
Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge
The third row has its own USB-C ports, but it’s more suited to children than adults

Even though the R1S is nice inside, it doesn't feel like a luxury SUV like Land Rover, BMW, or Mercedes do. The materials are well-chosen, things are nicely laid out, and nothing feels cheap, but you're clearly paying the money for the software. Power-folding third row seats and built-in window shades are not family friendly. There is no shade for the glass roof, which is one of the worst trends in modern electric vehicles. The R1S is far more normal than the R1T, for lack of a better word.

Even though there is less chaos around Rivian than there is around other car companies, it is still a good combination. It isn't enough to say the R1S is a contender, but it feels like it.

A white Rivian R1S from the front
Looking handsome on 21-inch rims.
Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge

Rivian will have a hard time competing in the car market because they won't have enough R1S units. The R1S units we were driving were actual early production models with VIN numbers that will eventually go to Rivian employees, but aside from that there is no more information on when the units will be delivered or how much they will cost.

The Rivian team and their products make it clear that there is a lot of potential here. Add some buttons to the controls.

The Rivian R1S uses the CCS combo charging plug according to the new clarification.