Rivian R1S tackles Rubicon off-road trail, a production EV first

Rivian claims its R1S electric SUV is the first EV to tackle the Rubicon off-road trail, long considered a yardstick for hardcore off-road vehicles.

Located in El Dorado County California due west of Lake Tahoe, and approximately 80 miles east of the state capital of Sacramento, the Rubicon Trail is often listed at 22 miles long, but about half of that is a maintained road. Members of Rivian’s research and development team tackled the 12-mile true off-road portion, leaving Loon Lake at 7:45 a.m. on August 7 and reaching the end at the Tahoma staging area around 3:30 p.m. on August 9.

The vehicle used was a quad-motor R1S that Rivian claims was mechanically stock—including the 34-inch Pirelli all-terrain tires. The only additions were steel rock sliders, front tow hitch receivers, and a roof rack. The R1S wasn’t alone, however. It was followed by two pre-production quad-motor R1T pickups for the first leg of the trip, and a modified Jeep Wrangler after that.

Rivian R1S tackles the Rubicon Trail

Rivian R1S tackles the Rubicon Trail

The R1S entered the trail with around 80% charge and finished with roughly 10% charge, which was still enough to reach a nearby Level 2 AC charger, according to Rivian. That equates to approximately 75% of the total battery pack energy, equivalent to three gallons of gasoline, the company said.

No mechanical issues or tire failures were experienced during the drive, according to Rivian, the only damage being “some cosmetic bumps and scrapes.”

Rivian’s all-wheel-drive system relies on software controls, expressed through a variety of drive modes, rather than mechanical differentials, as in traditional Jeeps and the current crop of 4xe plug-in hybrids. Jeep hews so closely to the Rubicon Trail that it applies the name to its vehicles as a trim level. But while Jeep has launched a Wrangler Rubicon 4xe, North America won’t get an all-electric Jeep until the Recon launches next year.

Rivian R1S tackles the Rubicon Trail

Rivian R1S tackles the Rubicon Trail

Software also allows for less-practical features like a Tank Turn mode, but Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe has said this isn’t coming to production models because it clashes with the company’s “Tread Lightly” philosophy, which emphasizes stewardship of off-road trails and the environment around them. The GMC Hummer EV also offers hardcore off-road capability, but it’s likely harder to keep that much heavier EV from chewing up the trails.

Rivian very soon won’t be the only fully electric model on the toughest off-road trails. Ineos is among several niche makers working on hardcore fully electric SUVs. Its current Ineos Grenadier uses internal-combustion powertrains, but the company is planning an electric SUV, to be built by Magna at the latter’s Austrian factory starting in 2026. A fully electric Mercedes-Benz G-Class off-roader is also on the path to production, with silicon-anode battery cells as a technology boast point.

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