(The Car Connection) — If we had an award for coolest car to buy, the 2023 Rivian R1T electric pickup truck would win that, too. Instead, the first offering from the electric vehicle startup with a plant in Normal, Ill., wins The Car Connection’s Best Luxury Car To Buy 2023.
Two convergent trends carried the Rivian R1T adventure lifestyle truck to the top of this rarified class. The first is that larger full-size pickup trucks such as the once working-class 2023 Ford F-150 have flirted with six-figure prices due to their advanced technology, luxurious cabins, and advanced powertrains, that include the Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, our overall winner for Best Car To Buy 2023. Second, electric vehicles have come to dominate the luxury class, based on our TCC Rating system. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Our ratings are intended to represent the rational consumer behavior of most car shoppers, which is why, even in the luxury class, we limit the category to the finest vehicles that cost less than $100,000. With a rating of 8.7 out of 10, the 2023 Rivian R1T outpaces newcomers in the electric luxury class, including the range-leading Lucid Air Pure, the value-driven Cadillac Lyriq that reorients GM’s luxury brand after years of dithering in a sea of mediocrity (except for you, dear Blackwings), and even the related Rivian R1S three-row crossover.
The difference with the R1T is an evolutionary leap with what can be done with a pickup truck, and how it can do all the things a truck, car, and luxury vehicle can do with virtually no compromise. Luxury is all about no compromise. And no tailpipe emissions is a sweet kicker.
The mid-size truck with an android face can be had with one of three battery packs this year, including a 135-kwh Large pack with a four-motor AWD powertrain that makes 835 hp and 908 lb-ft of torque. It sheds its roughly 7,000-lb curb weight from 0-60 mph in an astounding 3.0 seconds. Its sport car moves aren’t limited to straight-line physics. A four-corner air suspension, adjustable dampers, and a hydraulic roll control system sourced from supercar maker McLaren defy physics with impressive handling for a vehicle this weight, height, and size. Off-road, the ground clearance can be raised from 11.4 to 14.4 inches, or when loading and unloading it can be lowered to 7.9 inches. It can off-road like a Wrangler Gladiator, high-speed like a Ford Raptor, ford water, clamber over rocks, and tow up to 11,000 pounds. Or, during quiet, even, on-road cruising, the R1T can go up to 328 miles.
To trim about $14,000 off the Large-pack, quad-motor configuration, the R1T Standard pack with dual-motor AWD costs $73,000 and has a range of 260 miles. For max range, try the 180-kwh Max pack and quad-motor setup for a range of 400 miles and a price that nears our ceiling. We haven’t tested either of these battery packs.
The dynamics are as impressive as the packaging. The crew cab seats four adults, but it’s not as roomy as full-size trucks. A large 11.0-cubic-foot frunk and a cargo tunnel between the bed and cab can stow another 11.6 cubic feet or 300 pounds. The bed can’t match full-size trucks, but at 54.0 inches long and 51.1 inches across, it passes the plywood test. It has a hidden cooler or storage bucket, short enough walls to reach into without climbing aboard, and every R1T comes with a 150-psi air compressor to air the tires up after an off-road jaunt. It’s kinda brilliant, and that thoughtfulness extends inside; even the doors have a pop-out pocket for a rechargeable flashlight.
It comes well-equipped for the price, as it should, with power front seats that are heated and cooled, as well as a touchscreen infotainment and climate system that replicates Tesla’s all-in-one command center. That could be good or bad, depending on your preference. The standard driver-assist features provide as much peace of mind as the excellent 5-year/60,000-mile warranty, and 8-year/175,000-mile drivetrain and battery warranty.
It’s art punk original cool in a way the Ford F-150 Lightning can’t be and, like Tesla more than a decade before it, causes automakers and shoppers to reconsider how and what we drive. For a price.