Suspension Salvation for the Rivian R1S

The second-generation R1S gains the suspension tuning it should have had from the beginning.

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

June 10, 2024

7 Min Read
Off-roading in the second-generation Rivian R1T
Off-roading in the second-generation Rivian R1TRivian

At a Glance

  • Softer front springs
  • Stiffer rear springs
  • Retuned damping rates

In addition to the myriad battery and powertrain upgrades to the second-generation Rivian R1 vehicles detailed here, Rivian also rolled out new suspension tuning for the R1S SUV.

This was welcome and overdue, because after our thrilling introduction to the R1T pickup truck in 2021, the R1S proved to be a disappointment. That was partly because of Rivian’s price increases, which made the vehicle no longer the value it had been at launch. But mostly it was because of the R1S’s terrible ride and handling.

Rivian has addressed the price concerns with reductions that are outlined in the previous article. But for family drivers looking at buying the SUV version of the R1 rather than the pickup truck, the most important news is that they will finally have a vehicle worth driving.

At the second-generation R1 media drive event, I was able to get a briefing from two of the company’s chassis engineers on the work they did to correct the R1S’s ride problems.

“We made changes to the R1S in particular for Gen 2, trying to optimize ride and handling for that vehicle,” explained Rivian’s director of vehicle dynamics, Luke Lynch. “On the ride side, we made changes to the spring rates, so rear spring rate increases, front spring rate decreases. That gives a better pitch balance for R1S, and general primary ride behavior over larger-frequency inputs.”

Related:New Tech, Longer Range, and Lower Prices Keep Rivian in the Game

Rivian employs Tenneco’s innovative cross-linked hydraulic damper system that serves as both shock absorbers and anti-roll bars using computer-controlled adjustments to the flow of hydraulic fluid among the connected dampers.

“For the dampers, we made some changes to the damping calibration to complement that new spring rate, so that couples to give you again, better sort of primary and secondary riding,” said Lynch. “And then we made changes to the bushing pack and the damper top mount to make further improvements to the secondary ride, so actual road texture and read-through.”

“There's a lot of hardware changes for Gen 2, together to give optimized or massively improved, ride experience for customers on all roads,” he continued. “Ride's not an easy thing to quantify, but we do have those numbers for acceleration at the C-rail or  total movement of dampers over a fixed speed bump or something.”

Of course, these same systems control a vehicle’s handling, and while the R1S’s handling was not as deficient as its ride, this is another area where the second-generation SUV has benefitted from changes to the system’s tuning. “On the handling side, we made some pretty big changes, or holistic changes, to the hydraulic roll control system,” said Lynch. “Most of those were focused around getting the roll balance forward. In a traditional vehicle, you do that with your anti-roll bars. We have a hydraulic roll control system, so we made changes to the damping hardware set to get the balance further forward and that introduces more stability, without giving up any performance, compromising any off-road capability, just generally, making that vehicle more accessible for more customers.”

Related:Rivian Provides an Update on the Enduro Two-Motor Powertrain

Rivian_Pirelli_22.jpeg

The tires are another crucial ingredient, and Rivian has toiled with its tire suppliers to improve the rubber on the R1 vehicles. Tires play a key role in EV driving range, so it is important to get that part of the equation right, but to do so without compromising traction or wear characteristics.

“These three tires, wheels and tires, are new offerings for Gen 2,” said Rivian’s lead vehicle dynamics engineer, Jake Malinowski. “This 20-inch, we call an extended adventure tire, is the new base offering,” he said, gesturing to the Goodyear Wrangler tire.

“This will be on Dual-Motors that are packaged with the [lithium-iron phosphate] battery,” he said. “And we're really happy how this tire came out. It has a lot of on-road and off-road features built into it. It's a good, all-rounder kind of a tire, so it's good for off-road, on-road, handling, ride, all that, and it doesn't sacrifice that much the way it range. So we’re very happy about this tire.”

Related:Rivian Ushers in the Age of Electric Pickup Trucks With the Impressive R1T

The 20-inch tire, with its taller, more compliant sidewall, was the size fitted to that first R1T I tested in 2021, and while Rivian expresses satisfaction with its new 22-inch tire, physics dictate that the smaller wheel/taller tire combination will deliver a cushier ride than the larger wheel/lower-profile tire combo. Because of this, the 20-inch tire would be my preference.

Rivioan_Goodyear_and_Pirelli.jpeg

But Malinowski is high on the Pirelli 22-inch tire, which he touts for its dual abilities to deliver driving range and handling. “This new 22 is actually replacing today's 21 and 22,” he said. “Today's 21 is our range-focused tire, and today's 22 was more of our handling-focused tire. This new compound that we worked on with the supplier actually gives us the best of both worlds. This is actually better range than the base 21 and just as good at handling as the base 22. So, an awesome offering there.”

Those tires are the choices for the mainstream Dual-Motor and Tri-Motor R1s. The maximum-performance Quad-Motor vehicles have another option suiting their high performance.

"This will be on the Dual- and Tri-Motor configuration," said Malinowski. "Then this is the new one. This is specific to the Quad-Motor. And it's a summer tire offering. And this is actually the first time that we're introducing staggered fitment for the tires. So the rear is a 305 [millimeter], and the front is 275 [mm]."

On the road, the changes deliver a welcome transformation of the R1S’s ride. It is still not plush, nor even as good as most SUVs, but it is probably as good as the Kia EV9, with better handling. Sharp hits, like potholes, still rattle the R1S occupants pretty well, but it isn’t as jarring as before and more routine shocks like bridge expansion joints are no longer wince-inducing events they were in the first-generation R1S.

Off-road, the R1S is also improved. Last summer, driving the Dual-Motor R1 at Rivian’s Normal, Ill. factory’s off-road course, the Dual-Motor was capable, but fell well short of the Quad-Motor’s magical performance. The Dual-Motor uses differentials to distribute the power from a single motor to the wheels at each axle, much as with a combustion engine.

It was no surprise that driving the Dual-Motor up the hill on the factory’s course, it performed much like a combustion-powered 4x4, with the brake traction control noticeably intervening to clamp down on spinning wheels and sending the power to wheels with traction.

The second-generation R1 Dual-Motor drives more like the Quad-Motor, with seemingly imperceptible traction control intervention that let the R1S Dual-Motor crawl through a nasty hole during a hill climb that would have made last year’s version sweat. Like the Quad-Motor, the Dual-Motor doesn’t sweat climbing over off-road obstacles now.

This is down to a change in measurement of motor speed. While the first-generation vehicles measured speed, sensibly, at the motor, the second-generation models monitory motor speed at the inverter. This provides more granular understanding of the motor’s activity, which also provides more granular control of the motor, preventing wheelspin before it happens. The difference is amazing, and just adds to the impression that the Dual-Motor provides all the capability anyone could need.

Lastly, there is the R1’s driver assistance system, which was previously lacking. Its shortcomings were particularly apparent in glare and high-contrast situations, with ice-melting salt lines on the road confusing it. There was no chance to test that aspect in the flat light and clean highways of rainy Seattle, but the new system’s 10-times more powerful computer and 8-times greater megapixel camera power should combine to produce meaningful improvements.
I can’t wait to spend more time in the R1S, which is a sentiment that did not apply to the first-generation version.

About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

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