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Electric Vehicles

The R2 Is the Rivian That Matters

The surprise R3 and R3X got all the hype, but the boring SUV is the one you’re going to buy.

The Rivian R2.
Heatmap Illustration/Rivian

Rivian’s “one more thing” turned out to be the one big thing. At the end of its Orange County event to showcase R2, the $45,000 SUV meant to carry the EV brand into the mainstream, founder R.J. Scaringe rolled out a surprise (or two): The previously unannounced, even smaller R3 and the R3X, a “rally-inspired crossover designed for whatever you throw at it.”

Car internet was set aflame. Indeed, the R3X in particular looks like a 2020s take on the hot hatch. It echoes automotive shapes that have become endangered in our trucks-and-crossovers-only car market. Lustful posts ensued, leading onlookers to suggest Scaringe and company were taken aback that the immediate response to the R3s may have overshadowed the vehicle everyone had gathered in Laguna Beach to see in the first place.

Never mind the online thirst. It’s still R2 that matters.

There has always been a disconnect between car enthusiasts (which includes auto journalists) and the car-buying public. Passionate gearheads fall in love with quirky cars, fun shapes, and models that put the driving experience first, and evangelize those whenever possible. They cry out for more compact trucks and hot hatches; car shoppers go out and buy Toyota RAV4s and Ford F-150s.

Of course the obsessed cohort fell in love with R3. Look at that thing. With a big hatch and cool slant at the back when seen in side profile, it reminds me just a little of my collegiate 1994 Ford Escort hatchback, but powerful and nice. The R2, meanwhile, is expected. It appears to be exactly like the shrunk-down version of the R1S one would have predicted. That doesn’t inspire an outpouring of lust. But it is still important if Rivian is going to survive, much less thrive.

Despite the love from EV enthusiasts, Rivian is in a dark place as it teases its bright future. The company laid off 10% of its workforce two weeks ago in the face of flat sales numbers and hit pause on a billion-dollar Georgia factory that would build the newly announced models. It is far from a sure thing the startup will endure long enough to actually build these cars.

The R2 is the key. As a mid-sized crossover with a price starting in the mid-$40,000s, it is positioned in the same place as the Model Y — a vehicle that allowed Tesla to make the leap from selling a respectable number of Model S’s and X’s to selling the world’s most popular vehicle. Rivian must pull off a similar trick to go mainstream. Its R1Ts and R1Ss, which start around $70,000, were never going to sell at a high volume. R2 is the make-or-break ride.

Yes, its design is a little predictable if you’ve already seen the R1 series. So what? It still looks cool, and the kind of buyers who need to pick Rivian for the brand to survive choose their vehicles by practicality as much as aesthetics. If Scaringe can deliver range and cargo space at that $45,000 price range, and especially if federal tax credits for buying an EV still exist in 2026, then R2 is probably the Rivian they’ll pick.

That goes for me, too. Ever since the R2’s existence became known, I thought it might be my next EV after our Tesla Model 3. The moment R3 rolled onto the stage, I was sold by the retro shape and the idea of its price tag in the sub-$40,000 range and ready to change my mind. But I have a kid now. And a dog. And a space-eating stroller. And, like most Americans, I’ll probably talk myself into the bigger car.

So far, 68,000 people have been sufficiently impressed to spend $100 to secure a place in line for the R2. That’s a nice infusion of $6.8 million for Rivian, but a drop in the bucket compared to the billions that the company must spend each year to get the R2 online while still building enough R1s to stay afloat.

It also doesn’t tell us much about what’s to come. As InsideEVs notes, many people who paid to pre-reserve a Ford F-150 Lightning or Tesla Cybertruck didn’t follow through on the purchase once the vehicle came to market. I, for one, didn’t follow through on my own Model 3 reservation for at least a year, when I moved to Los Angeles and was ready to own an electric car. Most likely, a host of potentially interested buyers are in wait-and-see mode when it comes to R2 rather than feeling like they need to be at the front of the line.

Even so, there’s reason to believe R2 interest will last. The EV market will look a lot different by 2026, with many more models competing in the mid-sized crossover space that Rivian needs to win. But a Ford EV looks like a Ford, and a Rivian looks like the future. And if the R2 does its job, then the faithful may indeed get their electric version of the Lancia Delta.


Andrew Moseman

Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles. Read More

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