I drove luxury SUVs from Rivian and Mercedes — here's why I'd go with the startup over the competition

The Rivian R1S and Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV electric SUVs.
The Rivian R1S brings ruggedness and quirky features, while the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV delivers leather-bound opulence.Tim Levin/Insider
  • I drove two awesome new electric SUVs: the Rivian R1S and the Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.

  • They're both stunning in different ways, but I'd pick the Rivian if given the choice.

  • The R1S is rugged and loaded with cutting-edge features, while the EQS SUV delivers old-school luxury and total comfort.

On the face of it, the Rivian R1S and Mercedes-Benz EQS may seem pretty similar.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

They're large, new, battery-powered SUVs with up to seven seats and steep price tags.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

But under the surface, these two green family-haulers couldn't be more different.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

I came away impressed after driving both, but found that their different strengths make them perfect for vastly different buyers.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin

Let's start with the highlights of the R1S, the California startup's hotly anticipated second model that came out last year.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Rivian's whole brand revolves around getting outdoors — kind of like the Patagonia of the auto biz — and the R1S fits right in with that theme.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Read more: I tested the coolest electric SUV you can buy. Take a full photo tour of the Rivian R1S, which has 3 rows and 316 miles of range.

It's aimed at folks who love skiing, camping, biking, and the like — or at least those who aspire to.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

On an off-road drive, the $90,000 R1S Launch Edition I tested scrambled over boulders, across streams, and up steep, slippery hills without any fuss.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

That's thanks to a whopping 835 horsepower, 908 pound-feet of torque, plus a sophisticated all-wheel-drive setup underpinned by four motors — one driving each wheel independently.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Read more: I drove the Rivian R1S. Tour the sleek, feature-packed interior of the coolest new electric SUV in the country.

A whole slew of off-road drive modes can raise the SUV and change its accelerator's feel to match various terrains.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Plus, cameras pointing in every direction outside the vehicle help you place your wheels precisely and see what obstacles lie ahead.

The 2022 Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The 2022 Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

After an off-road jaunt, you can use the SUV's built-in air compressor to air up the tires to roadgoing pressures. Owners can also use it for bike tires, inflatable kayaks, and more.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

That brings us to the other big thing I want to highlight about the R1S: It feels like a cutting-edge vehicle from a startup.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Read more: Rivian is forcing some customers to wait years for their vehicle deliveries — and it risks alienating them at a critical time in its fight to become the next Tesla

From a forward-looking design to fanciful features, Rivian pulled out all the stops to make its first SUV feel different and special.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Apart from the air compressor, other unusual features include a flashlight that slots into the driver's door …

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

… and a wireless speaker/lantern combo that neatly stows away between the front seats.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

The R1S's cavernous cargo area can fit a twin-sized air bed — and a Camp Mode can level the vehicle on uneven surfaces.

The Rivian R1S.
The Rivian R1S.Steve DaSilva

Read more: Tesla alums have created a futuristic $125,000 electric RV trailer that'll save your EV's range during road trips

You can unlock and drive the R1S in four different ways, but don't expect a regular old key.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Instead, Rivian offers a waterproof wristband (for taking along on outdoor activities), a carabiner, a key card, and a smartphone app.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

Inside, you get a minimalist interior that feels more like a light, airy Apple store than a conventional car.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

And instead of regular buttons, you get a sprawling touchscreen that controls the drive modes, air conditioning, and practically everything else.

The 2022 Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The 2022 Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

It can be frustrating to rely on a touchscreen for everything. But I'll grant that it's graphically impressive and contains interesting features like a security system and a pet mode that keeps the air conditioning on.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

The Mercedes EQS SUV, on the other hand, emphasizes comfort, class, and old-school luxury over newfangled features and muddy activities.

A black 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV seen from a side view with trees in the background.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

Read more: I drove Mercedes-Benz's first electric SUV for the US and was blown away by its luxurious interior — see inside the $135,000 EQS SUV

 

The Benz is more country club, while the Rivian is more Yellowstone. Although, if we're being honest, there will be plenty of pricey Rivians at country clubs too.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV's steering wheel and large Hyperscreen display.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin

I drove a well-optioned EQS 450 4MATIC SUV that came out to $135,000, around $30,000 above its starting sticker price.

The front seats of the 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV with a glass sunroof in the background.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

The EQS SUV's plush seats support you and keep you comfy on long drives.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

And its whole interior exudes luxury.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV's passenger screen, air vent, and seat controls viewed from inside.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin

There's tons of leather and suede …

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

… sturdy, well-built controls …

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin

Read more: 10 new cars with the highest future resale value

… swanky, shiny trim …

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

… and colorful lighting strips snaking their way throughout the cabin.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

My tester came with the $2,000 Executive Rear Seating Package.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV's rear seats, with the armrest down and a touchscreen embedded inside.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

Read more: I drove luxury Tesla rivals from BMW and Mercedes — here's why I'd buy the BMW iX over the competition

It adds squishy pillows, a touchscreen in the armrest, and heated rear seats.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

It also came with the optional "Hyperscreen," a $7,300 option that adds three screens under a single, impressive piece of glass.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin

The R1S is nice too, but not in the same traditionally opulent way that the EQS SUV is.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

That pampered feeling lingers when you get moving. The EQS SUV glides over bumps and remains whisper quiet, even on the highway.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV's rear end and tail lights.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

Read more: Kia's new electric SUV is the stylish, super-quick competitor of Elon Musk's nightmares — but it has one big downside

All that luxury comes at a high cost of $104,400 to start. Compare that to the R1S's base price of $78,000 for a base variant that's coming out later on.

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin

But the deciding factor for anyone on the fence between these two tremendous SUVs may just be availability.

The front grille area of a black 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV.Tim Levin/Insider

As Rivian works to accelerate production, the R1S is backordered into oblivion. Aside from that, it's still my personal choice thanks to its cutting-edge feel and rugged capabilities, which fit nicely with my outdoorsy hobbies — or at least those I aspire to have.

The Rivian R1S electric SUV.
The Rivian R1S.Tim Levin/Insider

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