The Rivian R3 Was Inspired by the Audi Quattro Coupe and Delta Integrale, Designer Says

2027 rivian r3x
The Rivian R3 Is Giving GiugiaroRivian

I was recently in Laguna Beach, California for the unveiling of the Rivian R2, which is a perfectly functional, mid-size electric SUV. Ho, hum. But when the new R3 and R3X rolled out onto the stage, I became animated. I felt that I was witnessing a reinCARnation. The blunt nose, the hooded eyes, the beveled beltline and flanks, the trapezoidal rear hatch, the alluring squat. It looked like a late 20th-century design from my favorite automotive Crease Monkey, the most influential car designer: Giorgetto Giugiaro. More specifically, it looked like a cross between a Fiat Panda and a Lancia Delta. In other words, a hot-hatched Eighties rally car.

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The OG.Howard Boylan - Getty Images

This was not a mistake. When Jeff Hammoud, Rivian’s chief design officer, was trying to figure out what the EV startup’s second car, the R2, was going to be, it was clear that it needed to “get our brand language into a smaller, more affordable price point.” But for the third car, the R3, Hammoud wanted to “expand the definition of what Rivian is.” Beyond trucks and SUVs, beyond big American-scale vehicles. Into a more international footprint and price point.

“The brief I gave the design team was like, we need this to be our Solo Rally Car,” Hammoud told Road & Track. “So on our image boards, we had the Delta Integrale and the Audi Quattro coupe from that era.” But Hammoud didn’t want their design to be slavishly retro. He wanted it to, as he said, have “more of that nostalgic feeling where it looks modern, but where it looks like it’s from the future, and the past, at the same time.”

2027 rivian r3x

Part of the goal here was trying to find means to rationalize Rivian’s dual, off-road and on-road performance equities, and shift that out of the go-anywhere promise endemic in the SUV/Truck paradigm.

“How can we do something that's Rivian, that's capable, but is in that indescribable sort of segment,” Hammoud said. “Something that you look at and you’re like, what is that?”

But this goal belies an abiding ambition to provide a deeper and more ardent connection to EVs, one that goes beyond the functional. “If you look at that era of vehicles, you already evoke this emotional attachment to those vehicles from the Eighties. Those rugged little hatches,” Hammoud said.

It was also important—given Americans’ toxic resistance to, and unwillingness to pay premium prices for, small cars—to make it, according to Hammoud, “take a form factor of something very useful, like a hatch, but also make it still feel like it's a premium vehicle.” Clever interior packaging, great use of space and storage (including a big frunk and two glove boxes, as well as a split-opening rear hatch), the use of premium materials like grommeted leather seating surfaces and anodized metals, and a means of accessing an evanescent past help achieve this mission.

2027 rivian r3x

I told Hammoud that, over the past few years, I’ve been consistently seeking the car that will become my first EV. The closest I’d come is the Ioniq 5, but that seemed too jacked up and large in person. Now, I’m feeling the R3, which is, according to Hammoud, the same size as an Audi Q3—a half-foot shorter than the Hyundai—and has the simple, stylish design cues of cars I love from the past and present.

This evocation of my interest seemed paramount, a means of Trojan Horsing a connection to electric vehicles to a generation (or two, or three) of automotive aficionados who are decidedly not powertrain agnostic.

“If you think about EVs, it's not a matter of if everything goes to electric. It's a matter of when. And so how do you still invoke an emotion and still get people excited about something so different,” Hammoud said. “With cars like R3, maybe we'll be able to convince guys like us that have been around, and are petrol-heads, to give it a try.”

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