Home » The Rivian R3X Is Not A Retro Design And Isn’t A Golf, A Delta Integrale Or A Lada Niva (UPDATED)

The Rivian R3X Is Not A Retro Design And Isn’t A Golf, A Delta Integrale Or A Lada Niva (UPDATED)

Adrian Rant Ts
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It’s ironic that little more than a week after it was announced Apple was abandoning work on their long-rumored car, CEO of Rivian RJ Scaringe used Steve Jobs’ “one more thing” line at the R2 launch event to surprise reveal the existence of another new Rivian, the R3. During the event at Laguna Beach on Thursday evening, Scaringe said the seminal phrase three times in the presence of assorted journalists and influencers – safe to assume he knew exactly what he was doing. None of this Silicon Valley synchronicity set social media ablaze though. Nope, instead the social media hype machine has been cranked up to 11 over the existence of the R3X, a ruggedized R3 with a lifestyle off-road vibe.

[Editor’s Note: This initial version of this story did not meet our editorial standards. Specifically, it did not align with our mission here at The Autopian, which is:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The Autopian exists to serve the car enthusiast community by creating content that informs and entertains, while celebrating the unifying quality of automobiles.

The initial version of this piece was too critical of people whose opinions do not agree with the author’s. Here at The Autopian, we do not ever want to imply that we are somehow smarter than our readership (because that’s simply untrue; many of us here are dipishits) and we do not ridicule people for having differing opinions. While the intention of the article’s tone was to humorously portray an arrogant car designer, there are lines that are not meant to be crossed, whether in character or out. As such, we’ve made significant revisions to this piece, and will make sure that such an oversight does not happen again. Full explanation here. -DT]. 

[Original Editor’s Note: This take is, as you can likely sense by now, extremely hot (and a bit exaggerated for fun, so don’t take it too seriously!). And while I know Adrian genuinely believes everything he’s saying here – and, I think, backs up his points well – I also know the man loves to lose himself in a good rant, and he’s very likely to say some things that could offend some people. He is, as he never tires of reminding us, a designer, and as such knows more than we do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t think what you think, because, as they say, we’re not here to yuck anyone’s yum. There’s drama here, and lots you do not need to take seriously. I think it’s fun.

So, if you think the R3X felt like a Lancia Delta or a Rabbit or an Omni or a Niva or a Panda 4×4 (like I did), you’re not alone, and if Adrian doesn’t agree, well, too bad, Adrian. You – with whatever car opinions you have – are always welcome here no matter what, and you don’t even have to listen to Adrian if you don’t want to. – JT]

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Cue everyone on the internet suddenly becoming a car design expert, and my eyes are rotating slowly into the back of my head. Le sigh. Do we really have to keep doing this?

If you’re here for a hot take with no critical thought behind it, turn away now.

Screenshot 2024 03 12 At 3.15.31 pm

Over the last few days, I have seen some truly impressive commentary turds bobbing by in the sewer of online discourse. I’m climbing back on my high horse and let me tell you up here the air is pretty sweet. “Oh God Adrian, you’re not going to be ranting about the pernicious influence of the eighties on modern culture again are you? We’ve heard all that before.” You’re goddamn right I am, but this time it’s going to be a slightly different rant, I promise.

Before we get started: I’m not going to pile on Rivian’s design. From what I’ve seen of the existing cars online, I like them a lot. I’ve looked at the media images and watched so many videos my YouTube algorithm is poisoned to the extent that every non-skippable advert I see until I die is going to be for an EV. Examination in the metal has thus far not been possible, because the R1S and R1T are not available in the UK, although I have seen an R1S on the road (probably bought over by JLR for evaluation purposes) and the smaller R2 and R3 apparently will be available in Europe in the future if the company survives that long.

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The overall look of Rivian lineup strikes me as warmer, more approachable, and humanistic in the vein of an Apple product, rather than the decontented anonymity of a Tesla. Although I would prefer to see some hard controls to balance out the reliance on a touchscreen, the haptic wheels on the steering wheel are an interesting step in the right direction. Both Rivian and Tesla are striving for economic reasons to speed up manufacturing and reduce part count, but this has real-world consequences in terms of ease of repairability and total cost of ownership. Nonetheless, I do think Rivian has done a pretty good job of developing strong, consistent branding and has implemented it well across the consumer touchpoints. It’s surprising how small details like the use of yellow as a highlight color and having lots of warm hazy photographs on their website makes such a difference in perception.

It’s Just A Hatchback

What’s really queered my pickle is the number of people I’ve seen losing their shit over the R3 for the groundbreaking design decision to make it … a hatchback? You mean that revolutionary category of car that’s been around since the 1961 Renault 4 [Editor’s Note: I think we can go back even further, to the 1938 Citroën Traction Avant 11CV Commerciale:

Citroen Commerciale

Sorry to derail, I just wanted to get this in there! Back to Adrian’s rant. – JT]

… and was popularized as mainland Europe’s favorite small car category in 1971 by the Fiat 127? Okay, I know it took a lot longer for hatches to catch on in the US (and somewhat in the UK) because they were seen as economy cars for the tight of wallet, but come on people – hatchbacks have been around for a long while now.

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More than this though, is the galactically silly commentary I’ve seen comparing the R3X to a Volkswagen Golf. One YouTube channel was going on about the amount of Giugiaro influence in the R3X. Their focus was the superficial likeness in the C pillar, and yes both cars have one but that’s about where the similarities end. The bodyside-to-glass ratio is different. The proportions are different. The stance is different. The surfacing is different. Every single thing about the two cars, apart from the fact they’re both hatchbacks, is different. Comparing the two is an insult to Rivian chief designer Jeff Hammound, in my view.

Mk1 Golf GTI. Image Volkswagen Media
Mk1 Golf GTI. Image Volkswagen Media
Honda e
Honda e
Renault 16 Cc
Renault 16. Image Renault Media.

The actual interesting thing about the R3X’s C-pillar is the feature line that turns forward around the corner of the side glazing and runs down the bodyside to provide the shoulder line and the shut line for the clamshell hood. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly where I’d seen this feature before, but then it dawned on me: the Honda e does something very similar. But I think the idea originated with the 1965 Renault 16 (above) although the execution there is not as prominent and the Renault has a normal hood.

The Uselessness Of Facile Comparisons

Another comment our friend with the YouTube channel made was Rivian are leaning into a “product design” look.

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When analyzing the design of something, this statement isn’t really meaningful. Everything you can buy is a product. This article I’m hate-typing right now is a product, and like it or not you are my customers. Now, I understand what they are getting at. Saying something has a “product design” look has become shorthand for something “minimal,” with consistent use of constant radii, geometric primitive forms, a lack of frivolous decoration, muted colorways, and uses of san-serif fonts when labels are needed. In other words, “a tosser with a black turtleneck who probably drives a Polestar had a lot of influence on how this particular item of consumer hardware turned out.” But it’s such a reductive and not very useful way of talking about design.

On the desk in front of me are two laptops – a milled aluminum block of Cupertino’s finest, and a black Dell G7 that wouldn’t look out of place on the flight deck of a Klingon Bird of Prey. As products, their function of being a laptop is superficially similar but the divergence in their aesthetics reflects differing design priorities, capabilities, and brand identities.

Lancia Delta. Image Stellantis Media
Lancia Delta. Image Stellantis Media
Lancia Delta Integrale. Images Stellantis Media
Lancia Delta Integrale. Images Stellantis Media
Lada Niva. Image Lada Media
Lada Niva. Image Lada Media

I’ve also seen the R3X compared to both a Lada Niva (even my boss David did this) and a Lancia Delta, two cars with wildly different design briefs. The Niva was a car specifically designed for a hard rural life. They were miserable grinding Soviet shit boxes at the time of launch and manage the impressive feat of making an L316 Defender feel like a fucking Bentley. I guarantee you if any automotive influencer actually drove a Niva they would be horrified by the thing. [Editor’s Note: Um, I was horrified, I guess, but I also really liked it? Maybe Adrian doesn’t think I’m an influencer? – JT]

When people about the Delta what they really mean is the Radwood-stinky Lancia Delta Integrale – the homologation special that was mopping up world rally championships in the early nineties. Not the crisp Italian modernism of the Giugiaro original. None of these cars are in any way remotely on the same planet as the R3X in terms of ideas, function, execution, or design. The R3X is a modern, handsome well proportioned large-ish hatchback that has a subtle off-road stance, is powered by electricity and suffused with a large shot of California tinged Instagram energy. It isn’t a rally weapon, a spartan shopper for German hausfraus, or a hardy mountain goat.

A Good Product Will Create Its Own Buzz

Why does it have to be like this? Why can people only make facile comparisons to existing cars? Part of it is giving the veneer of saying something of substance, without any of that hard-thinking stuff. But mainly it’s because cultural discourse now only exists within a post-modern framework. People are unable to comment outside of anything that isn’t instantly recognizable because they and their audiences simply don’t have any reference points outside of what the algorithm fed them in the last five minutes. We’re stuck in a godforsaken nostalgia loop, a post-modern ouroboros where nothing can exist on its own merits. Everything has to specifically reference something from the past, and this does the intelligent discussion of design a great disservice.

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Rivian R3. Image Rivian Media
Rivian R3. Image Rivian 
Rivian R3X. Image Rivian Media
Rivian R3X. Image Rivian
Rivian R3X Interior. Image Rivian Media
Rivian R3X Interior. Image Rivian 
Rivian R3X Interior. Image Rivian Media
Rivian R3X Interior. Image Rivian

A counterargument to this would be that creating a buzz is important to generate consumer interest and generate sales – it’s a free media buy for hard-pressed (ha!) corporations desperate to get their products in front of potential customers. The human eyeball floating in the punchbowl in this instance is the fact the Rivian R2 is not going to be available until 2026, and the R3 will not arrive until after that. There was very little interaction with either of the R3 models, and attendees were not allowed to touch any of the cars at all, suggesting these were extremely fragile models with some limited driving functionality (as captured on video by people outside the event), rather than pre-production vehicles. If Rivian are trying to cultivate a Tesla-like following, that’s a fraught undertaking; trying to maintain interest online for two years might as well be two centuries in the real world.

The looming danger all this poses is that anything newly created that doesn’t exist in this retro-futurist zeitgeist will be instantly dismissed as having no desirability, whatever its merits as a product. I came across the video below by someone who refers to themself as the “Internet’s Creative Director.” He starts his argument from the premise that the Rivian R3 is a retro-inspired design, which as I hope I’ve illustrated, it very much is not. The argument continues as he dismisses the Suzuki Jimny for not being designed for the social media age, overlooking the fact that years after its release Suzuki still cannot build the damn things fast enough. But the statement that frustrated me was the assertion that “the current generation of Range Rover, does not objectively to anyone look better than this 2010’s more geometric version … if they were continuing to play into the more nostalgic playbook they would have a better aesthetic for their vehicle that I feel would be more resonant.”

The car-buying public, in the same way they always have, desires what’s new and original. An advance on what they had previously. They don’t want a new car that looks like an old one, because how would other people know it’s a new car? Despite all their insurance and reliability problems, Land Rover is selling every new L460 Range Rover and L663 Defender they can build, at a very tidy profit. And there will never, ever be anything retro or nostalgic coming out of Gaydon as long as Gerry McGovern is in charge. And all the available evidence tells me the same is true for Jeff Hammoud at Rivian.

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Andy the Swede
Andy the Swede
29 days ago

I am one of the idiots here posting that it reminded me of a late generation Delta Integrale. Turns out it actually was the inspiration. https://insideevs.com/news/712194/rivian-r3-design-inspired-lancia-delta-integrale-audi-quattro/

Logan King
Logan King
29 days ago
Reply to  Andy the Swede

Not only that but it was widely reported after they shadow dropped the car that the guy who design Clarke is white knighting specifically *was* making something that people would think was Guigiaro-esque. The first article I saw about the car atvall was the one on The Drive where Hammoud specifically namedropped the Delta and Quattro as being what Rivian wanted people to think about.

How people see Hammoud’s design and get the intended reaction from it and how that ends up being “an insult to Rivian chief designer Jeff Hammound (sic)” is a leap of logic that I guess we just need to be an automotive designer to not be so “galactically stupid” about.

Last edited 29 days ago by Logan King
Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
29 days ago

If this article upset you, there’s a non-zero likelihood you’re a wanker. It’s a miracle that someone expressed themselves unabashedly in this wankerworld. We must bless free expression, even if we don’t agree with it

Trevor Keene
Trevor Keene
29 days ago

There’s a hint of VW type 3 in its face – why do EV’s all have a blank gormless front on them, surely there’s a less boring aero solution for the front of them

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
29 days ago

New to this discussion, me.
I liked the article, it makes a good point for detaching the car from any obvious influence. Its design reminds me of something that I can’t put my finger on right now, but I guess that geometrical shapes are already invented and we have to make do with what we have. Thus, it’s perfectly possible that the designer did not want to moke, or cite, or suggest, or infuse, or whatever other verb may we may use to convey the idea of a preexisting car to base this Rivian on.

Having said that, I have mixed feelings about Jason’s warning about the tone. I love Adrian’s edgy tone, but I don’t take it seriously in a way that I could be offended by it. See, I’m a human rights lawyer, so I understand a number of concerns related to human dignity. I’m also a poet and a novelist. But I’m also 47 years old, I come from an age when our skin was thicker to deal with harsh tones, and I do love satire that is now politically incorrect.

I imagine Adrian as someone who can ask you what’s wrong with your hair (mine is absurdly bad), in a cranky tone, while serving you some single malt. And cracking a laughter if you reply that he is in no position whatsoever to complain about someone else’s hair. That is, an adult that makes and enjoys sarcasm both ways.
I do, though, understand Jason’s editorial decision as one intended to care for this amazing comunity, and I also don’t know the original piece to be able to assess it for myself.

In any case, I do celebrate that we can have this sort of conversation.

Black Peter
Black Peter
29 days ago

Counter point:
https://insideevs.com/news/712194/rivian-r3-design-inspired-lancia-delta-integrale-audi-quattro/
” Rivian design boss Jeff Hammoud said that the brief he gave to the design team “was like, we need this to be our Solo Rally Car.”
“So on our image boards, we had the Delta Integrale and the Audi Quattro from that era,” Hammoud added. But simply slapping a retro shell on top of the company’s new mid-size platform wouldn’t make the cut. The car needed to 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,” he added.”

Olaf Hart
Olaf Hart
29 days ago

Once you get old enough, everything reminds you of something else.
I’m getting hints of Austin Allegro, mostly the steering wheel.

Mr E
Mr E
29 days ago

I will freely admit that I make ‘facile comparisons’ with music. I hear hints/influences of other bands I like in new bands’ music that gets me to develop an initial appreciation for them. However, if I end up thinking the new band is merely a clone, not doing anything different, I stop listening.

I suppose I do the same thing with cars. Yes, the hatch area of this Rivian has styling cues similar to the original VW Golf, which piqued my interest, but I’m fairly confident that the Rivian’s build quality won’t be as shite as the V Dub.

James Carson
James Carson
29 days ago

Read the original, read this one. Don’t see what all the sturm and drang is about. I like the RIvan excepting the headlights.
To me, being a consumer and not a designer of vehicles that the Rivian beyond being a car/cuv/suv the does not seem derivative of anything.
Watched the branding guys take, I think it’s a little over the top, IMO his should be more of a more marketing perspective than that of a designer and as such he is working outside his box/lines.
I like the detailing and the overall packaging of the vehicles. They don’t come across as the extruded bland pasta of most other EV’s I’ve seen.

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