Rivian R1T: The first electric full-size pickup has a cartoon guardian, 800-plus hp

The Rivian R1T, the first electric full-size pickup, just went on sale, and it’s clearly ready to challenge luxury vehicles like Land Rovers, with head-snapping power and eye-popping technology. Priced starting at $73,000, the R1T makes no pretense of competing with upcoming mass market electric pickups like the Ford F-150 Lightning that arrives next year, but it sets up an intriguing comparison for the more powerful, expensive and flamboyant GMC Hummer EV arriving later this year.

Rivian, a startup automaker that will also have electric Amazon delivery vans on the road in time for the holidays, builds the R1T in Normal, Illinois, site of a former Chrysler and Mitsubishi assembly plant the company acquired and retooled. Rivian also plans to produce the R1S, a luxury SUV, next year.

Rivian once had an agreement to build a Lincoln EV with Ford, which owns stock in the smaller company. That plan dissolved. It’s not clear what will come of the relationship.

I recently took an all-wheel-drive R1T for a short test drive near the company’s Plymouth tech center, and I can’t wait for a longer drive. It’s comfortable, quiet, fast and loaded with features owners are likely to love.

It’s everything Tesla’s delayed Cyber truck aspires to be, with the added benefits of being available now and looking like a pickup, not an origami crane left out in the rain.

The Rivian R1T model line

—Launch Edition - $73,000, available now. Sold out

—Adventure - $73,000, available January 2022

—Explore - $67,500, available January 2022

Driving impressions

I’m one of a handful of people who have driven both the R1T and GMC Hummer electric pickups, but it’s way too early to compare them. That’ll take days behind the wheel of each, driving in city, country and highways, charging batteries, loading their front trunks with groceries.

It’s already clear both deserve to be taken seriously, though.

My R1T drive encompassed busy surface streets, an idyllic small town and washboard dirt roads. The pickup was absolutely solid, not a squeak or rattle, despite being an early model from a company that never built a vehicle before.

The steering was firm and precise. The adaptive air suspension kept the R1T level in hard acceleration — 0-60 mph in about 3 seconds, a once unimaginable statistic that will become common as we become accustomed to EV performance.

There was nearly no road or wind noise, despite 20-inch wheels, all-terrain tires and a one-piece glass roof.

The Riv’s one-pedal braking — an EV-specific goodie that maximizes energy recapture during deceleration, slowing the R1T dramatically when you lift of the accelerator — is effective and intuitive. I got used to it in a few minutes, and would probably use it all the time if I had an R1T.

The R1T can tow 11,000 pounds and go 314 miles on a charge. A 400-plus mile package costs $10,000. Shorter range will be available later.

R1T facts and figures

—Electronically controller all-wheel drive

—Four motors, one at each wheel

—Front wheels: 415 horsepower/413 pound-feet of torque

—Rear wheels: 420 hp; 495 pound-feet

—Four drive modes

—Total system power 800-plus hp; 900-plus pound-feet

—3 second estimated 0-60 mph time

—Three-foot water fording

—11,000-pound towing capacity

—Skateboard chassis

—Independent air suspension

—Ground clearance: 8.9 inches access mode; 9.7-in. sport mode; 14.9 inches max

—Hydraulic roll control

—Length: 217.1 inches

—Width: 81.8 inches

—Height: 72.1 inches in park; 73.1 in sport; 78.3 off-road max

Vegan leather, real wood

The interior is comfortable and advanced, but not flashy. Vegan artificial leather covers comfortable seats. Heated and ventilated front seats are available.

The rear seat is roomy. There are storage bins under front and rear seats.

A full-length glass roof adds to the perception of space. It’s UV coated to screen out 99.9% of UV light, to reduce cabin heat on sunny days

A panel of natural-grain ash wood runs across the dash from door to door. The controls are simple. A 16-inch, landscape orientation touch screen in the middle manages most functions. A smaller screen in front of the driver provides speed, navigation and other information.

The R1T Launch Edition has a 1,200-watt Meridian sound system, recycled microfiber headliner, yellow interior accents and Chilewich floor mats.

“Gear Guard,” a Muppet-ish cartoon mascot that looks like he got lost on the way to a Grateful Dead show, personifies the R1T’s array of sensors, patrolling the touch screen when on duty, appearing to nap when the system is inactive.

The R1T has other unexpected features, including the gear tunnel, an 11.1 cubic-foot lockable secured space between the passenger cabin and bed that can hold anything from skis to a pull-out electric range and camp kitchen. A rechargeable flashlight stores in the door. The removable Bluetooth camp speaker incorporates a three-setting lantern and phone-charging USB ports.

Safety and driver-assist features

—Adaptive cruise control

—Lane change assist

—Lane keeping assist

—Blind spot alert

—Rear cross traffic alert

—Auto high beams

—Surround sensors

—Trailer reverse assist

—Forward collision alert

—Automatic emergency braking

—Emergency brake assist

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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