Ask American truck buyers if they want more of anything, and they'll say yes. More power? More room? More toys? Don't mind if we do. When combined with the auto industry's penchant for endless customer surveys and clinics, this truism has assured that every generation of pickup gets bigger, heavier and costlier. It's a vicious cycle, but every once in a while, someone tries to break it. This time, it's Ford, a company that's ironically done a lot to create America's supersize-me pickup culture in the first place. Nevertheless, after a couple days of intense testing, I think this 2022 Maverick is likely to succeed in finding a big audience where other smaller trucks have failed to make a dent.
Firstly, you need to know that Maverick isn't a tiny penalty box and it's capable of doing lots of pickup stuff that millions of folks depend on their trucks to do every day. Despite a jaw-droppingly low starting price of $21,490 ($19,995 plus an irritatingly steep $1,495 destination charge), this compact load lugger avoids feeling both cheap and tiny. In fact, at almost 200 inches long, the Maverick isn't even all that small by modern automotive standards -- it's about the size of a Toyota Highlander, so there's way more room inside than you'd think.
Ford's fundamental rethink of the pickup starts with the Maverick's basic structure. This isn't a body-on-frame beast like the Blue Oval's own F-150 or Ranger. Instead, it's a unibody, including the bed, which spans just 4.5 feet. Furthermore, this vehicle is front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional, of course, but you can't get a 2WD Mav that spins its rear wheels. This formula has been tried before, chiefly with Honda's Ridgeline, but the latter isn't just significantly larger, it's in an entirely different price class, wearing an MSRP that's nearly $17,000 more. Plus, the Honda is significantly less efficient.
That last bit is particularly important. The Maverick comes standard with a hybrid powertrain in all three trims (XL, XLT and Lariat), making it not only the first pickup with standard gas-electric motivation, but also America's cheapest full hybrid by a country mile. Combined with its 94-kW electric assist motor, the Maverick's 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four delivers a modest-sounding 191 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque. More importantly, this FWD powertrain promises 40 mpg in the city -- a figure I beat in Nashville traffic without trying. This truck is substantially more efficient than a Honda Civic in the urban grind and it's cheaper, too. That's remarkable. Even the model's estimated highway and combined-cycle numbers compare well at 33 and 37 mpg, as does max range, some 500 miles between fill-ups. A gas-only 2.0-liter EcoBoost is also available, trading a fair amount of efficiency for additional power and capability.
All of the above adds up to a little truck that should hit America's roads and its pocketbooks more like a small crossover than a typical pickup. Based on Ford's C2 platform, the Maverick's architecture is shared with today's Escape and Bronco Sport SUVs -- the former is remarkably car-like in both appearance and personality and the latter is surprisingly capable off-road. This Mav leverages the best of both to land somewhere in the middle.
To be clear, not everyone will love that this pickup drives like a car. Ladder-frame vehicles feel inherently different and some drivers simply prefer blunter, truckier responses. But let's face it, nobody was going to cross-shop the Maverick with a full-size anyway.
In the spirit of the Maverick's pickup-truck rethink, I started my testing with the vehicle in its purest distillation: an option-free XL hybrid, steel wheels, FWD and all. It's worth highlighting that it's an incredibly unusual occurrence for any company to offer a base model for media evaluation at a launch -- typically automakers try to wow reviews with a heavy mix of loaded models and a smattering of mid-range trims. Ford was smart to gamble, because even a quick drive makes it abundantly clear what an incredible value the base Maverick is. So much so that the XL might just be this vehicle's best version. Yes, there are some unusual missing elements for a modern vehicle -- there's no push-button start and you adjust the side mirrors by tilting the glass with your outstretched hands. That's fine. While the interior feels basic, it avoids feeling cheap by splurging on key standard features, notably a crisp eight-inch touchscreen, as well as a modern-feeling rotary gear selector.
Even with the inclusion of that relatively large infotainment display, if you're the type of driver who dislikes cockpit toys and just wants to keep your surroundings basic -- single-zone climate control, easy-clean surfaces and so on, then the XL is the Maverick for you. It's also refreshing that Ford's designers haven't resorted to visual trickery to try to make the cabin's materials seem like anything other than what they are. You won't find plastics with leather-look embossed graining, for instance, even on high trims (the exception: Lariat's rich brown upholstery, which hasn't actually been near a cow).
There's also gobs of space inside. Ford won't like me spilling the beans, but the Maverick actually has more front-seat head-, leg-, and shoulder-room than the much-larger Ranger. In reality, the cabin is more accommodating in nearly every dimension than Ford's midsizer. The Maverick actually feels nicer overall and more modern inside, to boot. That's particularly true from the Maverick's XLT trim on up, when you'll be rewarded not only with more features, but nicer interior materials in richer colorways. The XLT ($23,775 delivered for the hybrid) includes blue-and-gray fabrics set off by orange accents and features power side mirrors, cruise control and a remote locking tailgate. A $2,345 Luxury Pack brings power heated seats, remote start, spray-in bedliner and LED box lighting, among other features. Annoyingly, you have to step all the way up to the Lariat ($26,985 delivered) to get keyless access and start, but at least you also get a noise-curbing laminated windshield, 18-inch alloys and dual-zone climate control.
And there isn't just more space for occupants, there's lots of room for gear, too, including spots for one-liter bottles in all four doors and a center console that swallows all manner of detritus. The latter actually includes a stand to prop up your phone or french-fry sleeve. Even your stuff has a nicer time of things in the Maverick than today's Ranger. (Ford's next-gen midsizer is set to be revealed shortly and it can't come soon enough.)
More interestingly, Ford has included a neat low-cost system that adds functionality according to the owner's whims: Ford Integrated Tether System. FITS, for short, is a fancy way of saying "accessory slots." You'll find cleats at the rear of the center console and no fewer than seven slots in the storage wells underneath the backseat. Ford will sell you a bundle of plug-in accessories including a trash bin, cord organizer, grocery-bag double hooks and auxiliary cup holders for $50.
That's not the clever bit, though. Ford has placed a series of QR codes through the vehicle. When scanned via smartphone, they link to videos detailing DIY accessory plans, including items like a low-cost bedside rail cleat system and bike carrier, both made from hardware-store parts. The idea is that people can share their own designs with other Maverick owners, turning this truck into a maker's space for 3D-printed accessories and homebuilt solutions. This approach is more smart tech than high-tech, but such low-dollar hacks could be invaluable to cash-strapped buyers.
Any interior omissions? You won't find separate adjustable vents for rear-seat passengers. While that's fine on a low-end truck, their unavailability starts to chafe on high-end examples, especially those that stretch into the mid-to-upper $30,000 range. At least there are under-seat air ducts. You also can't opt for embedded navigation, you'll have to use a phone app like Waze and while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are standard, they require cables. Like Bronco Sport, the Maverick is available with Ford's older, less-sophisticated Sync 3 infotainment, which lacks wireless connectivity found in models like the Mustang Mach-E and big Bronco (wireless charging is available, however). Finally, you can't select 360-degree camera coverage, an option-sheet absence that again, only really starts to feel like a miss if you've splashed out for a loaded Lariat.
A couple of words on the Maverick's base 2.5-liter hybrid: It's good. With its modest output numbers, you'd never expect a powerhouse, but in my (admittedly limited) driving, the powertrain was more than up to the task of driving around town, feeling plenty peppy from stoplight to stoplight and even when pushed a bit on stretches of freeway and undulating country roads. The stop-start system -- often the bane of my motoring existence -- was well-behaved and the brake pedal was surprisingly firm and linear. (The latter is a common bugaboo with gas-electric vehicles because it's tough to blend energy-recuperating regenerative braking with friction brakes.)
Due to metro Nashville's omnipresent traffic and a tight timetable to get through all of the Maverick's variants, I never really had the chance to attempt hard acceleration runs, let alone try out the hybrid's 1,500-pound payload and 2,000-pound max tow ratings. More testing is needed, if only to see how the hybrid's continuously variable transmission handles hard use.
Ford set up a basic off-road test loop at a farm, where I tried out a mid-range 2.0T XLT equipped with AWD, the FX4 Off-Road Package and a set of optional knobbier 17-inch Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires. At $800, the FX4 group is the best deal on the Mav's option list. It includes everything from unique 17-inch aluminum wheels, bedside graphics, tow hooks and skid plates to a heavy-duty radiator and fan. The extra cooling is also helpful because FX4s come with a hitch rated for 2,000 pounds along with greater electronic smarts: hill-descent control and Sand and Mud & Ruts drive modes are also included. (A 4K Max Tow Package is also available for $745 on AWD models.)
Maverick FX4s feature standard Pirelli Scorpion A/T rubber and you'll have to spend nearly as much -- $795 -- to get the aforementioned 10-mm-wider Falkens. That isn't really worth it, because even with the slight lift afforded by the taller 235/65-series rubber, the Maverick is really only suitable for modest all-terrain exploits. You'll be fine tackling rutted two-tracks to get to your favorite camping spot and you can expect to negotiate uphill trails studded with softball-sized rocks without fear. But even with upwards of 8.6 inches of clearance and the 2.0T's more sophisticated rear multi-link suspension, without a dedicated low range or the Bronco Sport Badlands' locking rear twin-clutch drive unit, you'd be wise to not expect much more.
In contrast to Hyundai's approach with the Santa Cruz, Maverick's only real rival, Ford is steadfastly marketing this Maverick as a truck, not some sort of lifestyle crossover with a small bed, so it shouldn't be surprising that the Blue Oval also set up a towing demo for us. I grabbed a full-house Lariat 2.0T AWD with the 4,000-pound tow package and proceeded to haul a couple of Polaris ATVs on a double-axle trailer (total weight: 3,650 pounds) around Tennessee's rolling hill country. It's up to the job. The EcoBoost in-line four generates 250 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, so there's an unusually large power gulf between the Maverick's powertrains. There isn't so much oomph with the 2.0T that you're at risk of forgetting you're toting something, but acceleration under load is more than adequate and the model's conventional eight-speed automatic and integrated trailer-brake controller reinforce driver confidence.
That said, if you plan on dragging larger loads regularly, you may want to consider a bigger rig, especially since towing really takes a toll on efficiency. There were times when the trip computer's instantaneous readout stated 12-12.5 mpg -- likely worse than what you'd get operating a larger, less-stressed truck. If you aren't towing, you can expect a still-reasonable 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined in AWD 2.0T models (add a single mpg per cycle for FWD models).
As far as payload goes, you're limited to 1,500 pounds regardless of powertrain. That's actually pretty good -- just 60 pounds shy of Ford's SuperCrew 4x4 Ranger. The bigger story is the baked-in versatility of Mav's Flexbed. Despite only being 54.4 inches long, you can secure 17 4x8 sheets of plywood with the tailgate angled to its middle position. There are a bunch of features designed to maximize flexibility, including 2x4 pockets, false floor dividers and access panels for 12V power so you don't have to splice into the taillight wiring to add something like an air compressor. Again, none of this is high tech, but it's smart stuff that helps make the most out of what otherwise might've been a problematically small bed.
Check out our man Craig Cole's in-depth Flexbed walkaround video here:
On the safety front, all Mavericks come with automatic emergency braking and twilight-sensing headlamps with auto high-beams. If you want a blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert and lane-keep, you'll need a $540 Co-Pilot 360 suite that's optional on all but the top-trim Lariat with Luxury Package. Nearly every other safety feature, from lane centering and evasive steering assist to rear parking sensors, requires going all the way up Mav's trim ladder. Frustratingly, that includes adaptive cruise control.
OK, so this Sonora, Mexico-built Ford isn't perfect. It won't be for everyone and it certainly won't cure America's insatiable consumer appetite for more -- mine included. That said, the Maverick is a remarkably versatile and clever package that makes an excellent case for being all the pickup most people will ever need. It's easy to drive and has more cabin space than some larger trucks. The key differences between this Maverick and other unibody pickups that have wilted in showrooms before it is that this Ford is outrageously affordable and fuel-efficient in its entry-level spec. Lower-end models ought to be an easy favorite for fleet buyers, from large-scale public utilities and municipalities to smaller mom-and-pop plumbing companies. In fact, the Maverick is capable enough that farmers might want to consider buying one instead of a side-by side UTV, many of which are far costlier.
Most importantly, this Ford's long list of virtues should make it an attractive (if left-field) alternative to entry-level shoppers looking for their first car, or even as a potential used-car cross shop. Yes, some traditional pickup owners may snicker or snarl and say that this isn't a truck at all, but that's fine, because it feels like Ford is going to sell tons of Mavericks. True to its name, this pickup goes its own way and is all the better for it.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.