There's nothing fancy about Ford's new compact pickup, yet it still manages to feel like far more than the sum of its parts.
The 2022 Ford Maverick blew me away like lawn furniture in a hurricane. Including destination fees, this back-to-basics compact truck starts at less than $22,000, making it an unbelievable value. But the Maverick's greatness isn't exclusively a function of that low starting price: It's an all-around excellent vehicle and a groundbreaking product.
With a simple, rectangular grille and unadorned flanks, this boxy pickup's exterior styling is plain and reminiscent of an F-150 from the early 1990s, but don't let its austerity dissuade you. The Maverick is chock full of clever features and its interior is far more versatile — and hospitable — than you might imagine.
It's nowhere near as visually interesting as Hyundai's swanky Santa Cruz, but the Maverick is an honest rig, one that serves as Ford's entry-level product now that it no longer offers small cars in the U.S. And like today's hatchbacks and sedans, it's built on a unibody architecture and comes standard with front-wheel drive. Available in three trim levels and exclusively with a four-door body, five seats and a 4.5-foot cargo box (half a foot longer than the Santa Cruz's), this rig was designed for light-duty use and drivers that have never owned a pickup before.
One feature first-time truckers are sure to appreciate is the innovative Flexbed, which is able to handle up to 1,500 pounds. But that's not all. The Maverick's low ride height coupled with the box's short sidewalls means it's a cinch to reach in and grab things. The tailgate locks in a mid position, which allows you to slide requisite 4x8 sheets of building material right in on top of the wheel wells. This bed also features a range of tie-down points and D-rings, making it easy to secure cargo. There are threaded holes in the sidewalls so you can mount accessories, covered storage nooks are available and various pockets are stamped into the Sheetmetal to accommodate 2x4s or 2x6s so you can build your own dividers or support cargo in different ways. Like larger Ford trucks, you can even get a 110-volt power outlet in the bed.
The Maverick's cabin is just as innovative. The door panels are designed to accommodate 1-liter bottles in an upright position so they're not rolling around everywhere. There are plenty of cubbies and the rear-seat cushion lifts, revealing additional storage bins or allowing you to carry larger cargo. What's absent, however, are frills. Don't expect Nappa leather, open-pore wood furnishings or laser-etched speaker grilles. Still, despite its lack of embellishments, the Maverick manages to feel richer than its price tag.
Aside from the armrests, everything inside is made of hard plastic, but interesting textures and forms keep this cabin from feeling like a cage of injection-molded sadness. The light-gray trim features a subtle diamond faceting that adds some flair, though it's also made with bits of ground up carbon fiber, which adds strength and provides an appealing speckled pattern. Orange accents brighten the interior, while excellent ergonomics and simple-to-operate controls help make this a happy place to be. Not even the molded steering wheel looks or feels egregiously cheap. Automotive designers: This is how you do a low-cost interior.
This midrange Maverick XLT's seats are covered in lovely two-tone fabric that looks great and feels nice. The front buckets are supportive and all-day comfortable, though the rear seat is merely adequate. Adults fit OK, but the backrest is a touch too upright and legroom is scarce.
In keeping with its ultra-low price, this truck does not have push-button start, meaning you have to stick an old-fashioned key into the steering column and give it a twist. (How retro!) An 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard equipment. Regrettably, this display is a bit low-res and oddly off-center on the dashboard. Less-than-favorable viewing angles mean things look washed-out from the driver's seat. At least the Sync 3 infotainment system is intuitive and snappy. Embedded navigation isn't offered at any price, so make sure to bring your phone and a cable.
Other standard equipment includes automatic high beams and pre-collision emergency braking. This XLT model also features automatic brake hold and blind-spot monitoring, which is included with lane-keeping assist and a full-size spare tire in the $540 Ford Co-Pilot 360 package. The Maverick is available with some upscale amenities, just don't expect all the latest bells and whistles. Things like adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane centering, a reverse-sensing system, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are on the menu.
A hybrid powertrain serves base duty in the Maverick, delivering a respectable 191 horsepower and a ridiculous 37 mpg combined (42 mpg city, 33 mpg highway). For light-duty use or just puttering around town, go this route, though if you want all-wheel drive, the ability to tow up to 4,000 pounds (when properly equipped) or prefer something a little spunkier, grab the available 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. It delivers a stout 250 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque.
That uplevel powerplant makes for a surprisingly good truck engine, delivering potent performance throughout the rev range. Punch it and the Maverick leaps off the line, pressing you back into the seat with a firm, sustained shove until the transmission grabs the next gear. That EcoBoost engine is also a paragon of refinement. Start it up and you don't feel a thing — no shudders and zero vibration. It's just as silky while working, making little noise and remaining as smooth as whipped butter. The stop-start system is transparent, too, seamlessly killing the engine while waiting at red lights and restarting it in an instant.
A standard eight-speed automatic transmission helps enable the Maverick's sprightly performance. All around, this unit flirts with greatness, seamlessly slurring between gears and easily dropping ratios when you need to accelerate. The only complaint I have is sometimes you feel it downshifting while rolling to a stop.
With all-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter engine, expect 22 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. Combined, this version of the truck is rated at 25 mpg, though in mixed use I'm getting more than 27 mpg and that's without even trying. Opting for front-wheel drive increases the Maverick's EPA ratings by 1 mpg in all three categories, though they're still a far cry from what the hybrid can deliver.
Aside from its versatility and powertrain refinement, what's also surprising about the Maverick is its road manners. This compact pickup is whisper quiet at speed and the firm ride manages to be silky, with no grittiness, vibration or clunks to be felt. The steering is nice and heavy but also precise, giving the vehicle a planted feel. Throw in an excellent driving position plus good outward visibility and you have a truck that drives better than some luxury vehicles.
As it sits, this truck checks out for about $29,845, including $1,495 in destination fees and a modest $4,985 in options. All-wheel drive and the EcoBoost engine account for about two thirds of that upcharge, while Ford Co-Pilot 360, the FX4 off-road package, 17-inch wheels, a spray-in bedliner and all-weather floor mats make up the difference. Less than 30 grand for this excellent little pickup makes it practically the bargain of the century, because remember, the average new-vehicle transaction price in the US today is well over $40,000.
I think the Maverick is better than any midsize pickup out there, save for the also-built-on-unibody-architecture Honda Ridgeline. Simple and affordably priced, yet still enjoyable to drive and plenty capable, this compact rig is more cohesive than the larger Ford Ranger, better thought out than the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins and more comfortable than a Toyota Tacoma. The equally new — and similarly sized — Santa Cruz might beat the Maverick thanks to its extroverted design and more upscale interior. Until we do a formal comparison it's impossible to say for certain, but that is a test I look forward to conducting.©2021 Roadshow. Visit at cnet.com/roadshow. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.