Despite ever-increasing advancements in pickup-truck refinement, the good ones are still defined by offering an appropriate amount of capability for the money. Relatively inexpensive fleet-oriented full-size trucks still exist at the low end of every pickup manufacturer's lineup. However, the once-simple compact pickups that could fit most suburban garages and wallets have ballooned in size and equipment, pushing their prices toward $40,000. Buyers seeking an affordable small truck for Home Depot runs or towing a couple of Jet Skis had limited options until Ford introduced the Escape-based Maverick.
Think of the Maverick as a compact SUV with a 4.5-foot cargo box. Slotting below Ford's mid-size Ranger, it starts at just $21,490 for the base XL model. It comes only as a crew cab and eschews the body-on-frame construction of most pickups for a unibody architecture, specifically a beefier version of Ford's C2 platform, which underpinned the no-longer-available Focus, among others. The larger Honda Ridgeline employs a similar layout, earning it some scorn from traditionalists, but a unibody setup keeps curb weight in check and can provide better driving characteristics. It's no coincidence that the Hyundai Santa Cruz, the Maverick's equally fresh competitor, has a similar makeup.
Our midrange XLT test truck weighed just 3800 pounds, a featherweight by pickup standards. Front-wheel drive is standard, and base versions are motivated by a hybrid powertrain featuring a 2.5-liter inline-four and two electric motors, an arrangement good for 191 horsepower and an impressive 37-mpg EPA combined estimate. All-wheel drive costs $2220 extra and is available only with the 250-hp 2.0-liter turbo four (a $1085 upcharge), which pairs with a conventional eight-speed automatic. Our all-wheel-drive example returned 29 mpg in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, matching its EPA estimate. And its 21-mpg average is better than mid-size trucks tend to fare in our hands.
Ford's boosted 2.0-liter delivers smooth and responsive grunt for passing maneuvers, and the unobtrusive eight-speed gearbox helped our truck run to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. This setup is a good match for the Maverick, although we would welcome some form of manual control instead of the L setting on the rotary shift dial, which simply holds gears at higher revs. At 71 decibels, full-throttle noise levels in the cabin are relatively hushed. However, that's only one decibel louder than we recorded when cruising at 70 mph, with prominent wind rush around the mirrors and A-pillars. Sound insulation is modest; flip down the rear seatbacks and there's just a bare-metal bulkhead.
While front-drive versions use a torsion-beam rear suspension, all-wheel-drive models get an independent trailing-arm setup that delivers a taut yet comfortable and composed ride. The unsettledness over rough roads that's common in conventional pickups with live rear axles and leaf springs is not an issue here. There's noticeable body roll in corners, and the thwacks from pavement seams can reverberate inside. But the Maverick feels solid, and its brakes have a reassuring bite. Crank the steering wheel off-center and this truck obediently changes direction, albeit with little feel from its helm. Our test truck posted 0.82 g of skidpad grip and stopped from 70 mph in 172 feet—decent results considering the 17-inch Falken Wildpeak A/T AT3W all-terrain tires, part of the $800 FX4 Off-Road package.
The interior is straightforward and spacious up front, though light on fripperies. In a push-button-start world, twisting a physical ignition key (on all but the top trim) is a throwback. The Maverick's 8.0-inch touchscreen is smaller and has lower resolution than Ford's more advanced units, but it does have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Our truck didn't leave us wanting for much, though, even at its reasonable $30,235 as-tested price. Storage solutions are plentiful, and the Co-Pilot360 package brings a host of driver aids. Except for the basic-looking steering wheel, the Maverick's hard interior plastics have tasteful contrasting colors and textures. We dig the XLT's natty tweedy upholstery and supportive front seats. Adults will find the reasonably sized back seat snug yet accommodating enough—and downright palatial if they've ever done time in the transverse jump seats of an old extended-cab compact truck. You'll need to spend about $35K on the top Lariat trim to unlock all the niceties, such as faux-leather seating and adaptive cruise control.
The Maverick offers versatility, ease of use, a manageable size, and affordable pricing that will certainly appeal to entry-level shoppers. For many folks with modest funds and small jobs to do, it's all the truck they'll need. And for those of us who fondly remember the mini-truck craze of the 1980s and '90s, the Maverick feels like the beginning of something big.
For years, Ford evidently thought that every pickup buyer should get an F-150. Finally, some product planner had the temerity to suggest that not everyone needs or wants something as big or expensive as an F-series. The Maverick is no threat to Ford's standard-bearer; instead, it will put people who would have never bought a Ford pickup into one. —Joe Lorio
Two years ago, Ford sent us a redesigned Escape with a buzzy three-cylinder, a lame interior, more ennui than we could handle, and a $30,485 price so far from reality you'd think the marketing department was on shrooms. Now the same folks have spun gold from that Escape's straw. Even if you upgrade to the 250-hp engine, the Maverick still comes in under $25K. Ford hasn't done a 180 like this since the '86 Taurus. I'd buy one. —Tony Quiroga