Payne: Affordable Ford Maverick pickup is a 40 mpg Swiss Army knife

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 5, 2021

Nashville, Tenn. — We auto journalists love to prattle on about how capable the ripped Ford F-150 Raptor supertruck is with its terrain-chewing tires, high-tech Fox shocks and powerful, twin-turbo V-6. But at $70K, the Raptor tool can only be afforded by a few.

Everyone else is left coveting the stud with their noses pressed against the window.

Until now. For a Ford Truck Nation that has always dreamed of an affordable Swiss Army knife, your ship has come in. The entry-level Maverick pickup is here and it is really, really good.

Yes, the base $21,490 Maverick XL. You want a truck with 500 miles of range? 191 horsepower? A hybrid drivetrain, Google maps smartphone connectivity, and more storage options than the Queen Mary? Write your check for $21,490.

This stud doesn’t require two parking spaces to park. Downtown Nashville is overrun these days with music acts, IndyCar races, tourists. Want to park an F-150 in the cramped parking lot of Carter Vintage Guitars on 8th Avenue? Ain’t happening, ya’ll.

With Maverick, it’s a cinch. Exit downtown and load 1,000 pounds of mulch and rock from Home Depot for your home lawn project.

The 2022 Ford Maverick hybrid can carry 1.500 pounds - though it only comes in FD.

Pickup capability used to mean you had to ride a rough ladder-frame chassis or pay big bucks for magnetic shocks to smooth things out. Maverick, on the other hand, is a joy to drive. Fast. With mulch loaded behind me, I drove Mav hard like it was a unibody, compact SUV.

That’s because it is a unibody, compact SUV.

Maverick is now the entry-level vehicle for Ford’s lineup. Not just the truck lineup, the entire vehicle lineup. If you’re thinking Maverick sounds like an Escape or a Bronco Sport with a bed, it is. The Mav’s secret sauce is it brings truck capability to the market’s biggest volume class, compact SUVs.

As I drove the baby F-series, I realized it wasn’t so much a truck as a bed option in a segment my wife and I have occupied all our lives. Me in VW Golfs and Honda Civics. My wife in her beloved $28K Subaru Impreza with all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise, sippy fuel economy and park-anywhere maneuverability.

The interior of the 2022 Ford Maverick has character with a tablet screen, storage, and rotary shifter.

Maverick checks the same boxes for the same price. Substitute bed for hatch. The pickup completes the trifecta of three compact SUVs — Escape, Bronco Sport and Maverick — built on the same chassis but with three distinct personalities.

For that reason alone, the new littlest Ford (India-made Ecosport has been axed) deserves its rebel name. Maverick demonstrates the transformation of a 20th-century car company to a 21st-century truck ‘n’ SUV company. Want a Focus or Fiesta hatchback? Move to Europe.

For all its segment-busting swagger, the Maverick is conservatively styled. This is no Hyundai Santa Cruz — the other unibody pickup introduced this year and Hyundai’s first pickup — which screams for attention with its angular bod, sliding tonneau cover, and sub-bed trunk.

Maverick is part of a larger truck family. The brand knows it has market cred — Mav takes design cues from big brother F-150 with its C-clamp grille and squared-off bed design. There’s no sub-bed to carry coolers (Ford says it compromises the steel box’s strength), no sliding bed covers (Ford says it compromises bed width), no angular c-pillar (compromises access). Hyundai dares to question the ol’ formula.

Maverick saves its innovation for under the skin. This is no plasticky Ranger — which felt rushed when Ford realized it was late to the midsize truck party in 2018.

The 2022 Ford Maverick features a cleverly-designed door that is scalloped to handle even oversized bottle.

Maverick’s interior has the confidence of a segment buster — tastefully done with clever use of materials (recycled carbon fiber dust here, orange/bronze trim pieces for XLT/Lariat trims there). Doors are scalloped for oversized bottle storage — the handles floating in space. Take a bow, interior design team.

Accessories are numerous. My favorite? A $50 five-pack of interchangeable gadgets for the rear seat console: trash bin, cupholder, cord wrap, grocery bag holder, sub-seat organizer.

The sub-seat organizer provides ample storage space under the rear bench seats — an inherent benefit of unibody construction. Bronco Sport sports similar space, but Maverick goes even deeper. Store footballs, muddy cleats, bottles — not to mention the rest of the accessory five-pack.

The 2022 Ford Maverick sports a versatile, 4.5-foot bed.

Though just 4.5 feet long by 4 feet wide (the same as, ahem, a $70,000 Rivian EV), the pickup’s rear bed can store a bicycle — or two if you take the front wheels off. Like competitors, Ford knows customers (especially younger buyers in this segment) expect their vehicles to talk with their phones. Mav depends on your smartphone for its navigation — and sticks a QR code on the rear bed so you can access a variety of online Ford help videos to configure lights, bike rack, etc.

Hyundai knows the bed is key, too, and its sliding tonneau cover, sub-bed storage and soft-drop tailgate will challenge Maverick.

Santa Cruz will also create buzz with its greater towing capacity, standard wireless smartphone connectivity/blind spot-assist and premium interior (including a hoodless, LED instrument display that is one of my favorite new 2021 items) when pitted against the Maverick’s XLT and Lariat trims for a comparable $25,000 (where Maverick gains all-wheel-drive with a more powerful, 250-horse  2.0-liter turbo-4).

But that base $21,490 Maverick XL bargain stands alone.

That’s a whopping four grand below the Hyundai, a real number for entry-level buyers. Not long ago, I asked a Golf engineer why V-dub didn’t hybrid-ize its compact hatch for superior fuel economy. His answer: battery cost made compact-class hybrids unrealistic.

Cue Ford, which has managed a rockin’, 191-horsepower hybrid with 40 mpg city — in a $22K compact pickup. Chew on that for a moment. This is an accomplishment right there with racing a Raptor across sand dunes at 100 mph. And it’s something you’ll appreciate every day.

Dolly Parton smiles on the affordable, hip 2022 Ford Maverick in Nashville.

With a Maverick dressed in Area 51 Blue and steely wheels, I strutted around the Music City in style. I parked in front of Nashville’s Dolly Parton street mural, the queen of country smiling down on my ride.

A huge, full-size Toyota Tundra parked (very carefully) nearby. “Cool color,” the owner commented, looking over my Mav. When I told her the price, her jaw dropped.

My Ford truck buddies covet a big, bad F-150. My wife loves her compact hatch. I get it. But for those who want the two combined, Ford has worked a miracle: an affordable truck with personality.

2022 Ford Maverick

Vehicle type: Front engine, front- and four-wheel-drive, five-passenger compact pickup

Price: $21,490, including $1,495 destination fee ($21,490 FWD XL Hybrid and $37,360 FWD Lariat turbo-4 as tested)

Powerplant: Hybrid 2.5-liter 4-cylinder mated to electric motor; 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 191 horsepower, 155 pound-feet torque (hybrid); 250 horsepower, 277 pound-feet torque (turbo-4)

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (hybrid); 8-speed automatic (turbo-4)

 Payload: 1,500 pounds; Towing capacity: 2,000-4,000 pounds

Weight: 3,674 pounds (hybrid as tested); 3,731 pounds (AWD turbo-4 as tested)

Fuel economy: 36 mpg (hybrid combined, observed on test drive); EPA est. mpg 23 city/30 highway/26 combined (turbo-4 FWD); 22 city/29 highway/25 combined (turbo-4 AWD)

Report card

Highs: Hybrid price is right; nifty interior

Lows: No sub-bed option like Hyundai Santa Cruz; wireless Apple CarPlay, please

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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