Barry Spyker | Tribune News Service
For those who miss the older, smaller Ford Ranger pickup, it’s back — except it’s called a Maverick now. And it has some nifty tricks within its 4.5-foot cargo bed, plus a versatile tailgate. Oh, and the base version comes standard as a hybrid.
Would-be truck buyers apparently have been hungry for a compact pickup truck like this Maverick, judging by sales numbers. Demand has been so strong that Ford stopped taking orders last year to play catch-up on production. Don’t worry, the order bank has reopened for 2023 models.
Already named North American Truck of the Year by a group of Michigan journalists, the Maverick this year adds a more hardcore off-road version, the Tremor. It has upgraded shocks, an extra inch of ground clearance, a heavy-duty transmission cooler and all-terrain tires.
Parked beside an older Ranger, it’s easy to see the thought process for the new Maverick. Compact trucks have grown into midsizers, like the Ranger, Chevy Colorado, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier; the Maverick is just an inch taller and wider than the old Ranger.
The Maverick is part of a new segment that includes the Hyundai Santa Cruz, which costs $4,000 more but can tow more, too. It has a boxy, muscular look with a beam across a black mesh grille. It only comes in crew-cab configuration with four doors, and all Mavericks get the small but versatile 4.5-foot cargo bed.
Ford calls it a Flexbed, and it has slots stamped into the sides to position 2x4s to section off the area. Do-it-yourselfers can scan a QR code in the bed for other loading ideas, and video tutorials are available as well. Also, talk about futuristic: Ford offers blueprints for 3D-printed accessories that can be printed at home.
The tailgate can be positioned midway to support 4×8 sheets of plywood — 400 pounds’ worth. Or a couple of kayaks or a kids’ swing set.
Power starts with a hybrid setup comprised of a 2.5-liter engine mated to an electrical motor and CVT (continuously variable transmission). This 191-hp version is for those who want the function of a pickup but don’t plan on doing any heavy lifting. It has a tow rating of 2,000 pounds and payload of 1,500.
But there’s a payoff at the gas pump of EPA-rated 42 mpg city, 30 highway and a 500-mile range per tank.
Most, however, are opting for the turbocharged 2.0-liter four, which has more pep and power, and is available with all-wheel-drive ($3,305). It’s a little sluggish off the line but still hustles to 60 mph in about six seconds. Part of the credit goes to a quick-shifting 8-speed transmission, rather than the hybrid’s CVT.
It produces 250 hp and 277 pound-feet of torque, has a higher payload at 2,000 pounds, and can tow up to 4,000 pounds. As expected, it is less efficient than the hybrid: EPA says 23 mpg, city, 30 highway, and 26 combined.
Unlike truck-based platforms, Maverick is based on the Ford Escape, so it offers more car-like dynamics. Steering is nicely weighted and U-turns are stress-free with a tight turning radius. The suspension keeps it stable on corners, and it does a good job of taming the rough patches on the road.
Urban dwellers will find it easy-peasy to negotiate tight city streets and parallel park.
As for the rougher stuff, the Maverick’s is not a hardcore off-roader. It only has an 8.6-inch ground clearance and does not have locking differentials or low-range gearing.
Still, it does fine on moderate trails. An off-road FX4 package, optional with AWD on the XLT and Lariat trims, emboldens the Maverick with skid plates, traction control modes for mud, ruts and sand, and hill descent control.
The cabin has a classic, simple look with hard plastics, knobs and multiple cup holders and cubbies. But it’s enhanced by contrasts in color and textures and optional ambient lighting. Even the base trim gets tilt-and-telescoping wheel and wheel-mounted controls.
While Maverick is a junior truck, the space inside is easy to live with. Legroom and headroom are decent, less so on rear-seat legroom. When not in use, rear seats flip up for extra storage compartments.
On higher trims, two-tone cloth seats offer automatic adjustments plus adjustable lumbar support.
An 8-inch touchscreen is standard across the trim line. The base infotainment system is surprisingly good, and compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but higher trims have access to Ford’s faster and more responsive Sync 3 system with Bluetooth.
All trims include two USB ports and Wi-Fi hotspot, along with a six-speaker audio system. The instrument panel keeps it fairly simple, too, with analog dials for the speed and tach and a vehicle-data display in the center.
Standard safety features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. Available is Ford’s Co-Pilot360, a package of advanced features like adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane centering system and evasive steering assist.
Look for more makers to develop these small trucks down the road. They are being gobbled up by those who yearn for an easy-driving, lightweight pickup truck that carries a payload of value and versatility.
2023 Ford Maverick XL
MSRP: $22,195 (Includes turbocharged 2.0L Ecoboost engine with no upcharge, rear-sliding window, spray-in bedliner)
What’s all the excitement about? A light-duty, versatile pickup for do-it-yourselfers who want cargo space without the monster truck
Powertrain: Hybrid system with 2.5-liter engine, electric motor and CVT; or, turbocharged 2.0-liter linked to 8-speed automatic transmission
How’s the performance? Go turbo for more pep and power: 0-60 mph in around six seconds; easy to maneuver around town
Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 42 mpg city, 30 highway for hybrid; 23 mpg, city, 30 highway, 26 combined for the turbo
(Barry Spyker was the automotive columnist for The Miami Herald and editor of its Wheels & Waves section. Readers may send him email at [email protected])
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