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2022 Ford Maverick: Unexpectedly good? [First Drive]

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Driving along a dirt trail, flanked by trees and a pond, the 2022 Ford Maverick makes easy work of the bumpy path. For a good quarter of a mile, the sunny skies, warm temps and comfortable ride of the unibody Maverick makes for an enjoyable ride until the path takes a decidedly different route.

At the end of the trail, the path turns sharply left, and the pickup is faced with a steep climb filled with deep ruts, large tree roots and loose rocks begging to be challenged by more off-road capability than the FX-4 package seems to provide. This trail is quite difficult for the pickup. Any sane person would have turned back, gotten an off-road truck or found a different path.

Yet, Ford asked us to give the trail a try with the Maverick, and this unexpected challenge resulted in, well, an unexpected result. The front-wheel drive Maverick, smaller than nearly all the traditional body-on-frame trucks on the market, except for the Hyundai Santa Cruz, equipped with only larger tires and a few skid plates, made easy work of the climb.

Nope, I definitely wasn’t expecting that.

As someone who has been covering the truck and SUV market for longer than I care to remember, the 2022 Ford Maverick is generally, well, unexpected. For years, trucks have grown taller and “more menacing,” according to certain journalists. Yet, the Maverick is a literal throwback vehicle to a time when a compact truck was actually compact. 

Size matters

Ford’s newest truck is smaller than a Ranger and much smaller than the F-150. It offers a front-end styling similar to the Ford Bronco Sport while not being “in your face” about it being a Ford. It only comes in three trim levels — XL, XLT and Lariat — and only in a crew cab with a short 4-foot or so bed. The bed itself offers several handy innovations to extend its usage through a multi-positional tailgate, built-in depressions to slide in 2x4s or 2x6s width-wise to create various ways to separate your cargo or carry 4×8 sheets of plywood.

Pricing starts at astonishingly low compared with other trucks at $19,995 (without destination) and can reach the early $30k mark with all the boxes checked on a Lariat model. I spent time in both a steel-wheel equipped XL at the base price as well as the up-fitted Lariat, and while the Lariat offers some more creature comforts, the base XL is pretty good on its own.

Inside the truck, there is a minimalist design with a few innovations as well. For example, the interior door handles have been chopped down to allow for larger bottles to be stored. And speaking of bottles, there are a remarkable 18 different cup holders you can utilize. Plus, there is under-seat storage, which, like the bed, can be utilized in a variety of ways using the Ford FITS system. Basically, this system allows you to 3D print or buy your own accessories like a trash can or more cup holders (because 18 isn’t enough) and then using a special tab, you can hang items on the back of the center console and/or slide separators to separate the rear-seat storage. It is a unique way to customize the pickup to your needs.

As far as overall space, shoulder width, headroom and leg room is quite sufficient for my 5-feet, 7-inch body. While the rear seats are rather tight and I could fit back there, I suspect the rear will become a cargo area for most. 

2022 Ford Maverick

Fact check: Is 40 MPG real?

The 2022 Ford Maverick has just two powertrain options: the standard 2.5-liter hybrid using an inline 4-cylinder engine, small 12V battery and an electronically continuously variable transmission or the optional 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder gas option mated to an 8-speed automatic. Both engines are turbocharged and from the EcoBoost lineup. The choices are interesting here with the gas engine providing 250 horsepower, 277 pound-feet of torque compared to just the 162 horsepower (191 horsepower with electric motor combined), 155 pound-feet of torque of the hybrid powertrain. However, the hybrid returns 40 MPG in the city while the gas engine returns considerably less at 22/29 city/hwy MPG. 

One thing to note is all the performance numbers are based on using premium fuel or 91 octane and above.

There are a few other important details to consider. First, the hybrid powertrain is electric, which means less delay when stepping on the gas pedal compared to the gas version. My assumption was I’d find the gas version to be superior to the hybrid with its geared transmission compared to the often-criticized rubber-band feeling continuously variable transmission (CVT). However, the CVT on the hybrid was shockingly good, and the power delivery for the hybrid felt better than the gasoline version on nearly every occasion. 

The fuel economy was also so much better in the hybrid, it makes me wonder why Ford is even bothering with the gas version. On my drive back to Nashville, Tennessee, on a warm day, I saw 46 MPG and higher on the digital trip odometer. The gas came close to half of that number for combined driving. 

During a full day of driving, I towed 1,500 pounds (think a lawn mower on a small trailer), hauled the 500 pounds of cargo, went off-road and spent hours driving around highways and city. In all of that time, the 2022 Ford Maverick was (here’s that phrase again) unexpectedly good. 

Smart tech

Up front, the Maverick comes with an 8-inch touch screen, which is angled just right to avoid sun glare. It is setup for wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with a built-in storage slot for your cell phone and a convenient USB port within inches of the setup. 

There is a host of Ford’s standard safety technology such as: automatic high beams, automatic emergency braking (includes pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and dynamic brake support) and rear view camera. Optional safety equipment includes: adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, evasive steering assist, lane centering, reverse sensing system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane-keeping aid and hill descent control.

Ford is offering the Maverick in a front-wheel drive and an all-wheel drive setup as well. Surprisingly, the AWD setup is not available with the hybrid, and you can’t get the 4,000-pound towing package with FWD. This has created quite a bit of conversation prospective buyers. Ford said there are no engineering limitations in offering an AWD hybrid, it is simply a matter of consumer demand.

2022 Ford Maverick

Return of the compact pickup truck

Speaking of consumer demand, the Maverick may not have gotten the same press that the all-electric F-150 Lightning is getting with its impressive reservation number, I talked with my local Ford dealer after the event, and he has already gotten six reservations from rural customers looking to replace their older compact trucks and/or side-by-sides for chores around the farm and heading to town. While Ford sees the Maverick as a great solution for first-time truck customers looking for more utility without the big truck feel or price tag, I believe the market to be much wider. 

The fact is this compact truck is the first real challenge to the current trend in pickups in decades. It doesn’t chase a massive towing number, an unheard of horsepower number or more technology than most truck owners know what to do with on a daily basis. 

Instead, it offers the benefit of actually being able to access the bed flat footed along the side. Plus, you won’t need a long broom to get items out of the bed that have slid to the behind the cabin. You can, instead, just reach and grab those items. Remarkable! 

The bottom line on the 2022 Ford Maverick

At the end of the day, the 2022 Ford Maverick brilliance is that it is unexpectedly good in what it is designed for and how the customer plans to use it. As a critic, I simply struggle to find things I don’t really like — except for the lack of AWD and hybrid.

So, yeah, it is really that good. 

Editor’s note: Driving impressions in this “First Drive” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Ford Motor Co. covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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