By Keith Naughton, USA
My brother Kevin, a veteran journeyman carpenter, drives trucks.
It goes with the job. So last week, I texted him that I had a truck for him to look over: the compact new Ford Maverick. “Let’s meet up at the Home Depot,” Kevin suggested, the truck’s natural habitat.
The Maverick has taken off since it went on sale in September. The made-in-Mexico, pint-sized pickup was just named one of three finalists for North American Truck of the Year, an award bestowed by U.S. automotive journalists and coveted by car companies.
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and needed the insights of a true trucker.
So I turned to my brother, who has driven a parade of pickups in his four decades of building and remodeling homes. We both came away impressed with a rig that delivers far more than its diminutive size suggests.
The Home Depot in question is in suburban Detroit, just north of 14 Mile Road. I pulled into the lot and parked behind a black Ford F-150, America’s favorite truck. My “Area 51” blue Maverick looked puny, by comparison, but not insignificant, going nose to tail with its big brother.
You could see the family resemblance, from the C-clamp-style headlights to the wraparound taillights.
Kevin rolled up in his GMC Sierra Crew Cab — a full-size F-150 rival — and was immediately taken with my Maverick.
“This is kind of cool,” he said, running his hand over the pebbled, spray-in bed liner with six metal tie-downs for configuring cargo. “How much is this?”
It starts under $20,000, I told him. He was gobsmacked: “You gotta be kidding me.”
The one I tested stickered at $22,660, thanks to that bed liner, a $495 option, some extra driver-assist safety technology and special floor mats.
But that’s still five grand less than the average price of a used car, which now tops $27,000, according to researcher Edmunds.com.
The Maverick comes standard with a gasoline-electric hybrid propulsion system rated to get 42 miles per gallon in city driving and 33 on the highway.
(Hybrids do better in stop-and-go city driving because all that braking recharges the battery.) In my week of driving, I averaged about 37 mpg.
Those specs reminded my brother of the little Toyota pickup he bought at the tail end of the gas crisis in 1980.
He’d been driving a full-sized pickup that cost him $60 a week in gas. So he ditched the guzzler and paid more for the tiny truck, but made up for it at the pump, where his weekly tab fell to $20.
That pocketbook pitch is key to attracting the young, first-time buyers that Ford is targeting with the Maverick. It appears to be working.
Ford received more than 100,000 nonbinding reservations for the little rig before it went on sale. “Entry level does not mean cheap,” Jim Baumbick, Ford’s product line VP, told me. “It means affordable.”
The hybrid-powered Maverick is sold out for the 2022 model year; Ford won’t take reservations on that version until next summer; the gasoline-only version, with a turbocharged engine and a still-modest starting price of $21,080, is still available.
Price alone can’t be the Maverick’s key attribute. Automotive history is littered with cheap and cheerful starter cars that never went anywhere in the market.
The truck must also be capable. So I tossed Kevin the key — no high-tech push-to-start in this affordable rig — and we put it to the test.
As we emerged from the Home Depot, Kevin tipped in and the electric motor surged. “This thing has some zip,” he said, as we zoomed to 60 miles per hour. “And it’s smooth.”
Indeed, there’s nothing truck-y about the Maverick’s ride. Built atop the same foundation as Ford’s Escape crossover SUV, the Mav maneuvers mildly among the monsters of the motorway.
It’s easy to park and navigate through dense city traffic, and low enough to the ground to fit in the garage.
It also has the creature comforts of a car, with an 8-inch touch screen emerging from the dash that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The doors have stylish grab handles that seem to float in space, and room carved out for oversized water bottles.
The four-door cab features a commodious back bench that lifts to reveal a spacious storage compartment ideal for stowing muddy sports gear.
As for the four-and-a-half foot bed off the back, Kevin gave it the tape-measure treatment and quickly determined it wouldn’t accommodate sheets of plywood.
Its 1,500-pound max payload is less than half the F-150’s carrying capacity. Contractors like Kevin need a big rig to haul industrial-grade tools and supplies. But that’s not really the point of this pickup.
The Maverick is more about mulch — Ford says it can fit 37 bags — and hauling bikes and backpacks on weekend adventures. “This truck,” said Kevin, “is for weekend warriors.”
Perfect for our cycling-kayaking-camping-frugal older brother John. I’ll have to make a plan to meet him at his favorite retailer — REI.