Ford targets younger buyers with cleverly designed, Kuga-based compact pick-up for North American market

Full-sized pick-up trucks like the Ford F-150 are unrelentingly popular with private buyers in North America, not to mention a highly profitable cash cow for companies that are piling billions into EV development.

In 2019, the best-selling F-150 was joined in US and Canadian markets by the mid-sized Ford Ranger. Now Ford has launched a third light-duty pick-up with the new Maverick, a unibody truck built off the same platform as the Escape (sold in Europe as the Ford Kuga) and Bronco Sport SUVs. It won’t be coming to the UK, where Ford says it has customers covered with the 20cm-longer, body-on-frame Ranger.

At just over 5m in length, the ‘compact’ Maverick is longer than the ‘full-sized’ F-150 pickup of 40 years ago

The four-door crew-cab Maverick follows the US introduction last year of Hyundai’s Tucson-based Santa Cruz and marks a rejuvenation of the long-dormant compact pick-up truck segment. Ford is targeting “people who never knew they wanted a truck” but it will also find favour with young, city-dwelling truck lovers who want something smaller and less thirsty than the alternatives.

A 2.5-litre hybrid is the entry-level powertrain, making the Mexico-built Maverick North America’s most fuel-efficient truck. As with the Kuga, the hybrid is front-wheel drive only, but Ford has temporarily halted orders for the hybrid pick-up after the global chip shortage left it unable to meet demand. We drove a range-topping Lariat-trim model with all-wheel drive, the FX4 off-road package and 2.0-litre Ecoboost power, which doubles the hybrid Maverick’s tow rating to 1816kg.

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The Maverick’s squared-off exterior styling deliberately evokes the iconic F-150 rather than the curvier Ranger. Blunter, too, than the slightly smaller Santa Cruz, the Maverick’s looks successfully walk the line between form and function.

The square theme continues inside, where the dashboard design is fresh and distinctive and the infotainment bang up to date, in marked contrast to the Ranger’s aging cabin. Clever touches include hollowing out the door liners to enable tablet storage and cutting the door pulls short to accommodate a one-litre water bottle. Ford has released CAD files for the mounting points at the back of the centre console and in the storage area under the rear seat so that customers can 3D-print their own accessories.

Ford’s designers also went to town on the pick-up bed. The so-called ‘Flexbed’ encourages you to put your DIY skills to work by placing lengths of 2x4 or 2x6 timber into pre-made slots to divide the 1381mm-long load space, or bolting racks or other equipment into the standard threaded holes. In a further bid to foster Bronco-style customisation, Ford provides access to the 12V electrics for bespoke lighting or accessories, as well as US-standard 110V power sockets in the bed and cabin.

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On the road, the driver’s view is good to the front and sides, but rearward visibility is impeded by the sliding rear window. We’d guess that a Maverick with standard tyres and suspension would be more comfortable on city streets than our FX4-equipped test truck with its Falken Wildpeak all-terrain rubber and off-road-tuned suspension.

It feels less nimble than the equally outdoor-focused Bronco Sport and the ride is too firm over sharp bumps, but it otherwise drives a lot like the other members of the Escape family, and noticeably better than the Ranger, which will be replaced next year. As trucks go, the Maverick is as car-like as they come, and far easier to manoeuvre and park than most.

The 250bhp 2.0-litre Ecoboost motor is typically buzzy at low revs but provides all the torque you’ll need for hauling. With 29mpg official combined consumption, it uses 50% more fuel than the hybrid option, but we didn’t better 24mpg in city use during a sub-zero test week.

We’re not sure that a pick-up makes sense in everyday use if you don’t frequently need the bed for work tools or straw bales, for example. Even with the Maverick’s storage under the rear seat, it’s far easier to take the kids grocery shopping in a regular car or SUV.

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But for anyone who wants the flexibility of a pick-up bed for weekend biking or other adventures, the well-executed Maverick is a compelling proposition.

What Car new car buyer marketplace - Ford