Return of the Real Compact Truck

The 2023 Ford Maverick is small on stature, but big on versatility.
May 8, 2023
Barry Spyker

For those who miss the older, smaller Ford Ranger pickup, it’s back – well, virtually. 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 trim comes standard as a hybrid.

Would-be truck buyers apparently have been hungry for a compact pickup like this Maverick, judging by initial sales numbers. Demand has been so strong that Ford stopped taking orders for a while last year to play catch-up on production. Don’t worry, the order bank 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 mid-sizers, 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 is $4,000 more than Maverick but can tow more, too. Maverick 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 two-by-fours 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, too. Also, talk about futuristic: Ford offers blueprints for 3D-printed accessories that can be completed at home.

The tailgate can be positioned midway as an incline to support 4x8 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 really 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, power, and is available with all-wheel-drive ($3,305). It’s still a little sluggish off the line but gets 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 twice as much — 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 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 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, but 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 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 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 want an easy-driving, lightweight pickup truck that carries a payload of value and versatility.  

Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald.


2023 Ford Maverick XL
(Pictured: 2023 Ford Maverick Tremor) 

MSRP: $22,195 (Includes turbocharged 2.0L Ecoboost engine, rear-sliding window, spray-in bedliner)

What’s all the excitement about? A super-versatile pickup bed for do-it-yourselfers who want cargo space without the monster truck price

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 and park around town

Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 42 mpg city, 30 highway for hybrid; 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined for the turbo

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