Ford goes back to basics | Cars

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For those of us seasoned enough to remember the Ford Ranger as a compact, no-frills pickup, the truck I’m driving this week is a breath of fresh air.

It’s called the Maverick, and it has more in common with the old Ranger than the contemporary version.

The size, price, and horsepower of today’s Ranger is more like a slightly scaled-down F-150 than a basic Home Depot runabout. That left a gaping hole at the bottom of Ford’s pickup lineup for something simpler, smaller and more affordable than the Ranger, which starts at $25,500.

The Maverick starts at $19,995, making it one of the few new vehicles — and the one and only new pickup sold in America — priced below $20,000 this year. This is especially noteworthy at a time when inflation, the ongoing pandemic, and the economics of supply and demand are working in tandem to drive truck and SUV prices to skyrocketing levels recently.

If Ford had done nothing but launch a basic sub-$20,000 compact truck, that alone would have caused an earthquake in the world of truck sales. But they went even further.

On the one hand, the Maverick is based on a car-like unibody platform, which greatly aids fuel efficiency, but draws criticism from purists who insist that “real” trucks have bodies on sturdy frames. Build-wise, it falls into the same category as the Honda Ridgeline and the new Hyundai Santa Cruz, both of which are built using automotive platforms.

On the other hand, the base Maverick is a hybrid rated at 42 mpg in city driving.

A 2.5-liter gas engine is paired with electric motors to achieve that jaw-dropping efficiency figure, which is particularly appealing to the same buyers who love its sub-$20,000 price tag. That’s bound to make it a commercial success, assuming Ford can build enough of them.

My tester wasn’t a hybrid, though, so I can’t vouch for the performance of its 191-hp powertrain.

The version Ford sent me packed a lot of punch thanks to its upgraded, but not as efficient, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. The Maverick Lariat tester’s four-cylinder EcoBoost produces 250 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, which feels like borderline overpowering from the driver’s seat.

With front-wheel drive, the EcoBoost is rated for a still-reasonable 23 mpg in city driving and 30 on the highway. Opting for all-wheel drive drops those numbers by 1 mpg.

How does it work as a truck, though?

For what it’s designed to do – trips to the home improvement store, hauling debris and light towing – it’s absolutely brilliant. The 4.5-foot bed is designed to be customized by DIY types and can carry 1,500 pounds of payload.

For towing, the Maverick is rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds with the hybrid powertrain or up to 4,000 pounds with the EcoBoost engine. Ford says that’s “enough to bring a typical 23-foot camper on a weekend.”

All in all, I think the Maverick is exactly what many potential truck buyers dream of. For people who view full-size or even mid-size trucks as overkill, the market is overdue for something simple, efficient, and affordable that can perform light-duty truck tasks without breaking the bank.

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