Opinionated at any speed . . . Silvio Calabi

Ford Maverick XL FWD Hybrid

Tue, 05/02/2023 - 8:15am

Cheap and cheerful, yes, but Ford’s new midsize four-door Maverick XL pickup also has a neat party trick: it’s a hybrid! I didn’t realize this until I got in and . . .  where’s the start button? Good lord, there’s a metal key, and a slot to stick it into. Then, instead of the engine coming to life, the instrument panel lights up and a message appears: Ready to Drive.

And there it is, that silent surge of torque from an electric motor assisting a gas engine. Whether on the freeway at 70 or inching through traffic in town, our fuel efficiency never varied by more than one mile per gallon from 40. But don’t look for a power-usage diagram on the touchscreen; instead, once in a while the driver gets another brief message: Brake Coach—80% Returned. This is a pat on the back for braking so as to maximize battery regeneration. No EV-style one-pedal driving, though.

Working with the electric motor is an under-stressed 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas-burner; combined system output is 191 horsepower, delivered through a CVT, a continuously variable automatic transmission, with three selectable drive modes. Only the front wheels are driven. Towing capacity is 1,500 pounds.

Optional on more expensive Mavericks is a higher-performing but thirstier nonhybridized 2.0-liter turbo Four with 250 horsepower and an 8-speed automatic transmission; other options with this powertrain are all-wheel drive and a towing upgrade to 4,000 pounds.

Our XL lacks such amenities as cruise control, seat heaters and power mirrors, but it has a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (to mesh with a smartphone), automatic one-zone climate control, remote door locking, an electric parking brake, remote starting, pre-collision emergency braking assistance and a WiFi hotspot. It has a backup camera too, but that’s been a legal requirement since 2018. Sorry, no tape player.

The XL cabin is comfortable, thoughtfully laid out and plain but not unattractive. This truck stands at more or less normal height, so there’s no need to hoist oneself up onto a running board. The XL also drives normally, much more like a car than a pickup, especially a full-size 4WD pickup. It also feels like it was bolted together by people who care.

My wife, the blind lady who assesses our rides by their ease of ingress, comfort and feel, said, “If we had to have a pickup truck, this would be the one.” She said the same thing about the last Honda Ridgeline we drove, and—surprise, surprise—that too is a unibody design. That is, a crossover SUV with the rear seats and cargo bay replaced by a truck bed, as opposed to the body-on-frame construction of a “true” truck.

The Maverick and Ridgeline even look similar; thanks to the unibody, neither vehicle has a break between the cab and the bed. The Maverick borrows its underpinnings from the also-new (for 2021) Ford Bronco Sport.

Truck dudes will dismiss the Maverick as a sissified imitation: You can’t pull a 30-foot boat with that! You can’t even put a snowplow on it! The rest of us, who might appreciate a utility vehicle that drives like a car, gets great gas mileage and has a really big open-air trunk for weekend chores, might should look at this Maverick.

Evidently many of us already have, and liked what we saw. Prominent on the Maverick page of Ford’s website is this: Due to high demand, the current model year is no longer available for retail order. Contact your dealer for more information.

If you can find one, Mavericks come in three trim levels, all of them with four-door crew cabs and 53-inch beds: our basic XL (hybrid power, front-wheel drive) lists for just $23,690. Even the top-dog, dressed-up Lariat version starts at only $30,000, while the lifted and heavier-duty (non-hybrid) Tremor Off-Road package adds another five grand.

Tempting as the turbo engine, all-wheel drive, two-ton towing capacity and various cabin amenities might be, there’s something appealing about our plain-jane but unexpectedly functional and friendly XL. To someone in the trades, it’s a work truck to fill with tools and materials and drive to the job site while keeping an eye on the bottom line. For the homeowner who frequents the dump, the landscape center and the hardware store, it’s a second vehicle that won’t break the bank.

Next week: Ford F-150 Lightning