There was a time in my life when I dreamed of owning a Jeep Wrangler. But not just any Wrangler: open-air, sun-bleached, doors ripped off, perpetually waiting for trouble like that college friend who, decades later, is still hitting the bar four nights a week. I imagined tossing anything I have into the back to haul—the interior is in shambles anyway—then driving off into the sunset.
As I look toward my driveway at the borrowed Ford Maverick, the company’s hyped small pickup truck, I find myself squinting to imagine how it might look in 10 or 15 years. Because while it’s a city-parkable hybrid that gets 40 miles per gallon and starts below $20,000, it’s also a five-seater truck that can accommodate your family along with 1,500 pounds of whatever you want in its hackable open back. The Maverick is a knock around vehicle that feels borderline responsible to own because it can be just about whatever you want it to be.
The Maverick is designed to cater to one voice in our head that speaks to a million small tasks in our daily life, “‘Boy, it would be a lot easier to do this in a truck,'” according to Jim Baumbick, VP of enterprise product line management, strategy, and planning at Ford—a surprisingly design-savvy vehicle company. As Ford has given up making sedans to focus on trucks and crossovers, it’s banking on repositioning the truck as a product for young urbanites who might otherwise have purchased a small car, or an option for families who need more flexibility than a crossover can provide.
I fall into the latter camp. After swapping out my city-friendly Versa for a Toyota RAV4 a few years ago, I loved my crossover until I didn’t. It’s comfortable to sit in and responsive to drive, but any time I have to move anything large (ranging from Ikea flat-pack furniture to my gravel bike to my hyperactive golden retriever), the vehicle’s hatchback storage is never enough. And with two kids in child seats, I can’t easily fold down the rear row to make more room to fit cargo.
The result is that I’m driving a large vehicle with very little usable space inside, which is, let’s admit, pretty stupid all around.
My first impression of the Maverick was just how small its footprint is—for a truck at least. It’s 200 inches long, supposedly about a foot longer than a crossover and a foot shorter than a larger F-150. But there’s more usable space than in my crossover by a mile, thanks to the 4.5 feet of open Flexbed storage in the back. The rear seating is a touch more snug.
As I take my first spin, I kid you not, I pass an F-150 driver who gives me a little salute. I’ve been inducted into truck culture—phew!—but I’d say the Maverick feels more like you’re driving a car, just higher up, than an imposing F-150. In fact, the Maverick is the first vehicle I’ve driven that feels like it has no learning curve. I squeeze into parking spots without an issue (whereas parking an F-150 feels more like parking a Carnival cruise liner). The catch is that its hybrid engine option is front-wheel-drive only. For all-wheel drive, you need to go all gas. And for better and worse, the hybrid isn’t powerful enough to lure you to drive aggressively. It’s quiet and serviceable, but I wish it were a plug-in hybrid to save me from having to get gas in day-to-day life.
What about all that storage? That sweet, sweet storage? Naturally, the weekend that I borrow the pickup is the very weekend I have nothing large to haul. It’s still too cold to grab soil and plants for the garden, and no one I know is moving. That’s a shame, because the Flexbed is really the star of this vehicle. It’s a pickup bed that’s designed specifically for you to hack. Featuring slots for a pair of two-by-fours, Ford wants you to build your own storage and shelving in the back. (The Maverick also has a huge aftermarket of Ford-compatible accessories, including an elevated tent for campouts that I’d really wanted to test out.)
The Maverick has been out a few months, and already you’ll find several forums with owners showing off their customizations, along with how many odd items they’re able to sausage-stuff into the rear. The results range from 10 feet of laminate countertop to music equipment to whatever the heck all this stuff is.
As for my own testing, I stick my kids into the back seat and drag them around to run some cursory errands. I’m surprised that my 4-year-old daughter’s feet hit the back of the driver’s seat, and wonder why Ford wouldn’t build this vehicle 6 inches longer (or the bed 6 inches shorter?) just to make the back seat feel less like my kids are flying economy.
After my first stop, I toss a 30-pound bag of dog food into the Flexbed. It takes up a comedically small amount of room. What would require most of my RAV4’s storage looks downright silly all alone in the back of the truck.
Then I’m off to grab groceries. As we head into the store, my wife asks if we need to move the dog food into the cabin where it can be locked up and safe. I have no idea. Do people steal dog food? And if they do steal dog food, don’t their pets really need it? All the same, I lug the food into the back seat and lock the car. Yes, this means that after shopping, I have to move the dog food back into the Flexbed to make room for the kids, and I top that off with a dozen or so more bags (plastic, okay? I forgot to bring my reusables). Still, I’m barely making a dent in the capacity.
I realize in that moment that I may have to worry about food flying out of the back of the truck onto drivers behind me. But since I’ve been inaugurated into the Society of Pickup Drivers (remember, I did get that salute!), I roll the dice and just keep the Maverick below 40 on my short drive home. Nothing seems to have shifted during the drive, but I also realize that this is exactly why so many people get covers for their truck beds.
As a final test after unloading my groceries, I toss a bike into the back (a Cannondale Synapse I’ll be writing about soon!). Loaded in straight, the bike won’t fit. Ford created a free a two-by-four bike-mount schematic for just this task, but it requires removing the front wheel. However, on a diagonal, the bike fits with half a foot to spare. I ponder how one might design a diagonal rack to secure the bike in place. In any case, it’s entirely possible with enough imagination.
And frankly, that’s what is still so exciting to me about the Maverick. Ford designed a vehicle specifically for you to redesign, customize, and make your own. It’s a fantastic knock around truck, and the perfectly priced (second?) car for a middle-class family. I can’t wait to see a sun-bleached Maverick on the street 20 years from now.
Yet I also can’t help but consider how much more wonderful this vehicle would be as a full-on electric truck. Because when trucks are no longer beholden to the gas engines up front, companies like Ford can truly reconsider not just what trucks can be today, but what vehicles can become next.