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It’s the conversation that won’t end around parking lots and trailheads and bars across the country: Why won’t car makers offer compact trucks anymore? There are lots of reasons, none of which really have to do with demand for why that is, but they largely boil down to vastly more profits on full-size trucks for the manufacturer. But what about us, the consumers who want small, practical trucks, the kind every car maker sold in the 80s and 90s? The original Toyota Pickup, the Nissan Hardbody, the first-gen Ford Ranger, the Mitsubishi Mighty Max—trucks that provided a bed and capability, but that sipped fuel, easily fit in around-town life, and weren’t massive overkill for 99% of drivers out there? Even the modern Tacoma is the size of a half-ton truck from 20-30 years ago. Just a lot of truck.

Ford has been listening. Today, they announced, officially, the Maverick. A bit of a silly, earnest name, and one they already used for a sedan in the 1970s, but a truck that will scratch the itch for many, many people out there who miss their small trucks.

So, what is it? It’s the smallest truck on offer from the domestic car makers. The Hyundai Santa Cruz will compete, as will the much larger Honda Ridgeline, but the Maverick appears closest to the compact truck we all remember. The Maverick is 200 inches long, the Ridgeline is 210 inches, and the Santa Cruz, which looks closer to the Subaru Brat than a proper truck, is 195 inches.

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Like the Ridgeline and the Santa Cruz, the Maverick is a unibody truck, not the more rugged body-on-frame construction found in rigs like the Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, or 4-Runner. This means less off-road capability, but much better road manners. It’s also much cheaper to make. Crucially for the Maverick, it shares the unibody platform with the Bronco Sport and the Ford Escape, which allows Ford to pump these out at a much lower price than competitors—we’ll get to that number in a second.

The Maverick comes standard as a hybrid that gets 40 mpgs. I’ll say that again: Standard powertrain here is a 4-cylinder gas motor paired with an electric motor that returns 40 mpgs. That standard package comes only in front-wheel drive, but can tow 2,000 pounds, with a payload of 1,500 pounds (that payload is about the same as the much, much bigger and fuel gobbler, the Tacoma). A full tank of gas will merrily transport this sucker 500 miles.

Oh, and base price for that one is $19,995.

If you must have AWD, or, since the terms are becoming somewhat interchangeable these days, four-wheel-drive, you must, unfortunately give up that hybrid engine for a pure gas burner. Still a 4-cylinder, so fuel economy will be decent, but it seems like a misstep to not offer a hybrid AWD option in 2021, especially since Ford just announced the all-electric Lightning F-150.

Ford hasn’t yet announced pricing or fuel economy for the non-hybrid, AWD option, which starts at the Lariat trim level and goes up to the 2022-only First Edition Maverick model.

That AWD system is the same you’ll find on the lower-specced Bronco Sports, which, by all indications from Bronco Sport reviews, is a solid and plucky traction system.

The Maverick also has what could be a very functional and fun trick bed system. It’s only 4.5 feet long (sidenote: come on! I could sleep fully laid out in the bed of my 1993 Toyota pickup. Sure, I gave up the backseat, but there are, uh, thousands of us who don’t care about a backseat in a truck, but who do care about being able to sleep in the bed. Someone, anyone, make a compact longbed, or, what used to be called, a standard bed. And yes, if you lower the tailgate on the Maverick the bed technically becomes 6-feet, but what if you want to put a shell on it, then sleep without the tailgate open? What then, Ford?).

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There are slats that accept 2x4s in the Maverick’s bed so users can make their own cubbyholes and gear section areas. A DIY-heaven, even though a lot of the D has been done for you by the design. There are tons of tie down options, and Ford makes it clear they established a base for the industrious to really go nuts back there with outfitting the bed to their own needs, whether complex, or the barest bones and simple.

That’s fun.

What’s really fun is that 500-mile range for the hybrid, the 40 mpgs, and that 20 grand price tag for the entry-level model. Sure, that’s a lot of money, but it’s not terribly far from what compact trucks sold for in the 1990s. A 1990 Toyota Pickup started at $8,000. When adjusted for inflation, that $20,000 price for the Maverick equals about $10,000 in 1990. Not that different, really, compared to the golden age of small trucks.

For $20k you get a high clearance truck that can go 500 miles on a tank of gas, with storage options in the back for whatever gear you wanna bring, and safety and comfort features we couldn’t dream of in 1990. It’s beyond time for a truck like this, not only in the age of rising gas prices and deep concern over carbon emissions, but also because we’ve been clamoring for one for so long. It’s relatively affordable, could make for a great base for frontcountry exploration, and will happily transport you and your kayaks and coolers down most forest service roads without a hiccup.

AWD is of course wonderful to have, but not totally necessary. A good set of tire chains, some good tires, and plenty of know-how will get you to most places you want to go, as it did when four-wheel-drive wasn’t expected as the standard.

Anyway, more of this, please.

The Maverick should go on sale in the fall for the 2022 model year.

Photos: Ford

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