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It’s yet another case of, “What took them so long.”

Aa pickup trucks have grown to epic proportions over the past few decades – some full-size models now rise so high they practically need a stepladder to climb in and out – so do their list prices.

While there are still base models of regular cabs configured for work trucks, these aren’t the models buyers will typically find in a dealership’s inventory. On the contrary, manufacturers and their retailers reap the biggest profits on gargantuan four-door crew-cab models, which these days can fetch between $70,000 and $80,000 in their leather-trimmed uppers. Mid-size models are a bit smaller and less capable, but can still be expensive; the GMC-Canyonfor example, starts at around $27,000 and peaks at $45,000, not including options.

While Japanese automakers helped establish themselves in the United States in the 1960s by selling small, inexpensive open-bed vehicles that appealed to active young buyers, the market had long since abandoned the concept.

So far.

Enter the new 2022 Ford Maverick. It’s a five-passenger, crew-cab compact pickup truck that starts at an affordable $20,000, which is roughly on par with most small sedans, and it’s a is with a fuel-efficient gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain. Like the average size Honda Ridgeline and the all-new compact Hyundai Santa Cruz, it is built on a car-like front-wheel-drive unibody construction, as opposed to the heavy-duty frame rear-wheel-drive configuration used with most trucks. While this configuration tends to limit a vehicle’s hauling, towing, and off-road capabilities, it allows for true car-like ride and handling capabilities.

The Ford Maverick we recently tested is mechanically related to the Ford Escape and Bronco Sport crossover SUVs. Unlike the Santa Cruz, which adds multiple bends and curves to the basic three-box truck design, Ford’s entry bears more than a passing resemblance to its showroom big brother, the F-150. which should only increase its appeal. Ours came in an attractive Hot Pepper Red.

The Maverick’s 4.5-foot cargo area may be small, but it’s plenty for recreational use. The bed comes with two tie-downs and four D-rings, and can accommodate segmented storage, bike racks and other accessories by sliding 2×4 or 2×6 lengths of lumber into cleverly crafted slots in the sides of the bed.

It’s a refreshing return to the basics inside, especially compared to today’s cockpit instrument panels. Although the cabin’s materials tend to be cheap, it’s nicely designed with contrasting trim and a myriad of storage bins and lockers. The seats are comfortable enough, with generous front and rear seat space and good outward visibility.

There’s, of course, the raised touchscreen required for Ford’s intuitive infotainment system, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities.

Top trims include all the amenities expected without overdoing the King Ranch, and a host of new cargo-carrying accessories are available.

The Maverick comes standard with a 2.5-liter gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain that puts an energetic 191 horsepower to the pavement via a continuously variable transmission. It’s EPA rated at 42/33 mpg city/highway, which is pretty impressive for a compact car, let alone a pickup truck. One caveat is that the hybrid is only available with front-wheel drive. Those who need the added traction of all-wheel drive will have to trade up to the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a snappier 250 horsepower, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy suffers in comparison, however, at 22/29 mpg.

The vehicle rides smoothly and handles easily, without suffering the bumps and jolts of large trucks along the way. It’s much easier to parallel park than most other pickups. Still, even with all-wheel drive and the optional FX4 Off-Road Package, don’t expect it to be as capable off the pavement as the low-speed 4×4 truck-based models. Towing capacity is also limited compared to larger rigs, ranging from a modest 2,000 pounds to 4,000 pounds when properly equipped. Still, it’s enough to haul dirt bikes and other recreational gear to where the action is, and the Maverick can tow a small pop-up camper when needed.

Unfortunately, the Maverick’s low entry cost means its list of standard driver assistance systems is slim, although it does come with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and autobrake, which is arguably the most important of the group. Options in this regard include stop-and-go automatic cruise control, blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning with lane centering.

The truck remains affordable even with its top Lariat trim, which is packed with amenities like push-button start, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and ambient cabin lighting, and drives on 18 inch wheels. It starts at around $25,500 with hybrid power and around $1,000 more for the turbo-four engine. You can add the Luxury Package with remote start, heated front seats and steering wheel, upgraded stereo, wireless device charging, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, spray-on bedliner, bed lighting and a trailer hitch and still stand out for less than $30,000

Overall, the Ford Maverick is the proverbial breath of fresh air in what has become a sizable pickup market. It’s a great choice for active owners who want to haul sports gear and other gear without dirtying an SUV’s interior. An eminently affordable price tag and the standard fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain help seal the deal.

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