A few weeks ago, Ford took the wraps off of a new, “right-sized” pickup for the 2022 model year called the Maverick. The truck is different. For one, it’s a unibody design with four doors and a bed that’s integrated into the cab, not separate. For another, it’s a hybrid — which, I dunno. That seemed kind of brave, for Ford. It seemed brave enough to me, at least, to inspire me to take a closer look at the little truck’s specs … and that’s when I noticed that the new Maverick isn’t that little after all.
In fact, at 199.7 inches long, the new “compact” Maverick is a full two inches longer than the 1992 Ford F-150 “full-size” half-ton pickup.
You’ve probably heard it before. Heck — you’ve probably said it yourself.
“New cars are getting too big,” the common bromide goes. “They’re heavy and bloated and just no fun anymore. Why the new Honda Civic is bigger than the Accord used to be.”
And that’s true, of course, but it’s not all bad. A long, long time ago, one of Honda’s PR people told me that the Civic’s growth created an opportunity to introduce a new product in the market space that the Civic used to occupy, and presented Honda with a chance to reach more buyers.
That’s great for Honda, which is trying to grow its market share, but how does it play for the absolute undisputed king of the sales hill Ford F-150? For that, I want to take you back to 1992 and the Ford F-150 Nite.
Why the 1992 Nite? For one, 30 years seemed like a nice, round, “generational” sort of number. I remember the ‘92 Nite (specifically from that ad, above) as a truck I wanted to own. In its day, that aerodynamic front end looked especially slick, and the neon stripe on black paint job combination really did give it a sporty feel, and — as a kid in high school daydreaming about his first car — I wanted one desperately.
Fast forward 30 years and my kid is out back wrenching on his first car (coincidentally also a ‘92 model, but a square-headlight Wrangler instead of an F-150), and I’m seriously weighing a 2022 Ford Maverick purchase against a 1992 F-150 Nite.
I mean that, too. After briefly toying with the idea of a patently wrong F-150 Nite I stumbled across in Connecticut (4WD, extended cab, flare side), I found a very, very right F-150 Nite a bit closer to home for about $20,000. Sharp-eyed readers will note that this is almost exactly the starting price of a brand-new Maverick.
Does it really make sense to compare a state-of-the-art hybrid Ford to a 30-year-old F-150 with a powertrain that has roots in the Nixon administration?
Welcome to my sickness.
The new Ford Maverick is significantly smaller than any current Ford truck offering. But, while it’s two inches longer than the ’92 “full-sized” (regular cab, short bed), it’s nearly two feet longer than a Ranger of the same vintage. Definitely in a different class of truck than the compact Ranger of yore, then — but it’s hard to think of the Maverick as anything but small when you see it next to an F-250 Super Duty. Similarly, it’s hard to think of an old (classic?) F-150 as “full-sized” when you see one next to a modern F-150.
So, they’re about the same length — but length is just one dimension. The 1992 Nite also has a 6′ 8″ bed, which gives it a lot more length than the 4′ 6″ Maverick bed. It’s also significantly wider than the Maverick at 79″, compared to the modern Ford’s 53″. That’s almost four square feet of additional real estate in the vintage Ford Nite but, more significantly, a whole lot more shoulder room for the front passengers in the Nite than you’re going to get in the Maverick.
Where does this new Maverick sit in the grand hierarchy of truck sizes? For me, it sits in that “late 1990s mid-size” truck segment that the Dodge Dakota used to occupy. I actually bought a ’98 Dakota new from Bob Wilson Dodge in Tampa, FL way back when, and that truck was just about perfect. It was big enough to get the job done, roomy enough for road trips, and narrow enough to feel usable on the occasional trip downtown.
And, sure, another truck buyer might put more weight in the Nite’s bed than either the Maverick or that old Dakota could safely handle, but the most punishing treatment I’d ever treat my truck to as a 21st Century suburbanite is a trip to Lowe’s now and then — and even that trip’s cargo would be mostly sailboat fuel, you know? And that may be A-OK by Ford, since fully 62 percent of the Maverick’s expected buyers aren’t “truck guys” (according to the survey at that link, Ford only expects about 17 percent — less than 1 in 5 — buyers to be replacing another truck when they buy their Maverick).
Based on my needs, the most important aspect of truck ownership is likely going to be whether or not I can parallel park it, and the Nite and Maverick are neck-and-neck there.
What about power and performance? The modern Maverick seems to have a slight edge. The ’92 Nite was powered by a version of Ford’s 5.0L OHV V8 that made 185 hp and gave back just 14 mpg city. By comparison, the base hybrid Maverick offers less hp, but more torque by virtue of some gearing trickery made possible by the electric traction motor and, well, math. But, while neither truck is ever going to be mistaken for a GMC Syclone at the drag strip (another childhood favorite), the Maverick’s 40 mpg city rating is leaps and bounds ahead of the ’92, which is a huge plus in its favor.
Safety technology has come a long way in 30 years, as well, and the unibody Maverick undoubtedly offers a smoother, quieter, and more comfortable ride than its 30-year-old forebear could dream of.
All of which is to say that maybe Honda has it right. The bigger, badder F-150s Ford has been rolling out have certainly been successful. Like, really successful — Ford has sold more than three-quarters of a million of them. Each year. For the last 10 years. In 2018 alone, a record year for Ford, the Blue Oval sold 909,330 F-series trucks. Bloated or not, you don’t mess with that kind of success. And, while we’re at it, I recall the 1992 F-150 selling in decent numbers, too — so maybe they’ve got the right idea with this whole “controlled bloat” thing, and I’ve become convinced that it really does work.
So, is it the supposedly “green” and definitely more practical hybrid or the vintage pickup that gets my personal nod? Too soon to tell, honestly — but I firmly believe that the greenest car you can buy is one that’s already been built, So the ‘92 has that going for it, which is nice.