02/06/23 UPDATE: This review has been updated with instrumented test results.
Modern pickup trucks have been blown out of proportion, literally. Full-size examples such as the current Ford F-150 can tow and haul like heavy-duty trucks of yore, while the Super Duty can tow up to 40,000 pounds—half the fully laden weight of an 18-wheeler.
Meanwhile, mid-size trucks have followed suit, expanding in size and price to fill the void, leaving room for a truck that’s a lot more affordable and a lot less cumbersome. The Ford Maverick is the mini-truck America needs to unclog thoroughfares and parking lots packed with oversize four-by-fours. Not only is the Maverick a terrific tool in its fundamental form, but it becomes ruggedly cool when outfitted with the new-for-2023 Tremor off-road package.
Ford already sells Tremor versions of the mid-size Ranger, the F-150, and its Super Duty trucks. Now, one model year after the company resurrected the Maverick moniker in the form of a compact unibody pickup, the off-road-oriented treatment is trickling down. The $2995 Tremor package is reserved for the Maverick XLT and Lariat models with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. Trucks with the kit are identified by their bedside graphics, smoked headlights and taillights, and orange body accents. Along with an orange stripe in the grille and orange front tow hooks, each of the dark-painted 17-inch wheels has an orange pocket that pops and makes it extra easy to find the valve stem. There’s also a Tremor-specific appearance package that adds some black exterior graphics and a gray-painted roof, but we don’t think it’s worth the $1495 upcharge.
Thankfully, Ford takes the Maverick Tremor further than those superficial bits, starting with the front bumper. Unlike lesser models, its redesigned chin incorporates a steel skid plate and allows for an approach angle of 30.7 degrees, just over nine degrees steeper than other all-wheel-drive variants. The Tremor’s 1.0-inch lift raises ground clearance to 9.4 inches, which is 0.8 inch more than the truck without the off-road package and just over a half-inch higher than the mechanically similar Ford Bronco Sport Badlands. But it doesn’t have a ton of suspension travel and only made it up our 20-degree ramp test just shy of 28 inches. Combined with its long wheelbase, that’s a score of 229, which is well behind the Bronco Sport’s 35.5-inch climb and 337 score.
As with its Badlands sibling, the Tremor is the only member of the Maverick family to feature an all-wheel-drive system with a torque-vectoring rear differential. With its aggressively treaded Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires that stand 30 inches tall, the Tremor is well equipped to crawl up, over, or through rocky, sticky, or slippery surfaces. Helping it conquer diverse terrain are selectable drive modes, including Mud & Ruts, Rock Crawl, and Sand. A Trail Control feature that automatically adjusts the accelerator and brakes to maintain a set speed—think of it like off-road cruise control.
Tough as Trails
Don’t confuse the Maverick for a dedicated off-roader like the Jeep Gladiator or even consider it on par with the Ranger, its body-on-frame kin. Ford’s tiniest truck has its limitations and won’t make it far on truly difficult trail systems. However, it does have the hardware to take on obstacles most owners would likely shy away from.
While we didn’t have the chance to push the entry-level Tremor to its limits, we did take it off the beaten path and came out the other end pretty dirty. It flexed its suspension, which features unique dampers as well as retuned front and rears springs. We felt the all-wheel-drive setup effectively transfers power to the wheels with traction, which was even more obvious when one of the rears is hung helplessly in the air.
We enjoyed mundanely driving the Maverick Tremor as much as we liked tossing it around on the trails. That duality makes it a compelling package. Granted, its force-fed four-pot buzzes rather loudly at idle, and heavy doses of throttle cause coarse engine sounds to penetrate the cabin. But with 250 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, the 2.0-liter packs a satisfying punch. Keeping the engine on boil is an eight-speed automatic transmission that oddly can’t be shifted manually. Sadly, our own Ezra Dyer also saw his dream of the Tremor being a budget-minded rally car get dashed due to the Maverick’s stability control system, which can’t be fully switched off.
In our testing, the Tremor-equipped Maverick XLT’s performance proved to be basically identical to a 2022 XLT model with the turbo four and the FX4 off-road package and to the Bronco Sport Badlands. The XLT Tremor sprinted to 60 mph in a tidy 6.0 seconds, just 0.1 second behind its siblings. The Tremor’s 171-foot stop from 70 mph was a foot shorter than the Maverick FX4’s.
The biggest gap between the two off-road-themed Mavericks occurred in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, where the Tremor’s 26 mpg fell well short of the FX4’s 29 mpg. The Tremor’s EPA highway rating is 24 mpg, and its combined estimate of 21 mpg is by far the worst in the Maverick family. For comparison, other AWD versions achieve 24 mpg combined, while the front-drive-only hybrid boasts a 37-mpg combined estimate.
Despite its compromised fuel economy and noisy engine, the Maverick is comfortable cruising at highway speeds. It doesn’t bounce or fidget, thanks mostly to its direct steering and impressive stability. While it rides on the same C2 platform as the Bronco Sport, the Maverick is 28 inches longer overall and has an extra 16 inches between its axles; It’s also a couple of inches lower than the baby Bronco. This little truck feels more refined than its SUV counterpart, and it drives more like a car. Again, its accessibility and nimbleness are among the biggest reasons it’s preferable to big trucks, particularly in urban areas.
The few downsides to the Tremor package include its towing and hauling compromises. Its 1200-pound payload rating is 300 less than other Mavericks, even the front-wheel-drive hybrid. Most all-wheel-drive models can pull up to 4000 pounds with the 4K Tow package, but Ford doesn’t make that available on the Tremor, so it’s limited to 2000 pounds.
Perfect Pickup Package?
Although we wish the Tremor could tow more, we’re still smitten with the Maverick because it’s incredibly useful in other ways. Its 4.5-foot cargo bed boasts 33 cubic feet of volume, enough to haul nine compostable bags of yard waste, and it’s a lot easier to climb into and out of than full-size trucks. The Maverick also has more passenger space than expected, with a rear seat that’s comfortable for most adults, although we wish it had HVAC vents in back. Still, Ford manages to make its budget-friendly interior appear more expensive than it is with plastic surfaces that have attractive textures, and cleverly designed storage bins are everywhere.
Of course, the Ford Maverick isn’t the only new small pickup on the market. The Hyundai Santa Cruz is its closest competitor, with the mid-size-range Honda Ridgeline lurking on the periphery due to its similar unibody construction. All three have strong points, but the Maverick’s mix of capability, practicality, and value put it at the top. Plus, it’s the only one that offers a legitimate off-road package.
Whereas the least expensive Santa Cruz with the turbo engine and all-wheel drive has an MSRP over $37K and no Ridgeline costs less than $40,000, the Maverick Tremor is a certified steal starting at $31,665. Our XLT example’s as-tested price wasn’t much higher at $32,990, with the major add-ons being a $495 spray-in bedliner and a $650 package that includes blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assist. While the XLT Tremor lacks niceties such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel or push-button start with passive entry found on the pricier Lariat version, the less expensive model more closely aligns with the Maverick’s value-minded mission. For those who don’t want to turn a key or freeze their buns, the top-spec $39,075 Lariat Tremor we also drove showed the upper reaches of its price range, thanks to the $2610 Luxury package and several other extras.
With or without those options, the 2023 Ford Maverick Tremor improves on the mini-truck’s fantastic fundamentals by providing more fun for adventurous types.
2023 Ford Maverick XLT Tremor
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
Base/As Tested: $31,665/$32,990
Options: Ford Co-Pilot360 package (blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist), $650; spray-in bedliner, $495; front and rear splash guards, $180
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 122 in31999cm3
Power: 250hp @ 5500rpm
Torque: 277 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 12.8-in vented disc/11.9-in disc
Tires: Falken Wildpeak A/T AT3W
235/65R-17 104H M+S 3PMSF
Wheelbase: 121.1 in
Length: 200.7 in
Width: 72.6 in
Height: 69.5 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 54/47 ft3
Curb Weight: 3829 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.0 sec
1/4-Mile: 14.7 sec @ 92 mph
100 mph: 18.5 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 6.8 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.4 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.5 sec
Top Speed (gov. ltd.): 109 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 171 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.80 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 17 mpg
75-mph Highway Driving: 26 mpg
75-mph Highway Range: 420 mi
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 21/20/24 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
Eric Stafford’s automobile addiction began before he could walk, and it has fueled his passion to write news, reviews, and more for car and driver since 2016. His aspiration growing up was to become a millionaire with a Jay Leno–like car collection. Apparently, getting rich is harder than social-media influencers make it seem, so he avoided financial success entirely to become an automotive journalist and drive new cars for a living. After earning a degree at Central Michigan University and working at a daily newspaper, the years of basically burning money on failed project cars and lemon-flavored jalopies finally paid off when car and driver hired him. His garage currently includes a 2010 Acura RDX, a manual ’97 Chevy Camaro Z/28, and a ’90 Honda CRX Si.