As pickup trucks bulk up, consumers are considering a new class of smaller, city, or urban pickups like the Ford Maverick, Hyundai Santa Cruz and Honda Ridgeline.
Honda pioneered this new and diverse segment of pickups with the Ridgeline, basing the vehicle on the same unibody or passenger-car style platform used for its Pilot SUV and Odyssey minivan.
The Maverick and Santa Cruz also tap existing unibody platforms for their vehicles.
Other trucks like the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Silverado and Ford F-150 use traditional truck architecture where the body is bolted onto the frame. That approach makes rugged vehicles ideal for towing heavy loads and hauling big payloads, but they suffer in other ways. A traditional pickup typically has a rougher ride, poorer driving dynamics, worse fuel economy and is challenging to park, especially in dense urban areas.
The new unibody trucks come in various sizes, with the Ridgeline in many dimensions similar to a Nissan Frontier or Ford Ranger. The Maverick is smaller, and the Santa Cruz is the most compact. All unibody trucks offer the latest automated safety features such as forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking.
Here’s a roundup of these smartly designed trucks.
2022 Honda Ridgeline
The Honda Ridgeline sits at the top of the class. It has the best combination of comfort, driving dynamics, cargo space and towing capacity. Anyone who has driven a midsize or three-row SUV like a Pilot or Toyota Highlander will be at home in a Ridgeline.
The Ridgeline has clever features, including a storage compartment accessed through the truck bed and a flip-up 60/40 split rear seat row.
One drawback is fuel economy – drivers pay the penalty for the larger vehicle, a 280-horsepower engine and greater towing capacity. The powertrain’s 262 pound-feet of torque supports a 5,000-pound towing capacity. While other midsize trucks can top that, the unibody rivals don’t come close. And it is enough for most uses – a typical boat, a 20-foot trailer or a pair of all-terrain vehicles.
The Ridgeline achieves 21 mpg in combined city and highway driving, according to the EPA. That’s the least in this vehicle set. It also only comes in all-wheel-drive, which creates a fuel penalty compared to front-wheel-drive vehicles but has benefits for light off-roading and driving in wet and snowy conditions.
Besides offering the advantages of unibody construction, the Ridgeline compares well to traditional midsize pickup trucks in other ways. For example, it has a payload capacity of 1,583 pounds, better than the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Silverado, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. The 50-inch width of the bed allows 4-foot plywood and other panels to lie flat in the bed.
Others also think the Ridgeline is a smart package. It was one of Consumer Report’s top 10 picks for the year.
“The Ridgeline is engineered with a unibody design making it more like a modern crossover SUV than a traditional body-on-frame pickup. The design brings rarified refinement to a pickup body style, with the ride, handling, and interior comfort more akin to the Honda Pilot than a tradesman’s hulking truck.” Consumer Reports said.
Urban drivers will sacrifice some convenience with the Ridgeline. At 210 inches in length, it is the biggest of the unibody trucks. It is just an inch or two shorter than traditional midsize pickup trucks like the Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado. It is about 10 inches longer than the Ford Maverick and almost 15 inches longer than the Hyundai Santa Cruz. That could be a handicap trying to find parking in a dense urban setting.
The Ridgeline starts at $39,435, including the delivery fee. That makes it the most expensive truck in this group. A few options will quickly push it north of $40,000 before taxes and registration.
2022 Ford Maverick
The Ford Maverick is a brilliant package that makes great sense as both a starter vehicle and for those living in cities who need truck-bed utility but find parking at a premium. There is a caveat – get the hybrid. Don’t bother with the non-hybrid version. If you are going that route, look at the Ridgeline or the Ford Ranger.
Here are the basics. The Maverick comes as a standard five-passenger, four-door pickup. The back seat will be tight for adults on long trips but is fine for getting around town. The standard version is front-wheel-drive and has a peppy hybrid powertrain and a projected EPA-estimated rating of 37 mpg in combined city and highway driving. That jumps to 42 mpg for just city driving – hence the urban truck moniker.
The powertrain uses Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor. The truck has a continuously variable transmission. Combined, the two motors provide 191 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque. Owners can do some light towing, but that’s best left for more powerful trucks.
The starting price of $21,490, including the delivery fee, makes Maverick a smart vehicle. Owners get tremendous fuel economy plus truck-bed utility in a package that will fit a tight new car budget. Adding the 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine raises the price to $22,575 and lowers the combined mpg to 26. That’s a gift that will keep stealing. The efficiency dip will cost the owner about $1,000 extra annually at today’s high fuel prices.
The 2022 Ford Maverick has a standard 8-inch center touch screen that works well with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. That makes it easy to bring music and navigation into the Maverick at no extra expense.
Ford likes to note that the 4.5-foot bed on the hybrid can carry 1,500 pounds of payload or roughly 37 bags of 40-pound mulch. The bed also has a six-foot floor with the tailgate down.
2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is a clever vehicle. Consider it the Swiss army knife of cars. It is an SUV-like vehicle with the open bed of a small truck, providing elements of the convenience and capability of both classes of vehicles.
It is more expensive than the Maverick and doesn’t get the same fuel economy. But it is so much shorter and agile that it offers an excellent choice for those who want the utility but live in places like Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston.
At 23 mpg in combined city and highway driving, the Santa Cruz slots between the Ridgeline and Maverick gas versions but trails the hybrid Ford by a lot.
Pricing is much closer. The starting price for the base SE Santa Cruz model is $26,135, including the destination fee. Like the other vehicles, buyers can quickly move to fancier trips and add options that take the vehicle well into the $40,000 price range.
The base model Santa Cruz comes equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. That’s probably enough power for most consumers.
Hyundai’s engineers also have done an excellent job with the vehicle’s ride quality. Tacking a bed onto the back of a crossover and ensuring it can haul and tow is a design challenge. Part of this is taking some of the beefier construction of the larger Santa Fe for the rear end of the Santa Cruz. But self-leveling, rear multi-link suspension and standard 18-inch wheels also are significant contributors. With 8.6 inches of ground clearance, the all-wheel-drive model can easily handle some dirt roads and sandy trails.
The bed is about 52 inches with the tailgate closed. That allows for three mountain bikes, a load of camping gear or several sets of snowboards and boots. But the tailgate flips out to become an extension of the truck bed. That allows the vehicle to carry standard sheets of plywood, long sprinkler and plumbing pipes and other building materials.
The vehicle has the standard tech buyers expect in new cars, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The standard safety features include forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and high beams that adjust to oncoming traffic.
Which to Buy
Which of these vehicles works the best depends on the buyer’s needs. Those who want small plus utility should get the Santa Cruz. Those who want the most room and capability should opt for the Ridgeline. The Maverick works best as a tweener for those looking for a combination of utility, fuel efficiency and agility in a smaller package than a standard truck. All are good choices.
Jerry Hirsch October 21, 2021
The new compact 2022 Ford Maverick hybrid pickup truck will get 42 mpg in city driving, making it the most efficient pickup on the market.