The unibody pick-up segment has hotted up all of a sudden in the United States. Previously, the Honda Ridgeline was all alone in the market, but it was joined by the Hyundai Santa Cruz just last April. Now, heavy hitter Ford is wading in with its own offering, the Maverick, distilling decades of truck expertise into a (relatively) compact package.

Like the Santa Cruz, the Maverick is based on an SUV, in this case the Escape/Kuga. Compared to the US-market Ranger, it’s 282 mm shorter (5,072 mm) and 61 mm lower (1,745 mm); it also measures 1,844 mm wide and has a 3,076 mm wheelbase. With smaller dimensions comes improved manoeuvrability, with a quoted turning radius of just 6.1 metres.

It also shares the same engines as the Escape, meaning that this slice of Americana comes as standard with front-wheel drive and a full hybrid drivetrain. The latter consists of a 2.5 litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and two electric motors, delivering a total system output of 191 hp and 210 Nm of torque.

Compared to the Escape Hybrid, the Maverick is down by nine horsepower, but it’s still capable of delivering a fuel consumption figure of 40 mpg (5.9 litres per 100 km) in the city, which Ford claims is better than a Honda Civic. It also has a payload of 680 kg and a towing capacity of 900 kg.

Want all-paw traction or more capability? You’ll have to stump up to the 2.0 litre EcoBoost turbocharged mill, which churns out 250 hp and 378 Nm and is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with all-wheel drive available as an option. When coupled with the optional 4K Tow Package, the towing capacity doubles to 1,800 kg – enough to lug around an average 21-foot boat.

Ford is also touting several neat load-carrying features with the Flexbed, which the company says provides various ways to store and secure cargo and encourages do-it-yourself solutions. Slots stamped into the sides of the bed allow users to slide 2×4 and 2×6 wooden boards to create segmented storage, elevated floors and even homemade bike and kayak racks.

Elsewhere, there are two tie-down hooks, four D-rings and built-in threaded holes to bolt in your own accessories, such as sliding cargo hooks if you can’t afford the optional built-in system. There’s even pre-wiring for 12-volt accessories on either side of the bed, allowing users to fit lights, air pumps and other electrical components without having to hack into the taillight wiring.

Appliances can be plugged into the optional 110-volt, 400-watt power outlets in the bed and cabin, while bedside storage cubbies are also available. The 4.5-foot bed has enough volume to carry an ATV and the sides are low enough for even a fifth-percentile female to reach down and grab an item.

Users can also extended the bed to six feet with the tailgate down – the latter can be opened halfway by adjusting the support cables, allowing you to carry longer items without purchasing an extender. The tailgate can also hold up to 200 kg and feature tie-downs that double as bottle openers, perfect for, um, tailgating. The hanging out with your friends in a carpark type, not flashing your Myvi’s high beams on the highway.

On the outside, the Maverick looks fairly distinctive, if not as look-at-me flashy as the Santa Cruz. There are C-shaped LED headlights at the front, framing a large grille and joined together by a silver bar. As this is a unibody truck, the bed and cab are joined together, lending a more cohesive appearance. The bed rails also reach up into the rear windscreen to better protect the body from dents caused by people loading and unloading items from the sides of the bed.

Inside, the Maverick features a no-nonsense design with lots of rectangular design elements and plenty of storage. There are pops of colour and texture to brighten up the cabin, including reground carbon fibre and a stone-like finish in the expansive door bins, which can hold an upright one-litre water bottle, a tablet or a laptop. Ford is boasting “excellent” interior room and a comfortable seating position at the front and rear.

Sitting proud of the dashboard is a standard-fit eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android connectivity, FordPass Connect with a WiFi hotspot and the ability to remotely operate vehicular functions and access data via the FordPass app. Moving to the rear cabin, there’s a storage bin under the seats big enough to fit a fully inflated volleyball, laptop bags, roller skates, tools and other items.

The Maverick also features a Ford Integrated Tether System (FITS) aft of the front console, which can fit an optional accessory package that includes cupholders, a storage or trash bin, a cord organiser, double grocery bag hooks and under-seat storage dividers. The Blue Oval has other FITS accessories in the works and is working to publish the geometry for the slot, so that people can 3D-print their own storage solutions.

As standard, the Maverick comes with autonomous emergency braking and automatic high beam as part of the Ford Co-Pilot360 suite, with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, lane centring assist and evasive steering assist available as options. The truck also comes with five drive modes, including Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Tow/Haul.

The Maverick will be available in three trim levels, XL, XLT and Lariat, with an FX4 off-road package for XLT and Lariat AWD models throwing in all-terrain tyres, retuned suspension, additional underbody protection, hill descent control and Mud/Rut and Sand drive modes. For the first model year, the First Edition adds bonnet and door graphics, a tonneau cover and a black roof, door mirrors and machined 17/18-inch alloy wheels. Pricing for the Maverick starts at US$19,995 (RM82,300) and it will go on sale starting in the autumn.