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Ford Maverick 3.0-litre XLT Roadtest

I must tell you about the in-law Jose Wales. A Spaniard, he wooed my sister with what she took to be a wood pecker, a deceit revealed on their wedding night when a pair of castanets fell out his trouser pocket. He carried his castanets everywhere, and would startle people by suddenly stamping his feet and clacking away like a brain-damaged extra from Carmen.

A real film buff, his party piece was to rattle the theme from the film that echoed his name, Free Willy. Unlike Jose, my favourite film has nothing to do with sex. It stars Mel Gibson, who in a remake of a once famous TV western series, plays a rough, tough cowboy with a friendly touch. I can't remember the name of the film, but I was reminded of it when I tested the Maverick, which beneath a tough-looking exterior has a friendly touch that would be recognised by all Ford owners - more of which later.

Having long ago tested the Maverick's off-road credentials at its original launch, I decided this time to hop on a P&O ferry to Calais and notch up some serious road miles on a mixture of autoroutes and twisting department roads around Picardy. Punctual as ever, the ferry dropped me at Calais in time for a mid-morning blast down to the Somme.

Powered by Ford's 197 PS V6 petrol engine, the Maverick cleared the 120 or so kilometres to Abbeville in an easy forty-five minutes although at the expense of some considerable thirst. A combination of the four-speed auto' transmission (with electronic overdrive) and determined driving had robbed the 13-gallon tank of almost two-thirds of its contents in the150-mile drive from Surrey, despite using the cruise control for optimum economy. I calculated a consumption of 18.5 mpg, a scant 2.5 mpg better than the car's urban consumption. The desktop figures point at a combined figure of 23 mpg and an extra-urban of 30.4 mpg. Even on the quiet Picardy lanes at a very modest average speed, I achieved no better than 22 mpg, albeit with a lot of cog-swapping in the hilly terrain.

But I hadn't gone out there to set any fuel-economy records - I was more concerned with the car's performance as a challenger in the lifestyle 4x4 market. Would it transport me in reasonable comfort for several hours at a time, and would it accommodate case upon case of San Pellegrino mineral water - my only tipple - which is extraordinarily cheap in any of the hypermarches dotted around Calais. The answer to these questions is a qualified yes. Bags of room for the water, and on the smooth autoroutes the Maverick is as comfortable as the next mid-range car, but off the beaten track, where some of the French roads are no better than ours, the all-round independent suspension seemed more tuned for its 4x4 role than for on-road ride quality.

Indeed, the ride, at times, was quite bumpy, and accompanied by noticeable body roll - not helped by the fact that the Maverick is a fairly tall; car riding on small-ish 16-inch wheels shod with spongy, all-season tyres. Pushed hard, the Maverick holds the road reasonably well, but the nominally rival Freelander feels more agile and seems to have less surplus weight.

The wish to push too hard is to some extent curbed by an over-urgent engine note that penetrates the cabin at all but town speeds. Unfortunately, the purring engine note that characterises most V6 engines is entirely absent on the Maverick. In fact, whilst briefly poised in the queue-busting P&O Priorite loading lane at Dover, I hopped out of the car to check the badge on the split tailgate to see if Ford hadn't perhaps slipped me a Mickey Finn, and delivered a 2.0-litre Zetec instead of the 3.0-litre Duratec. For sure, it was a six-pot engine but never once did it feel like it.

And the on-road performance suggested a measure of under-achievement. According to Ford, the V6 Maverick should reach 62 mph from standstill in 10.2 seconds. These are the company's figures and way adrift from my own experience. Against a stop-watch the best I managed was about 12 seconds, and, no, the boot wasn't at that point loaded with half a ton of fizzy water. Top speed is a rated 117 mph, but not wishing to engage in a sťance with the gendarmerie, I didn't put it to the test.

With no quirky tricks up its sleeve like the latest Fusion+ or the upcoming Focus C-Max, the Maverick delivers a plain and simple package: five seats, the second row of which can be split and folded as required. Even the driving environment borders on the anodyne. A simple fascia, with function overruling style, manages the job well enough but without attracting any real praise.

The so-called Control Trac ll, four-wheel drive system goes about its torque-splitting job with no intervention from the driver. There is however a fascia-mounted button that enables a part-time 50:50 split to be selected. It works by locking a dog clutch in the transmission and is handy for off-road use, especially on wet grass where traction is usually at its lowest.

Costing £19,995 in its V6 guise (£16,995 for the four-pot), the Maverick is said by the company to provide '...all the off-road capability required by customers.' By which they mean that the average 4x4 punter has little or no intention of driving further off-road than the gymkhana field or right up to the school door on a rainy day. But hill farmers and the like will find just about enough of the workhorse in the Maverick to perhaps replace their ageing Daihatsu 4Traks. Smaller than a Disco or Defender, it is more likely to squeeze through narrow gateways, although once in the field, it will need better tyres than are fitted as standard, if the treads are not to fill up with mud and render the Control Trac system entirely useless.

The Maverick's ultimate utility is perhaps limited by its modest towing capacity. At just 1700 kilos, even with the V6 engine, it is not much better than some ordinary cars, and a long way short of any of the bigger boys, many of which can tug 3500 kilos with impunity. Of more practical value is the load volume - up to 1830 litres, if you don't mind loading to the roof. The load area is accessed via a split tailgate in which the glass opens separately to admit small parcels or hand luggage. Rear leg and hip room is generous and the whole thing almost falls into the category of never mind the quality, feel the width.

That is perhaps too harsh a judgement, but despite Ford's fond rhetoric about muscular good looks and so on, opening the doors reveals an interior that seems to have absorbed very little in the way of design time or budget. It looked Korean to me, but maybe I'm mixing it up with the Kia Sorento.

One thing about which I'm not mistaken is the easy driveability - the friendly touch I mentioned. In the usual Ford manner, the ergonomics are millimetre perfect, and the car bids you welcome the moment you slip behind the leather-clad wheel. More than that, the driving position is also high enough to qualify for a 'command and control' epithet - so a bonus there. The steering is light although I would trade off a bit of extra weight for more feel. What I wouldn't change is the long-haul comfort. After an eight-hour stint in France I used the Club Class lounge on the P&O ferry not to have a rest but to claim my freebie coffee and newspaper.

Standard equipment on the 3.0-litre XLT (the only 3.0-litre model) includes CFC-free air conditioning, an electric sunroof, a 12v power point in the load bay, leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, twin front and side airbags, front fog lights, a solar-tinted windscreen, roof rails with cross bars, and an alarm and immobiliser.

For those of you who would like to explore its off-road credentials I can tell you that the approach and departure angles, 28 and 30 degrees, respectively, are quite acceptable. The tilt angle is an amazing 47 degrees and it will climb a 1-in-1 slope. Maximum ground clearance is 201 mm and at 6 mph the wading depth is an impressive 600 mm. When Ford says that the Maverick is 'off-road ready' they are by no means kidding. If the 4-wheel drive system were more capable, the Maverick would be a formidable all-terrain vehicle.

If you were to cast a net into the 4x4 market you would come up with at least half-a-dozen examples to rival the Maverick. Which one would pecker up most enthusiasm is a hard call but I would certainly put the value-for-money 2.0-litre Maverick on my short list. But not the 3.0-litre. Some £3,000 is a tidy fistful of dollars and too large a premium to charge for an indifferent engine and an extra layer of make-up.

Posted on 03.06.2003 by Graham Whyte
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