I don’t think I’ve ever been approached more enthusiastically at a gas pump. No less than three passersby wandered up while I was manning the nozzle stuck into the side of this 2022 Ford Maverick, their wide-eyed questions including, “Is that the new hybrid?” “What kind of mileage do you get?” “Is it all-wheel drive?”
“It is the new hybrid,” I said, but sheepishly had to admit I didn’t yet know the MPG because I was giving the tank a quick top-up so I could reset the trip odometer and record how it’d do over the coming week. I’d have said, “Impressive as hell,” if they had wandered up after I’d completed 311.1 miles of driving. The 7.91 gallons I added at the finish worked out to 39.3 mpg, a figure that destroys the truck’s EPA combined rating of 37 mpg.
It gets better. City driving is where hybrids really shine, and indeed the Maverick’s rating breaks down to 42 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. Any EPA combined rating is a weighted average that assumes 55% of the mileage will be city driving and 45% will be highway, so it’s doubly amazing that I recorded a 39.3 mpg average with a driving mix that included fully 80% highway driving at 70 mph.
What does this have to do with a suspension deep dive? More than you might think. To answer that passerby’s all-wheel-drive question, no this Maverick hybrid doesn’t have it. In fact, every hybrid is front-wheel drive and that’s not all. Ford didn’t merely omit the rear drive axles and a differential for the hybrid, it has a completely different rear suspension layout than the all-wheel drive models that come exclusively with the 2.0-liter turbo-four (and vice versa).
My Cyber Orange machine was loaded for perhaps four or five of those miles. I helped a friend tear down a trade show booth and haul about 400 to 450 pounds of stuff back to his shop, where he let me shoot these photos. The truck shouldered this load admirably, with nary a hint of sag. I was impressed with the smooth and quiet way it sucked up Michigan-level frost heaves when it was empty, too. Considering the price point and fuel efficiency of this machine, they’ve tuned this suspension quite well.
There’s nothing groundbreaking going on up front. It’s a common strut setup that looks very similar to what underpins the Ford Bronco Sport we looked at a few months ago. As with the Bronco Sport, the bulk of the transverse-mounted hybrid powertrain (green arrow) is positioned slightly ahead of the front axle.
This joint (green) is one of several places where the suspension subframe bolts to the unibody. The aluminum lower wishbone needs no arrow because it stands out against the background, but the compact nature of the steel steering knuckle (red) is easy to miss because it blends into the background.
The lower control arm employs a reverse L-shape design, so named because while lateral cornering loads (green) feed in directly to the chassis through its stiff forward bushing, the longitudinal component of harsh ride inputs get turned through 90 degrees and push in at the more voluminous rear (red) bushing. You might hear engineers refer to the “ride bushing” in a given suspension, and in a reverse L-arm strut layout like this, it’s the one in the back.
Nearly every transverse front drive setup I know of places the bulk of the engine and transmission assembly ahead of the front axle, and that means the steering rack (green) can only fit behind it and operate behind the steering axis in what is called a “rear steer” orientation.
The stabilizer bar (green) spans the Maverick behind the engine, as well, which is why we see its connecting link bolted to a tab welding on the rear of the strut housing. This kind of strut mounting is called a direct mount, in that the stabilizer bar link moves up and down in lock-step with the wheel amounting to a 1-to-1 motion ratio.
The main driver of hybrid fuel efficiency, especially in the city, comes down to magnetic “regenerative braking” via the electric motor/generator that’s buried in the hybrid transmission housing. The ability to recover braking energy in this way and transform it into electricity for the battery is essentially what makes a hybrid work. This action is still triggered by the brake pedal, but a computer decides whether magnetic regenerative braking or traditional friction braking will be sufficient for your brake input, then acts accordingly.
As such, this single-piston caliper and ventilated rotor are sized as if they’re the sole braking system, but they won’t see regular use unless you’re in the habit of stopping short and hammering the brakes. The best way to up your MPG in a hybrid is to look ahead, anticipate slowdowns and brake gradually so you recover as much of the braking energy as possible. In fact, the Maverick hybrid’s dash has a meter that pops up to give you instant feedback to help you learn where that threshold lies. Pay close attention and you won’t just up your MPG, you might just get 100,000 miles out of these brake pads, too.
This overall view doesn’t reveal much about the Maverick hybrid’s rear suspension beyond the point that it’s quite simple.
Now we can identify this as a twist-beam rear suspension, a simple and inexpensive semi-independent suspension type built around a vehicle-spanning beam (red) that stretches under the vehicle to the other side. Why semi-independent? The left and right wheels are both firmly attached to the ends of the same large u-shaped steel structure, but that structure is wide enough that it twists in the middle and allows some independent movement.
The twist-beam structure bolts to the chassis and pivots around a single point (green) on each side, and the only thing keeping the spring from falling out at full droop is the internal end-stop built into the rear shock absorber (white).
Here’s a better look at the scale of the beam (green) that spans across the truck. Imagine a motorcycle swingarm that’s over 4 feet wide with wheels on the outside of each leg instead of one captured in the middle. Or think of it as a giant stabilizer bar with wheels on the ends – which is basically how it functions.
The twisting stiffness of the twist beam itself is tuned and optimized during development by the fitment of a supplemental stabilizer bar (green) that’s tucked within the beam’s open cross-section.
That supplemental stabilizer bar (green) is welded in place, and since the wheels are bolted to flanges welded to the beam ends, the roll-stiffness motion ratio can only be 1-to-1. The twist beam is, after all, one big piece.
As for the spring’s motion ratio, the spring pocket looks to be slightly ahead of the axis of the wheel itself, so we’ll call it 0.9-to-1. Meanwhile, the shock is bolted behind the wheel bearing and hub, so it will actually move more than the wheel over a given bump in what looks to be a 1.2-to-1 motion ratio.
The problem with twist beam suspensions is they can produce rear toe-out as the outside rear suspension compresses and gets exposed to lateral loads – a bad thing for the outside rear tire to do in a sweeping bend. The situation is complex because you’d want a stiff bushing to minimize toe changes in such conditions but a soft one to soak up ride harshness. One of the ways to combat this is to skew the pivot bushing pocket (green) outwards toward the front.
Here the inner face of the bushing (green) rests against the outwardly canted bushing pocket, which creates a ramp that gives the mounting point lateral and forward support when subjected to cornering forces. But the opposite side (red) is more open, so that the bushing can pulse back and absorb the harsh rearward component of road impacts. It’s not perfect, but it helps.
Still, this one conflicting trait defines the limitations of twist beam suspensions, which is why you won’t see it on anything much larger and heavier than a Maverick. But they are light, inexpensive, space-efficient and easy to install on the assembly line, which is why it’s been employed here on the low-cost, front-wheel-drive Maverick hybrid.
This view gives you an inside look at all of the various brackets that are welded to the twist beam, and we can see the flange (green) to which the caliper and wheel bearing are bolted.
The upper end of the shock absorber is bolted to the unibody bed structure from within the wheel well, which is why the inner surface of the bed needs no access panels. The rear suspension bump stop resides within the black plastic boot we see here.
The Maverick hybrid is light enough that a solid brake rotor does the job, and its single-piston sliding caliper has an electric parking brake actuator (green) hanging off the back. Meanwhile, that big hunk of metal (red) has no suspension function whatsoever. It’s a towing tie-down point.
As for the all-wheel-drive Maverick, which isn’t a hybrid, its rear suspension should be very similar to the multilink we saw underneath the Bronco Sport, at least in concept. As for the Maverick hybrid suspension we just saw, its simplicity is no surprise at all considering its ultra-low base price. What you can’t see here, though, is how nicely tuned it all is. It may indeed be simple, but it just works.