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Toyota Prado — it’s a name synonymous with off-roading and, evidently, astronomical sales. Over 16,000 in 2014 to be exact, for a market share of a little over 15 per cent.

So, when Ford Australia announced that the Ranger-based Ford Everest would take on the Prado both in terms of price and off-road ability, we packed our camping gear and hit the bush for some proper off-road driving.

To put these vehicles into context, they are both ladder frame-based SUVs that are designed to carry seven people and offer class leading off-road capability. Pricing for the Prado starts at $52,990 for the five-seat GX and caps off at $84,490 for the top-specification seven-seat Kakadu.

The Everest on the other hand starts from $54,990 for the seven-seat Ambiente and finishes at $76,990 for the top-specification seven-seat Titanium.

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We have chosen the penultimate Toyota Prado VX and range-topping Ford Everest Titanium for this test, priced at $73,990 and $76,990 respectively. Both have seven seats, both use diesel engines and both use six-speed automatic transmissions. That’s essentially where the similarities end.

While both cars sit on a ladder frame chassis, it’s the Everest that has commercial roots, being based off its Ranger ute sibling. It also uses a larger five-cylinder diesel engine, as opposed to the Prado’s four-cylinder unit.

Surprisingly, it’s the Everest that weighs more. The Everest Titanium tips the scales at a kerb weight of 2495kg, while the Prado is a slightly more modest 2400kg.

Pricing and equipment

Before we look at whether these two vehicles meet the quality versus price test, it’s worth noting the high level of standard equipment that both vehicles offer.

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The Prado has long been the segment leader and it’s not hard to see why. The VX sits below the top-specification Kakadu and is available with both the new 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel and a naturally aspirated 4.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine.

Standard equipment includes things like: leather seats; LED headlights with daytime running lights; 18 inch alloy wheels; front and rear parking sensors; 14-speaker JBL sound system with seven-inch infotainment touchscreen; privacy glass; tri-zone climate control; satellite navigation; proximity sensing key and entry; roof rails; automatic windscreen wipers and headlights; electric driver and front passenger seats; digital radio; electrically folding third row seats and seven airbags.

In terms of four-wheel drive equipment, it comes with a manually locking centre differential and a manually selectable low-range four-wheel drive mode. When it’s not in low-range, the vehicle operates as a permanent four-wheel drive.

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In this specification, the Everest is priced at $3000 more than the Prado VX. But, it comes with a number of extra features that increase levels of comfort.

Standard equipment includes: leather seats; heated front seats; electric driver and front passenger seats; electrically folding and erecting third row; rain sensing windscreen wipers and automatic headlights; HID headlights with washers and LED daytime running lights; power rear tailgate; automatic high beam; dual-zone climate control; active noise cancellation; radar cruise control; forward crash alert; rear cross traffic alert; eight inch colour infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation and digital radio.

In terms of equipment, the Everest is certainly better equipped than the Prado. It’s only when you step up to the $84,490 Kakadu that the Prado can match the Everest for equipment. Features wise, it’s a win then to the Everest.

Interior

From the driver’s seat, both vehicles offer impressive forward and rearward visibility. And, both have reversing cameras and front/rear parking sensors that work exceptionally well when trying to park or place the SUV in a driveway. The Everest even features hands-free parking, which is a bonus for a vehicle its size.

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Fit and finish within the cabin of both vehicles is excellent. While the Toyota feels sturdy and rugged, the Everest feels a little more utilitarian. The dashboard plastics and door trimmings still feel very much like a Ranger and not a near-$80k premium SUV.

That aside, the Everest wins out on technology and connectivity. From the driver’s seat, the driver has access to a number of off-road displays and the intuitive eight-inch Sync2 infotainment system that works flawlessly in comparison to Toyota’s slightly clunkier seven-inch infotainment system.

We had issues with the Prado’s digital radio stations disappearing randomly and then never coming back. Then, the voice recognition system would occasionally not work as expected and would constantly beep during navigation if there were traffic issues on our route (even after dismissing the message several times).

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Frustratingly, both systems wouldn’t allow the entry of addresses while in motion — even if the passenger was entering the destination details. Thankfully, this was easily overcome with clever voice recognition systems that would allow full address entry while on the move.

Leg and headroom in both SUVs is excellent in the first two rows. But, the Everest felt much smaller inside, despite only being some 25mm narrower than the Prado. While you sit quite high in both vehicles, the passenger felt much closer in the Everest and the cabin felt like it closed in more than it does in the Prado.

The second row of the Prado offers an extra level of versatility thanks to 40:20:40 split-folding seats with individual sliding rails. The passenger side also offers a walk-in function to make getting into and out of the third row easy.

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An adult can fit in the third row of the Prado with the second row slid forward slightly. The Everest’s third row on the other hand is very cramped for an adult or even an older child. The rear wheel arches intrude into foot space, so feet literally need to be crammed into a small gap uncomfortably.

Getting into and out of the third row is also much harder. The Everest only offers a 60:40 split-folding second row. Strangely, the larger 60% portion is on the kerb side, which means two people need to be displaced for entry to the third row, as opposed to one from the opposite side. There are also no ISOFIX points at all — a totally bizarre omission.

While the Everest is 38mm shorter than the Prado, it’s hard to compare boot cargo volumes. Toyota provides measurements for cargo capacity up to the top of the seat backs, while Ford only provides measurements laden to the roof.

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So, keeping that in mind, the Prado offers 120 litres of cargo volume behind the third row (measured from the floor to the top of the seat backs in VDA) and 480 litres of cargo volume behind the second row (measured from the floor to the top of the seat backs in VDA).

Ford on the other hand quotes 450 litres behind the third row (measured from the floor to roof in VDA) and 1050 litres of cargo volume behind the second row (measured from the floor to roof in VDA).

The Prado takes the win for interior space, versatility and comfort.

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On-road

If you spend most of your time driving on a sealed road, the difference between these two will be most noticeable. While the Prado wafts along and does everything in a more laid back fashion, it’s the Everest that impresses most with a plush ride and sharp handling, especially for an SUV.

The Prado uses a hydraulically assisted steering rack, which is heavy and can be vague at times. The Everest on the other hand uses an electrically assisted steering rack that is light (almost too light), but makes driving the vehicle easy and carefree, especially at low speed when parking.

On the open road, the Everest’s ride is firmer than the Prado’s and comes into its own over consecutive bumps and undulations. The Prado tends to take longer to settle, while the Everest washes off bumps with ease in comparison. If you catch a number of them in a row, the Prado can carry the bumps for longer.

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It’s further amplified during cornering where the Everest almost feels car-like in comparison to the Prado. The Prado has much more body roll and behaves more like an SUV of yesteryear, as opposed to a modern version of a rugged SUV.

That’s despite the Prado VX featuring Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) system. KDSS allows the vehicle to use sway bars for improved on-road handling, but can then disconnect them during off-road driving to allow extra wheel articulation.

The Prado features a rigid live axle with upper and lower trailing arms, a Panhard linking rod and gas dampers.

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Despite the use of KDSS and sway bars, the Everest’s five-link coil-sprung rear suspension system is superior for on-road driving and takes advantage of a Watt’s link rear suspension setup.

Under the bonnet, the Prado uses a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque, while the Everest uses a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 143kW of power and 470Nm of torque.

Effectively the same engine used in the new Toyota HiLux, the Prado’s 2.8-litre diesel takes a while to wind up. While 0-100km/h times are a fairly pointless gauge for cars like this, they do tell a worthy tale. The Everest manages an 11.6-second dash from standstill to 100km/h, while the Prado takes around 1.2 seconds more at 12.8 seconds.

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This is especially evident during overtaking where the Prado needs more time to get up to speed and make a pass, while the Everest feels more flexible and willing to keep accelerating.

The Everest’s throttle response is a little too sharp at times, making the car lurch from a standing start with just a small amount of throttle, which causes the engine’s operating noise to start filtering into the cabin. Ford employs clever noise cancellation technology to prevent too much noise entering the cabin.

While it’s still a bit noisy at times, there’s much less noise intrusion than the Ranger, which uses the same engine but doesn’t feature noise cancellation technology.

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Both vehicles use a six-speed automatic gearbox and in both cases each gearbox works well with its respective engine. Both can also be operated manually using the gear lever.

In terms of fuel consumption, the Everest’s greater mass and bigger engine means higher fuel use, using an average 8.5 litres per 100km in comparison to the Prado’s average fuel use of 8.0 litres per 100km. With a greater chunk of city driving and off-roading, we found the Everest’s fuel figure sat a little above 10L/100km, while the Prado was consistently between 9-10L/100km.

Drivers will find a blue surprise when they open the Everest’s fuel cap. The Everest’s diesel engine requires AdBlue, which is a urea fuel additive used to achieve its emissions figures. Without this additive, the Everest will run in a lower power output mode to contain emissions.

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The Everest is a clear winner for on-road manners, handling and manoeuvrability. Ford has done a ripper job with this car.

Off-road

Arguably, this is why people buy an off-road capable seven-seater. It’s trips away off the beaten track where a small SUV or people mover would crumble. This is where the Prado and Everest show their true colours.

First, let’s have a look at the basics. Both vehicles are permanent four-wheel drive and use different off-road equipment to achieve their off-road hero statuses.

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The Toyota Prado features a manually lockable centre differential with a switchable low-range gearbox and hill descent control. Four-wheel drive controls are up to the driver, unlike the Everest, which can vary traction control intervention based on several off-road modes

The Prado has a 32-degree approach and 25-degree departure angle with a ground clearance of 220mm. In the towing stakes, it can tow up to 2500kg with a braked trailer or 750kg with an unbraked trailer. Wading depth is rated at 700mm.

Off-road, the Prado’s drive select system is very easy to use. Arguably, the Prado also feels the most capable off road. The added wheel articulation that comes courtesy of KDSS allows the wheels to retain traction on uneven surfaces where the Everest would kick a wheel up and reach its full suspension extension.

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We were also able to walk up terrain with the Prado in its regular on-road setting more so than the Everest, indicating that the four-wheel drive system and traction control works better at sending torque where it’s needed most.

Where the Prado started to come unstuck was during hill descents and any climbs or descents following a river crossing. The brakes would require a lot of extra pressure and would generate loud vibrations through the cabin.

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The hill descent control is also very loud and intrusive within the cabin. You would normally expect to hear a noise when hill descent control is active, but the level of noise on offer was higher than other vehicles we have tested with this feature.

 

Brake pedal sensitivity is also much higher than expected, which causes the Prado to jerk at times during descents as the car traverses terrain. The natural movement of the vehicle off-road would cause the driver to inadvertently vary brake pedal pressure, which caused the Prado to jerk.

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These issues aside, it’s easy to see why the Prado is a default choice for off-roading. It is incredibly capable and any terrain that can’t be tackled using high-range can easily be traversed with the system in low range.

The Everest offers a slightly different package to the Prado with an electronically controlled clutch as its centre differential. Everest also features a manually lockable rear differential and a Terrain Management System (TMS), which can vary traction control intervention, torque diversion between axles and throttle sensitivity. Everest also features a low-range gearbox and speed-variable hill descent control.

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The Everest has a 29.5-degree approach and 25-degree departure angle with a ground clearance of 225mm. When it comes to towing, the Everest can tow 3000kg with a braked trailer and 750kg with an unbraked trailer. River crossing is a breeze with an 800mm wading depth.

We’ve previously said that Everest’s TMS works independently of the low-range gearbox and rear differential lock to vary stability control intervention, traction control severity and throttle response to allow greater flexibility off-road.

TMS has four available modes — Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand and Rock.

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The Normal mode is used for regular driving, where the Everest’s full-time four-wheel drive system can shuffle torque between the front and rear axles as required. You can also use Normal mode in low-range and/or with the rear differential locked.

In the Grass/Gravel/Snow mode, the throttle becomes less sensitive, gears shift up earlier and downshifts occur later. This gives you a more predictable throttle response and gives the engine an ability to use smooth, low-down torque to move along as opposed to bursts of power. TMS is also working in the background to send torque to the front axle as required.

The Sand mode gives the throttle extra sensitivity and allows the wheels to slip even more to maintain momentum. The gearbox will also downshift early to maintain high rpm, which is handy when negotiating turns on sand dunes or other loose surfaces.

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The final trick up the sleeve of Everest’s TMS is its Rock mode. This is the most hardcore setting on offer. It asks the driver to engage the vehicle’s low-range gearbox and holds first gear for longer in addition to trying to limit wheel slip by braking wheels individually.

This setting is ideal when tackling terrain with loose rock. It keeps wheel slip under control and allows the car to keep moving without constantly losing traction.

Over the same piece of track, we found that while the Everest was extremely capable in its regular driving mode, it struggled when it came to shuffling torque between its axles on uneven surfaces. Unlike the Prado, the Everest uses an electronically controlled clutch that can send up to 100 per cent of the torque to either the front or rear with variations in between.

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One particular hill that the Prado managed to get up in high-range without its centre differential locked, the Everest failed to climb. The traction control intervened when the wheels spun, but there wasn’t a definitive effort by the Everest to climb the hill. You can see this particular example in the video above.

Of course, once we manually locked the rear differential, the Everest managed to climb the hill in question without fail. And this was the theme for the rest of our off-road expedition.

The Everest was able to do everything that the Toyota did. It was far more graceful during hill descents and while the brakes felt different after river crossings, there certainly wasn’t the shudder we experienced with the Prado.

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TMS also came into its own when it came to driving over loose rock or river crossing. The extra control over the throttle came in very handy, as did the extra wheel spin courtesy of traction control limitation.

Unlike the Prado’s heavier hydraulically assisted steering system, the Everest’s electrically assisted system worked very well off-road. It was much easier to steer with and made it easy when finely controlling wheel movements.

Both vehicles were fitted with graphic off-road displays, which showed vehicle angles and other critical elements.

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In the off-road environment, both the Prado and Everest proved that they really could go anywhere. We felt the Everest was more idiot-proof with graphical displays and instructions when switching between the pre-programmed off-road modes. It made it easier when deciding which mode to choose.

Ownership costs

Both the Toyota Prado and Ford Everest come with three-year/100,000km warranties.

But, it’s the Prado that requires more regular servicing — six monthly instead of 12 monthly. The first six service intervals are capped, but are required every six months at a cost of $220 each, coming in at $1320 over three years.

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With the Ford Everest, service intervals are every 12 months, but cost $390 for the first, $520 for the second and $480 for the third, coming to $1390 over three years.

Verdict

At first, we thought Ford’s claims of building a Prado competitor out of a commercial vehicle were a bit outlandish. A car company can’t just produce a capable off-road vehicle without throwing a heap of development money at the task.

Luckily for Ford, the Everest was designed and engineered in Australia. It was engineered with some of Australia’s harshest conditions at top of mind. It was engineered with some of Australia’s worst roads at top of mind as well.

While it doesn’t feel as cavernous as the Prado inside the cabin, nor does it feel as carefree off-road, it does conquer the on-road space and it is a brilliant SUV to drive all round.

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We came into this test thinking that the Prado would quite simply reign supreme. But, it’s hard to ignore a tech-laden product that’s capable both on- and off-road.

The Ford Everest is the victor in this comparison and rightfully presents a modern and viable alternative to the Toyota Prado.

More: To see the Ford Everest TMS in action, watch our video response to a reader question.

Click on the Photos tab to see more images of the 2016 Ford Everest Titanium and 2016 Toyota Prado VX off-road by Tom Fraser and Mitch Oke.



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