Following its most extensive customer research program ever for a vehicle developed in Asia Pacific, Ford says part of the market has shifted from demanding a comfort-oriented soft-roader towards a more rugged type of SUV with greater versatility and go-anywhere potential.
Ford all but admits that added off-road ability will come at the expense of some on-road sophistication, however, shying away from suggestions the Everest could ride better than the decade-old Territory, which was Australia’s top-selling SUV between 2005 and 2007 and number one in its segment from 2005-2008 and in 2011, but will be discontinued when local production ceases in October 2016.
“It isn’t a Territory,” admitted Melbourne-based Ford Everest program director David French, who oversaw Everest's Australia-centred design and engineering programs. “You can look and see it’s not a Territory.
“I’d say it’s got a different character. It’s full Ford DNA … so it doesn’t wallow like some of its competitors might do, so we’d expect it to drive like all other Ford cars which would be taut and precise.
“In terms of the ride comfort for a go-anywhere SUV that’s rewarding on the road and rewarding off road we think it’s got a great combo. It’s [the best-riding vehicle] of its type, so it’s the car that the target customers are going to want.”
The Everest shares its basic body-on-frame construction with the popular Ranger ute, though Ford insists the SUV is “its own car” despite being cagey about exactly how different the two are.
Ford Asia Pacific vehicle line director Richard Tilley told CarAdvice the Everest was much more than “just the pick-up with a tin box on top”. French added that it “doesn’t owe too much to Ranger”, confirming its wheelbase will be shorter than the ute’s 3220mm measure.
What we do know is that the Everest retains the Ranger’s front suspension layout but gets a more sophisticated and car-like solid rear axle with coil springs and a Watts linkage in place of the ute’s leaf spring setup. It also gets rear disc brakes instead of drums.
Tilly confirmed the Everest was benchmarked against serious off-road SUVs including the Toyota Prado, Mitsubishi Pajero and Nissan Patrol, along with fellow ute-based rivals the Holden Colorado 7 and Isuzu MU-X, rather than seven-seat soft-roaders such as the Toyota Kluger, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9 and its own Territory.
He said this style of vehicle was a niche that Ford was yet to tap in Australia region.
“We’re going to have an absolutely capable vehicle that really satisfies the aspiration as that lifestyle vehicle [capable of] weekend off-roading while taking the kids to school during the week, it’s all those things,” he said.
“That’s the image and desire that many people in Australia have, coupled with trailer towing and some of those other attributes that are perhaps unique to Australia and New Zealand.”
French believes the Everest will rival tough four-wheel drives and drag buyers away from large soft-roaders and even traditional large family cars.
“We would expect that some Territory customers would have interest in a car like this … so we do expect to retain some Territory customers directly into this car,” he said.
“And we expect to bring in other customers from all over. The facts are that when capable SUVs are offered, people come out of cars and into SUVs because they’ve got more utility.”
The Ford Everest will go on sale in Australia around the third quarter of next year with a starting price of about $45,000-$50,000.
As Australia is among the most sophisticated markets Everest will be sold, our car is set to be available with most if not all of its advanced features, such as adaptive cruise control, curve control, lane keeping aid, forward alert with collision mitigation auto braking, and active park assist for hands-free reverse parallel parking.
It will also offer Ford’s latest SYNC 2 and MyKey infotainment and safety technologies.
Ford Australia remains coy on our engine line-up, refusing to confirm which of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel and 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel units will be available Down Under.
It’s expected to offer both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmission options, as well as rear- and four-wheel-drive models. The latter benefit from the terrain management system (TMS), which allows drivers to select between four pre-programmed settings while driving: normal, snow/gravel/grass, sand, and rock.
Ford will reveal more details about the Everest at its public debut at the Guangzhou auto show in China next week before its international launch in northern Thailand in 2015 and Australian launch a few months later.