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The Ford Everest has moved beyond a point of speculation to reality. The time has come to put this long-awaited off-roader with Ranger ute components through its paces on Australian roads.
The Ford Everest is one of the most talked-about new models to launch in 2015. Whichever way you cut it, the rugged seven-seater has engendered massive interest. The reasons are varied and obvious.
First, few cars attract the kind of fervent partisanship of the Ranger, so it’s natural this might extend to an SUV spun off the same architecture. Second, the Everest was developed in Australia, where Ford headquarters its Asia Pacific research and design division. Third, it’s an example of the stream of new nameplates being introduced by Ford as it dips ever more into its global range.
Put simply, the Everest is emblematic of both ‘new’ Ford and ‘established’ Ford, a catalyst of change derived from a familiar and respected source.
It also launches at an auspicious time, given the Toyota HiLux-based Fortuner has also just arrived for the first time – though Ford will tell you the Everest is actually a Prado rival – while the much-improved Mitsubishi Pajero Sport we’ve just driven overseas replaces the Challenger from December.
Here we have the mid-spec Ford Everest Trend variant. Costing $60,990 (plus on-road costs), it commands a premium, though not to the outlandish degree of the $76,990 Titanium flagship. Question is, does Ford Australia’s engineering nous justify the model's positioning?
We’d establish from the outset that you’d be mistaken for thinking the Everest is just an SUV ‘top-hatted’ onto the Ranger’s ‘T6’ platform. The Everest also sports its own rear suspension, off-road setup and unique powertrain tune. The changes are apparent at most levels.
Think of it like the theory of evolution, where two creatures share a common ancestor but diverge on differing paths to best suit their purpose.
Of course, their are commonalities as well, many of which can be found inside the Everest’s cabin. It is pure Ranger — which is both a good and bad thing, because the Ranger has the best cabin of any ute at present, though there are elements that don’t feel quite worthy in this context.
On the plus side, the 8.0-inch touchscreen with Ford’s SYNC 2 multimedia system and voice control is easy to use with familiarity, and it sports features such as DAB+ digital radio and an exceptionally clear reverse-view camera.
The $6000 walk to the Trend over the Ambiente also gets you features such as 18-inch wheels, an electric tailgate, chrome grille, running boards, projector headlights with auto high-beam, dual-zone climate control, twin four-inch digital instrument displays behind the now-leather steering wheel, privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers and — how generous — front and rear floor mats.
Additionally, the instruments ahead of the driver are good with the exception of the useless tachometer. The setup comprises two small colour screens flanking an analogue speedo, controlled by corresponding wheel buttons. The left screen shows audio/phone/sat-nav, the right a trip computer.
We mentioned satellite navigation. About that… Remarkably, Ford actually has the guff to charge $600 to fit thus system as an option, which is beyond a joke at this price point. Front occupants will also enjoy ample cabin storage for all their stuff, and a raft of connectivity including two USB points, two 12-volt sockets and both SD and AUX ports.
They might be less enthused by some of the hard and fairly low-rent plastics scattered about the cabin — lifted partially by leather pads on the dash and armrests in a nod to civility — the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment (bloody hell, Ford) and the hard-wearing but utilitarian, almost mine-spec, cloth seats.
All of this makes the cheaper flagship Fortuner Crusader, on spec at least, look a bargain.
Dimensionally, the Everest is a shade bigger than an Isuzu MU-X (70mm longer though the same width) and a few centimetres smaller than a Prado is most areas. It’s 60mm longer in the wheelbase though, and thereby gives excellent interior space.
Middle-row occupants will enjoy the ample room available in the outboard seats and the outstanding visibility out. They’ll also enjoy their own air-conditioning controls and roof-mounted vents, and the presence of a 12-volt socket and a 230V/150W to charge their laptop.
But buyers may be less enamoured by the lack of ISOFIX anchors on what is supposedly a 'family-friendly' vehicle. Any grown adult subjected to the middle seat also faces quite a squeeze – best to flip down the ski port with cupholders and save said middle perch for emergencies.
Clambering into third row is abetted by the tilting and sliding middle seat broken up into two 60:40 pieces, though it still requires a little gymnastics. The third-row seats get their own vents, but they’re also sufficiently tight and hard to see out of, and perhaps should only be called upon at a pinch.
It’s a good thing they fold so flush into the floor though, as it helps expand cargo space from a good 450 litres, with all three rows in use, to an even better 1050L. Fold the middle row flush and you get a whopping 2010L.
Access to the rear cargo area is helped by that standard electric opening and closing tailgate that can be operated from the driver’s seat or externally. You get a fourth 12V socket back there, while the full-size spare wheel is hidden away under the vehicle without hurting the departure angle.
Under the bonnet is the familiar 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel from the Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 twins, but tweaked. It has 143kW of power rather than the 147kW in the Ranger, but the same 470Nm of torque. This still edges out the 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre Prado/Fortuner.
Ford has changed the exhaust gas recirculation system, fitted new injectors and added sound insulation. The peak torque band is between 1750 and 2500rpm, a little narrower than the Ranger, though we nevertheless managed a superior 60-100km/h time in the Everest.
Maximum towing capacity is 3000kg — 500kg less than a Ranger — but you get trailer sway control. Claimed fuel use of 8.5 litres per 100km is 0.6L/100km thirstier than the new Prado's factory claims. However, our test loop yielded an average of 10.1L/100km over a wide array of terrains and under different driving styles. The tank is an okay 80-litres.
Matched is a six-speed automatic transmission as standard, which felt generally intuitive and clever and eager enough to kick down when you need revs.
As we found on the global launch, pulling power down low is strong, given the fact you get all that torque at 1750rpm, and it does a good job of hauling what is a portly car — just under 2500kg. Like the Ranger, it has a well-calibrated throttle that gives you fast take-offs around town, though our 11.7-second 0-100km/h sprint was 0.6 seconds slower than a Ranger.
Ford has done a lot of work keeping noise and vibrations at bay inside the cabin, with lots of sound-deadening in the floors, firewall and under the bonnet — a la the Ranger Wildtrak. There’s also electronic active noise-cancellation that works like your sound-deadening headphones that run off batteries.
As such, the inherent off-kilter gruffness of this familiar engine is kept for at bay, which is most welcome and suits the T6’s repackaging as a rough-and-ready family vehicle with a luxury car price tag. Note, though, that the Everest still stands above the likes of the Fortuner and Pajero Sport, which themselves are much more refined and less coarse than you might expect.
But it’s its manners on both tarmac and gravel where the big Ford shines most — not surprising, given the regional Victorian roads we tackled are only a hundred clicks from the roads on which this global car was developed.
Headlining the changes over the Ranger is the Everest's new rear suspension setup, comprising a coil-over strut design with a Watt’s linkage as part of the solid axle to limit lateral movement. This keeps the tail more settled over sharp bumps and flatter through corners.
On the road it’s fairly outstanding. Its initial impact is very supple, yet it never wallows or floats, or feels iffy on the straight-ahead. All manner of sharp corrugations and rapid sequences are absorbed well, rounded-off and dispatched in a way reminiscent of a European luxury SUV.
Furthermore, the body control — while not quite Territory-matching, given that car is monocoque and this one separate chassis — is excellent, with limited body roll and wallowing. The brakes are a little spongy and lacking in feel, though they rein in such a heavy car well enough, and being discs all-round worked more effectively on hard application than the Ranger’s disc/drum layout.
The electric-assisted steering (EPAS) is very light, but much sharper on-centre than rivals and any loss in feedback is made up for by the ease of use when parking (and the ability to fit lane-assist, though we found the system, which nudges you between the lines, a little annoying).
Highway driving is enhanced by the laudable fitment of radar-guided cruise control, which partially justifies the premium.
How about off-road? The standard four-wheel-drive system generally allocates torque with a 60 per cent rear axle bias, though extra torque can be sent to either end of the car on demand, giving the contact patches more oomph. There are also four off-road modes along with a lockable diff and low range to complement hill-descent control.
Resident off-road maestro Paul Maric took Ford’s new Everest off the beaten path and recorded the following:
SUVs based off commercial vehicles, like the Everest, need to offer a capable drive on road, but need to also match and better that off the beaten track.
Ford has equipped the Everest with a raft of four-wheel-driving technology and equipment to make sure it meets and exceeds that of the competition. A Ford-developed drive-select system called the Terrain Management System (TMS) allows the driver to cycle through four off-road modes to tailor the driving experience.
Before we get into that, it’s worth noting that the Everest comes equipped with a full-time four-wheel-drive system that uses an active transfer case and electronic locking rear differential to transfer torque to wheels with the most traction.
The active transfer case operates regardless of the TMS drive mode selected. So, if you tip the Everest into a bend and apply throttle, the system will actively seek to shuffle torque to the Bridgestone Dueler-shod wheels with most traction to aid cornering performance.
Off-road, the Everest takes advantage of a 225mm ground clearance and 800mm wading depth. While ground clearance lags behind the Fortuner, which offers 279mm, the Ford's wading depth is best in class.
Braked towing capacity sits at 3000kg, which is equal best in class, but the Everest exceeds the rest with a 100kg roof payload and 750kg cargo payload.
While the Everest shares a similar suspension setup to some of its competitors, it’s the only one in the segment to use electrically assisted steering, as opposed to a hydraulic steering system.
Off-road, this electrically assisted system excels by affording drivers minimal steering input. It’s on the lighter side of neutral, but surprisingly it works well when climbing steep hills with loose rock or when traversing a rutted path.
Feedback through the wheel is great and it doesn’t offer points of high resistivity that you can sometimes get with hydraulic steering systems under constant load.
Over moguls and uneven surfaces, the active transfer case works like magic shuffling torque around to all four wheels. It tends to err on the side of rear-wheel drive at times, though, which can make it a bit more challenging when climbing steep hills.
As you transit through the TMS settings, the vehicle varies throttle sensitivity to help navigate terrain. The grass/gravel/snow setting shifts gears early and changes down later in addition to reducing throttle sensitivity. This makes the car less susceptible to sudden engine speed changes.
The sand mode tries for the opposite by increasing throttle sensitivity and holding gears for longer when the throttle is lifted. The torque transfer mode is also more aggressive, which helps keep the car from getting stuck in the sand.
The rock mode is the most aggressive torque transfer system with the system aiming to reduce wheel slip to an absolute minimum and allow wheels with traction to keep the car moving.
A low-range gearbox mode is selected at the push of a button, as is the manual electronic rear differential lock. These controls can be used independently of the hill descent control.
A steep gravel hill that we used to test the hill descent control mode demonstrated that the system operates at a higher speed than some of its competitors. Speed can be increased by using the throttle, which the system intelligently counters when you lift back off the throttle.
One of the best features, though, is a graphical display that shows the vehicle’s steering, ascent, descent, tilt and break-over angles. It’s a handy tool to keep the car operating within its limits, avoiding any potential rollover.
So then, it's handy off road, says Paul.
In addition, from an aftersales perspective, the Everest stacks up well. You get lifetime capped-price servicing with annual/15,000km intervals, and free loan cars from your dealer.
All told then, the 2016 Ford Everest is an impressive package. It's spec levels are not as good as they should be considering the price point, but at least the way it performs feels worth its weight in gold. It's an incredibly important car for the Blue Oval, and in many ways it's been worth the wait. Better than the Fortuner? Stay posted...
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.