Note: Toyota has revised ground clearance for the Fortuner from 279mm to 225mm.
Few vehicles attract one-eyed partisanship like the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux utes. A growing number of buyers frankly sit firmly in the one camp while jeering at the other — as our comments board and social media pages will tell you.
So it stands to reason that a showdown between their respective rugged SUV derivatives — the Ford Everest and Toyota Fortuner — might attract something similar, especially given they’ve just launched locally, for the first time, almost simultaneously.
This new battle of rugged off-roaders from Ford and Toyota adds some momentum to a market niche until now populated with quiet achievers such as the Isuzu MU-X and Holden Colorado 7. The fact that a brand new Mitsubishi Pajero Sport (nee Challenger) arrives in December only adds fuel to the fire.
Both of the vehicles you see before you follow a similar formula. They take humble ute underpinnings, add more comfortable rear suspension given they won’t be carrying a tonne extra over the axle, and an extra set of seats.
The aim? To tap into a part of the market no doubt put out by the increasing plethora of large school-run SUVs that would baulk at a muddy patch of grass, let alone a serious rocky trail or water crossing.
Both will carry your family in some degree of comfort — though neither are as refined as a monocoque vehicle such as a Hyundai Santa Fe — but should also be capable of driving across the guts of our wide brown land, towing a caravan or boat with contemptuous ease.
Price and equipment
Much has been made of the Everest’s pricing, given the flagship Titanium version costs $76,990 plus on-road costs. Ford would have you believe that version is a Prado rival, and priced it accordingly. Hmm.
But we’re not testing that version here. We instead have the mid-range Trend, which hits the market at a more reasonable $60,990 — a figure still $7000 higher than the top-of-the-tree MU-X with all the fruit, we might add.
At that price point, the Everest aligns nicely enough with the flagship Toyota Fortuner Crusade variant, which hit the market this week at $61,990 in auto guise. And so, this is a battle between the mid-spec Ford and top-spec Toyota. Surely, it’s advantage the latter.
Both models get equipment including a reverse-view camera, parking sensors, touchscreens with Bluetooth/USB connectivity, climate control, DAB+ digital radio, electric tailgate, auto headlights, daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels with a full-sized spare, cruise control and a handful of 12V outlets.
Both also have running board and roof rails, while inside they get seven airbags and side airbags that run across all three rows of seats. Each scores the maximum five-star ANCAP rating.
The Fortuner comes with features not on the Everest such as electric leather seats, keyless start and satellite navigation — the latter of which is bizarrely an option on the Everest that will cost you $600. And as we will find out below, a significantly more upmarket ‘feel’ inside.
But the Everest counters with adaptive cruise control and lane assist active safety functions, and its power side mirrors are heated and have puddle lamps. The Toyota’s leather seats give it the edge, but then again you can option sat-nav on the Ford, and it’ll still be cheaper and come with the welcome addition of radar cruise.
It’s not the belting we’d envisaged, in short.
Both interiors wear their ute origins on their sleeves, but it’s the Toyota that does the better job of hiding them. But first, let’s get something out of the way:
Neither is as flexible or versatile as something like a Hyundai Santa Fe. If you’re not planning on regular towing and off-road work, and just want a family hauler, neither of these cars are what you most want.
Reflecting the Crusade’s positioning as the flagship of the three-model Fortuner range, there are luxury touches such as electric leather seats that leave the Ford’s rough-hewn cloth numbers for dead, and pleasant soft-touch leather padded points scattered about, notably on the doors and flanking the instrument fascia.
In classic Toyota style, there’s also some rather naff-looking woodgrain trim that might just float your boat, notably on the steering wheel — which, we’d add, also sports a reach-adjustable column unlike the Everest. It’s different enough in key areas from the HiLux, and presents itself as immediately more civilised.
Like the Fortuner, the Everest has some extra soft padding over the Ranger, but next to the Toyota the overall look and feel is drab, and the feel is less tactile. That’s not to say it’s especially dire, but some of the plastics — notably the fascia surround — lack the hewn, bulletproof feel of the Fortuner and the aesthetically pleasing contrasts.
On the other hand, while the Ford’s 8.0-inch touchscreen doesn’t look as slick as the Toyota’s glossy-black integrated tablet, it works more intuitively. The SYNC 2 system isn’t the fastest to load, but it’s a breeze to navigate the various menus and settings, plus Ford has retained proper knobs for the volume adjust rather than flush buttons.
The voice-control is also superior, given you can have conversational inputs and go so far as to change the cabin temperature. It rivals Apple’s Siri for its breadth of understanding, no matter how ‘Ocker’ your twang. Both cars’ Bluetooth system re-pair quickly, but the Everest’s also has the crisper sound quality.
The Fortuner’s system, familiar from the Camry, Corolla and HiLux, takes a little longer to get your head around, has a lower-res map display (provided you fork out for satnav on the Ford) and has a less appealing default home screen. It takes adjustment, whereas the Ford’s is largely intuitive.
Additionally, the Ford has better instruments ahead of the driver. The Toyota’s analogue dials and small central trip computer seem lower rent. The Ford has a central speedo, but besetting this are two 4.2-inch colour screens controlled by corresponding wheel buttons, showing audio/phone/satnav functions, a trip computer and various off-road information such as lean angle. Aside from the tiny tacho, the setup looks quite appealing.
To the rear. The 4892mm-long Everest is 87mm longer than the Fortuner, while its wheelbase stretches out a full extra 100mm. Ergo, there’s more cabin space — even if the gulf in width is just 5mm — and a better layout.
Commendably, both cars have roof-mounted air vents and proper powerpoints behind the centre console (230V in the Ford, 220V in the Toyota).
Middle-row occupants in the Everest enjoy the ample room available in the outboard seats and the outstanding visibility out. 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.
The Toyota does offer ISOFIX, but its middle seatbelt is a naff roof-mounted one. Space in the middle row narrowly trails the Ford, notably in terms of headroom, though its leather seats and general use of plastics and leather trims on the doors and elsewhere feels much more premium. We’d still opt for the airier Ford and put up with the lower-rent trims.
Both cars on test have sliding rear seat rows broken up on a 60:40 split. The Toyota’s ‘tilt-and-tumble’ mechanism allows slicker access to the third row of seats than the Ford’s tilting and sliding middle seat.
The space in the third row, with access to vents, is similar. Both are really to be used as full seven-seater at a pinch. At least the Ford has good outward visibility, whereas the Toyota’s raked rear windowline intercedes notably.
Where the Toyota’s packaging really falls down is the ye olde world way its third row of seats fails to fold flush into the floor like the Ford’s more modern setup. Instead, you have to flip them 90-degrees and strap them to the roof, thereby impeding on outward visibility and greatly inhibiting rear cargo capacity.
Access to the cargo areas is catered for in both cars by electric tailgates that raise to about 1.9 metres, but the fact you can fold the Ford’s middle and rear rows properly flat make it a more user-friendly wagon. Both cars have a full-size spare wheel hidden away under the vehicle without hurting the departure angle.
Given the different specs — mid-range Everest versus a top-spec Fortuner — the Toyota obviously feels more upmarket than the rather drab Ford. However, the Everest has a more spacious and flexible cabin that feels generally more resolved once you scratch beneath the surface, which is worth putting up with a few cheap plastics to get.
Of course, going off the beaten path is a key aspect of these vehicles’ design. But on-road is where the most time will be spent.
Of key importance are the rear suspension systems, which in both cars are differentiated from the leaf-sprung utes with which they share much of their mechanical make-up. Both cars have a more road- and comfort-oriented rear setup — both have solid axles and coil springs, with five links in the Toyota and an additional Watt’s Linkage in the Ford.
Both cars’ suspension calibrations were tested in Australia, though the entire global Everest development program was housed in Victoria, so its Australian flavour is more significant.
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 as on the Ranger Wildtrak. There’s also electronic active noise-cancellation that works like sound-deadening headphones that run off batteries.
As such, the off-kilter gruffness of this familiar engine is kept at bay, if not compared to a more road-focused monocoque soft-roader or wagon, then at least compared to the slightly more clattery Fortuner, which itself is substantially more refined than you might think.
On both tarmac and gravel the Ford shines most. The tail is more settled over sharp bumps and the car sits flatter through corners, while in terms of ride, it’s generally more cosseting over high- and low-speed corrugations. It feels almost like a luxury Euro SUV in this area, while the Toyota feels like just what it is — a (still comfier than is common) off-roader.
Additionally, the Ford’s body control is excellent, with limited body roll and wallowing. The all-round disc brakes are a little spongy and lacking in feel compared to the superior Toyota, though they rein in such a heavy car (at 2348kg, it’s a whopping 213kg heavier than the Toyota) well enough.
The electric-assisted steering (EPAS) is very light, but sharper on-centre while leaving a little wooliness for off-road use. It’s easier to use around town than the Toyota’s hydraulically assisted steering with 3.3 turns lock-to-lock, which offers more feedback but feels heavier — not something liable to concern the target buyer, perhaps.
So in essence, the Ford had a more comfortable and cosseting ride over a variety of urban and extra-urban roads, was easier to trundle about the city in and showed superior body control and handling. The Fortuner sounds like a more comfortable ute-based SUV, which it is, whereas the Ford almost transcends its origins.
Under the bonnet of the Everest is the familiar 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel from the Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 twins, but tweaked with a new exhaust gas recirculation system and new injectors. It has 143kW of power rather than the 147kW in the Ranger, but the same 470Nm of torque between 1750 and 2500rpm.
By comparison, the Fortuner has the same 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre four-cylinder unit as the HiLux and updated Prado, and as mentioned, appreciably less kerb weight to haul about. It’s commendably refined and a step up on the previous 3.0-litre unit.
Still, it’s the Everest that lives up to its outputs and feels punchier both low down and through the mid-range, thank in part to its more intuitive six-speed automatic transmission (the Toyota likewise has a 6AT). Still, the Ford’s touchy throttle won’t be to all tastes.
Maximum towing capacity in the Ford is 3000kg (500kg less than the Ranger) versus 2800kg on the Fortuner auto, and 3000kg on the manual (the former being 700kg less than the HiLux). Both cars get trailer sway control.
Claimed fuel use in the Everest is 8.5 litres per 100km, which is 0.1L/100km better than the Fortuner. In the real world, we averaged 10.1L/100km in the Ford and a smidgen more in the Fortuner — odd, given our test HiLux with the same engine was nudging 14L/100km, which in hindsight seems like an outlier. Both cars have 80-litre fuel tanks.
SUVs based on commercial vehicles 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. This includes a Ford-developed drive-select system called the Terrain Management System (TMS) that 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 trip the Everest into a bend and apply throttle, the system will actively seek to shuffle torque to the wheels with most traction to aid in cornering performance.
Off-road, the Everest takes advantage of a 225mm ground clearance and 800mm wading depth. While the wading depth is best in class, the ground clearance equals the Fortuner, which offers 225mm.
Braked towing capacity sits at 3000kg, which is equal best in class, but the Everest exceeds the rest with 100kg roof payload and 750kg of 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 shines by allowing the driver to minimally input steering commands. 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 mogul and uneven surfaces, the active transfer case works like magic shuffling torque around the wheels. It tends to err on the side of rear-wheel drive at times (the default torque split is 40:60 front/rear), which can make it a bit more challenging while 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.
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 it operates at a higher speed that 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 within its operating limits, avoiding a nasty rollover.
We’ve determined that the Everest ticks all the right boxes for off-road driving, but how does it fare against the Fortuner?
Built on the HiLux’s body-on-frame underpinning, the Fortuner was engineered with the same four-wheel-drive equipment as HiLux, but with a coil-sprung suspension setup at the rear instead of leaf springs.
Under the Fortuner’s shell is a dual-range transmission with switchable four-wheel drive. The driver can switch between a two- and four-wheel drive high range mode and a four-wheel drive low-range mode.
Additionally, a manually lockable rear differential and hill-descent control helps expand the four-wheel drive ability.
The first portion of our off-road course was covered with large loose rocks and featured both flat and inclined terrain. Over the flat portion of the rock-covered terrain, the chassis offered excellent communication through the wheel and seat of the pants, while the 225mm ground clearance helped ensure all rocks were missed with ease.
As the terrain inclined, the Fortuner remained communicative, but it was the hydraulic steering that let it down on a couple of occasions. The steering would load up and become highly resistive for a short period (under one second). It didn’t affect driving performance, but was a little frustrating.
We also received a low oil-warning fault during one particular uphill section. This was resolved almost immediately as the terrain levelled out.
With a 30-degree approach angle and 25-degree departure angle, the Fortuner had no issues with front and rear clearance. A 700mm wading depth also places it as one of the segment leaders in terms of water fording.
The next part of the off-road track involved uneven surfaces that caused the Fortuner to seesaw during a grade change. With one wheel off the ground, torque was easily shuffled to the other three wheels in unison with the stability control limiting wheel slip.
A long downhill portion of gravel gave us the chance to test Fortuner’s hill-descent control. It works well at controlling the vehicle’s speed, but we found it to be too slow with no obvious way of adjusting the descent speed accordingly. This meant overriding the system each time the terrain levelled out and the speed was too slow.
Both vehicles offered exceptional ability off road, but it was the Everest that stepped it up a notch with an opportunity to customise off-road controls or let the car do it all for you. The steering was also easier to use off-road.
Costs of ownership
The Ford Everest and Toyota Fortuner both come with a three-year/100,000km warranty, neither of which exactly set the world on fire in the modern age.
The Ford’s capped-price servicing plan covers the vehicle for life, and has intervals of 12-months and 15,000km. The costs of the first four services at present levels are: $390, $520, $480 and $520.
Ford also makes a song and dance about its free loan car program and free Auto Club membership.
Toyota’s capped-price scheme covers six services only, with inferior intervals to the Ford of six-months /10,000km. Each visit is only $180 a pop, though. Toyota Australia also has the largest dealer network of any brand — useful if you’re going bush.
Both these cars are worthy additions to the Australian market, and will no doubt give the MU-X, Colorado 7 and Challenger/Pajero Sport stiff competition.
If a Prado is too much of a stretch and the Kluger is too soft, the Toyota Fortuner makes a great deal of sense. It’s bound to be bulletproof just like the HiLux, and is hugely capable off-road and relatively refined on it. It’s also better value across the range.
The Everest, by comparison, wears a price tag that you have to call ambitious. But the low-rent cabin design aside, it’s the better package here. Its on-road manners are outstanding, it’s still capable off-road and its interior is better packaged.
If your requirements are more utilitarian, buy a lower grade MU-X or Fortuner, but at this higher and better-equipped price point, the Everest represents the better balance.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.