Buying a car in today’s market is a lot like ordering food from a restaurant. A set menu, but with some freedom of choice.
You want the big breakfast? A seven seat, AWD, diesel SUV… but hold the avocado, and make it rear-drive only? We can do that.
The award-winning 2017 Ford Everest SUV range is now available with a rear-wheel-drive variant, designed to suit buyers who like the size, space and power of the Everest, but don’t need the cost and complexity associated with the multi-mode four-wheel drive system.
It’s a common theme - many of the double cab pickup trucks that spawn these big SUV wagons are available with rear-wheel drive, and even some of the SUVs themselves are already offered with a double driveline option.
A rear-drive option has worked for Ford in the past, too, with the now discontinued Territory being offered in both driveline configurations. Fair to note that until the Edge arrives to replace the Territory, the RWD Everest will fill some of that market gap.
At launch, the rear-drive Everest will be available in the single, mid-specification Trend trim level.
For buyers, the removal of front-wheel traction shaves a solid 98kg or 4 per cent from the weight of the big SUV (2407kg vs 2309kg), and more importantly, 8 per cent on the list price as the RWD Trend is a clean $5000 cheaper than its AWD sibling ($55,990 vs $60,990 – before options and on road costs).
Even buying prawns at the market, that’s a favourable equation!
Saving the weight (and money) comes from the removal of the 4WD transfer case, front differential, front drive shaft and prop shafts. There are new front hubs, revised engine mounts, a new primary drive shaft (longer) and of course the deletion of any in-cabin off-road gadgets, like the terrain response system and hill descent control.
From the outside, the only evidence you're looking at a two-wheeling Everest is the lack of a simple AWD badge on the boot.
Almost everything else remains the same. There are not even any new colours or wheel designs.
The 3.2-litre, 143kW/470Nm five-cylinder turbo diesel is still under the bonnet, and there continues to be a 3000kg tow rating. The water-wading depth remains at 800mm and there is still 225mm of ground clearance.
Cooling systems are identical, and even the gear ratios from the six-speed automatic transmission are the same.
And if you stop to think about it, even with an AWD Everest, when did you last use any of the more high-level off-road gear?
Plenty of buyers look to these vehicles for their size, height and general practicality, and from personal experience, there’s plenty of ground you can cover without needing to engage four-wheel drive, so it goes against traditional thinking to say that this direction makes sense.
I say 'traditional thinking' because, when I was growing up, a family SUV was simply called a four-wheel drive. Mainly because it was.
Land Cruisers, Pajeros, Patrols. All full of kids and all covered in garish 4X4 decals that the '80s managed so well. Most of them never saw more than a gravel road, but that wasn’t the point. The size and practicality of these big cars came with the ‘go anywhere’ promise.
You got the avocado whether you ate it or not.
But in the late '90s, my father bought a RWD Jeep Grand Cherokee. At the time, I couldn’t believe such a vehicle could exist. The go-anywhere brand that had a limit on its go-anywhere-ness. But Robert didn’t buy it to go off-road - it made sense as a large, comfortable tourer and the reduced cost and improved fuel economy made much more sense than a cheap sticker on the boot.
In our own experience at CarAdvice, towing a 2000kg trailer and race car behind a two-wheel drive Isuzu MU-X, there was no impact on capability and you would often forget that the big MU-X was missing its front diff.
It’s the size, power and flexibility that buyers want, four-wheel drive is more of a ‘nice to have’ rather than the core function.
Aside from the lower weight and entry price, you have lower running costs (8.5L/100km consumption plays 8.4L/100km combined cycle), and even less wear on tyres and brakes. Yes, these may be minimal savings, but these days, every little bit counts.
Those numbers, in useful terms, can result in an extra 51 kilometres of driving range, Ford says.
For the launch, we took the RWD Everest on a 250km loop from Ford’s head office in Broadmeadows, through Kinglake and on to the Yarra Valley, and back again through some of Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
This gave us a mixture of freeway and highway driving as well as some tighter climbs and descents across the back of the Yarra Ranges.
For the touring sections, in both the front and back seats, the Everest continues to be an easy cruiser. Due to its ladder-frame lineage and slightly more ‘robust’ nature, the big Ford still doesn’t have the quality of ride we found in the Territory, but it is comfortable and not as bouncy as some SUV wagons.
That said, if your predominant use of a car like the Everest is for urban running, there are plenty of other options in this space, like the new Mazda CX-9, that provide practical family size and a more suburban friendly ride.
What many of these cars don’t have though is the 3000kg tow rating (and 300kg down-ball rating) of the Everest. Both the CX-9 and Toyota Kluger top-out at 2000kg towing, plus both are offered with petrol engines only.
During the drive we came upon an older Navara struggling with a caravan. The Ford would have been much more suited to the task.
We didn’t get a chance to tow with the Everest on launch, but you can see how this is one of the main appeals of the car. The strong diesel mixed with the decent capacity, doesn’t need AWD if your predominant use is on sealed roads or even light gravel.
Fuel consumption dropped to the mid 9L/100km mark for most of the A-road sections, but we weren’t specifically trying to economise.
In the cabin, the 2017 Everest, in both drivetrain options, receives the latest SYNC3 infotainment software on an eight-inch touchscreen. The system has been enhanced from the previous generation, and we found voice commands were more easily understood.
The more simplistic interface is easier to use on the move, but still not perfect, where some buttons are on the lower edge of the screen and can be hard to tap on the hop. We’ll spend more time with SYNC3 over the coming weeks to provide a more detailed review of the software, which is rolling out to all Ford models.
Removing the terrain response dial gives the driver another cup-holder-type well in the dash (only good for espresso sized coffee though), but everything else is unchanged. Even the lack of steering reach adjustment.
The seats are comfortable and offer good support, and the room for the passenger is good, even on a longer drive.
Both rear rows of seats haven’t changed from the all-wheel drive Everest, and the boot still holds a 450L / 1050L / 2010L split as the seats are folded down.
The highway soon made way for twistier mountain sections, and the Everest continued to calmly go about its job.
Turn-in and steering feel are good, and only tighter or faster corners gave the tyres any excuse to make a noise. Ford’s engineers have tweaked the traction control profile to cater for the adjustment in drive, but at no point did the car exhibit any rear-drive ‘oversteer’ behaviour.
Following one of the other cars through a section, there is an expected amount of visible body roll, but certainly nothing that would greatly disturb the occupants. It is a family SUV and not a hill climb special after all.
Behind the wheel, the Everest, which has always felt light and easy to drive thanks to its electro-mechanical steering rack, does seem inherently ‘light’.
As to it feeling ‘lighter’ than the AWD - until we can test the cars back to back we can’t make a definitive comment, but the simpler front end setup now required with the lack of the prop shafts does point to a resounding yes.
Left to its own, the automatic gearbox shifts well enough for a vehicle like the Everest. You can tap it into a sports-automatic mode, where it seems to just hold gears a little longer, but there is no greater sensation of a sportier drive.
Brakes wash off speed well, and in all reality, on even poorly surfaced roads, there is no indication at all that this car is missing its front-drive capability.
Bottom line, the Everest is a very capable car, regardless of the drivetrain.
The run back through traffic, too, was even more effortless. The only real bugbear being a ‘trucky’ vibration from the five-cylinder at low speed throttle, but it's part of the package you signed up for, so it's hardly a crucial point. Our round trip consumption was just under 10L/100km.
Offering the Everest with rear-drive is part of a greater strategy by Ford to round out its SUV range with the models that people want, at the prices they want to pay. Expect even a five-seat version to launch during 2017 for an even lower-cost entry point to the range.
And, as with that big breakfast, what you can buy now comes down to choice.
For buyers wanting solid touring and towing capability, that includes more black stuff than brown, then the 2017 Ford Everest Trend RWD makes a compelling case. Save complexity, weight and money, and get all the benefits of a tough, hard-working, comfortable and practical SUV.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward.