Given the Ford Everest’s solid off-road abilities and commercial underpinnings, the idea of a rear-wheel drive (RWD) variation seems odd, even if you can save a few grand by opting for one without losing the rugged looks.
But perhaps not. As rival Isuzu has found with its two-wheel drive (2WD) MU-X wagon, there’s a market for these vehicles for people who perhaps want to tow, but rarely stray from the beaten path or venture onto slippery roads.
Additionally, with the death of the Australian-made Territory and the replacement Edge not here until 2018, Ford needs a seven-seat wagon designed for road use. Thus the Everest’s relative refinement and long list of active safety technologies come in handy.
The new Everest RWD is available only in mid-range Trend specification level and priced at $55,990 plus on-road costs — $5000 cheaper than the 4WD version with Ford’s Terrain Management system and low-range gearing.
The more affordable Ford instead gets a lighter and more efficient two-wheel drive layout, though it keeps the 4WD’s tyres and clearance, along with the same running gear and decent three-tonne braked towing capacity.
With this in mind, is the $5000 saving on offer appealing? Well, the Ford really does still cost too much. The Everest Trend RWD will set you back more than the flagship 4WD MU-X LS-T or Pajero Sport Exceed, and mid-range Fortuner 4WD GLX.
On the other side of the coin, it undercuts the decidedly more premium front-drive Mazda CX-9 GT, though these two models are quite hard to compare as fodder for cross-shoppers.
Still, that aside, the Everest remains a fine SUV, combining the ruggedness of its T6 architecture with refinement found on no rival this side of a 4WD-only Toyota Prado — the car Ford claims as is its real rival, which costs $61,190 in equivalent trim.
Crucially, the key elements that make the Everest 4WD models we’re already familiar with so excellent despite their prices are here on the cheaper option.
The 3.2-litre Duratorq five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine still makes a healthy 143kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm from 1750 to 2500 rpm, and comes matched with a six-speed automatic transmission as standard, with manual mode.
It’s quite refined on the go, with little gruffness and few vibrations making their way into the cabin under full throttle, thanks in part to noise-cancellation tech, though the idle is loud. It also offers more pickup thanks to the RWD's 100kg weight saving.
On a side note, my mother has a Mazda BT-50 running the same 3.2-litre engine and auto gearbox, and has put about 80,000km on the clock (much of it while towing a horse float) with no glitches.
Despite the weight loss — the Everest is still a portly 2305kg with liquids — fuel consumption is almost identical, at an ADR-certified 8.4L/100km on the combined cycle (down 0.1L/100km). We averaged just under 10L/100km, including towing.
Incidentally, the Everest’s diesel engine requires AdBlue, which is a urea additive used to achieve its emissions figures. Without this additive, the Everest will run in a lower power output mode to contain emissions.
Not everyone will love the accelerator tune, which is a little too sharp at times, making the car lurch from a standing start with partial throttle. This is especially notable during towing, when you want a nice progressive response.
Ford also didn’t use the lower kerb weight to up the braked towing capacity, which remains a class-par three-tonnes. Instead, it cut the GVM, rear axle load rating and payload by about 100kg.
Dynamically the Everest remains outstanding. The familiar five-link coil-sprung rear suspension system is superior to all rivals for on-road driving, as is the Watt’s link rear suspension set-up, though the spring rates have been tweaked in this application.
The Everest drives much more like a car-based crossover such as the Toyota Kluger or Hyundai Santa Fe than other ute-based contemporaries do, something enhanced further by the light and city-friendly electric-assisted steering rack.
Sharp hits are dispatched beautifully, thanks to the soft calibration of the springs, yet the body control is well-sorted, given the way the car settles after hits. Cabin occupants are well insulated from road ruts or gravel corrugations.
Despite the lack of any 4WD modes, the Everest 2WD retains the other variants’ 225mm ground clearance, plus the chunky 265/60 tyres on 18-inch wheels. So it’s safe to say light duties can be handled.
But naturally, the Everest 2WD lacks the grip levels of its all-paw sibling with its idiot-proof Terrain Management system that varies traction control intervention, torque diversion between the axles and throttle sensitivity, plus the locking rear diff, low-range gearing and hill-descent control.
The Everest’s full-time four-wheel drive system can also shuffle torque between the front and rear axles as required, and obviously on very slippery surfaces, the RWD will offer less surety — notably when towing on a slippery road, or when on gravel.
What does this mean? It means that the RWD Everest is objectively less effective at towing in all conditions, and venturing off-road, than the 4WD version, in return for a relatively meagre $4000 saving. Hmmm.
The cabin is familiar, though the Everest has recently scored some vital updates. The Trend spec now has an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Ford’s new SYNC 3 multimedia system (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and in-built sat-nav, no longer a $600 option. The middle seats also now have ISOFIX anchors.
The Trend also gets Ford's excellent adaptive cruise control system with forward collision alert, which flashes an angry red if you’re a little lax on the brakes in traffic, plus a lane assist system. This suite beats all conceptual rivals.
The $1000 walk to the Trend over the Ambiente 4WD gets you other features beyond those mentioned above, such as 18-inch wheels, an electric tailgate, chrome grille, running boards, projector headlights with auto high-beam, dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel, privacy glass and rain-sensing wipers.
Instruments ahead of the driver are good with the exception of the useless tachometer. The set-up 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. The high driving position is great as well, and catnip to target buyers.
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 and the hard-wearing but utilitarian cloth seats. It all feels knockabout, but cheap and basic.
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 in 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. Ford has now added those ISOFIX anchors to the middle row of seats too.
Clambering into the third row is aided by the tilting and sliding middle seat broken up into two 60:40 pieces, though it still requires a little gymnastics. Still, they're good for the kids, and you get separate vents.
It’s a good thing they fold so flush into the floor, as this 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.
So the Everest RWD remains a proper seven-seater, with the high driving position loved by a growing portion of the market. The Trend now also gets extra equipment that helps its cause and makes it more car-like than ever inside
But the car's commercial origins are obvious and city slickers will likely be drawn to something such as a Kluger, CX-9 or Sorento, on account of their more cosseting cabins and quieter engines. The Everest is not a true Territory replacement here.
With that in mind it’s a little hard to recommend the RWD Everest. Yes it’s more affordable, but for the sake of another $5000 you can have the more capable 4WD that suits the rugged character of the car so much better.
Even in this cheaper form, price remains the Everest’s bugbear, though it still does much to earn a premium positioning.
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