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A proper, heavy-duty tow test for the 2017 Ford Everest Ambiente materialised thanks to equal parts coincidence and five-steps of sheer stupidity – but the rare opportunity to put a large-SUV through its heavyweight towing paces on the highway was a chance not to be missed.
What’s that sheer stupidity you ask?
Step 1: Buy an 1800kg, 1965 Buick Riviera from interstate.
Step 2: Think to yourself, ‘yep I can tow that home no problem’.
Step 3: Realise most common hire trailers are rated to 1400kg max.
Step 4: Also realise most trailers won’t be big enough for the 5200mm long car.
Step 5: Confront the reality that most SUV test vehicles don’t have the requisite electric brakes.
And then, like a bolt from out of the Blue (Oval), in steps the Ford Everest, booked in for review anyway, ideally for a proper tow test, and with the correct electric braking system, at just the right time.
The only negative? I have 800km of driving ahead of me – each way – over two days. Road trips are never fun if you have all the time in the world though, are they?
First up, we found two Kennards Hire locations in the Sydney metro area that have almost new (not even on their website yet) heavy-duty car haulers. Rated to carry a maximum load of 2240kg, and with clever 12V-powered Bluetooth brake controllers, not to mention a tough hand winch and plenty of tie downs, the trailers are more than a match for the task we had in mind. We paid $177 per 24-hour period to hire the trailer, compared to around $90-$100 to hire a conventional trailer.
Weighing in at 900kg, the trailer would bring the total weight to 2700kg (give or take a few kg), bringing the tow value close to the Everest’s 3000kg limit. To be fair, we’d have liked to set the Buick back a little further on the trailer but the sheer size of the thing made strapping it into the trailer hard enough – not to mention the sharply pointed nose, that would have copped a surgery job from the winch mount if we’d pushed the car any further forward.
That aside, the trailer itself is excellent, and allowed us to position a behemoth of a car nicely, thus distributing the weight safely, too. Don’t do what we saw on the way south either, and load a lard-arse like a Jeep Commander backwards on a car trailer, so all the weight is over the very back of it… hmmm.
You know our general thoughts regarding the Everest, but a couple of tow-specific, road-trip focused points come to mind after 1600km behind the wheel.
The seats and the trim Ford has used are excellent. Comfortable, broad, soft enough without being formless, and breathable, a long run down the freeway is easy and comfortable. There is no fatigue to speak of and these seats (the same as the Ranger's) are as good as it gets, even compared to vastly more expensive, luxury cars.
There’s plenty of cabin storage for wallets and smartphones, bottle holders where you want them, and a console bin large enough to hide valuables like a third-party satellite navigation unit – which you’ll need because the Everest doesn’t have one.
I like to use one anyway to check real road speed when using the cruise control, so being able to hide it out of sight is a bonus. The Bluetooth system is excellent, with a rock solid connection and excellent audio streaming response too – great for long road trips.
With the cabin details noted, it’s onto the driving. First up we had to tow the empty trailer 800km. The Bluetooth controller, which simply plugs into a 12V power socket and ‘talks’ to the trailer is excellent. It has a display, which allows you to dial the brake sensitivity back as far as you like, or turn it up as much as you need.
We set that system just above zero and the in-car electric brake system to zero with the empty trailer on. If you’re wondering whether the Bluetooth controller works, I moved it to the mid point, and the trailer brakes would lock up the minute I touched the brake pedal – very clever, effective technology and a simple-to-use system.
The broad external rear view mirrors are also excellent. Many standard 4WD vehicles don’t provide mirrors large enough to work well for towing, but the standard offerings on the Everest are excellent. Even with the car loaded onto the trailer, I could see right down past it, making lane changes and manoeuvring particularly easy.
You won’t need any ugly add-on mirrors with the Everest, unless you’re towing a particularly wide caravan for example. For almost all normal towing duties, the standard mirrors are perfect, which is clever work by Ford given how many manufacturers overlook this simple addition.
Laden or unladen, the Everest’s cruise control worked well for most of the trip aside from two limp mode episodes climbing up long hills. Switching cruise control off and modulating the throttle pedal manually seemed to mitigate this, so I’m not sure what exactly caused the inconsistencies. I found if I controlled the road speed myself, you’d naturally slow down climbing up long hills rather than trying to hold 110km/h and the Everest had no issues at all.
While you can feel the trailer behind the Everest, it never makes a major impact on the way the big SUV drives. The steering retains the same level of weight and balance and the front end doesn’t feel like it’s floating, the brakes still feel strong and while there was a little sag in the rear suspension, it was nothing that concerned me from the driver’s seat.
The engine, which obviously has to work harder to pull so much extra heft, doesn’t actually sound like it’s working that much harder, and once you’re up to speed. The gearbox doesn’t hunt up and down the ratios either. It makes the whole driving experience smooth and confidence-inspiring, which is always a consideration when you’re towing long distances.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of my two days behind the wheel was the fuel usage – specifically how little the Everest slurped. First up, around town in consistently heavy traffic, the Everest’s on-board readout was averaging 14.4L/100km. After a refuel and reset, with the unladen trailer hitched up, that figure dropped to 12.3L/100km at the end of our highway run.
Believe it or not, with 2700kg following close behind, the Everest used only 13.7L/100km at the end of the return highway run. If you want an indicative figure for a big trip with a caravan, that is a number that’s almost hard to believe. Caravaners with slightly older tow vehicles routinely report usage up in the high teens and often into the twenties, so it's fair to say the efficiency of the Everest with this much weight behind is worth noting.
The torquey engine and six-speed automatic obviously have a lot to do with the efficiency, but regardless, I couldn’t believe how frugal it was. Following some normal city running, the figure had dropped to 13.3L/100km by the end of our test.
I expected the Everest to be a capable tow vehicle, but nowhere near as effortless, secure and reassuring as it was, not to mention fuel-efficient, too. There’s no doubt it’s a genuine alternative for anyone looking at towing a caravan or heavy trailer regularly. We’ve been impressed with the Everest off-road and on, now we can add hauling to that list.
Designed and engineered in Australia, the Ford Everest is a real contender in the large SUV stakes. The Prado might remain the crowd favourite, but as we’ve seen with the rivalry between Ranger and HiLux, Blue Oval product is breathing down its neck.
Update: As a few of you have noted, we were testing the pre update Everest with the older infotainment system. Mainly because we needed an Everest with the correct tow package already fitted. We've updated our tech and connectivity score in this review to reflect that. All Ford Everests now come with SYNC 3 as standard, including an 8.0-inch touchscreen. Further, the starting price for the Everest Ambiente 4WD is now $52,990 and you also get side-steps, a black grille and black cabin detailing as standard too.