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When Santa obliged an eight-year old’s request for a 26-inch mountain bike for Christmas, I knew the Ford Everest would fit my holiday vehicle needs nigh on perfectly. Why? Firstly, I’d need inherent cruising comfort, decent diesel economy and huge cargo space because dad and son are separated by a 800-odd-kay slog between Sydney and Bendigo and buggered if I’m going to keep pulling the front wheel off junior’s pride and joy once I (eventually) get to regional Victoria.

And, secondly, dad and son are very familiar with the Everest and its tray-backed Ford Ranger twin, and their glove-fit suitability for our needs, because Ford Australia, bless it, has helped a single father in trying circumstances many times in the past, for which I am eternally grateful.

Ours is a middling Trend spec with the newer 2.0-litre diesel four and rear-wheel drive, yours at $56,190 before on-roads. You can opt for switchable all-wheel drive with this same 2.0-litre/10-speed auto powertrain, but it’s five grand pricier and given I’ve never ever had to engage all-paw traction in trips to the country to visit the kid, that’s five grand worth keeping in the back pocket. Or, during Summer’s surprisingly enticing fuel prices, about 62 tank’s worth of diesel which, I soon discover, is around 31 laps of family visitation.

I didn’t expect the Everest to nail the 835km trip down (or back) on a 60-litre tank of diesel. Easily. Though I should have. With the Everest’s adaptive cruise pinned to 115km/h indicated – or 110km/h actual – it’s high sixes and low sevens all the way, with nigh on a thousand kay suggested range at one refill.

It smothers the tyranny of distance nicely, rounding off the worst lumps of Australia’s second-most boring road (behind the Geelong motorway) and its third-world surfacings, much of it just south of the Albury-Wodonga border. The Everest, with its jacked up ride height and trunk-thick tyre sidewalls, is at its best and most settled carrying speed. It steers nicely, tracks well, its airy cabin and big, comfy seats relaxed enough to alleviate long-haul backaches.

Better yet, Junior’s 26-inch mountain bike – a monstrosity in size for an eight-year old – slips right in once the kerb-size ‘60’ second-row seatback is stowed flat, leaving the narrower ‘40’ side for his occupancy. Excellent. Even better than excellent, and with a it of creative Boot Jenga, we managed to fit the 26-er, my 20-inch BMX and Junior’s 16-inch BMX all at once – maybe a couple of scooters and a skateboard if we happen pass a skatepark en route – because you need that many vehicles for a trip to the local dirt trails…

And right here is why Everest is, in my humble if now quite experienced opinion, an infinitely fitter family hauler than a dual-cab Ranger. The reason is security. The SUV swallows three adults, three bikes and the myriad extra addenda kids at eight want to drag along for the ride, and you can safely lock everything away when, inevitably, you need to duck into a shopping centre or supermarket on your travels and you don’t want all your shit to go walkabout. I’m well versed into relocating a ute tray’s worth of skatepark gear into the cabin of a Ranger, and back, while parked at the shops and it’s a game only mugs choose to endure.

The Everest also became our air-conditioned oasis in that first week in January when Australia was, technically and officially, the hottest place on Earth for days on end. And not once did the Ford lose its cool. I’ve ragged on this SUV’s ceiling-mounted second- and third-row air vents in the past for no other reason than eight-year olds cannot reach the vents for adjustment, but the air-con’s effectiveness to keep the cabin around 20 deg C meant Junior didn’t need to.

The 2.0L/10-speed powertrain is beaut. Gutsy enough for around town family business, reasonably quiet on balance, offers more favourable outputs and a 1.5-litre economy claim and, frankly, if you need to wrap your insecurities around a larger engine, go buy the noisier, thirstier, six-speed-backed 3.2L, still on sale and cheaper too.

Low-lights? Not a lot really. Our car suffered a spongey brake pedal though never felt short of stopping power. With so much body mass set high on its suspenders, the Everest does wobble about traveling at low speed over road divots and humps and could do with a bit – make that a lot – more body control.

That said, the Everest, and perhaps this small engine rear-drive version specifically, remains my favourite and perennial go-to ladder-framed ute-based SUV for long-hauling in a sunburnt country and, all things considered, it’s bloody decent value for its $56,190 ask.

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