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Driven: Ford takes on peak Toyota SUV with Everest

Social climber: The Everest might share its underpinnings with the Ranger ute, but Ford Australia says they are vastly different vehicles.

Ford launches Aussie-developed Everest large SUV ahead of October release

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Ford logo3 Aug 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

FORD Australia insists its locally developed Everest seven-seat four-wheel-drive wagon is far more than simply an SUV version of the Ranger utility, and in a bold move is pitching the all-new model against the segment-leading Toyota Prado on pricing and in its marketing.

The Everest hits showrooms in October – although keen buyers can order one from dealers now – and, along with the recently launched Mondeo and forthcoming Mustang, is one of several new imported models charged with helping change Ford’s brand perception in Australia in the lead up to the demise of local manufacturing come October next year.

Ford Motor Company vice-president of product development for Asia-Pacific Trevor Worthington said there was no decision made during the Everest’s four-year development period to make it explicitly a Prado competitor, but instead the company set out to make the best offering in its class.

“We always take the view that it is a ground-up approach,” Mr Worthington told GoAuto at the Everest’s launch in Chiang Rai, Thailand, last week. “And that’s in many ways what this vehicle is.

“Did we make a decision to be better than anybody else? We made a decision to make the best, most capable four-wheel drive we can make with a level of refinement and driving dynamics and safety that we believe our customers are looking for.”

The Everest was developed by Ford’s Asia-Pacific product development team, with significant work completed in Australia, as well as in China and India.

While the Everest and the Ranger share the same platform, Mr Worthington was at pains to point out the “uniqueness” of the two models, highlighting the different drivetrains and suspension set-ups, as well as confirming that a lot of the Everest from the A-pillar back is unrelated to Ranger.

Mr Worthington also said it would be unlikely that any potential buyers would be concerned about paying the asking price for a vehicle that shares its underpinnings with a pick-up.

“That vehicle is as unique as it has to be to deliver all of the requirements of an SUV customer. That means we have pulled bits from all over the world where we can, but that vehicle has got the level of uniqueness to deliver the targets that we set,” he said.

“There is an architecture that underpins that vehicle that we call T6 and that architecture in first instance spawned a platform underneath the (Ranger) truck. And that architecture was as unique as it needed to be to deliver what a truck customer wanted in over 200 markets.

“The second vehicle off that architecture is the Everest and in understanding what SUV customers are looking for, that vehicle has an enormous amount of uniqueness.”

Mr Worthington said that, unlike the Australian Territory SUV, which was benchmarked against the BMW X5 for driving dynamics, Ford did not measure the Everest against any premium SUV offerings.

“I think we know who Land Rover and Jeep are and what they do. Do we want to surprise and delight customers that they are buying something and they are getting something way better than they thought they would get? Absolutely.

“I wouldn’t say that we targeted Land Rover or Jeep specifically, but if people come to that conclusion then we won’t complain about it.”

As GoAuto has reported, the Everest starts at $54,990 plus on-road costs for the base variant – simply called Everest – rising to $60,990 for the mid-spec Trend and topping out at $76,990 for the Titanium.

Pricing for the Everest starts and finishes well above the range pricing of a number of pick-up-based SUVs including the Holden Colorado 7 ($47,990-$51,490), its mechanically related cousin the Isuzu MU-X ($40,500-$54,000) and the soon-to-be replaced Mitsubishi Challenger ($42,490-$49,990).

The Prado kicks off from $51,990 for the base GX diesel and hits $84,490 for the high-spec Kakadu, and while the Prado receives an upgrade in September with a new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine from the forthcoming HiLux ute, it is unclear if this will impact pricing.

The HiLux-based Fortuner SUV is also arriving in October, giving Toyota another option in the rugged 4WD wagon segment.

While Ford may not have specifically targeted the Prado in the development process, Ford Australia communications and public affairs director Wes Sherwood confirmed the Everest will be pitched squarely at the Toyota, dismissing suggestions that buyers in the sub-$60,000 large-SUV segment might be put off by the price point.

“Our targeting and our communications are going to be around comparing it to Prado and we feel pricing is very competitive with Prado,” he told GoAuto.

“We are going (to focus heavily) at the top end of the Everest range. That’s where the volume is. People are just looking for more and more out of their vehicles and SUVs are a classic example of it.

“We are definitely going to be in that segment which is not the entry market by any means. We have other vehicles to fill those areas.

“We think we have got a pretty good spread. If somebody doesn’t want to stretch to an Everest, the Territory is a great option.”

Standard gear naturally varies depending on the variant, but the base Everest offers the first-generation Sync voice control system, cruise control, air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio, iPod and USB integration, front foglights and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The only Australian-spec car we sampled on the Asia-Pacific first drive was the Titanium which adds Sync2 with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, 10-speaker sound system, DAB+ digital radio and Ford’s MyKey system, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, side steps, a power tailgate, satellite navigation, a panoramic power sunroof, ambient interior lighting, eight-way powered and heated front seats and 20-inch alloy wheels.

Standard safety gear across the range includes a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, hill-descent control, hill-hold assist, trailer sway control, seven airbags, electronic stability control, an electric locking rear differential and Ford’s Emergency Assist function.

Ford is talking up the off-road credentials of the body-on-frame Everest, describing it as “one of the toughest SUVs in its segment”. It features an “intelligent” 4WD system, electronic locking rear differential, best-in-class water wading depth of 800mm, ground clearance of 225mm, an active transfer case with Torque on Demand and the Terrain Management System.

To prove its point, Ford held the Asia-Pacific launch of the Everest in Thailand, where the SUV is built, and included as part of the drive route an off-road track near the jungles of Chiang Rai about an hour from the infamous Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet.

While the track was clearly for novices, it allowed us to test the hill-descent control system that inches the car slowly down steep terrain, and the Terrain Management System, toggling between Normal and Snow/Grass/Mud modes, depending on the activity. Other modes include Sand and Rock but they were not used.

A couple of river or creek crossings highlighted the wading depth and just how tightly the Everest is insulated.

We will have to wait for a more challenging 4WD course and an in-depth review before we talk too much about its off-road ability, but it handled the relatively light-duty off-road conditions admirably.

The sole powertrain is Ford’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder Duratorq TDCi turbo-diesel engine pumping out 143kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm from 1750-2500rpm.

This same unit produces 147kW/470Nm in the Ranger.

A six-speed automatic transmission drives all four wheels and combined-cycle fuel consumption across the range is listed as 8.5 litres per 100km. CO2 emissions come in at 224g/km.

Our drive took on highways, through local villages, along narrow winding mountain roads and along the off-road track and we saw 10.5L/100km, which is not bad given the diverse driving conditions and how hard the Everest was pushed.

Unlike many large SUVs, the Everest is aimed at buyers who might actually want to use it as an off-road wagon, but people with no interest in venturing beyond urban limits are in for a treat.

Ford’s engineers placed great emphasis on ensuring a smooth and quiet ride, and thanks to a focus on aerodynamics, Active Noise Cancellation technology that works in a similar way to noise-cancelling headphones, and substantial use of insulation throughout, the noise, vibration and harshness levels make for a surprisingly hushed cabin.

There is a bit of diesel rattle from the engine, but it is subtle, and it is only under heavy acceleration that it is noticeable. In most other situations – light acceleration, cruising from village to village – it is a pleasure to spend time in the Everest’s cabin.

Another surprise is how high-end the cabin looks. Yes, it is a familiar look, with the dash mimicking that of the Ranger, but in Titanium spec the materials and colours lift the cabin well beyond any other ute-based offering, pushing it closer to Prado territory.

There are niggles, such as super-hard plastics on the doors that are made to look soft, the odd awkward plastic panel join, and the use of brown faux leather to line the top of the dash, a colour that is not used anywhere else in the cabin.

And there is no reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Ford says engineering a push-button start into the Everest somehow meant it could not have reach adjustment as well, which is disappointing.

The dash layout is functional and everything comes to hand easily, and while it will not win any awards for innovative design, everything works well and it comes together for an overall classy look and feel.

There is plenty of room for adults in the second pew and if the second row is moved slightly forward, adults can fit in the third row as well – although perhaps not for lengthy jaunts. Row two has a 60/40 split-fold.

There are climate-control air-conditioning controls in the second row, air vents in both rows, a sculpted roofline for extra headroom, electrically folding and ultra-thin third-row seats – the thinnest seats of any Ford globally, we are told – to ensure maximum cargo space.

Speaking of which, the Everest can swallow up to 2010 litres with the two rear seat rows folded.

On fairly average Thai roads, the Everest shines. The unique suspension set-up is made up of an independent coil-over-strut configuration up front, while the rear uses coil springs and a solid rear axle with a Watt’s linkage that Ford says makes for better steering response and ride comfort.

The rear shock absorbers are mounted outboard of the frame rails, helping stability and comfort.

Large potholes, unsealed roads and annoying corrugations were handled beautifully in the Everest, making for an extremely comfortable ride.

It is a big unit and was never going to match the handling of the smaller, more car-like Territory, but the Everest does not embarrass itself either. The steering is direct and feels lighter than expected, but there is naturally some roll.

Off the line, the Everest is a strong performer, offering instant response and loads of torque and power for effortless acceleration.

A brief stint in the 2.2-litre diesel 4x2 version that Australia is not getting showed just how good the 3.2-litre unit is, as the 2.2 feels gutless in comparison.

The version of the Everest that we will get in Australia, however, is rare in that it combines genuine off-road ability with a comfortable, quiet ride, without compromise.

Pricing is on the higher side compared with some rivals but there is a decent amount of car for the money and it is a genuinely rewarding SUV to drive.

The Everest will not set the sales charts on fire – and Ford Australia is not expecting it to either – but it gives buyers a practical, handsome, capable alternative to the also-rans in the large-SUV space. And it is filled with Aussie ingenuity.

Toyota, you have been warned.

2015 Ford Everest pricing*
Everest (a)$54,990
Everest Trend (a)$60,990
Everest Titanium (a)$76,990
*Excludes on-road costs

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