Ford has moved decisively into the lucrative all-terrain 4WD family wagon market with the all-new Everest seven-seat SUV, on sale from 1 October.
In a bold challenge to market leader Toyota Prado, Ford has positioned the stylish Everest as a premium model, and equipped the Australian-designed and developed version with serious off-road capability via an advanced dial-up four-mode terrain management system. Full-time 4WD is aided by three off-road modes, snow/mud, sand and rock. In conjunction with low-range, for maximum off road control Everest has an active transfer case, electronic locking rear diff and hill-start and descent assistance, delivering the go-anywhere credentials needed for Australia’s unforgiving terrain.
Everest’s well-appointed, seven-seat family friendly cabin rides on a rugged chassis and underpinnings similar to the Ranger utility on which it is based.
Ford says 29% of its worldwide sales are SUVs, and Everest will be sold globally in 4WD diesel and 2WD diesel or petrol versions. With Territory being Ford’s principal Australian 2WD family SUV, the local offering is limited to the 4WD version, sporting a 3.2L 5-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, with the option of three spec levels: the base Everest ($54,990 plus on-road costs), Trend ($60,990) and Titanium ($76,990).
The Everest diesel delivers 143kW and 470Nm, or 13kW and 20Nm more than the recently uprated 2.8L Prado. Everest also out-specifies Prado in towing up to 3000kg, has a roofrack load of 100kg and a decent fording depth of 800mm.
An official fuel consumption figure of 8.5L/100km looks impressive, given the 2407kg kerb mass of the Everest Trend we drove, and that’s achievable on the open road, but don’t expect anything like that in normal suburban use. While the current 3.0L Prado has the same figure, the new 2.8L model cuts that down to 7.9L/100km. Everest’s engine requires add-blue (a urea fuel additive that reduces exhaust emissions) or it automatically adopts reduced power settings to contain emissions.
In Everest, standard power distribution is 60/40, with a rear-wheel-drive bias, while the active centre diff automatically transfers drive to the wheels with the most grip. According to which terrain mode is set, there is also a change to how that drive is delivered in terms of throttle response and torque application. Terrain settings can be selected on the move, although switching to low range requires a complete stop and the gear lever in neutral.
As well as the same powertrain and 4WD package, all models have a standard safety package that provides a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, dusk-sensing headlights and seven airbags, including a driver kneebag and side curtains bags for all three rows.
We drove the mid-spec Trend, which is visually distinguished from the entry-level model by 18-inch alloy wheels, a powered tailgate, side steps and chrome grille. It improves the safety package with halogen headlamps with auto high-beam control, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, front parking sensors and a driver alert system. Inside, Trend has a higher trim and instrument presentation along with the advanced SYNC-2 connectivity with high-resolution eight-inch touch screen, two USB ports and an SD-card slot. There’s 10-speaker audio with digital radio and MyKey for programming individual or restricted driving modes.
You need to go to the top-end Titanium for the likes of a sunroof, leather trim, powered front seats and satellite navigation, plus extra safety features.
Everest takes its 4WD concept from Ranger, the cabin riding on a full chassis, but the set-up is different in most details. Everest sports coil-over-strut front suspension and a unique coil-sprung, live rear axle featuring Watts linkage and with the dampers set outside the chassis for better ride control.
Although using fundamentally the same 3.2L diesel architecture as in the Ranger, Everest’s engineers have made a multitude of subtle changes to aspects such as the engine management system and cooling, in keeping with its envisaged customer use. Everest is aimed at families and a majority of commuting and touring activity, but with the potential to take you seriously off road, whereas Ranger is clearly focused on more sustained load carrying.
Reaffirming its luxury wagon credentials, electric power steering in Everest delivers easy-to-twirl lightness in parking manoeuvres yet has a reassuringly firm feel and weighting at speed. The ride comfort is outstanding, with none of the industrial, heavy axle feel of commercially based dual-cab utes. Cabin noise levels are also notably low, thanks to extra sound insulation but also through an active noise cancelling feature, which counters the typical diesel rattle when pulling from low speeds. Everest feels substantially more refined and luxurious than expected. But you’ll pay handsomely for top-end models, and even then there are omissions such as reach-adjustable steering.
Despite lacking the width of Territory or Ranger, Everest still has decent accommodation. Front buckets are sumptuous and supportive; the travel adjustable second row will take two adults or three children with only slight padding discomfort in the middle, and the thinly padded, child-oriented third row will seat adults on short trips. There’s reasonable luggage space with all seats occupied, a 50/50 third-row split and a hard flat floor when folded, with a full-size alloy spare wheel underneath.
The cabin sports many well-thought-out features including fully recessed rear headrests to aid vision.
While Everest appears a tad expensive in the seven-seat-wagon market, it brings a new level of refinement to the segment and an uncanny blend of practicality and ability usually associated with prestige European SUVs.