Fit Ford Finds oFFroad Form: Everest Climbs a Mountain of Expectation in a Single Bound

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When I’m old (er), I’m going to sell up and head for a mountain where I shall build a cabin with my bare hands. Actually it will probably be a couple of fitted out shipping containers off-grid. I picture myself surrounded by green trees with thick ancient trunks, and a view out to the ocean in the distance. I can see an insulated sliding glass door open, and a cranky old bastard stepping onto a fire resistant deck with a hot coffee fresh from a gleaming manual stove top espresso maker. There’s not a road up to the cabin so much as a suspicion of a track.

It’s not passable in inclement weather unless you’ve got something big and butch driving all 4 wheels. I don’t mean that limp wristed, tarmac road-only, AWD nonsense, no no no. I mean the full shebang, hi-lo range, lockable diff, mountain climbing invinci-wagon. And, while I’m about it, I want a bit of comfort too.

I shall sit on my deck and write crankily and profusely to editors of newspapers, if there are any left. I’ll enjoy my solitary crabbiness, and I will drink old scotch by the bucket in splendid isolation. There’ll be a misty superiority that only comes from observing the stupidity that is humankind.

I’ve had a long time to think about this. It first occurred to me while sneaking a cheeky under-aged shandy with my mate Kerry at school. In fact, we were going to build a log cabin from logs we cut down, but now that all seems like hard work.

The dream involved getting there by 4WD. The 4WD part of the dream has never changed, but the cars certainly have.

I’ve started quite some way from where I intended, but it shows there really are some places where only a pucker 4WD will do. So, what are the contenders? We’ve driven Jeeps of every colour, Toyota’s laudable Land Cruiser and Prado, the Mitsi Pajero and Sport, the chunky Nissan Patrol and her Infiniti sister, and of course Range Rover to name but a few. Then, there are the LCVs (light commercial vehicles) like Hilux, Navara, Triton, and Amarok. The former are better for those who don’t want to carry muck in a trailer, the latter much better for burly sweaty tradesmen and their wavy-haired lightly, tattooed apprentices. Oh, I think I need a moment……

So, I am on my mountain but I want to have tried all my options. I’ve been most impressed by Toyota’s Sahara. It is as comfy as a gentlemen’s club, and ghostly quiet even at speed. Its crawl feature is nothing short of miraculous, but it costs a wallet-draining $125,000. The sub 100k is where I want to be and I bet lots of others do too. I’ll always long for a Ranger Rover of course, and one day maybe it will be in my price range.

I saw Ford demonstrate their Ranger at the last Sydney Motor Show and here are some pics from inside. Ford had cunningly set up a display by stacking shipping containers. With several together at angles and image131368_a45° ramps at each end, drivers took us up the ramp, along the top of the containers and down the other side. They stopped half way down, then reversed up again before completing the downward leg. While few of us will want to drive along shipping containers 007-style, some of us might fancy a steep slope or two. If the Ranger doesn’t float you boat you can opt for an SUV version. Toyota turned HiLux into a Fortuna, Mitsubishi a Pajero Sport out of a Triton, and Ford’s Ranger is now an Everest.

The 2 story shipping container demo shows Everest is as aptly named as her sister, the Ranger. They really can go anywhere and start at a very reasonable $60,040 on-road NSW. Our Titanium will cost $88,084 and the midrange Trend is $66,303.

The Titanium has a decent leather interior, and while I wouldn’t call it luxurious, it certainly feels comfortable and sturdy. The design is familiar to anyone who has been in a ranger. The exterior has a handsome chrome grille and broad bulging wheel arches with wheels that are off-road ready. I don’t know why car makers go to all the trouble to make wondrous mountain-conquering master pieces, only to saddle them with tyres that would be taxed by little more than an Eastern Suburbs gravel driveway.

The interior is the same as a Ranger with one or two little tweaks. The Sync II makes life a bit easier with voice control that actually works, even in Satnav mode. The infotainment system makes all functions available from the home screen which is split into 4 functions: climate, audio, phone and navigation. Even more brilliantly, each is directly selectable from any of the other mode screens leaving an icon in each corner. From the home screen you can press any of 6 radio station buttons, and you can see some of your pone functions without having to faff about going between functions. That’s one of the few systems with such flexibility. The climate and audio functions are repeated in buttons below the LCD screen so it is perhaps a shame that there is no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Ford, Ford, Ford, what were you thinking? You lose marks for that sloppy faux pas, but because voice control is so helpful, it’s not a total loss.

There is a shedload of tech and here is a short sample:

automated parking, blind spot and cross traffic detection, radar cruise control, active noise cancelling for the cabin, automatic high beam, electric 3rd row seats for freeloaders, Electric tailgate, and Ford’s excellent lane keeping assistant.

If you drift out of your lane you feel a shimmy in the steering wheel. If you’re too thickheaded to do anything about it, the computer applies subtle torque to the steering to guide you back in if you let it. This only happens at speed, and if there is no indication used. It’s terribly clever stuff and makes your life much easier.

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Blind spot detection helps in a beast this big too. It will flash a thoughtful reminder light which will save more than a few motor cyclists. The Active noise canceling samples cabin noise and plays the opposite wave back through the audio system. I’ve seen this before and it can be a bit hit and miss. This one works well. It’s a shame you can’t turn it off just to see the difference because that would really make a good story. The active noise cancelling makes the cabin spookily quiet, though not as quiet as the superb Sahara.

The real surprise is the 5 cylinder 143kw/470Nm 3.2 turbo diesel which feels effortless at all speeds. It doesn’t hit in the back of the head with the punch of a lusty V8, rather it pushes you urgently forward with its mountainous of torque. Like most big diesels, it is excellent at cruise while getting impressive fuel economy.

image131410_bWe took the Everest up the M1 to Newcastle, just for a lark. I thought it might feel awkward being so big but instead it felt free and eager. It was so comfortable that we both said we could have easily kept going. A few hundred k’s each way felt like a doddle.

Once I read the specs, I realised how clever the old girl really was. The Watts-Link suspension made it supremely smooth. To help the driver further, the electric steering detects uneven or crowned roads or cross winds, and will then apply a little corrective torque to compensate. The stability control will detect rollover and intervenes so you don’t make a feckless tit of yourself.

It all works off-road too. There, hill start assist and decent control, plus a selection of pre-programmed off-road settings make driving feel like “you’ve got an expert onboard”. The torque will switch between driving wheels in “auto”, and will even put all torque just to the one wheel with grip if needed. You can choose to lock the diff with another button forcing full torque to both rear wheels even if one is off the ground. I hasten to add we did no off-roading in the Everest but have done it before in a Ranger. I’m not yet needing to get to my fictitious cabin.

Yes, the Everest feels American, but in a good way.

You may have read recently of a friend of mine having a spot of bother with a smallish fire devouring the front half of his Everest press car. Ford quickly found that during storage, the battery lead had not been properly reconnected and had been arcing for a few months. Normally I’d chide the carmaker, and give them severe looks, but this is a mistake anyone could make. Anyone with a car could do the same thing if they were to be temporarily beguiled by a handsome passer-by. It serves as a lesson to all of us: don’t perve when reconnecting a battery.

Conclusion:

It’s delicious. Everest drives like an SUV rather than a car, but all serious off-roaders do. Most of the SUVs on the road now, even the luxury ones, are nothing more than pumped up station wagons. They may have all-wheel-drive (AWD), but this is very far from pucker the mudding capability people think they’re getting. They don’t have hi and lo range or locking diffs and are often built on car platforms. They are simply not rugged enough to survive long in the wilds of the outback. Decades ago manufacturers realised most people don’t want to go bush bashing, and only a tiny percentage of owners do. Even fewer actually will take their pride and joy onto sand or into the ricks. Even proper four-wheel-drive (4WD) buyers probably won’t want to take a 300 grand Rangie where the Duco will be history before it gets into second gear.

I once asked the Lexus Australia boss if he knew how many LX 570 cars went off-road. Sean Hanley is the image131425_bkind of bloke who calls a spade, a spade. Quick as a flash he said, “No, but I suspect it’s none” he added, “they’ll probably do it as second hand cars but who really knows”. So there you have it. A second hand Lexus, Sahara, Range Rover or Infiniti make attractive propositions but for anyone wanting a new option, the Everest Titanium comes fully loaded.  if that wasn’t enough it can wade into 800mm of water.

If there is one fault, it might be the 6 speed auto where I’d hope for an 8 speed. Although the auto is smooth, the engine would be even more economical especially at cruising speed with those few extra cogs.

I liked it a lot as did my co-driver who is an ex-army truck driver.

Would I buy one? To my surprise, yes. My previous pick in this range was the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s nicer inside but she has blotted her copybook, proving to be moody and temperamental so is now out of contention. There is no guarantee you’d go out, and come home in the same trip. You can’t have that nonsense when you’re a thousand clicks from the nearest help.

Price: $88,084 (Ambiante $60,003, Trend $66,303) on road in NSW

Engine: 5 cyl, turbo diesel, 3.2L, 143kw/470Nm, 8.5L/100k

Driving wheels: 4X4 (4WD)

Tank: 80L

Transmission: 6 speed auto

Kerb Weight: 2495kg

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