When the Ford Everest was first introduced in the country not-so-long ago, it was a sales hit due to the fact that at that time only the Blue Oval had the initiative to build a diesel fed, mid-size, mass market-intended sport utility vehicle (SUV). Since then, Ford has seen the competition catch up significantly and launched an all-new version in 2007's first quarter. But is the new Everest's arrival too late in an already crowded arena that includes the Isuzu Alterra, Toyota Fortuner, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Pajero and Kia Sorento?

Still lots of drag, still can store all your bags

Much like its predecessor, the 2007 Ford Everest has an exterior that looks to meet headwinds head-on, damn the drag coefficient. The big difference is that the current model sports a better looking front fascia, a grille that has bigger inlets (for better airflow towards the engine bay) and better looking 16-inch rims. The side step boards and tailgate-mounted full-size spare tire are retained, and both features are a big help for short passengers and for tire change emergencies.

Inside, the tiered floor pan is also retained from the previous model, and as a result all occupants (six to seven in relative comfort) are assured a towering view of what's ahead. All seats now (and the center console lining) are wrapped in comfy moquette fabric, which touch and feel greatly relaxes everybody inside even after long drives. Both second and third rows fold and tumble down for added space, and the Everest's forward-tumbling third row is easier to operate than the 50/50 lateral split operation of the Toyota Fortuner. Speaking of the Everest's third row, lateral room has improved, but is still lacking in kneeroom. Lesson: the Everest's third row can only fit two adults 5' 6" and below, kids or midgets.

The cold airconditioning (a/c) has triple zone ventilation for all three rows, but the middle front a/c vents should be bigger. The aluminum-lined, Ford Ranger-derived audio entertainment and a/c controls are a big plus, but apparently they were given bigger priority. As a result ventilation for the front middle area suffers (in terms of blower coolness) as compared to the Mazda 3-style front side vents. Interior lighting is rather inadequate, with the inside lamps located only at the second row and near the tailgate ceiling areas. The audio entertainment is nice, but its backlighting should be brighter and it needs help at the treble end.

Better performance

The 2.5L common rail diesel direct injection engine (derived from the current model Ford Ranger) has better low end response than its predecessor. A fatter torque curve makes powerband entry (1900-2000rpm) and partial boost (3000rpm) come in early in the rev counter, but there's a slight turbo lag due to the SUV's weight (1875kg, as compared to nearly 1940 kg of the previous base model). The five-speed manual transmission (m/t) of the base model Everest (Php 1.227 million) has gearing that is fairly even, but fourth gear is tall. Clutch engagement and effort to row the m/t requires moderate effort, similar in feel to the 2007 Isuzu Alterra 4x2 m/t. Nevertheless, the benefits of the upgraded engine and weight shaving are obvious in the tested top speed (155kph) and fuel consumption (nine kilometers per liter, four days mixed driving).

Handling is somewhat better than its predecessor, with the Bridgestone Dueler H/T 245/70R16s breaking traction (with loud tire squeal) at 65-75kph. There's pronounced body roll during hard cornering, but the ride (especially at the rear) is better than the previous model. It's less bouncy, but leans more towards a floaty yet cushiony ride comfort. Steering is moderately light to moderate in feel, and blunt but manageable.

Despite a disc/drum setup for the front and rear brakes, stopping power is great, with the anti-lock system waking up at one-half to three-fourths middle pedal effort. The umbrella-type handbrake parallel to the driver's right knee (similar in use to the Toyota Tamaraw FXs) was retained from the previous model, and gives great grip. Lighting from both headlights and foglights are great, but need to be changed to aftermarket HID (high intensity discharge) units to provide better night vision for the driver. The door locks are a big change from the previous Everest, but are incorporated into the door handle receptacles (similar to the Mazda 3) and need just a pull or push on the said locks' tabs to unlock or lock the doors. It would be better if there was a small button just beside the "window lock" button on the driver's armrest that could take care of locking or unlocking all four doors, like most SUVs in its class.

Overall the SUV that was once the Blue Oval's bread and butter is back in a big way, and is much improved over its lumbering predecessor. Its own way of portraying thrilled ruggedness is sure to make owners wish they knew when to quit driving fun, whether it's on tarmac, hard earth or pebbly roads.