Let's be honest, most 4x4s bought brand new today won't be getting mud on their tires or stone chips stuck in the undercarriage. The reality is, most of these will be seen traversing highways and ferrying families to and from suburbia. Nothing wrong with that, but some 4x4 owners seemed to have forgotten that these kinds of vehicles were exactly built to take on rough terrain, not just the smooth asphalt.
As a way to remind the motoring public of their capability off the beaten path, Ford Philippines recently invited us to join the 2016 Everest Extraordinary Adventure. The drive took us through the twisty roads of the Marikina-Infanta Highway, all the way to the steep, rocky and muddy terrain of Jungle Base in Tanay, Rizal where we got to test the Everest's 4x4 tech.
While the highlight of the drive would be taking the Everest off-road, we were first handed keys to the 4x2 variants of the Everest, which in our case, is the entry-level Ambiente fitted with a 6-speed automatic.
We began our journey from Ford Bonifacio Global City where we had to combat Monday morning traffic along C-5 Road. First time aboard the new Everest, its overall look and size emanated a commanding presence. But in spite of that, the Everest was quite easy to maneuver around the congested streets of Taguig and Pasig City. The electronic assisted power steering system (EPAS) was light, but gradually stiffened up when cruising at highway speeds. Some may find it too easy to control, but for me, it's the best of both worlds. It allows faster maneuvering in tight spaces and better road feel when traveling at significant speeds.
Providing the necessary grunt is a 2.2-liter turbo-diesel mated to a 6-speed automatic. It is an improvement over the Ranger's pre-updated 2.2-liter offering and delivered better response off the line. The transmission's grade logic, on the other hand, has been reworked, which either held gears longer or made shift times quicker, depending on the situation.
After squeezing our way through C-5, we finally made our way to Marcos Highway where the roads opened up and allowed us to check out the engine's performance. Overtaking was a breeze thanks to low-end torque always being available, while the 6-speed transmission knew exactly what gear to use. As for the brakes, all I needed was a light tap that allowed this (nearly) 2-ton SUV to slow down or stop. I honestly thought that driving the Everest up mountain roads would be a handful. Who knew it would turn out to be the complete opposite?
Tackling the winding roads of the Marcos-Infanta Highway proved to be quite fun with the Everest. It is no sports car, but like the refreshed T6 Ranger, the Everest handled itself well in the twisties. There is still some hint of body roll when traveling along tight bends, but nothing too concerning that it will rollover on its side. Also helping the SUV keep its tires firmly on the ground was the Roll Stability Control which is standard equipment across the lineup.
After nearly two hours traversing mountain roads, we finally arrived at Jungle Base. Greeting us there was off-road expert, Beeboy Bargas. This only meant one thing: it was time to ditch the 4x2s and hop aboard the 4x4s.
Under our control were top-of-the-line Titanium 4x4 models of the Everest. Benefitting from an array of technologies like terrain management system (TMS), hill-start assist (HSA), hill descent control (HDC) and center differential lock, it was only fitting to see how it would perform in the rocky and muddy terrain that is Jungle Base.
As tempting as it was to blaze through the off-road course, a slower, steadier approach was the best course of action. Setting the AWD system to 4-Low, with both HDC and center diff lock activated, we proceeded down the rather steep course.
Thanks to HDC, all I had to do was steer the Everest to where I wanted it to go as the system did the braking for me. It works by way of a sensor that monitors whether the car is going uphill or downhill. If it detects that the car is on a steep downhill slope, it automatically applies the brakes ever so slightly. This works wonders as it will allow drivers to focus on the path ahead. With a very potent 3.2-liter five-cylinder turbo-diesel, it was able to trek through muck and over rocks without trouble. The low gear setting delivered instantaneous torque while the locked differential meant power was sent to both axles equally.
After making our way down, it was time to go back up and test the Everest's climbing ability. Again, going slow and steady was key as going quicker would mean less traction on the tires. Normally, when going up steep inclines, one would have to maintain a steady flow of power. In our case, we had to stop midway. Why? To put the Everest's HSA to the test.
True enough, the system kicked in and prevented the car from rolling backwards after letting go of the brakes in an incline. One should not rely on it exclusively, as it will only hold the car for three seconds.
Normally we wouldn't recommend going off-road on stock H/T (highway tires), but the Everest managed to keep itself (and us) in one piece.
After romping around Jungle Base, we then made our way to Pililia Wind Farm for additional photo opportunities and to test the 4x4's ride comfort while going over dirt roads. Even with its body-on-frame construction, the double wishbone / multi-link suspension system provided the right amount of balance between comfort and handling. Ride quality at the back was a bit on the firm side but not too stiff to shake everyone's insides.
Done with all of our shots, it was time to head to Thunderbird Resorts to rest up for the night before heading back to the hustle and bustle that is Metro Manila. I admit, I had a previous notion that anyone that wanted to go off-road, had to first dress up and modify their 4x4s before tackling the great unknown. But after getting to drive the Everest, one can actually get a completely stock 4x4 off the showroom floor, and take it to the great outdoors.
Priced at just PhP 1,899,000 (additional PhP 100,000 for premium package), the Titanium 4x4 can easily 'climb every mountain and ford every stream'. It has all the necessary tech to get anyone, everywhere, along with the bonus of a well-equipped cabin, array of safety features and a comfortable ride. The 4x2 variants were equally good and were perfect for those that want a high-riding vehicle. It could also tackle some rough terrain. Just don't take it too far as it lacks the 4x4 tech to take on the harsh elements.
The next time that you're in the market for a 4x4 SUV, do remember its original purpose beside being a people carrier for the city folk. Underneath the brightwork and glossy paint finish is a very capable, very tough, and very willing off-roader.