This is what you've been waiting for.
More than the Mustang, the Focus, the Ranger, the Escape, the Explorer, the Expedition, the EcoSport and even the Fiesta, if there is one vehicle that Ford is placing a great amount of faith in for the next few years in the Philippine market it's this one: the new generation Ford Everest.
For the last decade, the mid-sized seven-seat Pick-up Passenger Vehicles (PPV) launched in the market have been very well received by the market. Fortuner, Montero Sport, Trailblazer and mu-X are all leading contenders and hot sellers for their respective brands, and it's easy to see why. The rugged looks, the tough and reliable pick-up chassis, the powerful diesel engines, the choice between sedate 4x2 and tough 4x4 drivetrains and, most importantly, the ability to carry seven plus luggage made these vehicles appealing to many families all around the archipelago
The new generation Ford Everest is set to enter that royal rumble of PPVs, and Ford brought us to Chiang Rai, Thailand to see how this new SUV can change what people can expect in the class.
The SUV experts
Without a shadow of a doubt, Ford is the expert of SUVs.
That's what they do well, and it shows in their line-up, a range that primarily consists of sport utes starting with EcoSport, Escape, Everest, Explorer and Expedition. If you've noticed the first three names on that list are crossovers, and so the Everest is pegged to slot in just between the Escape and the Explorer, bringing with it some good ol' body-on-frame ruggedness.
We wouldn't blame Ford if they just took the great chassis of the successful Ranger T6 pick-up, bolt on a wagon body and bring it to the market, but that wasn't the case. Far from it, actually.
The development story of the new generation Everest is long, and expensive. Trevor Worthington, Ford Asia Pacific's Vice President for Product Development, the Everest project actually took 4 years from start to finish, meaning they started their conceptualization of the SUV soon after the release of the Ranger T6 in 2011. It was Ford Asia Pacific that took the lead in designing and developing the Everest, tailoring what was once regional nameplate to become continental, perhaps even global.
Ford built the Everest around what their customers want and need. The SUV had to be capable off-road without compromising its on-road performance. The Everest had to have space without weighing it down too much. It had to have power, but not at the expense of fuel economy. The ute had to have the latest features in Ford's internal tech warehouse, but still have the reliability and the simplicity of operation. Luxurious equipment and quality are a must, but must not tip the price too far out there. All that, and still it had to be stylish, versatile and functional for everyday use.
This is the tall order that Ford needed to accomplish, but one look at how the new Everest turned out and it's clear: they did it.
King of the hill
When Ford finally revealed the production version of the Everest, we were surprised. Normally a production model differs greatly from a concept car, but with regards to the Everest, spot the difference was the name of the game.
The look, dare we say, was strong for an SUV. One rather surprising factor was the resemblance it bore to a more upmarket SUV from another American manufacturer; the Durango from Dodge. Nevertheless, the Everest's design is strikingly good, and bold enough that Toyota and Mitsubishi are rumored to have pushed forward their contenders in the same class with the all-new Fortuner and Montero Sport, respectively.
With a pull of any of the Everest's grab handles and the doors swing open, revealing a very unusual interior. There's the distinct whiff of leather, and that's always a good sign as the seats are all upholstered with that material . The interior is a mix of cream colored surfaces with silver, chrome, black and gray accents all around. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather and same goes for the automatic shifter.
In the top-spec 4x4 variants a continuous gloss gray panel dominates the dash and stretches up to the interior door handles. Ford also made sure to have EVEREST embossed on the passenger side, just to make sure you know what vehicle you're in. The top of the dash looks particularly striking as Ford designed it to resemble the leather-wrapped ones normally found in ultra luxury and exotic autos; the material seems like real leather and the stitching is real, so I'm told. Whatever the case, that dashboard kicks up the Everest's interior appeal several notches.
The middle row is also a nice place to be, and there's plenty of legroom to go around, provided that the front occupants don't push their seats all the way back. The third row can be tight by adult standards but it's perfect for kids, especially the rowdy ones. There's space to spare for a few backpacks and other stuff, though capacity increases dramatically when the third and middle rows are folded flat.
A tech package to lead
The same (or similar) gauge cluster from the more expensive Explorer provides the driver with primary vehicle information. The central speedometer is flanked by screens that can be programmed via the steering wheel buttons to display a variety of information from RPMs, temperature, fuel levels, range, outside temperature and even control the audio system and more.
Of course, being a top spec Ford, the Everest Titanium variants get the latest in creature comforts such as dual zone climate control, an independently controlled rear A/C and an 8-inch touch screen. Actually if I listed and described all the features of Titanium variants and its technological firsts in the class, we would probably run out of space.
It's the first PPV that has seven airbags, the first one that can park itself, the first one with a moonroof and the first one with a multi-mode all-wheel drive system that can be adjusted to suit variety of terrain conditions such as normal, snow/gravel/grass and sand/rock. The coup de grace, however, has to be the SYNC2 connectivity suite with voice recognition and control.
The power underneath
The story of the Everest goes far beyond its skin. Being an new model deserves some new powerplants, and so for the 2015 Everest, Ford saw fit to install some upgraded engines.
Ford launched 5 variants of the Everest, four of which are the 4x2 models which come equipped with the 2.2-liter 4-cylinder Duratorq TDCI engine. With variable geometry turbocharging, common rail direct injection and a host of other improvements, the 2.2L TDCI makes 160 PS and 385 Nm of torque. Compared to the previous generation with the 2.5L TDCI, the new 2.2L TDCI model makes 12% more power and 27% more torque. The remaining variant, the top-spec 4x4, comes with the larger 3.2L TDCI, a motor that makes 200 PS and 470 Nm of torque. In percentages, the new top-of-the-range model gets 28% and 24% bumps in power and torque, respectively.
What Ford was eager to highlight in the deep dive (their term for the in-depth briefing and product presentation) was the intelligent 6-speed automatic gearbox. The 6-speed manual in the base variant is easy enough, but the 6-speed automatics are interesting, as they supposedly adjust their shifting according to the driver's habits. The new transmission uses information on acceleration and deceleration rates, brake and throttle use, as well as cornering speeds to adjust itself to the driving style of the guy or gal behind the wheel.
The key to the Everest is the way attention was paid to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) lessening, something particularly important when it comes to adapting a tough (read: stiff) truck chassis, suspension and overall platform to become a passenger SUV.
Diesel engines are notorious for vibrations; it's just their nature. To combat it, engineers used something hydro-elastic engine mounts. Essentially these are fluid-filled mounts for the engine, absorbing much of the vibrations that even the most advanced diesels cannot shrug at idle. This, along with the Active Noise Cancellation system, and the revised rear multi-link suspension geometry with coil springs and a Watt's link (for better drivability), make for an SUV with a long list of promises, and firsts.
Now we'll put it to the test.
To highlight the capabilities of the new generation Ford Everest, the drive was to take us on roads in and around Chiang Rai, and some off of it. The 120 kilometer route is actually shorter than the typical 200-250 routes that make up Ford's regional press drives in Thailand, the reason of which will become apparent when we hop aboard the 4x4 version later in the day.
First up was the 2015 Ford Everest 4x2 Titanium 6AT, in typical Thai right-hand drive. In the Philippines, the equivalent model costs Php 1,639,000, putting it towards the higher echelons of the PPV/SUV price range, and we're about to find out if the premium paid is worth it.
On the road this 4x2 Everest is, quite simply, a great drive. The vibration of the engine is superbly dampened and approaches gasoline-levels of smoothness. Cabin noise is kept to a minimum thanks to extensive sound deadening. Don't expect perfectly pliant ride befitting typical American SUVs like the Expedition, though the suspension does give a fair ride over pothole-infested tarmac, even with those large 18-inch wheels.
The acceleration of the 160 PS 2.2L TDCI is definitely well suited for a vehicle of this weight and height; not once did it feel overwhelmed by a 2 tonne SUV with two persons aboard. The shifting of the automatic gearbox is also good too; smoother than anything else in the class by a large margin. A quick reset of the fuel eco meter yielded a number of 12.1 kilometer per liter; not bad considering we were on provincial roads and motorways averaging about 59 km/h.
One thing that was very different compared to other vehicles in its class was the control of lateral movement because of the Watt's linkage. In medium and large SUVs, the rear axle has a bit of give, meaning the rear of the vehicle can sway just a little bit from the axle and absorb the motion; this is one of the reasons why big SUVs (typically American) are called land yachts. The Everest's rear suspension set up does not allow for much of that, and as such you can feel the difference when compared to other PPVs.
Cornering fairly briskly on roads can be done with confidence with the Everest because of the road holding ability of the suspension and the tires. The drawback, however, is that you can feel just that bit more of the road in the cabin. Don't get me wrong, the Everest isn't uncomfortable; personally I would put the ride comfort level of the Everest in between the 2008-present Mitsubishi Montero Sport (being the softest riding) and the 2005-present Toyota Fortuner. In terms of driving quality, without a doubt, the Everest 4x2 is at the top of the order, especially since it has Curve Control; a feature that helps maintain driver control while cornering by intelligently reducing torque and applying braking force should a driver get it wrong.
With that out of the way, it's time to hop on the 4WD version for some trail action.
Off-roading made easy
All throughout the day, Ford's team of SMEs (subject matter experts) have been highlighting the level of technology that they've put into the Everest. Of course there are the standard spiels for their SYNC2 connectivity suite, airbags, the automated parking feature and others, but the real meat is in the drivetrain and how it can flatter even the most amateurish off-roader.
As it turns out, the mountains around Chiang Rai offer some good and challenging trails; paths that if you get it wrong, you'll be on the business end of gravity and a one way trip down a cliff. Thankfully the Everest Titanium 4WD 3.2L has some great toys to help make sure that doesn't happen.
The most notable change is the lack of a 2H/4H/4L dial like in the Ranger T6; the reason for that is the Everest is now essentially a full time 4WD instead of the older 4x4 systems in previous generations. Like in all-wheel drive systems, all four wheels are being driven with a 60/40 torque bias to the rear wheels, so it makes for comfortable driving on the road. Should slippage be detected, the system will send more torque to the front wheels for better traction.
A true first in the segment is the Terrain Management System. Modern Land Rover drivers may be familiar with this, as it is essentially has the functions of their Terrain Response system, but in the PPV category. In essence, the Terrain Management System manages the various driver systems like traction control, throttle response, the transmission and the intelligent 4WD, adapting them to suit a variety of surfaces such as snow/mud/grass, sand and rocks. For the off-road purist, the Everest's TMS also has the classic low range.
On the trail, the Everest 4WD drives like a dream; it just makes off-roading so easy, so much so that Ford was actually hoping that it would rain more, softening the mud and and make the course truly more challenging. In trickier conditions, the driver has the option of locking the rear differential for the task and still has the option to activate 4WD low range, both at the push of a button. The hill descent control isn't new, but it's a welcome addition to the list of capabilities.
Hopefully in the future we'll get to test the other capabilities of the Everest 4WD's Terrain Management System and the gobs of power and torque from the 3.2L TDCi on some Dakar-style sand dunes (i.e. Ilocos, anyone?), but that'll have to wait for when we really put the Everest through its paces back in the Philippines.
At the end of the drive, it was clear: the Everest makes a compelling case for itself, and something tells me that the queues at Philippine dealerships to get one -a reservation list that has already breached the 1500-unit mark- is very well justified.
The degree in which Ford's R&D team pushed forward what customers expect and deserve in the PPV category is in the same league as the lunge from rotary dial landlines to today's do-it-all smartphones. As evidenced by the Everest, the pace of automotive development in the age of true globalization -one that is fueled by global communications- has enabled designers, engineers and manufacturers to move mountains instead of the now-easy tasks of merely moving the goalpost, changing the game and rewriting the rulebook.
Now the challenge falls on the production facilities, quality control departments, the national sales companies, the dealerships and the after-sales network to meet the growing demand for this overachieving Everest. And they better do it quick, especially since Toyota and Mitsubishi are both bringing their new contenders into what will be a very interesting clash of the (SUV) titans.
Now that's something I'll pay good money to see.