|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
But that way of thinking started way earlier than you think. Before the era of Alan Mulally and One Ford, Ford has been designed some pretty techy stuff way back in the early 2000s. In 2003, Ford introduced an affordable SUV based off their pickup truck: the Everest. It had airbags, anti-lock brakes, and true off-roading capability at the time when its competitors were still pedaling Asian Utility Vehicles or AUVs. By all accounts, it was a winner. So Ford saw it was good and rested on the seventh day.
They probably found it too good that for a better part of a decade, everything became much more evolutionary for the Everest. Sure, it was tweaked and all, but it followed the same recipe down to the hideous rear door-mounted spare tire and headrest-less third row. Other carmakers soon got their act together and produced their own PPV or Pickup Passenger Vehicle, but Ford didn’t seem to care. They straddled along offering a choice if you wanted a manual or an automatic for as long as you didn’t mind having a spare tire sprouting at the back. In hindsight though, it seems they were just sandbagging because lo and behold: here’s the all-new 2015 Everest. And now, all’s right with the world.
By and large, you’ve seen the Everest from just about every angle thanks to its lengthy strip tease. But reiterating one thing before getting to the drive itself, it’s a looker. It doesn’t look anything like the previous models and that’s a good thing. Compared to its predecessor’s crude styling, this one is all macho and with the Jay-Z worthy wheels, you know immediately whey the competition hurried their models before this Ford hits the market. Like how the first-generation Everest dropped the bomb on its rivals, this one nukes them. Winter is coming for anyone not belonging to the House of Ford.
As lovely as the Everest is, there are even more hidden gems sprinkled throughout the exterior. Although the basic shape is dictated by the need to create a larger feeling of space without taking up a huge footprint, it’s also designed to be as refined and aerodynamic as possible. It doesn’t rely on frivolous plastic cladding to butch up the design. Here, it’s all contoured sheet metal for a cleaner, meaner look. It also has a more sculpted tailgate a cue which isn’t out of place in a luxury crossover. And finally, it has a specially-designed front bumper guard, aero kickers, and rear spoiler to cut aerodynamic drag.
Climbing aboard needs a step up, but once you’re inside, you’re greeted by a combination of the new and the familiar. It has a horizontal vibe going on and that’s for two reasons: first, it frees up more space and second, the layout ends up being more ergonomic. Seated in the first or second rows, there’s no denying the feeling of space. Plus, the seats are really good. They prioritize support and comfort over hugging your ribcage during cornering, in tune with the character of the car. It’s the same in the second row, where the seats are well-shaped and capable of seating three abreast comfortably even if Ford claims they’re the thinnest seats they’ve ever designed. However, the third row is decidedly cozier. Getting in and out is a challenge in itself because the second row only slides. Once you squeeze your legs in though, you’re greeted with ample space. The knees are no longer in a knees-up position and the yayas can’t complain since they, along with everyone else, gets their own headrests.
Ford has prided itself lately with filling their car with tech, and the rugged Everest is no different. It’s got everything they have in their catalog and then some. On the Titanium trim for instance, you get stuff like a 10-speaker sound system with Active Noise Cancellation, a dual-panel moonroof, power seats, a power folding third row, and a power tailgate. These are easy enough to understand, but the other functions like entertainment, personalization, and the like, do require a bit of a learning curve. Just on the steering wheel, there are 22 functions (not counting the stalks). Ten of these are for the two sets of four-way directional buttons that access Sync 2. Although you can use the available voice commands, and they’re more intuitive, those who prefer pressing buttons will have to rely on an 8-inch touchscreen to get around. Yes there are physical buttons on the dash just below the screen, but they’re mostly for the climate control.
Built from the ground-up to provide exceptional driving performance for its class, the Everest’s foundation is built atop a platform that provides exceptional torsional strength. Not only does this guarantee longevity and durability, it also means good road manners as well. Compared to other PPVs in the market, it’s certainly much more compliant in absorbing road undulations, only getting rattled at the worst of road cuts. Plus, the cabin is quiet too, free of unwanted obtrusion. Even if it shares the same top hat as the Ranger, the platform is unique. The end result is a driving experience that’s still not in the same league as the Explorer, but it gets pretty close. The electric power assisted steering is balanced and gives a feeling of security when cornering. The effort varies between the 2WD and 4WD models without latter getting a tauter feel. On both variants though, the tuning is precise. But being a tall vehicle with a high center of gravity still means it’ll tilt during heavy duress. Still, thanks to the class-exclusive Watt’s Linkage packed in the rear coil spring suspension, pitching is reduced to a minimum providing good stability.
Although both the 2WD and 4WD are well-adept at handling, the 4WD feels much more confident in tackling Thailand’s unfamiliar roads. Aside from a better steering feel, it’s also the one equipped with goodies that go on top of its Electronic Stability Control. It has things like Curve Control, sort of like torque vectoring where it reduces engine torque and applies brakes to keep it in line; Roll Stability Control that use gyroscopic sensors to detect sharp swerving or fast cornering and selectively applies the brakes to reduce the chance of rollover; and even Trailer Sway Control that keeps the Everest stable when towing heavy loads.
At high speeds, the Everest tracks straight. There’s an absolute feeling of confidence in pushing this two-ton ladder-on-frame SUV that you don’t get anywhere else. Frankly, the 3.2-liter inline-5 is still the engine to have with its healthy 200 horses and 470 Nm of torque. There are gobs of power available, making acceleration to triple-digit speeds effortless. It’s also well-matched to the 6-speed automatic with Select Shift (but no paddle shifters). Between its application in the Ranger to the Everest, the 2.2-liter inline-4 has been massaged giving 160 horses and 385 Nm of torque. These slightly bumped figures feel more when judged by the seats of the pants. There’s still slight hesitation in power delivery, but the moment the tachometer hits 3,000 rpm, it gets going. There’s also ample in-gear acceleration available. During this drive, the Everest 3.2 Titanium 4WD did 8.1 km/L while the 2.2 Titanium 2WD did 12.82 km/L, both in light, urban traffic with some off-roading.
Torture-tested in some of the world’s most inhospitable environments, the Everest had a chance to showcase its off-road mettle during this drive as well. It’s certainly got the vital statistics to make it a go-anywhere, do-anything SUV: 225-mm ground clearance, 800-mm water wading depth, and a generous 29-degree approach, 21-degree ramp-over, and 25-degree departure angle. In a route commonly reserved for specially-modified off-roaders, the Titanium 4WD made its way effortlessly thanks to the combination of solid mechanicals and wide array of electronic aids. A more hardcore 4x4 would probably have been more suited to this task, but none can beat the ease and efficiency of doing it in the Everest. When in doubt, just leave the Terrain Management System to do its job and go. There’s no need to figure out which knobs, levers, or buttons to operate.
The question of how Ford can push the envelope further in terms of vehicle design and development has been answered with a resounding exclamation point this time. Does the Everest deserve the “game changer” moniker? Most definitely. It lives up to the “Go Further” ethos by setting up a benchmark so far forward that it’s unfathomable. Ford wasn’t just content in moving the goalpost a whole nine yards, but by nine whole pitches. Ford certainly took their time in developing a proper full on replacement for its family SUV, but that effort is certainly worth the wait. The Ford Everest has all the gadgets and gizmos, built atop a powerful yet refined, rugged yet comfortable platform. This is the new standard of SUVs and the competition has every right to be afraid.