WHEN IT COMES TO THE 2016 FORD EVEREST RANGE, “IS BASE BEST”? IN OTHER WORDS, IS THE EVEREST AMBIENTE, THE ENTRY-LEVEL MODEL TO A THREE-TIER AND SOMEWHAT EXPENSIVE LARGE SUV RANGE, THE ONE TO BUY?
It shares the same willing 3.2 litre turbo-diesel, will easily drag a van anywhere you’d sensibly take it, and will climb nearly anything you’d sensibly point it at.
So, in a range accused of being overpriced, does the Ambiente pack enough inside its doors for the money?
That’s the question; and the debate about whether Ford’s Thai-built four-wheel-drive is a competitor for the likes of the ute-based Isuzu MU-X, Pajero Sport and Fortuner, or, as its maker argues, the Toyota Prado, is of little consequence.
We just want to know if it’s good value, and whether you should consider it.
Vehicle Style: Large 4WD SUV
Price: $54,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 143kW/470Nm 3.2 litre 5cyl turbo-diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.5 l/100km | tested: 11.1 l/100km
Get way out bush, and the main streets of country towns are dominated by Ford Falcon/Holden Commodore, or anything with a Toyota badge.
Out here, the Everest is making just small inroads into Toyota’s dominance.
Ford has sold 664 units of the Everest in the first two months of 2016. By comparison, Prado sales have tallied 2389 over the same period; it starts from $55,490 (plus orc).
Conversely, the Isuzu MU-X, the most popular of the ute-based four-wheel drives, notched up 1003 sales in January and February. Its leather-trimmed range flagship costs $53,500 (plus orc), $1490 less than this entry-level Everest Ambiente.
At the top end of the Everest range, the fully-loaded Titanium has ousted the Prado Kakadu in a TMR comparison test even if at a lofty $76,990 plus on-road costs. So, at more than $20,000 less, is this Everest Ambiente, priced from $54,990 (plus orc), a family off-roader bargain?
- Standard equipment: power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone manual air-conditioning with rear controls, cloth seat trim, cruise control, automatic headlights
- Infotainment: 4.2-inch colour screen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio, CD player, voice control, emergency assistance and 8 speakers
- Options fitted: none
- Cargo volume: 450 litres, 1050 litres maximum
Cabin plastics and the dashboard design betray the Everest’s ties to the Ranger. The utilitarian look and feel may not be problematic in a rugged ute, but it is under-par for an SUV of this price.
Perhaps more troubling than the swathes of hard and scratchy plastics was the poor fit of some interior items of our test car, such as where the front vents align.
In Ambiente specification, this $55,000 SUV has more the feel of a $20,000 hatchback inside. The plastic steering wheel, tiny colour screen and green-lit instruments certainly mark down the interior ambience.
There is, however, a reasonable feature list. And, though the Ambiente misses the SYNC2 technology platform, SYNC1 isn’t half-bad and comes with voice control and emergency assistance, as well as an 8-speaker audio system with single CD player, AM/FM, USB port and Bluetooth streaming.
Thankfully, if you regularly carry a complement of passengers, Ford has prioritised getting seating and ventilation right.
The cloth-trimmed front seats are broad and comfortable, and the middle row offers generous legroom and headroom. The centre bench can also slide backwards and forwards to adjust legroom for third-row passengers.
Access to the third-row is via a simple pull-then-slide backrest, while entry and exit is easy even for adults.
The duo of rearmost seats are comfortable and tilted up nicely. Adults can (just) squeeze feet under the middle-row bench ahead of them.
If that bench is adjusted forward, then third row occupants can be accommodated for more than short trips.
Most impressively, even this base model offers fan and temperature controls positioned on the back of the centre console, so middle passengers can dial up their own settings for the roof-mounted vents above both back rows.
With all seats occupied, there isn’t a lot of luggage room left. However there is a stack of space if you’re using this as a five seater.
Some cheaper rivals in the class, such as the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, are five-seat propositions only, while a third-row is optional in the MU-X and Prado but standard on every Everest.
So, at this price point, some pluses and minuses for the Everest Ambiente for interior accommodation. Pluses for space and practical ease-of-use, minuses for quality feel.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 143kW/470Nm 3.2-litre 5cyl turbo-diesel
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: six-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension type, front and rear: Independent front, Watt’s linkage with coil springs rear
- Brake type, front and rear: ventilated front and rear drum brakes
- Steering type and turning circle: hydraulically assisted mechanical steering, 12.4m
Unlike the Territory, the Ford Everest is a proper offroader. It offers 800mm of wading depth and a full-time four-wheel drive system with a selectable active transfer case and locking rear differential.
It also offers selectable Normal, Snow/Mud/Grass, Sand and Rock modes for ‘see-then-switch’ manoeuvring.
Teamed with rugged 17-inch tyres mounted on alloy wheels and the articulation benefits of a fixed beam Watt’s linkage rear suspension and a double wishbone front set-up, this 4.892-metre-long SUV can take you and the family a long, long way off-road.
It might not yet have earned the gut-busting reputation of Toyota, but this is a robust and capable 4X4 with a host of technologies to keep you moving when the track disappears.
It is also among the better performers on-road. Just as the Falcon still tames lumpy Australian tarmac like few other large sedans, this new Ford SUV steers, rides and handles quite well for its class.
The steering is light and fluent, meaning the sheer bulk of the vehicle shrinks down around its driver, with a subtle weighting to the feel just off the centre position. Yet it’s also tight and precise when changing lanes on the freeway or stringing country corners together.
Given the generous sidewall thickness of the tyres, which usually contributes to enhanced comfort over bumps, the Ambiente delivers good but ultimately not great ride quality.
It is superb at making big potholes and large lumps feel more like smaller ones, however over tiny ripples and on the freeway it can jiggle around more than expected.
But then you’ll remember that the Everest’s suspension is tasked with juggling multiple balls, including going off-road and of being able to tow up to 3.0 tonnes.
While the body control is reasonably good (in a class full of ‘pie floaters’), bitumen-based handling is quite a bit short of the standards set by soft-roaders like the Territory, Toyota Kluger or Kia Sorento – but that trio won’t get you off-road.
The engine and transmission however can’t disguise their commercial origins. The five-cylinder diesel is noisy on light throttle and only reasonably gutsy when pedalled – thank the 2370kg kerb weight for that.
We also found the auto a little indecisive, and not as ‘settled’ on the highway as we expected. This may account for the urban and freeway economy figures of 11.1 l/100km that went well beyond the combined cycle claim (8.5 l/100km) on test.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.98 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS, ESC, reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
This is a tough one. The MU-X is the popular choice, it’s strong and capable but is a crude performer that reflects its budget pricing - though it’s clear that’s what buyers want.
The Pajero Sport is more polished but only seats five - if you can deal with that, then you can get its flagship Exceed model for around the price of this base Ambiente.
The Fortuner has won us over at TMR and may even show up the older, larger Prado. Meanwhile if we could stretch to a Discovery 4 we would – but it’s $14k more expensive than this Everest Ambiente.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Ford may have targeted the Prado with the Everest, but there are problems with this approach.
First, while it is certainly capable and roomy, it has to convince welded-on Toyota buyers that it can be just as reliable and durable.
Secondly, the interior finish of our test car left a lot to be desired, especially when considering the $55k (plus on-roads) asking.
Arguably, the Everest Ambiente needs a more polished interior, a longer feature list and a little more engine refinement if it is going to justify that price-tag.
It still feels ute-based, which won’t appeal to some family buyers when looking at close to $60k to get it on-road (although 2015-plated models are currently around $55k drive-away).
Otherwise, it mixes proper off-road ability with intelligent seating and pleasing steering, ride and handling for the class.
MORE: Ford News and Reviews
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Ford Everest Showroom - Prices, Specifications and Features