We had big things in store for the Ford Everest as we navigated across mid-winter Melbourne at 4am one Sunday morning – witching hour.
Limp revellers whose finest hour it wasn’t loitered in gutters out the front of kebab joints and hailed every set of headlights – ours included – with gusto that suggested the night was still young.
While the Everest tolerated the city streets with its disco dregs, you could almost hear it yearn for the open highway and the desert country beyond.
It would soon have plenty of both. Together with my good friend, Which Car photographer Ellen Dewar, we would traverse more than 5000km to the Red Centre and back via the infamous Oodnadatta Track through South Australia’s remote outback. A sort of Thelma and Louise-inspired sabbatical, if you will, for which we would need a versatile vehicle comfortable enough to see us through the many hours on the road. It also needed to be spacious enough for our swags, camping gear and an obscene amount of camera equipment, and capable enough off-road that we’d feel confident in the perilously isolated terrain we’d find ourselves in.
Enter the 2016 Ford Everest. Modelled off the company’s successful yet rough-and-ready Ford Ranger 4X4 ute, the Everest is the more refined wagon variant aimed at the family market and serious off-road adventurers alike.
With true off-road capability and 3000kg towing capacity, the Everest is the gutsier alternative to an SUV, although it doesn’t deliver the same driving comfort on urban streets. There’s a noticeable diesel lag that will irritate gung-ho commuters at traffic lights.
Despite its considerable size, parking is manageable thanks to front and rear sensors and a reverse camera. Visibility is good all round, too – even for a shorty such as me – which instills confidence when handling such a big rig.
The Everest has a shorter wheelbase than the Ranger and also has electric power steering, meaning a better turning circle and easier maneuverability.
Of course, it still brings the challenges of a large car in the city, but it’s far less like driving a truck than its work-ready cousin. With a bit of practice, those unaccustomed to driving larger cars will quickly adjust and find the Everest tolerable around town.
THE OPEN ROAD
Highway driving is a pleasure in the Everest. It lopes along at a relaxed pace and has plenty of power up its sleeve when it comes to overtaking.
It’s assisted by radar cruise control and lane-keep assist, which assesses your position in the lane and your sway rate and will sternly inform you if you wander too close to your neighbour or if you need of a coffee break.
While this is akin to a public shaming if you have passengers, it’s an appreciated safety feature on long hauls such as ours. I won’t tell you who collected more ‘chimes’ on this front, Ellen would kill me.
With seven air bags added to the safety features the Everest enjoys a five-star ANCAP rating, an important consideration for the family market.
INTERIOR DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY
The interior design is efficient and tidy with an attractive dash, and is a step up from the Ranger’s utilitarian approach.
It has an 8-inch centre touch display with plenty of functionality, although this could be more intuitive as it’s a bit fiddly to navigate.
The digital instrumentation is modern and user-friendly, and overall the aesthetic at the helm is modern and sleek.
The Everest is fitted with an interior noise cancellation system which, like premium headphones, emits a counteractive ‘noise’ in the cabin to silence the whir of the road and the thrum of the diesel engine. The result is a wonderfully quiet ride overall; another tick for comfort on the Everest’s score sheet.
Something that’s far from quiet were the incessant alert chimes, which frankly had me longing for the days of old when cars wouldn’t dream of talking back. It seems there’s a chime for every occasion and like the little boy that cried wolf, I found myself tuning out to the vehicle’s monotonous pleas.
The seating arrangement is comfortable and versatile, catering for seven across three rows. The rear seats are suitable for children or adults for short trips, while all other seats are plush and spacious.
As a child who was dragged around the country in the second row of a dual cab ute I can authoritatively say, the kids will love you for life if you opt for the Everest over the Ranger.
Both the third and second row seats fold flat for a cavernous cargo area and a functional space to put a mattress if you’re so inclined. I did just that in the West Macdonald Ranges outside Alice Springs, where we’d set up camp on a stunning rocky escarpment with the hardest ground I’ve ever had the displeasure of attempting to sleep on. The protests of my various lady curves grew too loud to ignore somewhere around 3am, and I retreated to the rear of the Everest where I had plenty of space to sleep like a baby.
The major off-road component of our trip took place on the Oodnadatta Track, a remote unsealed alternative to the Stuart Highway heading north-south in South Australia.
The track runs alongside the Old Ghan Railway line and takes in some truly breathtaking country including Lake Eyre, sprawling black rock gibber plains and the gently undulating red sand dunes south of the Simpson Desert.
The Oodnadatta is generally a good quality dirt road suitable for factory standard 4X4s and perfect for off-road beginners, but was very wet when we passed through and had only just reopened after a week’s worth of torrential rain. This meant some deep puddles and long stretches of thick, slippery mud at the worst affected areas.
Luckily, the Everest has the off-road attitude to make light work of the mud bath. Its fulltime four-wheel-drive system is aided by the clever Multi Terrain Selector that offers the driver different modes for Normal; Snow, Mud, Grass; Sand; and Rock driving.
This system makes the Everest perfect for 4X4 beginners and provides the peace of mind in knowing you’re in the safest driving mode for the conditions.
You needn’t complete hours of 4X4 training to get out there and give it a go in the Everest, although experience is of course recommended for challenging off-road conditions.
The vehicle sits high with 225mm of clearance and good approach and departure angles for tricky, uneven terrain.
It’s also touted as having the best wading depth in the business, coping with 800mm of water. The Oodnadatta wasn’t quite that wet, so that claim remains unchallenged for now.
Differing from the Ranger, the Everest employs rear coil suspension as opposed to leaf springs, meaning a more comfortable ride on and off the beaten track.
By the time we rolled back into Melbourne we’d clocked up more than 5000km and had ticked a number of items off our bucket list: The Oodnadatta Track, the Pink Roadhouse, Alice Springs, the West Macdonald Ranges, Kings Canyon, Uluru: tick, tick, tick and tick.
We traversed a vast range of terrains and well and truly put the Everest through its paces as a comfortable long haul highway mover and a reliable off-road steed. On both fronts, the Ford Everest gets an enthusiastic tick of approval.