If you got your hands on a brand new SUV, the last thing you'd probably want to do is get it dirty... except if your name is spelled as F-O-R-D. Because their idea of fun is to drive their all-new Everest through the very wet and muddy hills of Chiang Rai, Thailand.
And this author was lucky enough to be part of it.
Rugged Yet Refined
As far as we know, the main point of this exercise is to demonstrate the all-new Everest's tech for the rough stuff. But the brisk highway drive to the outdoors allowed us to experience how this SUV behaved on the road.
The convoy consisted of both 2.2L 4x2 and 3.2L 4x4 units – all fitted with a 6-speed auto. As expected, the 3.2L 5-cylinder TDCi diesel engine provided a lot more punch. The smaller 2.2L 4-cylinder however, followed along just fine despite having 40 hp and 85 Nm less. Still, we prefer the bigger power unit that's a bit more fun to play around.
In terms of its road manners, the new EPS makes light work of the steering but still provides ample feedback. Handling on the other hand, is sharp with very little body roll. It doesn't 'float around' like the other body-on-frame SUVs. This is probably due to the new 'Watt's Linkage' they've been bragging about that should keep the rear axle straight. Surprisingly, it does all this while keeping the ride plush.
What's really remarkable though was how quiet everything was in the cabin, thanks Ford's Active Noise Cancellation and the much improved sound insulation. Sure, the roads are nicer and smoother on this side of the planet, but there were some pretty loud things going on outside that weren't audible inside.
It was purely a 4x4 affair once we hit the trails. Because we really don't think that 4x2 could cut through steep mountainous inclines, rock-filled paths, and river crossings even if it was an Everest. And did we mention that it rained non-stop, turning dirt into sloppy, slippery mud?
Admittedly, I'm no expert on this turf and had to relied solely on the new Terrain Management System (TMS) to keep Ford's brand spanking new SUV on course. 'Snow, Mud, Grass' seemed to be the most useful mode to cope with the slurry, keeping RPMs low to keep wheel spin in check. There were also some instances when 'Rock' mode came in handy, specifically on the river crossing. The water may not be as high as the Everest's 800 mm wading capability, but it did get in and out without a hitch.
The Electronic Locking Rear Diff also saved our behinds when the path got a bit too slippery. On the contrary, the Low Range gears offered by the Active Transfer Case was almost unnecessary given the amount of torque produced by the 3.2L engine.
But considering all the prep and briefings we received before the drive, the trail disappointingly didn't live up to the hype. Then it hit me. Could the all-new Everest really be that good that it made off-roading feel like a 'walk in the park'? Looking back at what we drove on, it's a definite YES.
Although it's pretty obvious that the Everest is closely based on the Ranger, the guys from Ford strongly denied this as so. Instead, insisted that it's a very different animal – one that's more refined to suit 7 passengers. And we do get their point.
On asphalt, the all-new Everest had a ride comfort that's only found in a crossover. It stayed relatively flat around corners, soaked all the bumps on the road, and remained stable even at speeds past the legal limit. But it also possessed the ruggedness of a truck-based SUV that allows it to enjoy the rough stuff. And it does it like a pro with help from some electronic doodads.
These 2 are very contrasting traits that you'd normally have compromise one for the other. It'll either be a comfy crossover that can't go anywhere or a gung-ho SUV that feels more like an industrial equipment. Ford however, managed to fit both desirable qualities in the all-new Everest.