We ride shotgun with Ford Australia engineers as they torture-test the Everest
THE CONVOY is pulled up outside the small South Australian town of Copley near the Flinders Ranges. Ford powertrain development engineer Pete Bradley taps away at his laptop, checking codes and emails before dialling Shanghai on the sat-phone. Apparently a vehicle in a simultaneous durability test in China is not shifting gears correctly. Pete asks if the latest updates have been loaded and emails the latest software release.
“Try this one and let us know how it goes,” he concludes before ending the call.
Ford’s The vehicle is Ford s new Everest 4x4. We’re along for the ride as Ford engineers put the vehicle through the mill ahead of its launch later this year. Tests like this on similar development cars are being run in the USA and Europe at the same time as those in China and Australia.
In our convoy are two Everest prototypes, a 2016 PX-II Ranger ute and two current-model PX Ranger Wildtrak support vehicles.
Significantly, there’s also a Toyota Prado that the Everest is being benchmarked against.
The 2016 vehicles are heavily disguised while one of the Wildtraks is heavily accessorised and acts as a pack-horse carrying equipment and camping gear.
The camping gear is needed because this drive will take the convoy’s participants to one of Australia’s toughest and most favoured destinations for fourwheel- drive enthusiasts – the Simpson Desert. If the Australiandesigned and engineered Everest is to be a success against the likes of the popular Prado, it will first have to succeed in terrain like the Simpson.
Despite effectively replacing the Territory, this isn’t a like-for-like
swap. Unlike the Falcon-based, Australia-only Territory, the Everest needs to be a true 4WD capable of conquering rough and rugged terrain around the planet and uses the light-truck chassis, engine and technology borrowed from the also locally developed PX Ranger ute.
This convoy is heading north through the centre of Australia, travelling the iconic and remote Birdsville Track to the town of the same name before setting off into the desert proper.
Big Red is a sand dune 30-odd kilometres from Birdsville in far western Queensland. It’s the tallest – and for an eastwest crossing, the first – of the Simpson Desert’s challenging dunes. For any 4WD owner, climbing Big Red is an initiation.
For its soft, deep sand, the Terrain Management System (TMS) offers a Sand setting where the action of the Active Transfer Case clutch in the 4WD system is quickened, the electronic stability control regulated so as not to close the throttle, and the six-speed transmission holds its lower gears longer.
Unlike Territory, Everest’s offroad equipment includes a lowrange gear in the transfer case as well as a rear differential lock.
Among the test equipment hooked up to the vehicles is a laptop on which the engineers can adjust the settings in the driveline control units. They can see on-screen, in real time, the action of the transfer case clutch and the percentage of drive it is sending to each axle and how quickly it reacts to wheel slip.
On the western face of Big Red, the engineers spend time attempting the climb using the different TMS settings, and tune each for best results.
But what works well on a big sand dune may not be so good on other surfaces and any calibration here affects the driveline performance elsewhere.
Venturing further west into the Simpson along the old QAA Line – a route established in the 1960s as part of gas and oil surveys – the dunes are separated by longer, flat, sandy tracks with different requirements. Cresting smaller dunes requires a balance of throttle, momentum and knowing when to back-off as you hit the peaks.
It’s here that a harsh thump in the driveline is revealed; it requires driveline adjustment on the laptop, then replicating of the drive situation to dial out the harshness. It takes several attempts, but there’s no shortage of sand dunes out here on which to practice.
This drive was the second time the team had seen the Simpson Desert as part of transmission calibration. The trek went from Melbourne to Adelaide, up to Marree and then Birdsville. The desert run ventured into the dunes on the QAA Line, turned south on the K1 Line to Poeppel Corner (the mark where the Queensland, South Australian and Northern Territory borders meet), then down the Warburton Track to meet the Birdsville Track again. After this loop through the desert, the Ford blokes doubledback to Birdsville and did it again; double-checking and affirming that their calibrations were right.
It wasn’t the last such test drive, either, as the various teams that work on Everest development refined and triple-checked their systems and calibrations in readiness for the vehicle’s launch.
It’s gruelling and unglamorous work, but tackling the big-selling Toyota Prado could be a tougher assignment still.
It’s a shame this proud Aussie effort won’t be built here Has the chassis fundamentals – and electronics – to be staunch off-road
Everest will be equipped with Active Noise Cancellation: three in-cabin microphones and a smart control module work to deliver opposing sound waves through the audio system to cancel out wind, tyre and engine noise.
Ford claims a best-in-class ground clearance of 225mm and a wading capability of 800mm, helping underscore the Everest’s serious off-roading credentials.
Approach, departure and breakover angles are respectively 29, 25 and 21 degrees.
Australia will get one driveline with three trim levels, comprising base Everest ($54,990), Trend ($60,990) and flagship Titanium ($76,990). Options include a tow bar with 3000kg capacity, sat-nav for the Trend and prestige paint for all models.
WHILE Everest will be available exclusively with a 3.2-litre turbo-diesel in-line five in Australia, one of the two prototypes on this drive was powered by a 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol.
This engine makes 179kW and 353Nm (as featured in the current Falcon) and appeared to be just as capable as the bigger diesel in tackling the same dunes and tracks. If anything, it felt a bit lighter in the front end and less likely to bottom out on large bumps than the heavier diesel.
That said, suspension specifications on the two Everests were not production tunes.
IN A first for Ford SUVs in Australia, the Everest employs a Terrain Management System (TMS) inherited from the US Ford Explorer.
It’s a development of Land Rover’s Terrain Response system. That’s a neat way to square the circle because Terrain Response was itself developed by Ford when the Blue Oval owned the Green Oval 4WD manufacturer between 2000 and 2008.
TMS has four modes: Normal, Snow/Mud/Grass, Sand, and Rock. Vehicle systems controlled by TMS include the electronic traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes, active transfer case, automatic transmission and throttle control.