CONQUERING EVEREST

Fordís new seven-seat Everest sets out to scale uncharted territory for the Blue Oval, but standing in its path is the current king of the hill, the freshly updated Toyota Prado

WORDS DAMION SMY PHOTOS NATHAN DUFF 78 wheelsmag.com.au @wheelsaustralia 79

EVEREST IS BASED ON THE SUCCESSFUL YET ROUGH AND READY FORD RANGER

EVEREST is an appropriate name for something wearing a Ford badge right now. The brand has a mountain to climb as it ends local car-making , and this new SUV can literally do that as a ladder-chassis, seven-seat, proper family off-roader. Itís part of the onslaught of new products for Ford Australia, and is the new kid in town chasing the likes of the market-leading Toyota Prado, its sparring partner here, which has been treated to a new, downsized diesel engine.

Prado is the best-selling Toyota SUV, and it too blends off-road credentials with civic duties as a seven-seat family wagon. And, more often than not, the cabin of either of these cars Ė both starting at the $55K mark for the diesel versions weíre driving here Ė will be smeared with special sauce, crayons and dog saliva rather than the rough and tumble of genuine Burke and Wills exploration.

The Thai-built Everest is all-new as an SUV, but itís based on the successful yet rough and ready Ford Ranger. That means it has genuine off-road capabilities, sturdiness and roominess. It comes as standard with seven seats, and this model here is the mid-spec Trend, expected to be the most popular showroom choice.

The Prado we have here isnít the GXL we wanted: instead, itís the entry-level seven-seat GX, which means it has dour black doorhandles and grille instead of chrome, and misses out on side-steps. Itís $58,978 as-tested, but the step up to Prado GXL brings sat-nav, more cupholders and a leather wheel that our test car is missing. At $61,990 for the higher-spec Prado (before the addition of metallic paint), only a few hundred bucks split these two, with sat-nav and Sunset metallic paint pushing Everest to $62,090.

For that ask, Everest rides on 18-inch alloy wheels to go with the handsome exterior. That solid look sees a successful translation of traditional Ford truck-like nose with a definite Tonka feel up front, but the more contemporary rump seems oddly proportioned, as if the front and rear were designed for two different vehicles.

So too the Everestís awkward stance: the spaces between the Bridgestones and the wheelarches are huge, and it looks tall and narrow at some angles.

The Prado is far less interesting visually and looks dated in comparison. The nose is garnished with nasty plastic in an attempt to counter its slab-sided styling and, while the spare-wheel on the tailgate gives it an authentic off-road vibe, itís plain and hardly inspiring to look at. Yet on its 17-inch wheels, the Prado offers better overall proportions and stance, and even if the detailing isnít there in terms of design, the Toyota easily outclasses the Everest with panel fit. The gaping gap between that clamshell bonnet and guards is one of the Fordís many inconsistencies.

The Prado also has links with its commercial sibling, the Hilux, although itís the cheaper Fortuner that is directly based on the popular pick-up. Pradoís new 1GD-FTV 2.8-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel will also be offered under the bonnet of all three Toyotas. For Prado, it replaces the old 3.0-litre turbo-diesel, and is an impressive unit as it has higher compression and 227cc less, yet delivers 40Nm more torque, with 450Nm at 1600rpm.

The diesel is teamed with a new six-speed automatic,

Why Everest is not a Territory

Ford says Everest is not a replacement for the Aussie-made Territory, despite similarities.

Indeed, Ford Oz will have a two-pronged attack, with the Canadian-built Edge to sit below Everest. Edge uses the same CD4 platform as Mondeo, with Aussie-spec versions expected to get the 154kW/450Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine. Pricing will kick off from around $45K. Given the success of Territory, Ford may keep the name.

THE PRADOíS SUPERIOR SMOOTHNESS AND REFINEMENT ISNíT WITHOUT ITS DRAWBACKS

with two overdrives. At 110km/h it spins almost silently at 1700rpm, and even around town its note is pleasant and its character smooth. Toyota has clearly worked hard on refinement, something Ford hasnít achieved with the Everestís grunty 3.2-litre five-pot. Making 143kW and producing 470Nm from 1750rpm, it spins at 2000rpm at 110km/h and is much noisier while doing so. Itís also gruff and coarse under load, so small urban throttle inputs result in an angry, disgruntled note even if itís an otherwise willing unit. Engine refinement sees a clear win for Toyota.

Pradoís superior smoothness and refinement isnít without its drawbacks. Everest is noticeably more powerful and responsive. The Ford takes 11.6sec to cover 0-100km/h, a massive 1.9sec faster than the Prado, although the gap narrows down the quarter-mile as the Toyota steams within 0.7sec of the Fordís 18.0sec effort. Despite the performance advantage, Everest was equally parsimonious on test, with both recording 10.4L/100km, while the Ford can tow 3000kg, 500kg more than the Toyota.

The biggest single ace for Everest is its interior. Itís light years ahead of Pradoís, which looks like a partsbin special from the í80s. The velour seat trim on our GX mimics Granís Cressida and the centre stack above the 7.0-inch display looks moulded from an off-theshelf generic HVAC kit. Itís fifty shades of grey, with basic white-on-black square buttons and plain dials. Its hard plastics are utilitarian and scream functional, as opposed to the Fordís fashionable.

Thereís far more shape to the Everestís dash design, with much better materials, despite the fact it doesnít feel as solid as Pradoís. Its crisp digital instrumentation and 8.0-inch centre touchscreen shame the Toyotaís basic effort, even if the Pradoís is more intuitive by its simple nature. The Fordís digital readouts are more complex, and the incessant chime for the driverís door being open sent everyone on test slightly crazy, but itís clearly 2015 inside.

Thatís also true when it comes to Everestís litany of driver aids and safety gear that Prado canít match: radar cruise control and lane-keep assist are two key Ford items Prado misses out on, even at GXL level.

Both cars come with automatic emergency braking, hillstart assist and hill-descent control, as well as reversing camera and seven airbags. The Everest has just been ANCAP tested and, as expected, matches the Toyotaís five-star rating.

Prado hits back with more space, yet this is not a clear-cut victory for the Toyota. The second and third rows are more spacious than the Fordís, with greater head, foot and ample leg room in every seat. The Everestís third row is a low point, hampered by a lack of foot room, otherwise both cars have loads of space and will carry the family with aplomb. The seats fold close to flat in both, with Fordís floor less interrupted; seats up, the Everest claims a win with far more space behind the third row.

In the driverís seat of the Prado youíll notice the spare wheel impinging on rear visibility. And its heavy tailgate opens into traffic. While off-roaders may prefer the easier access when compared with the Everestís fullsize alloy located under its boot floor, you donít need huge biceps to operate the upward-opening hatch on the Ford because it opens electronically via the key fob.

That says a lot about these two vehicles. Prado is geared towards rough roads, Everest more the rough and tumble of the family. A few key features put the

The Everest wins in terms of connectivity with a pair of 12V plugs up front, another in the rear for second-row passengers and another within the bootís cargo area. It also has a 230V/150W plug, as well as a pair of USBs and one auxiliary connection.

Prado has only a single USB up front Ė yet itís covered, unlike Everestís, so it is protected against dust Ė along with a 12V plug, with a second 12V in the rear of the console along with a 220V socket.

Thereís also another 220V plug in the boot area.

Both come with CD players.

Pradoís reversing camera is of little use in the sun, so you have to revert to those ample mirrors and sensors instead of a screen. Its digital clock screams ďCasioĒ, and not in a retro-cool way, either.

The Fordís second row doesnít offer a large enough aperture for access, perhaps a sign that it can only fit smaller occupants. Prado is much better packaged here; if youíre an adult and have to be stuck in the third row, make it Pradoís, as your legs will fit too.

Pradoís dash is generic, but if its simplicity bores compared to the competition, at least itís intuitive and obvious. Itís ergonomics for dummies. The Everestís more complex displays look clean and crisp, but take some learning.

The raft of info available on the Everestís symmetrical instrument cluster is a plus, but itís overlayed by other data, so not as useful as it first seems. For instance, if a passenger opens the rear door, it overlays the data with a ďrear door openĒ signal. And when you turn the engine on it tells you that too Ė overriding all other data.

Prado ahead here: constant all-wheel drive with a proper mechanical four-wheel-drive system, and twin fuel tanks as standard that enable a 1400km-odd touring range. That said, Everest is far from a dunce off-road. Yet the Fordís on-road dynamics better the Pradoís.

The instant you sit in the Everestís sculpted driverís seat, it feels more agile, responsive and energetic. Even if the driving position is hampered by a lack of steeringcolumn reach adjustment, its poise, roadholding and more elastic diesel leave the Prado behind on a winding mountain road. The Toyota rolls much more and canít deal with its weight as it shifts around during braking, under acceleration and with every driver input.

The Everest, in contrast, uses its front-end more effectively, which means corner entry is much faster, with momentum building from there thanks to its superb balance. The electric steering weights up well, and responds much faster than Pradoís hydraulic system.

This is a long way from a Ranger with a seven-seat body dropped on top; with its own coil-spring rear suspension in lieu of the Rangerís leaf springs, the Everest is so agile and sharp youíll forget that youíre in a 2.4-tonne SUV.

Knocking off the Prado on a twisty section is one thing, but the Toyota still has some distinct advantages. Softer suspension and smaller wheels enable a more supple ride over pock-marked and bumpy roads, with the firm Everest suffering head-toss and movement that makes it a much less cossetting cabin to be in.

On top of this, Prado is a well-established, strong-selling nameplate with excellent resale, reputation and proven off-road ability. A superior four-wheel-drive system and capabilities, as well as the sturdy cabin and genuine backof- beyond features, such as those 150-litre capacity twin fuel tanks, mean an 80-litre Everest would struggle to match it in Australiaís most arid, remote locations. As well as its superior ride, Pradoís marginally greater passenger space makes it more suited to long journeys than the Ford.

Yet as a capable off-road family friendly SUV, Everest has a cache of advantages. It is far more up-to-date in terms of styling, safety and connectivity equipment, and it can still carve up a bush track with ease. Itís just as economical, yet also more fun to drive and faster point-to-point. Everest is an SUV that you want while Prado feels like a vehicle you need Ė an accountantís choice, a no-fuss bossís order for a capable unit, as opposed to a desirable vehicle.

Bringing a new nameplate to this competition will be tough, but the Everest is a better all-round vehicle than the popular Prado. So while the Ford has a mountain to climb, itís hardly starting from the bottom.

KNOCKING OFF THE PRADO ON A TWISTY SECTION IS ONE THING, BUT THE TOYOTA STILL HAS KEY OFF-ROAD ADVANTAGES