IF YOU LOOK AT a lot of SUVs, the thinking person’s version often seems like the two-wheel-drive variant. After all, if a vehicle is not equipped to go off-road in the first place (as most of them aren’t) then why bother with the extra weight, complexity, fuel consumption, running costs and purchase price of the all-wheel-drive version? It’s a compelling argument.
But that same argument comes a-crashing down when it’s the Everest we’re talking about. Sure, Ford reckons there are people out there who will jump at the chance to own an Everest with only rear-wheel-drive. But we can’t help but think an Everest without four-wheel-drive amounts to distinctly odd cattle. After all, the two-wheel-drive version keeps the same tyres, ride height and rugged construction. It’s lighter (but not much) should use less fuel (but not much) but ultimately, it seems like an off-roader that’s been nobbled. That said, Ford says the Everest’s butch looks and its ability to tow three tonnes will be enough for some buyers. Could be…
The changes that take the Everest from a four to a two-wheel drive include removing the two front drive shafts, the front prop-shaft, front differential and the transfer case. All up, that slices 98kg from the weighbridge ticket. It also meant the front springs needed to be changed and the steering and even the ESP calibration to be re-set to suit. For now, the two-wheel-drive layout is only available in the mid-spec Trend trim level.
Sitting inside the two-wheel-drive Everest is just like sitting in any other Everest. The seats, trim and standard equipment are all the same, and Ford has taken the opportunity to make its Sync 3 connectivity suite standard on all variants. You still have to climb up inside and once you’re there, you’re faced with the same reasonably classy (if somehow slightly American looking) dashboard and switch layout. Overall it’s a nice place to be. The view is commanding, too, from this altitude.
Equipment levels even in the mid-range Trend are high with an eight-inch touch-screen, dual-zone, climate-control air, 18-inch wheels and front parking sensors to add to the already impressive list of standard kit.
Unlike some four-to-two-wheel-drive conversions where the driven rear axle is deleted, you don’t pick up any interior space in the Everest, because it’s the front axle that’s gone AWOL in this case. But like all Everest Trends, the two-wheel-drive model retains the seven-seat layout that gets it on to so many families’ short-lists. Expect a five-seater Everest around the middle of next year. There’s a powered tailgate in the Trend model, too, although the standard trim material is cloth, not leather.
A pertinent question since the two-wheel-drive Everest is now permanently confined to the road rather than the Great Australian Bush that is the playground of its all-wheel-drive stablemates. The elimination of the driven front axle has done the steering response no harm at all and the recalibration seems to have kept the tiller light but fairly accurate. While there’s no longer any driveshafts to muddy the feedback through the wheel, there’s still absolutely no disguising the fact that the Everest was designed to protect the driver from the sort of thumb-breaking steering kick-back that off-roaders are susceptible to.
The other big giveaway that this vehicle started life as an off-roader comes in the form of its suspension responses on bumps. It’s far from uncomfortable, but you can instantly tell that you’re driving a vehicle with a separate ladder chassis complete with the relatively crude ride control that comes with a lot of unsprung mass. The springs are also fairly stiff as a means of controlling all that high-up weight, so the end result lacks a little plushness and sophistication. Again, this would not be a criticism if the pay-off was a true off-roader…
The 3.2-litre, five-cylinder turbo-diesel remains a sweetie and while there’s no real point in revving it, it will spin hard if you need it to. That said, the six-speed automatic is so good that you’re better off using the engine as a big flywheel and allowing the transmission to set the pace around it. Get used to that and the Everest is good at covering miles. It sets a loping pace that is soothing and relaxed and at a steady throttle and speed, many would be hard pressed to pick the engine as a five-cylinder or even a diesel. But does that missing 98kg give the 2WD Everest an acceleration edge over its all-wheel-drive brothers? Maybe, but not enough that the seat of the pants can pick it. And the claimed fuel economy advantage of the two-wheel-drive? Just 0.1 litres per 100km (8.4L litres plays 8.5L).
As well as full air-bag protection for all seven seats, the Everest Trend also gets the full raft of driver assistance packages such as ESP, brake-assist and brake-force distribution. There are front and rear parking sensors and a standard reversing camera, but the real breakthrough stuff for a vehicle like this comes in the form of lane-keeping assist, city braking and active cruise-control, all of which are proven life-savers and prop up the Everest’s claim to being family friendly. Independent testing has given the Everest a five-star safety rating.
In the end, many thought a two-wheel-drive version of the Everest would be plugged as a replacement for the Territory. It’s not. Despite the lack of four-wheel-drive, this new Everest variant remains in every other way an off-road vehicle in terms of its construction and the way it drives. But even if it doesn’t ride like an urban-based SUV, it can sure lift heavy things. And tow them, of course.
2017 Ford Everest Trend 2WD
Engine 3.2L Turbo-diesel 5-cylinder;
Power 143kW at 3000rpm;
Torque 470Nm at 1750rpm;
Transmission 6-speed automatic;
Dimensions 4892mm (L), 1860mm (W), 1837mkm (H);
Turning circle 11.7m;
Kerb weight 2250kg;
Fuel tank 80L;
Fuel consumption 8.4 L/100km combined cycle;
Towing 3000kg braked.