Ever­est wagon tus­sles the Ranger ute in the desert.

We take a pair of Fords up the Oodnadatta Track to see whether a wagon or a ute works best in the bush.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS MATT RAUDONIKIS PHO­TOS ELLEN DE­WAR

THE sales boom in one-tonne 4x4 utes has given the dwin­dling num­ber of 4x4 wag­ons a re­prieve, as wagon vari­ants are spawned off the utes’ lad­der chas­sis plat­forms. This con­cept is noth­ing new and the Toy­ota 4Run­ner and Nis­san Pathfinder are early ex­am­ples of the breed.

These days we have a lot more man­u­fac­tur­ers mak­ing the most of their ute plat­forms, with Toy­ota spin­ning the For­tuna off its Hilux, Holden its Trail­blazer off the Colorado, Isuzu builds the MU-X off its D-max and, most re­cently, Mit­subishi slipped the Tri­ton’s chas­sis un­der its new Pa­jero Sport.

Then we have our two com­bat­ants here. Ford’s Ever­est wagon ar­rived in 2015 and was awarded 4X4 Aus­tralia’s 2015 4x4 Of The Year, in Trend spec­i­fi­ca­tion. The Ever­est is de­rived off the PX Ranger ute chas­sis and gets there with a short­ened wheel­base and coil springs tak­ing the place of the ute’s leaves at the back. It shares much of its driv­e­line with the Ranger.

The Ranger was up­dated to PXII spec­i­fi­ca­tion in 2015 and has since given the pop­u­lar Hilux a run for its money on the sales charts, as buy­ers flock to its bold styling and rel­a­tively large diesel en­gine. It’s be­come a favourite with fleet buy­ers and en­thu­si­asts alike and has out­sold the class-lead­ing Hilux on more than one oc­ca­sion this year.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the new utes, and the wag­ons de­rived from them, again raises the ques­tion of what works best for out­back travel and off-road use. So, with an Ever­est Trend join­ing our longterm shed and a trip to Al­ice Springs for the Finke Desert Race ahead of us, 4X4 Aus­tralia rounded up a Ranger XLT to join us on the run up the Oodnadatta Track.

THE SAME BUT DIF­FER­ENT

THE Ever­est and Ranger share plat­forms and many com­po­nents, but there are dif­fer­ences be­tween how they are used for the re­spec­tive wagon and ute. The lad­der chas­sis un­der the Ever­est, for ex­am­ple, has a 370mm shorter wheel­base. Un­der the rear, the ute uses leaf springs while the wagon rides on coils lo­cated with a multi-link and Watts link­age set-up. Both the ute and wagon share the same in­de­pen­dent wish­bone and coil-spring front sus­pen­sion, but with model-spe­cific cal­i­bra­tions for spring and shock rates.

Both ve­hi­cles tested here use the 3.2-litre five-cylin­der Ford diesel en­gine and six-speed auto com­bi­na­tion. The tur­bocharged en­gine makes 470Nm in both cars, but in the Ever­est it is tuned to make 4kw less at 143kw. This is due to the wagon’s use of ex­tra emis­sions devices such as se­lec­tive cat­alytic re­duc­tion (SCR).

The driv­e­lines are fur­ther dif­fer­en­ti­ated with the Ranger be­ing a con­ven­tional part-time 4x4 sys­tem, while the Ever­est has a full-time 4x4 sys­tem that splits torque on de­mand. The full-time sys­tem also gets a multi-ter­rain sys­tem that op­ti­mises the cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial and other chas­sis sys­tems to best suit dif­fer­ent ter­rains at the turn of a dial. Both ve­hi­cles em­ploy a dual-range trans­fer case with 2.7171:1 low range.

The Ranger and Ever­est also share much of their fron­tend sheet­metal and in­te­rior, with only mi­nor dif­fer­ences for model and spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Things like the grille and front bumper are dif­fer­ent for each ve­hi­cle, while the dash­boards and AV hard­ware are pretty much the same.

EVER­EST TREND WAGON: PROS

THE wagon brings a more re­fined ride and cabin, im­proved safety, bet­ter dy­nam­ics, in­creased seat­ing ca­pac­ity and bet­ter off-road abil­ity.

The Ever­est’s cabin ben­e­fits from more sound in­su­la­tion ma­te­rial than the Ranger and it utilises a clever ac­tive noise re­duc­tion sys­tem, that works like noise-can­celling head­phones, to re­duce the amount of am­bi­ent noise that reaches the cabin. De­spite us­ing a near iden­ti­cal driv­e­line, the in­side of the Ever­est is a qui­eter place than the Ranger. Our Ever­est also has more ag­gres­sive all-ter­rain tyres fit­ted than the Ranger’s OE rub­ber but still rides quiet.

The wagon’s cargo area might be smaller than the ute’s, but it’s en­closed in the cabin so it of­fers much more se­cu­rity and weather pro­tec­tion for valu­able items.

The Ever­est’s full-time drive sys­tem makes the ve­hi­cle more sure­footed on all ter­rains, which makes it safer both onand off-road for all oc­cu­pants – of which it can carry seven, op­posed to the Ranger’s five.

That same full-time drive sys­tem makes ma­noeu­vring the Ever­est when off-road or on tight tracks eas­ier, as the cen­tre diff is not locked when in 4x4 high-range. Drive the cars backto-back on tight tracks, or when shuf­fling them around for a pho­to­shoot like we do, and you re­ally no­tice what a huge dif­fer­ence this makes.

The Ever­est is shorter over­all than the Ranger, mak­ing it eas­ier to ma­noeu­vre than the ute, and all Ever­ests have a rear view cam­era for park­ing. Like­wise, its shorter wheel­base gives it a tighter turn­ing ra­dius, 11.7 me­tres ver­sus 12.7 me­tres for the Ranger, and im­proves its abil­ity over bumps and ruts by up­ping the ramp-over an­gle.

EVER­EST TREND WAGON: CONS

THE ob­vi­ous con for any wagon is pay­load. The wagon can’t match the ute’s one-tonne ca­pac­ity, while the car­peted cargo area in the Ever­est isn’t re­cep­tive to loads of sand, gravel and fire­wood. Nor are things like dirt bikes, tim­ber or other large ob­jects eas­ily ac­com­mo­dated in the back of the wagon.

Not only is the load ca­pac­ity lower but the rated tow­ing mass also falls 500kg shy of the Ranger’s.

RANGER XLT UTE: PROS

THE ute of­fers far su­pe­rior load car­ry­ing abil­ity for big­ger, heav­ier and dirt­ier cargo. If se­cu­rity or ex­po­sure to weather is an is­sue for your gear then you can al­ways add a ton­neau cover, hard lid or even a canopy to pro­tect your load. The longer ve­hi­cle also lets you carry longer items such as tim­ber or lad­ders on the ap­pro­pri­ate roof racks and at the back of the tray. With the right ac­ces­sories the ute of­fers more op­tions and much more ver­sa­til­ity for car­ry­ing stuff – and then you can add that ex­tra 500kg of ca­pac­ity on the trailer.

An­other plus for the Ranger is that it is avail­able with a six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion, while the six-speed au­to­matic is an ex­tra $2270. In con­trast, the Ever­est is only avail­able with an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

RANGER XLT UTE: CONS

WHILE the Ranger gets all the ben­e­fits be­hind the cabin, its neg­a­tives come in­side it. The stan­dard of 4x4 utes might have come a long way in re­cent years, but they still can’t match the sim­i­lar spec wag­ons for com­fort and re­fine­ment. Again, after driv­ing the two Fords back-to-back, the Ranger is no­tice­ably nois­ier in­side. Ford even skimps fur­ther on sound dead­en­ing ma­te­rial the fur­ther you go down the Ranger model list, so the XLT is near the top and gets most of the in­su­la­tion.

The back seat in the crew-cab Ranger is very up­right and isn’t ad­justable like the Ever­est’s second row. As such, it’s not as ac­com­mo­dat­ing or com­fort­able over longer drives. And, of course, there are only two rows in the ute.

All the ben­e­fits of the Ever­est’s full-time 4x4 sys­tem are ob­vi­ously neg­a­tives for the Ranger’s part-time, un­less you con­sider the use of two-wheel drive a ben­e­fit. One plus is that the ute tends to have more prac­ti­cal wheel and tyre sizes, and the XLT Ranger rides on 17s while the Ever­est is on 18s. Only the top-spec Ranger Wild­trak gets 18s, but you’re bet­ter off with the smaller wheels. In com­par­i­son, the top-spec Ever­est Ti­ta­nium rolls on silly 20-inch wheels. An­other small win for the ute is its lower crawl gear, thanks to its lower fi­nal-drive ra­tio.

A WAGON, OR A UTE?

SO, which of these two Fords is the bet­ter ve­hi­cle for out­back travel? There are two fac­tors here that are non­nego­tiable when mak­ing your buy­ing choice. One: if you have a fam­ily and need three rows of seats, then the Ever­est is for you. Two: if you need to carry big­ger, heav­ier loads like dirt bikes or build­ing sup­plies, then the Ranger is your only choice.

But let’s con­sider the op­tions for the two-up tourer. The Ever­est wagon de­liv­ers more com­fort, safety and se­cu­rity, with bet­ter dy­nam­ics, off-road abil­ity and fuel econ­omy. The Ranger XLT auto might cost around $4500 less than the Ever­est Trend, but un­less you specif­i­cally need the load-lug­ging abil­ity of a tray, then the wagon will al­ways be the bet­ter choice. Talk­ing of pur­chase price, with wag­ons be­ing less pop­u­lar than utes at the mo­ment, you’ll prob­a­bly have more bar­gain­ing power with the Ever­est at the dealer.

The Oodnadatta track had only re-opened days before we set off. Try an Oodna burger at the Pink Road­house in Oood­na­datta. Del­ish!

Road con­di­tions de­te­ri­o­rate quickly, al­low­ing us to test out the Ever­est’s TMS sys­tem. The Ever­est wagon de­liv­ers more com­fort, safety and se­cu­rity, with bet­ter dy­nam­ics, of­froad abil­ity and fuel econ­omy Sub­tle dif­fer­ences to the front end, in­clud­ing the grille.

Re­cent rain­fall meant sec­tions of the track were muddy. Good thing we swapped in Cooper AT3S.

Spa­cious, but pales in com­par­i­son to the Ranger’s ca­pac­ity.

The Ranger has a 348kg pay­load hike over the Ever­est.

Suf­fice to say, Ford’s air fil­ters earned their keep on the red dirt.

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