THE popularity of the Ford Ranger ute has lifted the Blue Oval back into the hearts and minds of 4x4 enthusiasts.
The Ranger is not only one of the best-selling 4x4s on the market right now but, with a swag load of aftermarket gear available for it, it makes for a capable off-road warrior.
While 4x4 utes are the flavour of the year, the wagon derivatives of the same vehicles aren’t feeling the love so much. Vehicles like the Ford Everest, Toyota Fortuner and Holden Trailblazer don’t sell anywhere near as well as their ute counterparts, while wagons like the Isuzu MU-X and Pajero Sport do a bit better.
Aside from lacking the load-hauling cargo capacity of the utes, the wagons can make better off-road expedition rigs. With a shorter wheelbase, wagons have better rampover angles and more ground clearance, and most of them forgo the leaf springs used on the utes for more compliant and better-flexing coils. Their shorter length also makes them more manoeuvrable on tight bush tracks.
That size and manoeuvrability played in to Chris Mark’s decision to purchase a Ford Everest rather than a Ranger (or any other) ute. Chris had a Mazda BT-50 as a work truck, but when he planned to cut back to a single car for work and family duties, he needed something smaller.
“I liked the set-up of the BT-50,” Chris told us. “But we needed a more comfortable and shorter wagon – something my wife could easily drive, with our newborn baby.”
One of the things Chris liked about the BT was its torquey 3.2-litre diesel engine, so when it came time to choose a 4x4 wagon, the Everest was the only option. The Ford wagon shares the same basic engine with the Mazda ute, and it’s slightly improved in the Everest. So a 2016 Everest in Trend specification soon found its way into the Mark family garage.
Having owned a plethora of modified 4x4s over the years, from an FJ40 right up to the BT-50, the Everest wasn’t going to stay the way Ford made it for long once Chris it got home. “I need a capable off-road touring and camping vehicle for myself and the family,” he said.
Rather than just drive in to his local 4x4 accessories store and throw the catalogue at his Everest, Chris researched the gear he wanted and picked the best of it from multiple suppliers. Starting with protection gear, he fitted a steel Summit bullbar from ARB, along with the associated brush rails and sidesteps.
While steps and brush rails might seem over the top for a family tourer, Chris uses his Ford off-road and the colour-coded pieces need regular touch-ups – at least the steps will after our day in Cobaw State Park.
Mounted in the bullbar is a Warn M8000 winch wrapped in synth line, while a pair of LED spotties light the way ahead. Under the bar are rated recovery points and a metal bash plate, all from Roadsafe.
Chris chose Ironman 4x4 for the suspension components, employing the Foam Cell Pro shock absorbers and heavy duty coil springs for all corners. The Ironman package gives a 50mm lift in ride height. Also providing extra clearance are the 285/65R18 Cooper ST Maxx tyres mounted to CSA Raptor alloy wheels.
Choosing a wagon over a ute means you need to better plan your storage solutions. A set of 900mm-long slide-out drawers are fitted in the cargo area to carry recovery gear and off-road essentials, as well as mount the Waeco fridge on one side. Under the fridge slide is also where the auxiliary battery and Projector DC-DC charger are concealed, as there is no room for the second battery in the engine bay.
External storage starts with a Rhino XTray roof rack, where the high-lift jack, traction boards, shovel and other gear that doesn’t mind getting dirty are kept. A full-width light bar from Gemtek runs across the front of the rack and nicely supplements the spotties up front, while an awning is mounted on the passenger side.
The Trend is the mid-spec model in the Everest range and comes with just about everything a family would need inside, but there’s always room for more kit and long-haul comforts.
To this end, Chris has fitted an 80-channel UHF radio from GME and had the factory front seats upgraded with three-stage heaters for those cold Melbourne mornings and High Country trips. A ScanGauge rests atop the steering column to display engine vitals and any fault codes should they arise.
The five-cylinder Ford engine was one of the selling points that got Chris into the Everest in the first place, and for now he’s content with its 143kW and 470Nm. That could all change once the car comes out of its factory warranty period and some power-adding mods are introduced. As it is, the TJM Airtec intake snorkel is the only addition, providing fresh air to the engine.
Backed with a clever on-demand torque-proportioning centre clutch system managed by a Multi Terrain System, the Ford powertrain works well both on- and off-road. There’s a factory-fitted rear diff lock as well, and Chris says he might add an aftermarket one to the front end at some stage.
“There’s always room for more accessories,” he said. “An oil catch can and extra fuel filter; more lights for reversing and camping; more accessory power outlets; plus an on-board compressor and air tank” are all on his shopping list at this stage.
An area Chris thinks needs improving is the location of the AdBlue tank in its factory place behind the rear wheel, as it’s susceptible to damage. A protective plate will go in there to keep it safe from stone damage.
“Ford needs to fix the AdBlue tank level indicator and have an override for the AdBlue cut-off in case something happens to it in the bush,” Chris said. If the emissions-cleaning AdBlue or SCR system is damaged or runs out of fluid, the engine computer will put the engine into limp mode and eventually prevent you from starting it.
This could mean a very expensive recovery from a remote outback location for something that shouldn’t cripple a vehicle. It’s something to think about on any modern diesel tourer with such a system fitted – and there are more of them coming.
As an active member of the Ford Everest Club of Australia, Chris gets out and uses his vehicle. The club is more of an online group that organise trips and shares tips and tricks on modifying their cars to get the most of them. Look them up on Facebook if you’re considering getting into an Everest – we know one owner who would recommend owning one.
Check out more Custom 4X4's
We knew there was a lot of potential in Ford’s 4x4 wagon when we awarded it 4X4 of the Year back in 2015. Choosing the right accessories for an Everest helps it realise that potential.
ARB Summit bullbar with the associated brush rails and sidesteps.
Warn M8000 winch wrapped in synth line.
Roadsafe rated recovery points and metal bash plate.
Ironman 4x4 Foam Cell Pro shock absorbers and heavy duty coil springs.
285/65R18 Cooper ST Maxx tyres.
CSA Raptor alloy wheels.
Projector DC-DC charger.
Rhino XTray roof rack.
Gemtek light bar.
GME 80-channel UHF.
TJM Airtec intake snorkel.