The new Ford Everest should be one of the hottest tickets in town given Australia's unquenchable appetite for SUVs and four-wheel-drive utes.
The wagon blends butch looks with the powerful heart of Ford's much-loved Ranger ute and the sort of off-road ability that should put an emergency rescue beacon and satellite phone above metallic paint on the options list.
But in building the best possible car for a rugged breed of buyers, has Ford priced itself out of relevance with Australian consumers? That looks to be the question that will define whether this Thai-built but locally-designed and developed machine can make a splash in one of the world's most competitive markets.
Priced from $54,990 to $76,990 plus on-road costs, the Everest takes the Ford out of affordability.
That the cheapest model in the range costs more than the luxurious Land Rover Discovery or larger Toyota Prado is almost immaterial alongside the price gulf separating it from fellow ute-based seven-seat wagons.
The Everest's closest rival is likely to be Toyota's upcoming HiLux based Fortuner, but until then, Mitsubishi's outgoing Challenger SUV is on currently sale for $33,990 drive-away in manual four-wheel-drive form, the Isuzu MU-X is priced from $36,990 drive-away as a two-wheel-drive auto wagon and Holden's four-wheel-drive Colorado 7 is available from $43,990 drive-away.
Ford defends its prices by pointing out that the Everest has more gear than its rivals, particularly on the tech front.
All of its models are fitted with a powerful diesel engine and four-wheel-drive as standard – the latter with a terrain select system allowing drivers to choose from settings tailored to tarmac, sand, rock or a catch-all mode suited to slippery snow, grass and mud.
The range also features hill descent control and trailer sway control as well as an electronically-controlled locking rear differential.
Ford's entry-level Everest has 17-inch alloy wheels, single zone air conditioning, a 4.2-inch infotainment display with an eight speaker stereo, rear view camera and seats for seven occupants protected by seven airbags including full-length curtain coverage.
The $60,990 Everest Trend adds extras including 18-inch wheels, a powered tailgate, halogen lights, dual-zone climate control, an impressive dash cluster with a speedo separating twin 4-inch information screens, an 8-inch touchscreen with 10-speaker stereo and clever programmable keys.
Importantly, the Trend also brings adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance and departure warnings, and front parking sensors.
The top-flight Titanium adds extras including 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, self-parking system, power-folding third-row seats, leather trim, ambient lighting and satellite navigation which is available as a $600 option on the Everest Trend.
All three models borrow technology from noise-cancelling headphones to make the cabin quieter, using microphones and speakers to counteract the low-frequency grumble of its diesel engine.
The wagon is markedly more refined than its ute sibling, keeping interior noise, vibration and harshness to a minimum. Time with Holden's Colorado immediately before and after the Everest's overseas launch suggests the Ford will be a benchmark for refinement.
The same goes for the cabin of the Titanium-spec model we tested, home to comfortable seats let down slightly by a steering column that adjusts for rake but not reach. The well-finished interior has more than 30 storage spaces along with rear air conditioning controls, four 12-volt power outlets spread throughout the front, middle and rear of the car and a household power outlet in the back seat that gives it plenty of ammunition in the fight for practicality.
Taller families would be wise to give the Titanium a miss though, as its sunroof puts a significant dent in rear headroom space.
It's tempting to characterise the Everest simply as a seven-seat version of Ford's Ranger. But the wagon is much more than a ute with an extra couple of seats, featuring a unique rear suspension setup characterised by comfort-oriented coil springs that replace the ute's load-friendly leaf arrangement along with a new Watt's link that helps keep its live rear axle pointed in the right place.
Research conducted by Ford's local arm suggests the majority of customers for such a thing want the strongest engine possible, one that fits the machine's butch image and practical ability.
So smaller 2.0-litre and 2.2-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel models offered overseas were benched in favour of a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel motor shared with top-end Ranger utes.
Tougher emissions laws for passenger cars as opposed to commercial vehicles resulted in tweaks to the ute's motor including Ford Australia's first implementation of AdBlue fluid that helps keep a lid on potentially harmful particulates. The additive must be replenished at each service, though owners can top it up if necessary through a filler tube behind the fuel flap.
New cooling and exhaust gas recirculation systems combined with a revised computer tune leave the Everest a little down on power compared to the Ranger, offering 143kW at 3000rpm along with the same 470Nm of torque as the ute. The latter figure is solid but not outstanding, as Holden's 500Nm Colorado 7 sets the pace for pulling power in the segment.
The Everest's advantage is in its refinement. Smooth and tractable at all speeds, the motor responds quickly to driver input without the vibrating clatter of less sophisticated four-wheel-drives. Its standard six-speed auto does an excellent job of choosing the right ratio, allowing the engine to do its best work with a minimum of fuss.
Its ride is similarly impressive, feeling significantly more compliant than the Ranger and able to soak up bumps without the jarring intrusiveness shown by most models in the segment. Engineers settled on one tune for all markets rather than an Australia-specific setting which may disappoint some motorists as the Everest exhibits more body roll than keen drivers might like.
Ford is the first manufacturer in this segment to use a modern electric power steering system in place of a power-sapping hydraulic unit. Feather-light at walking pace, the steering gains weight as you press on but lacks the feedback and confidence-inducing feel of a conventional setup at highway speed.
Given that the system is necessary for self-parking and lane-keeping assistance features as well as the fight to save fuel, we'll give Ford a pass park for a feature that not every driver will enjoy.
Ford says the Everest is capable of towing up to 3000 kilograms on a braked trailer or 750kg on a free-wheeling gadget, measurements that are par for the course on four-wheel-drives of this size.
The Everest has an official combined economy figure of 8.5L/100km, or 7.0L/100km at highway speeds that Ford extrapolates to a theoretical maximum range of around 1100 kilometres, and we used more than 10L/100km throughout a mix of driving environments.
We also had a spin behind the wheel of a 2.2-litre rear-wheel-drive model that offered satisfactory straight-line performance.
With a 118kW power peak and 385Nm of torque on tap from 1600 to 2500 rpm, the smaller motor has to work hard to get more than two tonnes of wagon going at a decent clip. The smaller motor kicks down a gear earlier than its more muscular sibling and feels a little strained during full-throttle acceleration, though its lighter rear-drive layout is more composed when the road turns twisty.
The four-cylinder Everest makes a compelling case for itself given it would be significantly cheaper than the full-Monty four-wheel-drive version. Ford says it is considering adding the smaller diesel to its lineup, but only if there is sufficient demand from customers.
While early indications are that the Everest will be the best in its class for on-road refinement, safety and technology, the challenge will be whether Ford can convince customers to spend significantly more than the going rate for equivalent vehicles.
In the same way that Concorde was a technical triumph that proved too rich for most paying customers, Ford's investment in the Everest resulted in a price peak far exceeding what most buyers would consider reasonable in the emerging ute-based segment.
Without doubt an engineering achievement, for some potential buyers the Everest's price point may prove tough to climb.
2015 Ford Everest pricing and specifications
On sale: October
Price: $54,990-$76,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 143kW at 3000rpm
Torque: 470Nm at 1750rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Fuel use: 8.5L/100km