Another 25 km and we would be in our hotel in Bangkok. It was late in the evening, roads were slick with rainwater, traffic was thick and fast, doing maybe 90-100 kph. All of which was okay. What was slightly disconcerting was that the V8-powered Ford Explorer ahead of me was veering across lanes and weaving through traffic at 150 kph. And oh, since the Explorer was the lead car in our convoy, I was supposed to keep up with it. Hmmm. But if there was ever a time for self-doubt, this was not it, because a long, sweeping left corner was coming up, and the lead car’s brake lamps were showing no signs of flickering on. So, there was little to do but brush the Everest’s brakes lightly, downshift once, pitch the car’s near-2000 kilo heft into the turn, and hope for the best. Earlier in the day, I had been speaking with Ken Gutowski (the Japan-based engineering program head for the Everest), who had elaborated on the work that had gone into fine-tuning the car’s chassis/suspension settings. Now, while wresting the large SUV through that long, fast sweeper, I had to concede Mr Gutowski had done good. The Everest squirmed and shimmied a little, but held its line, and my fears of getting into a massive tail-end slide across two lanes of traffic were laid to rest. Tonight, I would be shopping at the Patpong street market after all...
So what exactly is the Everest, and why was I driving around in the thing in Thailand? Based on Ford’s Ranger pickup truck platform, the Everest is the company’s new, engineered-for-Asia SUV, and coming to India soon. Actually, by the time you read this, the car may have already been launched here. Only, it will not be called the Everest in this country, and will go by the ‘Endeavour’ moniker instead. And since the Everest is already sold in Thailand, Ford deemed it fit to take us journos there to drive the car. A good thing too, for in Thailand, the beaches are clean and beautiful, roads are smooth and wide, traffic is not too heavy (except in Bangkok of course, where it’s as bad as in Mumbai, though faster), and the seafood is... umm, interesting. For those who might be interested, there is also the famous Patpong area with its variety of delights, but for the moment, let’s concentrate on the Endeavour. Look at the pictures, and you’ll see shades of the old Pajero there. The boxy looks, tall-ish stance and straightforward mien which are endemic to most 1990s SUVs, are also present on the Endeavour. The car is big (as in BIG!), and looks that way. With its high-mounted taillamp clusters, roof-rails, rear spoiler, 15-inch alloys, imposing front grille and clean, honest styling, the car definitely has presence. It doesn’t come with the competition heritage of a Pajero, but the Endeavour looks none the worse for that. And anyway, that Paris-Dakar rally lineage thing is old hat now. In our country, as elsewhere, size is equated with prestige and on those grounds, the Endeavour more than makes a case for itself.
Take a minute to walk around the car, and you realise that there’s more to it than size alone. Fit and finish is good, panel gaps are tight and consistent, and the Endeavour exudes a quiet air of quality. Inside, the ‘Limited’ badged car which I drove had leather trim and lashings of plastic-wood, a CD/MP3 player, sensible dash layout, multi-adjustable seats and steering wheel (which looks somewhat like the Mondeo’s four-spoke job), and separate aircon vents for front and middle-seat passengers. There’s a pervasive sense of space inside the car, which I quite liked. Though the last (third) bench is none too roomy and will only seat two people, you actually can stretch your legs out and snooze in the second (middle) row, which seats three without much trouble. After the Endeavour, you suddenly realise just how restricted for space our regular cars are.The Endeavour lets you think Maharaja Mac with extra cheese, large fries and large chocolate shake.Wide-screen DVD with Dolby Digital surround. And the Australian outback. If the Ford Explorer is size XXL, the Endeavour is XL, at least. In a world that impinges upon your personal space all too readily, the Endeavour just lets you be.
The American job
“Interior space is all okay, but what’s she got under the hood, mister?” Yeah, I was coming to that. The engine is a 2500 CC, SOHC, 12-valve, four-cylinder turbodiesel. This indirect injection unit makes 121 bhp and 26.5 kgm of torque, which is just about adequate for propelling the 1927-kilo (kerb weight) Endeavour. Straight-line performance is not in the Hyundai Terracan’s league (whose free-revving common-rail DI engine produces a very usable 148 bhp and 34 kgm of torque), but is more or less at par with the Pajero 2.8, whose 2800 CC unit makes 118 horses and 29.8 kgm of torque. What sweetens the deal is, the Endeavour will probably cost about Rs 6 to 10 lakh (depending on the trim level) less than the old Pajero, which should make buyers vastly more tolerant of a few missing horses.
Though I have to say a few more bhp wouldn’t have gone amiss in the Endeavour, the car puts to good use what it has. Slot the five-speed manual (a four-speed auto is also available in Thailand, but for now, it’s not coming to India) gearbox in first, floor the throttle and you will not be surprised. Naught to 60 comes up in 6.4 seconds, and the car does 0 to 100 in 14 seconds flat. As you would expect, these figures are off the Terracan’s times by some margin, with the Korean car doing the 0-60 in 5.74, and the 0-100 in 13.58 seconds. To give some added perspective, the petrol V6-powered Suzuki Grand Vitara takes only 4.79 seconds to sprint from 0-60, and reaches the 100 kph mark in a mere 11.20 seconds. But we digress. It’s not the Endeavour’s lot in life to post the best 0-100 times. What the 2500 CC engine does provide, is sufficient power for relaxed cruising. Between Pattaya, Koh Chang and Bangkok, I drove the car for about 500 km, and for most of that time, the Endeavour was happy wafting along at 120 kph. Pin the throttle to the floor and the car ultimately lumbers up to 160 kph, but in doing that, you’re wasting its energy and yours. The IDI engine lacks real poke in the lower reaches of its rev range, and there is pronounced turbo lag as well, but keep it spinning in its mid-range, and you shouldn’t have too much cause for complaint. But what’s important is that the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) factor has been kept on tight reign and engine noise does not intrude upon passengers. The turbodiesel is no petrol V6 of course, but I doubt it’ll interrupt too many afternoon siestas. And finally, fuel prices being what they are in our country, the fact that the massive Endeavour does about 9 km to the diesel litre has to account for something.
If its engine performance is middle-rung, the Endeavour does much better in the chassis/handling department, despite its rather quirky mix of a sophisticated front end, and a rather old-ish set-up at the back. At the front, the car sports torsion bars and independent double wishbones. The rear end, however, is where the Endeavour gives away its truck origins. The car makes do with progressive-rate leaf springs and shock-absorbers here, which make for a rather excessively firm ride. We didn’t get a chance to drive the Endeavour fully loaded, but with two or three people on board, occupants tend to get tossed around a bit. A softer, more compliant setting behind would help in improving overall ride comfort. On the flip side, the car handles. Certainly it’s no Ikon, but the way the Endeavour corners belies its rather vast proportions. Body roll is well controlled, and the car doesn’t pitch and wallow as much as, say, a Terracan, or even a Grand Vitara. The Endeavour rides on 15-inch alloys which look a tad small for the car, and 16-inchers would have definitely looked better. Rubber, at 265/70, is quite suitable though, and makes for good roadholding. We were pushing the car fairly hard through long, sweeping bends in the rain and the Endeavour was taking it all in its stride. Brakes – ventilated discs at front, and drums at the rear – were sharp and provided adequate bite. The braking system also incorporates ABS and EBD and safety was never in question when hauling the big SUV down from triple digit speeds. The overall composure is remarkable for a vehicle as big and tall as the Endeavour, but I did wish for a little more feedback from the steering, which tends to feel a bit vague at times. It’s like playing CMR3 with an ordinary joystick, versus playing it with an expensive force-feedback device.
As with most SUVs, most Endeavours will probably never see any serious off-roading action, but if you must take it down your local motocross circuit, the car will probably hold its own, if you opt for the four-wheel drive version. Yes, despite its heft and rather moderate power output, the Endeavour acquits itself with grace in the rough stuff. Default mode is rear-wheel-drive, but move the transfer lever to 4WD and you are set to rock and roll. Unlike, say, the Honda CR-V, the Endeavour has both 4WD High and 4WD Low ratios, as all proper off-roaders must. We drove the car through short sections of deep-rutted slush, and the Endeavour refused to get bogged down. I’ll admit I’m no off-road expert, but even then, the car ploughed on relentlessly. Given its high ground clearance and short overhangs front and rear, the Endeavour should be as competent an off-roader as any Pajero, Prado, Vitara or Terracan.
It isn’t the fastest. It isn’t the most powerful. It doesn’t sport the most premium of badges. But to sum up, I’d say the Endeavour is a damn good package deal. It has proper SUV presence, decent styling, high levels of fit and finish, copious amounts of interior space and a reasonably powerful and economical engine. Ride quality could be improved a bit, but the car handles better than most of the competition, and with ABS/EBD and dual airbags at front, safety seems to have been taken care of. Its body-on-chassis construction is in keeping with potential off-road usage which owners might put the car to, but structural strength is not an issue with the Endeavour, which seems to be a well engineered car.
Final pricing has not been announced yet, but it seems the Endeavour will be pegged at around the Rs 14 lakh mark. 4WD will be an extra-expense option (base version will be rear-wheel-drive only), and there should be at least two trim levels to choose from, so those on relatively tighter budgets still have hope. A Terracan goes for 19.50 lakh, the Grand Vitara costs 17.50 lakh, and the Forester puts you back by 16.50 lakh. The new Pajero, at 35.50 lakh, is on another planet. Sure, all those cars have their own strengths, but the Endeavour probably represents one of the best value deals around. Look closely, the big SUV in front just might be sporting a blue oval.