Ford Everest wins Best Off-Road SUV under $80k

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Car Of The Year

The Australian-designed and developed Ford Everest takes the win in the Drive Car of the Year 2024 Best Off-Road SUV under $80K category


As SUV sales boom in Australia (and around the world), there are more and more options being offered by carmakers. However, the definition of what makes a car an ‘SUV’ (which stands for Sports Utility Vehicle) seems to vary quite widely. 

On one end, a slightly raised ride height and some exterior cladding are enough to claim the acronym. But in this segment, we are dealing with the other – and shall we say more authentic – end of the spectrum.

Once you start counting vehicles with proper off-road ability built into the platform, the herd gets thinned considerably. And we’re not talking about all-wheel drive and maybe a drive mode or two. Things like ground clearance, proper suspension, gearing and traction aids are the things that take an SUV from pretender to contender.

However, focused off-road performance can present a problem. Historically speaking, some of the best off-road vehicles were the worst for comfort, compliance and refinement. Big payload capacities and long-travel suspension can impact ride and handling, and heavy-duty underpinnings often fly in the face of general around-town useability.

It’s a case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, then, for the segment of off-road SUVs in this year’s Drive Car of the Year. The best in the segment must perform in both areas without neglecting or over-indexing. 

With a price cap of $80,000 in play, it also means well-known (but expensive) options like the Toyota LandCruiser and Nissan Patrol are out of reach in this category.
What’s the best option for buyers looking to explore the beaches, forests and deserts of Australia, while also battling the car parks and suburbs in the same vehicle – all while keeping the budget in check? Drive’s judges left no stone unturned to find out.

Winner: Ford Everest

Drive’s pick: Ford Everest Sport V6 from $70,590 MSRP

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Ford Everest key facts:

  • Priced from $53,990 to $79,490
  • 5-year warranty
  • 7.1-8.5L/100km consumption (claimed)

Why the Ford Everest won:

  • Loaded with quality technology, infotainment and technology
  • Refined, easy driving experience, especially with the diesel V6
  • Comfortable, practical interior, with seven seats available

Developed in tandem with the award-winning Ranger ute, the seven-seat Everest four-wheel drive SUV has impressed our judging team not only through Drive Car of the Year assessment but right throughout the year.

This boils down to Everest’s ability to be a comfortable and practical family hauler – with plenty of nice touches for everyday use – while also being a confident and capable off-roader.

The cabin of the Ford Everest is effective as a seven-seater, squeezing in a useable third row that benefits greatly from the sliding and spacious second row. 

Big adults might not be the happiest in the back seats for longer periods, but kids would be more than content.

There’s no shortage of technology, either, with a big infotainment display on all grades, well-calibrated driving aids, and plenty of power outlets littered throughout the cabin.

Practicality is one of the big strengths of the Everest’s cabin, with extra storage nooks, pop-out cupholders and a second glovebox. After growing slightly in size over the previous generation model, it’s got the right mix of space and size for an Australian family.

Once you slide into one of the comfortable and well-bolstered seats, you’ll be greeted by a driving experience that is one of the best for a four-wheel drive with a ladder chassis and body-on-frame construction. Ride quality is good, bump absorption is excellent, and the trick selectable four-wheel drive system, which can be used on-road as well as off, brings added confidence from behind the wheel, no matter the conditions. 

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The well-engineered platform – which was developed in Australia mostly – is matched by equally adept powertrain options. A choice of two diesel engines – either a twin-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder (154kW/500Nm) or single-turbo 3.0-litre V6 (184kW/600Nm) run through a 10-speed automatic transmission with both providing good levels of pliable torque and overall performance. 

If your budget allows it, we reckon the Everest Sport V6 – which costs just shy of $71,000 before on-road costs – is the sweet spot of performance, equipment, and value in the range. 

However, we have also been suitably impressed by the Everest in both the top-spec Platinum ($78,530) and the entry-level Ambiente 4×4 ($58,490) plus on-road costs. This speaks to the quality of the underlying vehicle, and helps to appeal to a wider range of buyers and budgets.

Off-road, a combination of a decent tyre diameter, good overall ground clearance and effective traction control system means the Everest is a capable off-roader, made more approachable by well-tuned technology like different off-road driving modes, hill-descent control, and quality cameras.

The Watt’s linkage rear axle does a good job of balancing both off-road ability and on-road compliance, giving decent articulation and a good sense of stability from behind the wheel. And with a locking rear differential and good reduction through the low-range transfer case, the Everest is as good off-road as it is around town. 

Completing the picture for family buyers is a five-star ANCAP safety score, which was attained in 2022 using crash testing data from the closely related Ford Ranger ute. 

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Drive Car of the Year – Best Off-Road Cars

Find out everything you need to know about all the Drive Car of the Year 2024 category winners at our DCOTY content hub.

DCOTY 2024

DCOTY 2024

All the categories, all the winners – Drive Car of the Year 2024

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Sam Purcell has been writing about cars, four-wheel driving and camping since 2013, and obsessed with anything that goes brum-brum longer than he can remember. Sam joined the team at CarAdvice/Drive as the off-road Editor in 2018, after cutting his teeth at Unsealed 4X4 and Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures.

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