As a company, Ford recently completed 50 years of building SUVs since the introduction of the Bronco in 1966. To celebrate this feat, the American automotive giant invited a select few to Pampanga, the Philippines, to experience its modern range of SUVs.
Why the Philippines? Well, back in 1991, a volcanic eruption from Mount Pinatubo buried nearly 10 cubic kilometres of its surroundings in ash. Soon enough, some off-road junkies discovered a trail on the ash-covered land to traverse on in their SUVs and, till date, these trails have been a favourite for their unique surface quality. These surfaces, a mixture of ash, rocks, debris and mud, are known as lahar beds. The closest thing relatable to wet lahar surface is quick sand, which will literally gobble up any vehicle, if the driving technique isn’t right. Ford took us to this location to showcase the off-road prowess of the Endeavour SUV. We drove through a valley; across a river; on loose gravel; through wet and dry lahar, the Endeavour soldiered along very competently with its 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel engine which offered ample torque available on demand. Ford officials ensured that our convoy used the multiple off-road functions like rear diff-lock, 4x4 low and the Terrain Management System (TMS) over various surfaces along the way, to stay out of trouble. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extreme, difficulty levels were somewhere in the 5 to 6 range. To say that the experience of tackling this terrain was incredible is a big understatement. Finally, our dusty SUVs got a well-deserved wash under a falling stream while we watched the process through the Endeavour’s large panoramic sunroof.
From the wilderness we moved to urban commute. On a bad day, the traffic in the Philippines (especially Manila) can make Mumbai’s daily snarls seem like a joke. Luckily for us, we encountered only moderate Filipino traffic while we headed out grocery shopping in the little EcoSport 1.5-litre AT. This car wasn’t any different from the version we get here, save for an electric sunroof and left-hand drive configuration of course.
These two aside, we also got a chance to drive two Ford SUVs not native to our market – the Escape (also known as Kuga) and the Explorer. The Escape is Ford’s equivalent to the recently launched Hyundai Tucson; however, it’s longer and taller than the Tucson and is equipped with a powerful 2.0-litre Ecoboost petrol engine producing 245hp and comes with an all-wheel-drive system. We drove around in a convoy at controlled speeds but, from the little that we could derive, the Escape felt tight. Its ride and handling characteristics seemed very similar to the EcoSport’s with light, yet precise, steering. This one is an outdoorsy five-seat SUV with a humongous 963-litre boot; it’ll easily swallow the entire family’s camping gear for the weekends. It’s fairly well-loaded too with equipment like paddle-shifters and panoramic sunroof, but lacks the sheer desirability compared to cars in our market. Ford doesn’t have any immediate plans to bring this SUV to India.
The Explorer on the other hand is more sophisticated, designed to cater to big SUV-loving nations. It is large, luxurious and very capable off-road, thanks to electronic wizardry like the Terrain Management System. It’s powered by a 3.5-litre Ecoboost twin-turbo V6 petrol engine that makes a meaty 365hp and 475Nm of torque. The engine is extremely refined and effortlessly propels this two-tonne SUV forward. It makes a nice muscular growl as the revs increase. There’s a generous dose of leather splashed inside the cabin with features like electrically adjustable steering wheel and foot pedals, cooled front seats, panoramic sunroof, touchscreen infotainment system and more adding to the comfort. It’s fairly spacious and can comfortably transport seven passengers. At city speeds, the suspension nicely irons out the bad roads. To summarise in a sentence – the Explorer is an Endeavour in a tuxedo. Too bad it’s only available in left-hand drive with a petrol-only configuration as of now.
Ford’s experience drive brought out a lot of merits of owning and living with an SUV, like practicality and versatility. There’s no reason to doubt Ford’s study which revealed that, in a few years, almost 40 percent of vehicles on the road will be SUVs. After all, globally, everyone wants their vehicles to ‘go further’ in terms of touring ability, space and desirability.