The Ford SUV Experience in Central Luzon

A car is an instrument for experiencing life—a door to infinite possibilities—there is something to be said about how much of a human trait it is to create ways to get more out of life. The car is not merely a mode to get from point A to point B, but for us to live out wonderful adventures either alone or with families and friends.

This year, Ford tried to focus on this aspect of its SUVs for the company’s regional media drive—when the vehicle transforms from a trusty mule snailing along busy streets between work and home to a noble steed exploring the world over weekends and holidays. On this getaway, Ford brought us to explore the varying landscapes of Central Luzon specifically Pampanga and Tarlac.

It was a request from the people at Ford that members of the media from the Asia Pacific region to see its line of vehicles in the way consumers would rather than worrying too much about numbers and specifications. It was a good idea; after all, figures can only tell so much, and the best way to judge a car is still to drive it.

Our two-day itinerary was packed with activities specific to each model in Ford’s SUV line-up save for the grandiose Expedition. The objective was to experience each vehicle how they are meant to be experienced.

Day one, and our group managed to draw the high card and go through perhaps the funnest and most exciting routes. We drove the 2016 Everest out onto Pampanga’s famous lahar beds, remnants of Mount Pinatubo’s last volcanic eruption, to showcase the all-wheel drive capabilities of the vehicle.

It was my first time driving on lahar (furthermore it was my first time driving off-road), and I could not be happier that I was on the Everest. Its terrain management system’s off-road settings were a great help in managing the highly unpredictable terrain coursing through sand, rocks, streams and fine volcanic sediment with a twist of a knob. Everything from engine output to the suspension was adjusted accordingly depending on the terrain.

With a 3.2-liter engine and high ground clearance, the beastly Everest made easy prey of the rocks and inclines that it met (and with hill-start assist, it became a much safer task as well). And while lahar was not the best surface to drive on traction-wise, the vehicle’s off-road and vehicle monitoring features allowed us to be more aware of how the vehicle was interacting with the environment and which settings to be adjusted which gave me a better sense of control throughout the drive.

Fresh from our adrenaline-filled morning we hopped onto the EcoSport to drive through the cities of Pampanga onto a more laid-back afternoon.

Digressing for a bit, getting into the five-seater EcoSport gave me a sudden jolt of déjà vu—it was, in its essence, the Fiesta Sport given a height boost. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The Fiesta Sport was a nice car to drive, and the EcoSport is an improved version of that model.

The route we took played to the car’s strengths. It handled turns well, and the electric power steering had more feel than I would have expected. It seems Ford has been working on improving the now-signature element of their vehicle line-up.

While its engine has a displacement not even half of the Everest’s (it carries a 1.5-liter engine), it works adequately enough for what the car is meant for: city driving. And for people who prefer stay-cations and doing classic touristy things, they could not go wrong with a nice little runner with an engine that will not gulp down a whole tank of gas in one go.

We travelled through Pampanga’s Megadike system to San Fernando and Angeles to get acquainted with some of the things the province is known for: its handicrafts and its cuisine.

We took a detour to one of Pampanga’s many lantern shops and created our own artistic creations which was a trying time for me as I am the worst at making things with my hands. Later on, more my speed, we stopped by Susie’s to make halo-halo.

To end the day we parked in front of a dry market to purchase pasalubong to bring home to our loved ones. I bought a coin purse and a tabo (water dipper).

Our second day started with the 2016 Escape. This one has half a liter more displacement than the EcoSport and all-wheel drive to boot and is great for people who want to have more power attached to their gas pedals without the added clunk of the Everest.

Driving the Escape would be testament to “outdoorsy does not have to mean off-roading” as we took Pampanga’s backroads through the scenic route, with the Central Luzon plains rolling out into the horizon only to be broken by Mount Pinatubo in the distance.

Being given more open road to work with, we got to experience the ease of driving on the Escape. Being in this vehicle weighed more towards the graceful side of things rather than the more rugged Everest and Explorer. Fast, easy to maneuvre, and loaded with all the creature comforts that one would expect from a more premium model.

At the end of our trail, we found ourselves enjoying the rest of the morning and lunchtime at Lakeshore, a hidden gem just a stone’s throw away from the expressway where visitors can bike, fish, play sports, and do other recreational activities.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that we probably saved the best for last to drive. A 3.5-liter, V6 engine with 370 horsepower at 5500 rpm and a maximum torque of 475 Newton-meter at 3500 rpm. Yes, Ford specifically told us to not focus on the numbers, but you just have to marvel at the Explorer’s sheer strength.

When you’re in the Explorer, you feel powerful, seeing over everything with your imposing size on puny Filipino roads. Inside is as roomy and as comfortable as a living room on wheels. And with a car like this, one would expect that level of attention.

It drives like a dream. Smooth as a hot knife slicing through butter. And accelerating—oh goodness, the accelaration—picking up the pace from a rare pause to a tear-through of the expressway is a gentle squeeze on the gas pedal away, met with the enthusiastic roar of the engine.

From the smooth straights of NLEX, we transitioned to winding roads and onto dirt and sand. It should also be noted that the Explorer also carries a terrain management system, but our trail was tame enough for Normal Mode to handle.

We found ourselves under dense greenery to see more of what beauty the countryside had hidden, occasionally staring in awe at the jagged cliffsides and tiny streams that were spread out across the landscape.

A car is a door to infinite possibilities. From the weekend wanderer to the full-pledged pioneer, Ford has an SUV to suit any lifestyle. Escape, or explore: you just have to read the nameplate.

(Article originally published in December – January issue, 2016 – 2017 of Gadgets Magazine)

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