DRIVING IMPRESSION: Ford Everest 3.2 TDCi XLT 4x4 AT
It would be fair to assume that Ford must have been disappointed with the performance of the previous generation Everest.
Although it sold in respectable numbers and also served the Blue Oval’s first body-on-frame SUV since the Explorer was sold in limited numbers here some 20 years ago, the Everest somehow failed to make significant inroads into a segment that become the stronghold of the Toyota Fortuner, despite boasting more torque, being noticeably cheaper and still offering seven seats.
More than a few eyebrows, probably none more so than in Toyota City, were however raised when Ford officially took the wraps off the all-new Everest at the Beijing Motor Show in November 2014.
Based on the underpinnings of the smash-hit T6 generation Ranger with a striking yet un-bakkie like appearance, as well as a thoroughly modern interior, the Everest had made its intentions known that the Fortuner would no longer have the bakkie-based SUV segment to itself.
Available locally since October last year, the Everest, despite its limited model line-up and premium pricing, has seen a continuing rise in popularity with sales increasing from 154 units in its first month, to 208 at the end of January.
While arrival of the iconic Mustang to local shores has been the main talking point for some time, the recent arrival of a metallic aluminium coloured Everest XLT was met with a great deal of “ooh’s” and “ah’s” from observes, none more so than from yours truly.
Drawing inspiration from a number of Ford’s SUV’s in the United States, the Everest drops its predecessor’s often criticised boxy appearance, for a more rounded yet aggressive stance, complimented by a chrome hexagonal grille, smart 18-inch alloy wheels, satin silver front and rear skidplates, as well as chunky running boards.
At the rear, the previous Ranger-esque vertical taillights makes way for a more elegant wraparound setup, while the 17-inch steel spare now resides under the body instead of hanging from the tailgate.
Much like the exterior, the Everest’s interior, which its shares with the Ranger, rates one of the best offered in the segment today. Despite of use hard plastics on some surfaces, the cab generally feels well put-together with chrome finishes around the vents, on the door handles and leather on the steering wheel, doors and central armrest, lending to its upmarket appearance.
Taking centre stage, the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display incorporates the latest version of Ford’s SYNC 2 media interface, which, apart from being easy to use, now lets the driver activate the settings for the dual-zone climate control by means of voice recognition.
Continuing with tech fest, the instrument cluster features two four-inch TFT displays at either side of the analogue speedometer, both of which can be configured via sets of oversized buttons on corresponding sides of the steering wheel.
Given its intended use as a family vehicle, space in the almost 4.9 metre long Everest is notable with good head and legroom in the middle row, as well as the added benefit of a separate air-conditioning system with roof mounted vents.
As to be expected, the third is mainly reserved for small children or young adults, although legroom can be freed-up by tilting the seatback forward. Cargo space is rated at 450-litres with all seven seats up, and 1050-litres with the second row folded down.
Slotting in below the flagship Limited as the entry-level offering, the XLT lacks for nothing when it comes to standard kit, with items including Bluetooth audio streaming with dual USB ports, aux jack and SD card slot, 10-speaker sound system, rear parking sensors with reverse camera, cruise control, Hill Start Assist, six-way adjustable front seats, daytime running lights, seven airbags, ABS with EBD and BAS, trailer sway control and traction control.
Despite its impressive list of credentials, the Everest’s biggest trump remains its engine. Built at Ford’s Struandale engine plant in Port Elizabeth, the 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi five-cylinder turbodiesel does exhibit a typical diesel clatter at idle, but settles down once on the move.
With 147 kW and 470 N.m of torque on tap, the engine pulls strong from low down despite being tasked with hauling 2.3-tons of Everest around, and even produces a satisfying “whoosh” noise when the turbo comes on song.
While slick, the changing habits of the six-speed automatic gearbox does take some getting used to, although this can bypassed by clicking the gear lever into Sport mode which allows for faster upshifts and smoother down changes.
During its stay, the Everest was also tasked with transporting its “owner” to Kirkwood for working commitments. Eschewing the Ranger’s leaf spring rear suspension setup, the Everest uses a unique coil-spring layout with a Watt’s linkage for better comfort and road holding.
Although a tad on the firm side, the ride is otherwise comfortable on the black stuff with road and wind noise being well dented. Despite the powerhouse up front, fuel consumption registered an impressive 8.8 L/100 km during the trip, which fell to a still respectable 9.6 L/100 km when its tenure ended.
Where the Everest really came into its own was off the beaten track. Debuting with Ford’s brand new Terrain Management System, the driver can chose from four settings; Normal, Snow/Mud, Sand and Rock Crawl by turning the rotary dial next to gear lever.
With Rock Crawl engaged and low range activated, the Everest frankly laughed in the face of a somewhat tricky-looking route I chose near Schoenmakerskop, by easing over the incline and perching itself on top of the crest where these image were taken.
What especially impressed was that it never bottomed out over the rather high central grass verges at the beginning of the route, or going up the actual incline. With a ground clearance of 225 mm and wading depth of 800 metres, the Everest proved just as capable going down.
Keeping it in Rock Crawl but with the Hill Decent Control taking over, it hardly broke a sweat and arrived at the bottom again without knocking or scrapping.
While a lot was expected from the new Ford Everest, it can be argued that many could not have predicted it to be this surprising. Although calling it the new segment benchmark would be considered a bit too early with the new Fortuner still a few months away, it really is a case of game set-and-match.
|ENGINE LAYOUT||DOHC 20v Inline 5|
|MAX POWER||147 kW @3000 rpm|
|MAX TORQUE||470 N.m @1750-2500 rpm|
|DRIVE LAYOUT||Front engine; Rear-wheel drive / Four-wheel drive|
|ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H]||11.6 sec|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION||9.6 L/100 km*|
*As claimed during tenure
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