Spirits were high among the suits at Ford last week when it was announced that the Ranger had trounced its nemesis on the November 2016 sales charts.
Cue the self-congratulatory speeches and declaration of an open bar for the hacks in attendance.
Cynicism aside, we have always extolled the virtues of the pick-up truck with the blue oval emblem on its nose. In evaluations and comparison tests, the Ranger asserted its supremacy, especially in the aspect of ride quality. But when it came to the Everest, our sentiments were different.
The biggest impediment was a lack of choice. At launch, a single engine and transmission choice was offered to buyers: the 3.2 TDCi 4×4 with a six-speed automatic (147kW and 470Nm). Although there were two specification choices (XLT and Limited), pricing seemed ambitious when compared with the more attainable versions of the Fortuner.
In theory, this ought to be remedied with the launch of the 2.2 TDCi (118kW and 385Nm) XLS model, which we have just evaluated during a drive from Johannesburg to Limpopo.
A point worth noting is that the Everest is now made in South Africa, unlike the early units which were built in Thailand. The XLS is available in 4×2 and 4×4 guises, with either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox.
We opted to start with the former.
There are many hints outside and within indicating that this is the rural member of the Everest family. The exterior does without the jewellery sported by its XLT and Limited brethren. Inside are cloth seats rather than leatherette upholstery. You should not be deterred by such omissions, because the core competencies of the loftier Everest models are still there.
For example, the ground clearance of 225mm means you can summit the most intimidating of concrete islands. And an 800mm water-wading depth is reassuring, should you encounter one of those apocalyptic flash floods.
Even in the row-your-own model, the ease of operating the Everest is something to praise. Shifting gears demands no more effort than if you were driving a Ford Focus. And the stick does not vibrate like a bawdy bachelorette party gift, as one often finds in vehicles of this nature.
The clutch pedal requires mild pressure too. Ford has managed a successful emulation of the agreeable attributes you would find in a smaller car.
The strength of this engine makes a person wonder if opting for the beefier power source is necessary. It propels the bulky Everest ahead with resolve — and overtaking opportunities in the right lane are taken with reasonable confidence.
There are many positive descriptors to be slapped on the road manners of the Everest. Bounciness levels are minimal. Fellow motoring scribe Phuti Mpyane and I could not help but feel that Ford engineers summoned powerful Limpopo sorcery to achieve this.
Much like the Ranger, the Everest strikes a sweet balance between being adept off-road and still accomplished on the tarmac.
We also cannot ignore the third row of compact seats in the luggage compartment. When stowed away, they fold flush with the floor of the boot, unlike the cumbersome arrangement in a certain Japanese contender.
Criticisms? Well, our sentiments towards the interior plastics in the Everest and Ranger are the same. They are scratchy and hard, unbefitting of these vehicles’ status as the most car-like offerings in the segments.
And while Ford has upgraded its SYNC digital interface (standard on XLT and Limited), the system is still fiddly and confusing. But these are minor gripes.
The more enticingly priced Everest XLS is bound to give the competitor from Japan sleepless nights.
Pricing for the Ford Everest 2.2 TDCi XLS ranges between R453 900 and R529 900. – Brenwin Naidu