Launch Drive: 2015 Ford Everest

Launch Drive: 2015 Ford Everest
 

The Toyota Hilux and its sibling, the Fortuner, are institutions in South Africa. But the sales charts this year have shown that nothing lasts forever: the Ford Ranger has usurped the iconic Japanese fighter as the leader in the market.

The folks at the Blue Oval hope to repeat this feat with the new Everest, which was launched in South Africa last week. Although it is a direct challenger to the evergreen Fortuner and the lacklustre Chevrolet Trailblazer, the Everest is starting to make a move on other segments.

For example, Ford says it also encroaches on the Land Cruiser Prado’s turf. And the sticker price on the Everest puts it in the realm of a number of other indirect competitors. But more on that later. First: do you remember the old Everest? It felt horribly agricultural, it looked like a rudimentary box on wheels and it barely put a dent in the figures of its perennial rival.

So what makes the battle different this time? Well, unlike the old one, this Everest is not a hopeless cause. It is hugely competitive and Ford’s engineers have gone to great lengths to create something that is all things to all people.

The ladder-frame chassis, solid beam rear axle and electronic terrain management system ensure that the new car is more than competent when it goes off-road. And it is just as adept on tar, thanks to a suspension system fettled to mimic the behaviour of a conventional passenger car.

The seven-seat layout secures its status as a venerable family-hauler — but it also has a suite of driver assistance systems, luxury trappings and interior refinements that will pander to buyers who desire a product with a premium feel. By definition, a crossover or SUV is a huge compromise — trying to shoehorn a bunch of virtues into a single cohesive package.

But manufacturers are getting better at it, and the Everest is a good example of this. It feels like an accomplished all-rounder, despite the many roles it is forced to play. For starters, the way it drives. It tracks straight and true, unperturbed by crosswinds — and when cornering, it feels more composed than a car of this heft has any right to be.

The ride quality is praiseworthy, too: it is not unnervingly bouncy, even when trundling through some of the toughest trails the town of Franschhoek in the Western Cape has to offer. Inside, it sports a new fascia layout, with the Ford SYNC 2 digital interface taking centre stage, and a leather-textured surface atop the dashboard. It is based on the rugged Ranger, so there are a number of shared materials.

Some plastics are on the coarse side, but it is by no means offensive. We Were told at the launch that the mandate with the interior was to craft something that is “tough but not rough” — and the designers appear to have succeeded.

Furthermore, the cabin boasts more than 30 storage spaces and a third row of seats is standard. There is one derivative: it employs a revised version of the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder turbocharged-diesel engine from the Ranger (132kW and 470Nm), with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Power is sent to all four wheels. To keep things quiet inside, Ford equipped the Everest with what it calls active noise cancelling technology. This pumps white noise through the sound system to counter ambient disruptions. This is no joke, I assure you. Two model grades are available. First up is the XLT, followed by the flagship Limited.

But the former, despite being the “entry- level ” version, is generously equipped with leather upholstery, the SYNC 2 interface, Ford’s terrain Management system, a reverse camera and climate control. The Limited adds electrically adjustable seats, bigger alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and a power tailgate. The only options are of metallic paint, a towbar, mud flaps and a sunroof. Prices start at R593 900.

Now, you might flinch when you consider that the Fortuner starts at R399 500. But, remember, the Everest is thoroughly modern and offers a great deal more in terms of features. Actually, this car could be an enticing proposition to buyers shopping for a premium SUV: the same money would get you a basic Audi Q5, BMW X3 or Land Rover Discovery Sport.

The Everest might lack the cachet of those prestigious brands, but it rates higher when it comes to standard amenities and all-round ability on rough terrain.

-Brenwin Naidu

The Facts:
Engines: 3 198cc, five-cylinder, turbocharged diesel
Power: 147kW at 3 000rpm
Torque: 470 Nm between 1 750 and 2 500r pm
0-100km/h: 11.6 sec
Top speed: Unavailable
Fuel consumption: 8.2l/ 100km
CO2: 217 g /km
Prices: R593 900 (XLT); R646 900 (Limited)