Ford is quite rightly being lambasted at the moment over its handling of the Kuga fires issue. Recently, it also announced a recall campaign on the Fiesta ST, which uses the same 1.6 engine as the Kuga, although owners will have to wait an unacceptably long time, until the fourth quarter, for the remedial parts.
While all this has been going on the company has continued to sell its other models in vast numbers. This is no surprise because burning issues aside, Ford is making some superb vehicles at the moment and showing many of its rivals the way forward when it comes to specification, in particular in the realms of multimedia and engine technology.
We were hugely impressed with the second-generation Everest when it was launched, but sadly the imported model, with its high specification, sits at the upper end of the spectrum — with a price tag to match. Then the company announced it would produce the Everest locally, at its plant outside Pretoria, and the range would include some lesser models at lower prices.
We had to wait a little while to get our hands on one of these South African-built versions, though, as Ford diverted its company fleet to Kuga customers. Was it worth the wait?
Definitely. With a price tag of R501 900, the 2.2 XLT still has most of the styling features of the more expensive models, with that bold overall look and doses of American truck-like attitude up front.
Its big-vehicle looks are no illusion either, with plenty of space inside and a third row of seats providing total seating for seven. The rearmost seats fold neatly into the floor, unlike the rather odd side-folding seats in its big rival, the Toyota Fortuner.
The quality appears to be good, in spite of some hard plastics on the dash. It has a feeling of solidity about it, which places it above some other rivals — at least when it comes to interiors. Equipment levels are also good. The XLT has a multifunction steering wheel, plenty of menus in the digital display in the centre of the instrument cluster and our test model was fitted with the great Sync touchscreen infotainment system.
Access to all the controls is excellent and the driving position is good, providing decent visibility all around even with those large chrome-covered wing mirrors.
Then there is the engine.
I am quite sure I have said this before, but how is it that Ford engineers know something that Volkswagen and Toyota engineers do not? I am talking here about turbo lag. The Toyota is not too bad but VW and Audi turbodiesels are like waking up a teenager in the morning.
Push down on the accelerator in the Everest and it responds immediately, providing effortless acceleration through the range all the way to the red line. Even with the auto version we had on test, it rarely screamed at higher revs, although it does sound a little tractor-like at lower revs.
On the road the Everest suffers from a fair amount of body roll, particularly in back road corners, but it remains composed and comfortable most of the time.
With 118kW and 380Nm it has adequate low-down power available, but it does lack some of the overtaking grunt necessary at highway speeds.
The 2.2 XLT is not a 4×4 model, but with its ground clearance of 225mm it proved more than capable when we took it off the highways and byways and traversed some rock-strewn tracks north of Joburg. The rear wheels pushed it effortlessly through tall grass and over loose uphill terrain with barely any effort.
For most people this will be more than adequate to allow them to do a bit of exploring from time to time.
This is the Everest we were anticipating, the one that is able to make rivals a little nervous. With great looks, a spacious and comfortable interior and a superb engine, it easily jumps to the top of our list as the one to buy in the segment. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: Ford Everest 2.2 XLT
Engine: 2 198cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 118kW at 3700rpm
Torque: 385Nm from 1500 to 2500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Top speed: N/A
Fuel: 7.3l/100km (claimed combined
Price: From R501 900