LAUNCH NEWS: Ford Everest at the peak of its game

FORD seems to be riding the crest of a wave as it continues a product offensive. Having refreshed its Focus range this year, then launched its Fusion sedan and B-Max mini MPV, it now brings its all-new Everest to the market to take on the likes of the Toyota Fortuner.

The company will also launch the updated Ranger, the all-new Figo, and the much-anticipated Mustang sportscar this year.

However, back to the Everest, and it is safe to say that the model is arguably the best-looking in the segment, even outgunning the now defunct Nissan Pathfinder, which up to now held the accolade in my books.

According to Ian Reid, project leader of the Everest in Australia, who was at the launch of the model in Cape Town, customer input was taken into account when designing the latest vehicle because, to be frank, the previous-generation model was a bit of a misnomer and not well thought out on the company’s part. As a result, it failed to challenge the Fortuner meaningfully to sway sales towards the blue oval.

That all looks set to change with the new model, which viewed head-on sports the company’s new corporate design that includes that oval and chrome grille flanked by large headlight clusters, while in the side profile the arches are home to 18-or 20-inch alloy wheels.

To me, the rear looks a tad incongruent with the aggressive front end, as though the designer’s pen ran out of some flair.

The cabin is more functional than flamboyant, with the finishes perhaps a little on the demure side of the design scale — some plastics and finishes are more on the utilitarian side than you would expect in a family SUV. Redeeming the interior is the company’s infotainment system, now utilised in other models in the stable, giving access to Bluetooth, audio streaming and a reverse camera, while storage nooks and crannies are also some of the model’s fortes.

Leg and headroom are generous at worst, even in the second row, while the rearmost seats are of the jump variety and suitable only for children. Boot space is cavernous at 1,050l with the third row of seats stowed (can expand to 2,010l with the second-row seats folded).

At launch, only the flagship engine is offered in the form of a 3.2l, five-cylinder, turbo diesel pushing out 147kW and 470Nm through a six-speed automatic transmission. It is a similar engine to that in the Ranger, while it also shares its bakkie sibling’s chassis.

The ride quality is fairly good, with very little of the bounciness that afflicts some of its competitors. Leather seats come standard in the XLT and XLT Limited variants, which offer great scope of adjustment, particularly off-road, as we at found the launch. Sadly, the steering wheel only adjusts for tilt and not rake, which will prove somewhat of a challenge for some frames.

Both variants are reasonably well specified with a panoramic roof the only optional item (only on the Limited). Items such as LED daytime running lights are standard on the Limited, while its interior also boasts anthracite plastic trimmings, which seem to elevate the interior ambience.

On the road the engine’s brawny power delivery was quite evident from the get-go, although it does become rather vocal with typical diesel clutter under kickdown or full throttle manoeuvres. That said, it is a peach of an engine and settles nicely on the open road where it seems to be in its element.

Perhaps not traditional for an SUV, we also managed to tackle the coiling roads of the Fransch-hoek Pass, where the model handled surprisingly well for what it is, with very little of the body roll that is associated with vehicles in the segment.

Then it was on to some mild off-roading that included rock crawling. This required the Terrain Management System, which is similar to that used by Land Rover, offering modes including normal, rock crawl, mud, and sand. We opted for rock crawl and, together with the low range and differential locking, we scaled rock-strewn paths with relative ease, thanks to the 225mm ground clearance and hill-descent system that made light work of clearing obstacles.

Overall, the Everest manages to deliver its quota of being a capable family SUV with the practicality that buyers in the market are looking for. And fortunately, it also happens to be a stylish alternative.

Surprisingly, however, the manufacturer has pitched the Everest against the Toyota Prado, which is rather bizarre considering that model is not based on bakkie underpinnings, as is the Everest.

In my opinion, the Everest competes squarely with the long-in-the-tooth Fortuner instead.

A new Fortuner will be launched early next year, so it will be interesting to see how it fares against the Everest.

But for now, Ford seems to be ahead of the curve and the Everest delivers handsomely on the large SUV mandate — although its pricing, starting at R593,000 for the XLT and R646,900 for the Limited, means it plays firmly in the premium SUV market.

Granted, while it remains a large SUV with a modicum of standard specification, vehicles such as the Land Rover Discovery seem to offer a bit more prestige at the price.

According to Ford SA, there will be a 2.2l variant joining the line-up next year, and while pricing is yet to be confirmed, suffice it to say it should be slightly more palatable than its brethren.

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