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SHOOTOUTS

Everest vs Trailblazer vs Fortuner





28 February 2017


A close call

Ford has finally introduced an entry-level, 2.2-litre version of its Everest SUV in South Africa. Manufactured in Silverton in Pretoria, it seems to offer a lot of SUV for the money. We took a road trip with the new Everest 2.2TDCi 4×2, a Toyota Fortuner 2.4GD-6 and the latest Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.5D LT 4×2, to find out if the new Ford could be the next best thing in the SUV market.

It’s been a long time coming, but the Ford Everest SUV is finally available with the Ranger’s familiar 2.2-litre turbodiesel mill. The Everest was originally launched here in October 2015, but only with the five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbodiesel engine, coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox. This premium model came standard with a host of electronic gizmos and an upmarket cabin. Subsequently, the price tag was also, well, rather upmarket. As a result, the Everest 3.2TDCi sold in limited numbers. For instance, in August last year, a total of 116 Everest units were snapped up in the local market. As a point of reference, Toyota sold 1 235 Fortuners in the same month, while Chevrolet managed just 27 Trailblazers (this was still the previous model though).

Fast forward to November, the first month in which the smaller-engined Everest and new-look Trailblazer entered the market, and the game had changed quite considerably: 64 Trail-blazers, 359 Everest units… and 1 135 Fortuners. So the new Everest 2.2TDCi has already had a big impact on Ford sales numbers, and although it probably won’t topple the Fortuner any time soon, it certainly is putting up more of a fight.  And while the Chevrolet will probably never realistically challenge the Fortuner or Everest in the sales race (mostly due to brand perceptions and subsequent value depreciation), it has seen some growth, with the introduction of the facelifted and refined model.

There are also some other assumptions to be made, judging by the November figures. Firstly, the SUV is now more popular than ever before. Secondly, entry-level SUVs like the Everest 2.2TDCi, Fortuner 2.4GD-6 and Trailblazer 2.5D LT are just the ticket for Average Joes who want a spacious seven-seater SUV that is based on tough bakkie underpinnings. Thirdly, 4×4 is cool, but 4×2 gets 95% of the job done, so a four-wheel- drive SUV is certainly not an absolute necessity. For most customers, it should just be able to get the family safely (and in relative comfort) around town, and possibly tackle the occasional rough dirt road as it transports the mountain bike and canoe to some exotic location.

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The new models cometh
So let’s get down to business, beginning with what is now the oldest model in this line-up, the Toyota Fortuner. The original model was introduced here in 2006, and it has been the undisputed king of SUV, outselling its competitors by a long way. Some styling peculiarities aside, the latest Fortuner now represents a huge leap forward over the previous generation model. Longer and wider than before, the seven-seater Fortuner has been, by most accounts, elevated into Prado territory. And the new model is already raking in sales in excess of 1 000 units per month. We hear that Toyota can hardly assemble vehicles fast enough in its Prospecton plant near Durban, with a waiting list stretching over several months. So clearly the new Fortuner is still the belle of the ball in the SUV segment.

The previous generation Fortuner had two diesel options: the 3.0D-4D and the 2.5D-4D. The new range also has two options: the top 2.8GD-6 with 130kW and 450Nm, or the smaller 2.4GD-6, which has 110kW and 400Nm of torque. This entry-level Fortuner is powered by the 2.4GD-6 engine which, in this company, produces the least power. The Chevrolet Trailblazer was first introduced here in 2012. Unfortunately though, that old saying of first impressions last kind of scuppered the Trailblazer boat before it got out of the harbour. Tactile quality and finish were issues, as was the beige leather trim used in the cabin. Noise and vibration intrusion in the cabin was also an issue compared to its direct rivals. The Chevrolet nevertheless did have a lot in its favour; especially the drivetrains, which were more than equal to the task. But the quality perceptions about the Blazer, and the subsequent impact on resale values, saw the Chevrolet’s sales numbers average less than 100 units per month.

But a lot has changed since 2012.
Late last year, the Trailblazer received a relatively big overhaul, with new styling turning the Plain Jane front-end a bit more macho. However, the biggest upgrade happened in the cabin. New black leather, dashboard layout, plastics, cutting- edge infotainment and, possibly most importantly, much less noise and vibration intrusion into the cabin have transformed the Chevy into a more desirable, durable and refined option. This entry-level 4×2 model is powered by the previously used 2.5-litre turbodiesel four-pot engine, and it delivers 132kW and 440Nm of torque, making it the most powerful in this line-up. And by quite some measure, too. Both a six-speed manual and automatic are available. We had the automatic version for our test. Of the three SUVs on test here, the Trailblazer is now the only one imported (from Thailand).

Which brings us to the Ford Everest. Manufactured in Ford’s Silverton plant in Pretoria, the Everest is not new per se. As mentioned before, it was originally launched here in 2015, but only in the high specification 3.2TDCi derivative. What is new is the inclusion of the 2.2-litre Ranger engine, which has drastically increased the choice for potential buyers in this segment. Instead of just two models to pick from, there are now eight. And there is a price variation of R250 000 between the most basic entry-level 2.2TDCi and highest specification 3.2TDCi 4×4 models.

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The test
For this test we decided to go on a road trip, simulating a typical outing for a family SUV. This 450km road trip started off with a traffic jam in the city, and later included driving at 120km/h on highways, on B-roads where we had to overtake slower moving vehicles, through a small town, and on a dirt road that was mostly okay but which had a section that could kill a hatch if you hit the deep ruts at speed. We also recruited two ‘judges’ to help us decide the outcome of this test. Sakkie Coetzee is a well-known personality among the four-wheel drive fraternity. As the man who designs the obstacles for the Bridgestone 4×4 Club Challenge, Sakkie knows exactly how to test a 4×4 and its driver to the limit.

During the week he runs a factory, so besides the fact that he is technically inclined, he’s also into stats and details. Perfect for testing an SUV then. Our second guest judge was Tumelo Maketekete, the presenter of a 4×4 television show and a self-proclaimed 4×4 fanatic. A tough man to please, Tumelo likes to call a spade a spade, so he’s perfect for judging duties. The last two judges were made up of Leisure Wheels staffers Danie Botha and GG van Rooyen. Points out of a maximum of 10 were up for grabs in eight categories: Engine/gearbox performance; ride and handling (tar); ride and handling (dirt); interior; liveability; perceived value; exterior styling; and value for money. The scores for all the judges and vehicles were reworked to percentages (out of 80 points), and so the average percentage per vehicle was reached. Let’s get it started then.

Engine/gearbox performance
Ford Everest 23/40 (57.5%)
Chevrolet Trailblazer 27/40 (67.5%)
Toyota Fortuner 30/40 (75%)

Okay, so this didn’t go quite as we expected; the least powerful SUV in this test scored the highest. Let’s start with the biggest surprise, the Everest. It has 118kW of power, but its maximum torque of 385Nm is the least, and it peaks at 2 000r/min. There is also another factor to consider in this equation: weight. The Everest weighs almost 300kg more than the Fortuner, and that’s a lot of extra weight to shift around. Around town, the 2.2TDCi and six-speed automatic gearbox in this XLS model fare well together, but the picture is less rosy on the open road. At highway speeds, with a few hills in the game, the engine needs revs to maintain momentum, so the gearbox has to swap gears often.

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Overtaking slower vehicles on a B-road can also get interesting. You need to plan a bit for such a manoeuvre, as the TDCi engine needs time to get the Everest out of the blocks. It’s by no means unacceptably slow, but compared to the other two SUVs in this test, the lack of get-up-and-go at higher speeds is more obvious.The Trailblazer came in second, which was also a bit of a surprise… with 132kW and 440Nm, it should easily be the fastest of this lot, right? And that it is: in a straight acceleration battle with the Toyota, it left the Fortuner standing. However, in real-world driving conditions, there are a few chinks in the Chevy’s armour. Most notable is turbo lag. It produces that 440Nm at 2 000r/min, but until the rev counter needle reaches that mark, there’s not much happening. Similarly, there are times when the six-speed automatic gearbox is left in limbo, neither here nor there. With all that said, when the revs do reach the 2 000r/min mark, the Trailblazer goes like stink.

The Toyota scored a solid 75%, with the least amount of power in the game. But it was the way the engine’s 400Nm of torque was delivered to the rear wheels that was so impressive. The 400Nm peaks at a low 1 600r/min, but the 2.4GD-6 engine will surge forward in sixth gear, with just 1 000r/min on the rev counter. It really is uncanny how strongly it pulls from low engine speeds, and there’s simply no need to rev it at all. Instead, shifting to a higher gear at 2 000r/min was the order of the day;  the prodigious torque provided more than enough propulsion at lower revs. On a point of order, this was the only manual derivative in this line-up.

Toyota simply don’t have any automatic 2.4GD-6s hanging around, so the manual was what we got. But, the engine will perform the way it performs in the (six-speed) automatic version, too, and we reckon, with all that low-down grunt, it will be even better to drive without the stick shift. The advantage of driving at lower engine revs is also evident at the filling station. Over the 450km, the Toyota used an average of just 8.7 litres/100km. The Ford was not a long way off though, recording 9.1 litres/100km. And the Chevrolet came in third with 9.9 litres/100km. It must be noted, however, that the Toyota was the only manual and vehicles with auto boxes normally sip a bit more diesel than their stick shift counterparts.

Ride and handling (tar)
Ford Everest 26/40 (65%)
Chevrolet Trailblazer 32/40 (80%)
Toyota Fortuner 32/40 (80%)

Another surprise. We thought the luxurious Everest would fare much better, but in the end it garnered only 65%. Some of the judges noted that the Ford had a tendency to wander slightly around the centre point, at around 120km/h.  This could be down to the power steering system’s calibration, or even tyres. More than one driver experienced it, so there must be something to it. This was more evident on the straight and smooth N4 highway; on the bumpy B-roads around Loskop Dam it didn’t really have an impact. Nevertheless, it did influence some of the judges.

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The Fortuner scored 32 points (80%). It was solid and composed in all areas. Braking from higher speeds, though, the Fortuner’s ventilated discs displayed a slight shudder. This is not the first Fortuner we’ve driven with this tendency. For the rest, it felt virtually indestructible. The Trailblazer was comfortable and composed, and some of the judges (who had driven the first-generation Blazer) remarked how the noise and vibration levels had obviously improved on the latest model. Handling was also top notch for a bakkie-based SUV. Overall, it’s a very good on-road package.

Ride and handling (dirt)
Toyota Fortuner 26/40 (65%)
Ford Everest 28/40 (70%)
Chevrolet Trailblazer 32/40 (80%)

And another turn-up for the books: the Toyota Fortuner came in last with 65%, beaten by the Ford while the Chevrolet comprehensively ruled the roost here with 80%. Although the judges all liked the solid feeling of the Fortuner, it was also the least happy on the rough sections of the dirt road, the tail hopping around more readily, unsettling the ride. It’s not exceedingly bad, but if you jump out of the Trailblazer and into the Fortuner and drive it over the same section of bad gravel, the difference is quite obvious. It’s interesting to note that the Chevrolet is the only SUV here that doesn’t have a traction or stability control system, so the excellent gravel road ride is not thanks to a smart computer, but rather the suspension. The Ford, with its bigger 18-inch wheels, was somewhere in the middle. It was more stable than the Fortuner, but not quite as good as the Trailblazer.

Interior
Toyota Fortuner 26/40 (65%)
Chevrolet Trailblazer 28/40 (70%)
Ford Everest 32/40 (80%)

The Toyota scored low in this segment, too (but remember it is the most basic of 2.4GD-6 derivatives so it gets only entry-level gear). Although there is nothing terribly wrong here, there were a couple of things that bugged some of the judges. For one, the third row of pews that fold up and towards the sides of the rear cargo area proved to be a gripe for some of the judges. Most modern seven-seaters (okay, all of them, really) feature a folding system where those last two seats fold away into the floor of the cargo area. Some are more effective than others, but they all fold away somehow.

But not the Toyota. Also, the infotainment system in the entry-level Fortuner lagged behind the more modern and user-friendly systems in the Chevrolet and Ford. The Chevrolet’s cabin has come a long way since the dingy first-generation model. It looks and feels better all-round, and the MyLink touchscreen infotainment provides a modern interface to play music or connect your Bluetooth phone. The Ford, in XLS specification, takes the interior features to the next level. It comes standard with Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system, easily the best of this lot. Featuring an eight-inch high definition screen with pinch-to-zoom and swipe gesture functions.

It also has Apple CarPlay, so you can link your iPhone to the vehicle. The SYNC3 screen will transform into your phone’s interface screen. The comprehensive system is linked to 10 speakers, and sound reproduction is the best of the lot. There is leather aplenty, and just a generally more plush feeling than in the Fortuner or Trailblazer. The extra plush is reflected in the asking price, though. The most basic 2.2TDCi XLS 4×2, which comes with a more old-fashioned SYNC 1 infotainment system, a manual gearbox and less plush retails for a Fortuner 2.4GD-6-matching R453 900.

Liveability
Ford Everest 29/40 (72,5%)
Chevrolet Trailblazer 31/40 (77,5%)
Toyota Fortuner 33/40 (82,5%)

We asked our judges what SUV they would be able to live with on a daily basis: as a daily driver in traffic, picking up the kids from ballet, and over weekends carting the mountain bike or kayak to a remote venue, with some gravel along the way. Despite its upmarket interior, the Everest 2.2TDCi XLS scored the least points. Some judges felt the 2.2-litre engine would frustrate them, especially if there was a heavy load and lots of overtaking involved.

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The Trailblazer scored another solid result. Some judges enjoyed the 132kW and 440Nm quite a bit, and they loved the space and versatility of the cabin. But it was the Fortuner that came out tops. And it was mostly down to the 2.4GD-6 engine. The judges waxed lyrical about the engine’s low-down grunt, and the way it managed to maintain momentum so effort-lessly. There’s also that feeling of indestructibility about it that neither the Ford nor Chevrolet can match.

Value for money
Ford Everest 29/40 (72,5%)
Chevrolet Trailblazer 29/40 (72.5%)
Toyota Fortuner 31/40 (77.5%)

Let’s start off by stating that all three of these SUVs are good value-for-money propositions. Consider that some imported compact SUVs now sell for around R550 000, and that all three of these vehicles retail for less than R500 000, and the Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota start to make a lot of financial sense. We judged each vehicle on its own merit, taking into consideration there are alternative models in the respective line-ups. The Ford and Chevrolet each scored 72.5%. The Ford is the most expensive, but it’s also the higher specification XLT automatic model (versus the base XLS). It has 18-inch wheels, the SYNC 3 infotainment system and leather, and still retails for under R500 000.

Ditto with the Trailblazer. You can get the cheaper manual derivative, but the automatic 2.5D LT offers plenty of luxury for the price. The Toyota top-scored with 77.5%. Although its interior is less plush, it still has all the basic kit you need. Our judges agreed that, for just over R450 000, you get bucketloads of seven-seater SUV for your money.

Perceived value
Chevrolet Trailblazer 26/40 (65%)
Ford Everest 27/40 (67.5%)
Toyota Fortuner 35/40 (87.5%)

Investing in an SUV that retails for nearly half-a-bar is a major financial undertaking for most of us mortals. If you are planning to drive the new vehicle until the end of days, depreciation and future resale values are real factors to consider. The Trailblazer scored the least points here. Unfortunately, the
Chevy SUV still has some perception demons to deal with in the local market. The Ford Everest fared marginally better. It must be said that the latest Everest’s ability to retain value is vastly better than the first-generation Everest.

The Toyota was a clear winner in this segment. It just makes more financial sense to buy a Toyota and get a good percentage of your original investment back after a couple of years. Then again, buying a vehicle is not only about financial sense – there are a lot of other emotions and factors, too. Some punters would add that the Toyota Fortuner and Hilux’s popularity make them prime targets for theft and hijackings, as there is such a demand for parts.

Exterior styling
Chevrolet Trailblazer 26/40 (65%)
Toyota Fortuner 31/40 (77.5%)
Ford Everest 33/40 (82.5%)

This segment is as subjective as you can get; we all have different tastes and preferences. But it was still interesting to note the trends in the scoring. The Ford won this department. Although the rear-end styling is on the bland side, the
strong front-end certainly creates a powerful impression. The Toyota came in second. It probably would have won had it not been for the peculiar, SsangYong Musso-like kink behind the rear doors. For the rest, it looks the part, and even comes with a spoiler for the back door. The judges all agreed that the latest Trailbazer looks a lot better than the first-generation model. Although the latest Chevy’s rear-end is still on the bland side, the front looks a thousand times better. It’s more purposeful, with a dose of testosterone added.

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Overall
Ford Everest 2.2TDCi XLT AT 70.9%
Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.5D LT AT 72.2%
Toyota Fortuner 2.4GD-6 RB manual 76.2%
When all was said and done, and the scores added and discussed, we asked ourselves one question: if we had to buy one vehicle right now that we have to drive until the day we retired, which one will it be? And through the bank, we all chose the Fortuner. Although the other two SUVs each have their strong points and attractions, the latest Fortuner just does a lot of things very well, just like the model it replaced. Compared to the previous Fortuner, though, the new model’s refinement, quality and finish have elevated it into Toyota Prado territory. It really is a great all-rounder option in the SUV class.

Toyota Fortuner 2.4GD-6 RB
Engine 2 393cc, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power 110kW @ 3 400r/min
Torque 400Nm @ 1 600r/min
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Traction aids Stability and traction control, rear differential lock
Ground clearance 225mm
Suspension front Independent, double wishbone
Suspension rear Four-link with coil springs
Tare weight 1 924kg
Warranty Three-year/100 000km
Service plan Five-year/90 000km
Price R454 000
Sales (November 2016) 1 135
Average consumption 8.7 litres/100km
Range (80 litres) Approx 919km

Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.5D LT AT
Engine 2 499cc, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power 132kW @ 3 600r/min
Torque 440Nm @ 2 000r/min
Gearbox Six-speed automatic
Traction aids Limited slip rear differential
Ground clearance 219mm
Suspension front Independent, link assembly
Suspension rear Five-link with coil springs
Tare weight 2 003kg
Warranty Five-year/120 000km
Service plan Five-year/90 000km
Price R481 800
Sales (November 2016) 64
Average consumption 9.9 litres/100km
Range (76 litres) Approx 767km

Ford Everest 2.2TDCi XLT AT
Engine 2 198cc, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power 118kW @ 3 700r/min
Torque 385Nm @ 2 000r/min
Gearbox Six-speed automatic
Traction aids Stability and traction control
Ground clearance 225mm
Suspension front Independent, coil springs and anti-roll bar
Suspension rear Coil springs with Watt links
Tare weight 2 220kg
Warranty Four-year/120 000km
Service plan Five-year/100 000km
Price R495 000
Sales (November 2016) 359
Average consumption 9.1 litres/100km
Range (80 litres) Approx 879km

Waterfall Safari Lodge
We based this test at the beautiful Waterfall Safari Lodge, situated near Loskop Dam in Mpumalanga. Part of the Forever group of resorts, this lodge is located in the Kranspoort Mountains. Game drives, a 4×4 route (see trail report elsewhere in this magazine) and hiking trails are on offer, as are luxurious lodgings and a restaurant and bar. The venue also specialises in catering for weddings. For visitors who prefer canvas over brick and wood, there is a campsite available.
More information waterfallsafarilodge.co.za

Text: Danie Botha Photographs: GG van Rooyen

  • teofli

    Fortuner’s pricing and known reliability is hard to resist and I find it wider than the other two, but has the security improved? I ‘d imagine that the Everest is more expensive because of its spec levels. The Trailblazer is mine here for its good looks, sheer power and stand out character.