Ford has launched the Everest to complete the trio of bakkie-based SUVs currently available. It’s the cheapest of the lot, but we’re not totally convinced that the price is enough of an incentive in this competitive market
There’s been a flood of bakkie-based, “affordable” seven-seater SUVs reaching the market, what with the arrival of the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and the Ford Everest in rapid succession. While Mitsubishi have just one model, Ford have three versions of the Everest and with sales predictions of 200 a month, they’re gunning for the Fortuner. This here is the flagship 3.0 TDCi LTD, priced at an attractive R382 990.
The Everest is more closely aligned to its LCV parent than its rivals, and while the wheelbase is shorter, the chassis underpinnings are essentially identical to those of the Ranger. That means leaf springs supporting and positioning the live rear axle, rather than coils and trailing arms as on the Toyota and Mitsubishi. Even by the modest standards of the bakkie market the Ranger isn’t a technology leader and also still uses torsion bar front suspension and ball and nut steering – which have been carried over.
The other contentious issue with the Ford is the styling… While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the consensus is that the Thailand-sourced Everest looks like it comes from further North in Asia. From some angles it is reminiscent of a Chinese lookalike SUV… and it is not only our opinion – just check out the websites and 4×4 forums. There’s too much bodywork – especially behind the rear wheels – and a relatively narrow stance means the Everest lacks somewhat when it comes to macho appeal. Detailing is old school, with the spare wheel hanging on a side-hinged tailgate. Cheap-looking decals and cheesy mountain range motif on the spare wheel cover don’t help either.
Fortunately, from the domed bonnet forward it is more successful and the bling grille with bold horizontal bars, moulded bush bar framing the lower air intake and foglight nacelles give it quite a strong presence.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
All Everests are powered by a 3,0-litre turbodiesel and that’s a good thing, as it strikes a happy balance between power and torque and is also virtually lag-free. In the flagship LTD model we tested it is coupled to a five-speed automatic (this high spec level is not available with a manual trannie), with an electronic shift -on-the-fl y feature, so at the twist of a dial you can change from two-high to four-high providing the speedo is still in two-digit territory.
Where the Everest differs from the Ranger is that instead of the ubiquitous driver-activated differential lock, the wagon gets a limited slip diff erential, which controls torque transfer when and if it detects that an unloaded wheel is starti ng to spin.
Chromed door handles and additional protective side-cladding are the main visual differentiators, and on the inside the LTD’s calling card is a 6-CD frontloader with six speakers. Other than that the LTD and XLT models are identical: beige leather (the only choice currently), four airbags and air conditioning with roof vents for the second and third rows.
★ ★ ★ ★
It makes sense to start at the back and work forward when discussing seven-seaters, and thanks to the Everest’s substantial body there’s enough space (120 litres according to our methodology) for a half-dozen grocery bags or a couple of pieces of soft luggage, even with all three rows occupied. The floor is relatively high but the rear door is easy enough to open despite carrying the weight of a 16- inch wheel fitted with a 245/70 tyre.
A real plus point is that the third-row seat can not only be tilted forward to expand luggage volume but can be easily unclipped and removed completely, increasing volume to 568 litres. This goes some way to making up for it being a one-piece affair, ergo the Everest goes straight from being a seven-seater to a five-seater. Provided you’re reasonably small and agile – a prerequisite in any seven-seater actually – access to the third row is acceptable once the middle seats are folded and tilted. Overall occupant roominess is actually very good, even in the third row, which has reasonable legroom (albeit with a knees-up posture) but headroom is going to be tight for most adults.
Unfortunately the middle seats are split 50/50 which once again limits flexibility and would force a third occupant to straddle the gap in the middle, though this was hardly a problem on our short school runs. With just the outer positions occupied, the limitation becomes an advantage and the extra-wide cushions prove to be well-padded. Generous legroom adds to a sense of well-being.
The front seats are similarly big and plush, providing more than adequate support and comfort with a faultless driving position. The steering wheel is height adjustable but doesn’t have any satellite controls.
There’s plenty of unconvincing metal-look plastic on the dash, and the effect – reinforced by quality which is merely okay – is prosaic. There’s certainly nothing that stands out, but there is good oddment storage space, including a slide-out document tray above the glove compartment and plenty of volume in a lidded compartment between the seats. In this regard, the under-dash handbrake is an advantage, freeing up space in the centre console.
The overall look and feel of the Everest’s cabin is slightly down-market compared to the Fortuner and Pajero Sport, but then it undercuts them both substantially on pricing.
★ ★ ★ ★
The mellow nature of the big Duratorq common rail turbodiesel four is what makes it so easy to live with and while the 115 kW (at just 3 200 r/min, though the power doesn’t drop off significantly until 3 500) isn’t class-leading, the 380 Nm (at 1 800 r/min) is. Together they stack up well to provide effortless performance, and refinement is impressive too, though this engine seemed noisier at idle than we remember.
Floor it in any gear and aft er just a momentary hesitation while engine and transmission have a quick chat, the appropriate gear is selected and things happen briskly there-after. This makes it eager both out of corners and when accelerating from the lights, and with the limited-slip diff there’s good traction – even when negotiating sharp corners enthusiastically… a situation which has the inside rear wheel of most entry-level SUVs spinning uselessly.
Shifting manually highlights the lightness of the shift but it is fairly pointless and more useful is the “overdrive off” button on the lever, which is conducted using handy for dropping down a cog when necessary, such as when approaching a bend. The only criticism of the drivetrain is occasionally harsh upshifts – not entirely unexpected in a four cylinder with so much torque.
The Everest cruises effortlessly and at a true 120 km/h in fifth the tachometer needle is sitting at just over 2400 r/min, with little mechanical noise. However, this highlighted wind noise, most of which seems to come from around the exterior mirrors and A-pillars.
This engine has already developed a good reputation for being frugal and with all that torque and a good selection of ratios we’d expect around 11,3 litres per 100km, which means the 71 litre tank will be good for close to 600km in the real world.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★
The Everest is quite plushly sprung and strikes a happy medium between ride and handling most of the time. Indeed, the compliant suspension and the ability to take bumps in its stride makes it very stable on dirt, the LSD probably contributing here too by keeping the torque in check. There are anti-roll bars both front and rear, so the cornering attitude is fairly flat but the combination of front torsion bars (soft) and rear leaves (harsh) can quickly get the nose and tail of an unladen Everest out of sync on undulating tarmac.
There’s not a lot wrong with the steering, though a rack and pinion – increasingly popular in this segment – is definitely more precise than the ball and nut mechanism still preferred by the Blue Oval, and has less play in a straight line. This contributes to a slightly lazy feeling through twists and turns, though some testers felt that it acted as a natural speed control mechanism.
Off-road the Everest is good enough to dispatch moderately tough stuff without complaint, the combination of a limited slip combined with an auto box making this an easygoing companion for those who don’t want to work too hard. However, rivals will go deeper into the bundu, mainly because the positive and unequivocal action of a differential lock provides an advantage when the ground is extremely rugged (unlike the Everest’s LSD which only starts to work once traction is already compromised), while the lack of a centre differential means axle twisters are going to stop forward progress sooner rather than later.
A long rear overhang will remind drivers when they are becoming overly-ambitious while side steps also eventually act as a limiting factor when straddling obstacles, though with a wheelbase of 2860mm (versus 3000mm for a Ranger) it is quite good in this regard.
★ ★ ★
Ford’s seven-seater ticks the right boxes in terms of space, comfort and features but its styling lacks street-cred and the build quality is only average. Fairly unsophisticated underpinnings (engine and gearbox aside) sometimes count against it both on and off road, and as a result this one falls firmly into the “close but no cigar” category.