If ever a new vehicle was entirely deserving of an equally new name, it’s the Ford Everest. Sure, the first-generation was rugged and pretty spacious, and well-priced too. But it was also a bit crude, and with its leaf-sprung rear axle, it wasn’t what you’d call smooth-riding by any measure. Of all the bakkie-based SUVs on South African roads, the old Everest was the least successful at hiding its origins, with fairly basic equipment levels and a rather old-fashioned driving experience.

But now, there’s a new one. As before, it’s based on the Ranger bakkie and it offers seating for seven, but thankfully, that’s where the similarities end. Instead, it is an all-new vehicle, with dramatic all-round improvements on the outgoing model. The new Ranger deserves some of the credit for this transformation, being remarkably refined and car-like itself, but more credit goes to the clever engineering and technology tucked under the new Everest’s skin.

Around the outside, it’s fairly normal large SUV fare, with a bold grille, bulging wheel arches and a smattering of chrome trim. Those wheel arches need to be as big as they are, for the smallest rims on offer (at launch) measure a generous 18 inches in diameter, going up to 20 inch items for the top-spec Limited derivative. The overall effect is modern and easy on the eye, with a wide stance and enough height to tower over the surrounding traffic.

 BO2_7290

 

 

 

 

 

The cabin is equally modern, with a strong horizontal styling emphasis, soft-touch materials on the dashboard and doors, and harder-wearing plastic lower down on the door trims and center console. The main controls are suitably chunky, which fits nicely with the Everest’s rugged image, yet it all feels classy and upmarket – due in part to some bright trim pieces around the air vents and near the gear lever.
BO2_7405-2

 

 

 

 

 

Closer inspection of the specification sheet reveals a whole host of unique features, things which put some distance between the Everest and its opponents. For starters, there’s a Land Rover-ish Terrain Management System, operated by twisting a rotary dial next to the gear lever. This sets up the traction control system and gearbox- and engine programming to one of four different modes: Normal, Snow/Gravel/Grass, Sand and Rock driving are all catered for, with Rock mode only available when low range is selected. It’s all very easy to operate, and works well even under fairly strenuous off-road conditions.
BO2_7441

 

 

 

 

 

Off-road ability is further improved by the full-time all wheel drive system (with an electronically controlled centre differential which shuffles power between the front- and rear axles), as well as its rugged chassis design. Ground clearance is a solid 225 mm, and the Everest can also wade through water up to 800 mm deep. Variable-speed hill descent control is included as well. Combined with a long-travel suspension and relatively short body overhangs, these attributes ensure that the new Everest is right at the front of its pack as far as off-road ability goes.
BO2_7428

 

 

 

 

 

That was mostly true for the old Everest too, but the new one adds two crucial elements which elevate it way above its predecessor and competitors: superb comfort and a great driving experience. Instead of the old one’s leaf springs, there’s an all-new coil spring setup for the rear suspension, with a Watt’s linkage to provide lateral location for the solid rear axle.

Combined with careful tuning of the springs and dampers, this banishes the old Everest’s choppy ride and vague dynamics, and creates a large SUV which handles twisty roads as effortlessly as it does rough mountain tracks. Make no mistake, the new Everest is easily the smoothest-riding and best-handling vehicle in its class – and by a large margin, too. It rides with the fluency of a true luxury car, and it devours a mountain pass better than any body-on-frame SUV I have ever driven.

If there’s any gripe with the new Everest, it’s that it could benefit from a more enthusiastic drivetrain, especially given the new chassis’ beautifully sorted dynamics. The 3.2-litre 5-cylinder turbo diesel, as found in the top-level Ranger, does duty in the Everest, and it’s mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.

On paper, the power plant seems up to the job: 147 kW and 470 Nm should be enough to motivate a large SUV, but on the road, a somewhat different picture emerges. The gearbox isn’t too keen to respond to sudden power demands, and the performance on offer never really matches the claims made by that staunch torque output either. Blame the Everest’s considerable kerb weight (a smidge under 2.4 tonnes) for the somewhat uninspired performance: 0-100 km/h is dispatched in 11.6 seconds, according to Ford, yet it never really seems that lively…

Now, back to the good stuff: that newly discovered ride comfort is echoed in the luxurious cabin. There’s plenty of space for seven occupants to settle into very comfortable seats, and some seriously high-end technology ensures that refinement is from the top drawer. Noise levels are contained by an active noise cancellation system, which “listens” to the noises intruding into the cabin, and then plays opposing sound waves through the sound system to cancel unpleasant sounds. It works a charm, because the new Everest is supremely quiet on the freeway, rivalling SUVs costing more than twice as much.

 BO2_7449

With a smooth ride and hushed cabin sorted, the engineers then added a whole host of other luxury-car features. Both launch derivatives feature Ford’s Sync 2 multimedia system, which incorporates a colour touch screen to control in-car entertainment as well as various vehicle settings. The touch screen also doubles as a display for the rear-view camera, and the sound system features 10 speakers, two USB ports, and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s a dual-zone air conditioning system for the front occupants, and another air-con unit for the rear seats. Leather upholstery is standard on both variants.

BO2_8102 

The range topping Everest Limited really pulls out all the stops, though: automatically-controlled Xenon headlights, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and self-parking systems are all included in its spec sheet, along with electric adjustment for its heated front seats, power-folding third row seats and a powered tailgate.

 BO2_7473

Both versions feature the same safety equipment, with 7 airbags, stability control and roll-over mitigation systems included as standard. The stability control system also incorporates a trailer sway control function to ensure stable, safe towing ability – a good thing, considering that the new Everest is capable of towing loads of up to 3000 kg.

BO2_7467 

With all these virtues, you’d expect the Everest to cost a pretty penny. And yes, it does: the range opens with the Everest XLT at R 593 900, and the Limited carries a sticker of R 646 900, placing it way above Fortuners and Trailblazers in the marketplace. But considering its ride comfort, high-tech features and opulent trim, that price tag does make some sense.

Rather than thinking of the Everest as an alternative to Fortuners and the like, consider it a surprisingly affordable alternative to a Range Rover – that is the magnitude of the chasm between the new Everest and its competitors. If ever a vehicle had the potential to upset its class hierarchy, this is it. With more affordable versions to come when local production starts in 2016 (current offerings are fully imported), expect a lot of anxiety among its competitors: the Everest just redefined its segment. If only it had an equally impressive new name…

 – Martin Pretorius

 

Ford Everest Range

Everest XLT          R 593 900

Everest Limited     R 646 900