There is a 4×4 route out in the Overberg near the town of Worcester, known as Klipbokkop. The name says it all.
You practically have to be a mountain goat to even attempt the ridiculously vertical trek up to the summit of Skilpad se Draai. Years ago, in a dilapidated Landie, I had turned back, choosing discretion over valour. It has always been my nemesis. In the back of my mind, there was the idea that, one day, I’d face the furious and make right. I just needed the right car.
Klippies is giving me the eye. Or rather the eyebrow. It is raised. In her look, I can recognise my own doubts. She’s thinking, ‘He has the equipment now, but does he have the cojones?’ Klippies, tour leader deluxe, Amazonian in her approach and attitude, is a no-nonsense woman with a 4×4 pedigree next to none, and a keen eye for a choker. I just didn’t want to be that choker.
‘You okay, Number Four?’ We’d stopped in the Tradouw Valley before the ascent to check tyre pressure and go over any last-minute instructions. Diff-lock if you have it (tick), steady on the throttle, light hands on the steering wheel, no broken thumbs please, keep the car in front of
you in sight, but not too close.
‘I am good, Klippies; been to the toilet, fully prepared.’ It breaks the tension, the other eight trekkers suddenly lighter too, and Klippies smiles as she climbs up into her Hilux Double Cab, Kalahari-pimped to take on, well, Everest. Because that is what Hilux and sister Fortuner must do. Take on Everest. And the enemy is right behind her. I’m in Ford’s new ball-buster.
In the flesh, it’s a handsome beast: flared flanks and the in-your-face grille announcing its intention to be taken very seriously. This is the biggest Ford grille in the world, outside of the US, and it says, ‘Move over, leadership issues on board’. In profile, it casts a very contemporary shadow, at once both of-the-moment and timeless, the combination of curves and creases working well to balance the size and height.
On paper, the mighty Everest makes a strong argument for a champion mid-sized
SUV. A body-on-frame skeleton and a very solid rear-axle take care of the tough. No independent suspension? Simply not tough enough says Ford, but Range Rover may disagree. To counter the solid-axle comfort issues, a Watt’s linkage on the back-axle, springs inside the frame and very carefully placed dampers make sure that it rolls and floats less than similar SUVs. So, tough and comfortable are confirmed.
There’s more that’s new. Electric steering makes a debut, as much to ensure the raft of driver aids are possible as to save fuel (drive modes and lane keep assist all need an ‘intelligent’ steering system). And raft is right – everything from lane keep assist to side collision prevention and active cruise control is present, as well as an armada of nanny warnings that are, frankly, irritating.They take an age to switch off, and present a real danger in themselves if you change them in the middle of driving, with all your focus being on the fiddly controls rather than the road ahead, where it should be.
More sensible tech is the off-road stuff, and that’s where my mind is. The Everest has an all-automatic 4×4 system that can be controlled from the centre console. A rotator knob lets you select normal, sand, mud or rock modes. In addition, there is an electronic locking rear differential as well as manual low-range. Each setting will automatically reconfigure chassis, throttle, suspension and other dynamics, making sure the car is set up optimally, no matter what you take on. For example, Klipbokkop
I choose ‘rock’ and press the low-range and diff-lock buttons, and feel the vehicle stiffen under me. At my foot, the throttle becomes a lot less sensitive, making revs easier to attain without us disappearing over the horizon. Great for goat-hopping. We head up and the incline gets more
insane until I feel like the front’s going to tip and we’ll do bollemakiesies down the mountain. But in the cabin, all is calm, there’s no bounce; the long suspension travel of the Ford’s new set-up is soaking up almost everything the mountain has to throw at it. All of the 4×4 chicanery is visually represented on the right screen of the SYNC2 display, just to the side of the speedo. I watch the angles increase sharply and the gyroscopic display bobble like a clown at a circus.
And then it’s over, seemingly before it’s even begun. I am disappointed; this vehicle could go further, much further – and, my confidence brimming, I want to try it now.
The view from the top of Klipbok is really astonishing: all the way to Roberston and the far off Langeberg mountains. After a cooler box of softdrinks, Klippies saunters over with her trademark raised brow and steals a glance inside the Everest.
‘You ready for the descent?’ she asks, trying not to show interest in the leather, dash and materials. I can see she wants to climb in, start pressing things, but I make her wait.
‘Is there another way down?’ I ask. ‘That seemed a bit tame, honestly. I think it needs a bit of challenge.’
A pause. ‘Okay. Let’s get these people back down safely, then we can see what we can do. But I’m driving.’
And suddenly, I am back five years in a deconstructed Landie, overheating, brakes failing, threatening to tumble right off a mountain. Me and my big mouth.
Four hours later, Worcester behind me, I am humbled and impressed, Klippies and Everest having proved to be a spectacular combo. It was like inviting Sébastien Loeb to take your Citroën for a drive through the Magaliesberg. No mumbles, no Toyota/Ford jokes, just perfect timing, excellent use of the electronics and nerves of steel. The Everest liked her, the venerable Ford 3.2 TDCi five-cylinder engine offering up all that it had and the new six-speed automatic gearbox responding to her many demands.
On the tar through the Huguenot Tunnel, I’m impressed with its on-road manners too: tech and capability aside, The Everest is a sophisticated drive. It is a restful place, the cabin devoid of that lumpy ride that’s so common on most large SUVs. Steering is confident and well-weighted, and pitch and roll are very well contained, as promised. It’s spacious too, seven seats with decent room for everybody, thanks to the thinnest second-row seats in the business.
Can the Everest do for Ford what the Ranger has done and make it a blue oval one-two? On ability and appeal, definitely, without a doubt. But there is a problem. Everest is not Fortuner-reasonable, it is expensive, what with exchange rates being what they are. It may be as far removed from its predecessor as the latest Mustang from its 1960s namesake, but does it have the kudos to play in that price category? Time will tell. I suspect that many people will wait for the cheaper, less tech-laden, 2.2 engined version later in 2016.
In a nutshell
Ford Everest 3.2 TDCi Limited 4µ4
Superbly capable off-road. Planted on
the tar, comfortable, safe
Expensive, too many driver aids, only
one engine (for now)
- Engine: 3 198 cc turbo, 5-cylinder
- Power: 147 kW @ 3 000 rpm, 470 Nm @ 1 750 – 2 500 rpm
- Performance: 0–100 km/h in 11.6 sec, top speed 180 km/h
- Tyres: 265/50/R20
- Economy: 8.2ℓ/100 km
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic, 4×4
- CO2 emissions: 217 g/km
- Suspension: Independent front, coil springs, Watt’s linkage rear
- Price: R646 900
Toyota Fortuner 3.0 D-4D
Bulletproof credentials, no-nonsense ability off-road, old-school until the new one arrives in April, great price, very comfortable. 0–100 km/h in 12.23 sec, top speed 175 km/h, power 120 kW / 343 Nm R493 600 (Value choice)
Hyundai Sante Fe Elite diesel
Best on road, decent off-road, though no hard-core bundu-basher. Hyundai starting to play with the big boys – tough ask at this price. 0–100 km/h in 10 sec, top speed 190 km/h, power 145 kW / 436 Nm R651 900
Mitsubishi Pajero GLS Five-door diesel
Excellent cruiser, special in the rough stuff, arguably the best off-road, updated inside but not a patch on the Everest. Yet.0–100 km/h in 12.3 sec, top speed 175 km/h, power 140 kW / 441 Nm R659 900