The updated Ford Everest gets to remote destinations like the Makgadikgadi salt pans with more power and less fuel. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The updated Ford Everest gets to remote destinations like the Makgadikgadi salt pans with more power and less fuel. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

At night on Botswana's Makgadikgadi Pans, the silence is so intense you can almost hear it.

The salt pans are isolated from civilisation and the nearest town, Maun, is more than two hours' drive away. The vast pan we’re encamped upon is the size of Belgium, and stretches about 270km south of our little tent village set at the pan’s northern edge.

Any temptation to venture our Ford Everest convoy further onto the pan was quelled by our guide's warning that the apparently dry surface is like crème brûlée — the crusty surface hiding occasional large custard-soft holes of wet clay that can swallow vehicles whole and catch out unwary travellers. The day before, our guides had spent several hours recovering a truck which had got its front wheels stuck in one such quagmire.

But that’s okay. The parched beauty of the salt pan suffices as an arresting photographic backdrop for the Everests; there is no need for escapades of the digging kind.

In any case, the day-long drive from the Okavango Delta had provided its share of adventure and a partial test of the newly-upgraded Everest’s abilities.

The upgrades are the same as those recently applied to the Ranger bakkie that this seven-seater SUV is based on, the most important being the introduction of two modern new turbo diesel four-cylinder engines and a new 10-speed automatic gearbox.

A new 2.0l Single Turbo with 132kW and 420Nm is offered in the mid-specced XLT 4x2 model.

Our steed for the Botswana expedition is the more powerful 2.0l Bi-Turbo, the same engine used in the new Ford Raptor double cab. It wields 157kW and 500Nm and outguns the much larger but older-generation 3.2l five-cylinder Duratorq TDCi by 10kW and 30Nm.

The existing 2.2 and 3.2l engines remain in the range, paired with the existing six-speed automatic transmission.

The new 2.0 Bi-Turbo flagship engine is a gutsy performer, its main selling point being its zealous and lag-free performance across the rev range thanks to there being one turbocharger to provide low-end torque, and a second one for high-end power.

This engine was barely tested by the lack of major inclines along our route, as Botswana is notoriously flat. However the meaty 500Nm of torque helped the Everest churn eagerly through deep sand, of which there is plenty during the Okavango’s dry winter season.

A bakkie-based ladder-frame chassis gives the Everest sturdy underpinnings for exploring rugged destinations. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
A bakkie-based ladder-frame chassis gives the Everest sturdy underpinnings for exploring rugged destinations. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

The Everest’s full-time intelligent all-wheel drive keeps off-roading simple by not requiring the driver to switch between 4x2 and 4x4, but there are different modes — for different conditions such as sand and rocks — that can be selected at the twist of a dial.

Sometimes I feel such modes can be a little gimmicky, but the sand setting did give the Everest distinctly more get-up-and-go when churning through Dakar Rally-like powdery turf.

Ford claims the Bi-Turbo engine with 10-speed gearbox is 9% more frugal than the 3.2 engine with the six-speed auto. Squirming through deep sand the Everest I drove averaged 12.4 lires per 100km, but once we hit the tar for a long cruise it reduced to just over 9.0l — quite frugal for such a behemoth.

Ten speeds is a lot of gears but the auto transmission is unobtrusive; it snicks smoothly and there’s no sense of it hunting for gears.

Ford’s seven-seater has also received updated styling and suspension to try to lure more buyers from the Toyota Fortuner, the sales leader in the medium SUV segment. The blue oval also sees the Everest as a viable alternative to the larger Toyota Prado.

The minor cosmetic tweak involves a redesigned grille and bumper, a new 20-inch wheel available on the range-topping Everest Limited, and the introduction of a new body colour called diffused silver.

Inside, new design details and the use of more soft-touch materials give the large cabin a classier feel. The Limited version is jazzed up with perforated leather, shadow chrome finishes and contrast stitching.

More soft-touch materials give the interior a classier feel. The well-sealed cabin impressively kept the dust out on the off-road trails. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
More soft-touch materials give the interior a classier feel. The well-sealed cabin impressively kept the dust out on the off-road trails. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

A new keyless entry and starting system further improves the well-stocked package in the XLT and Limited models. As before, the standard items include semi-automatic parallel park assist, adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert (which now recognises pedestrians as well as vehicles), lane keeping aid and lane departure warning, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring and auto high beam control.

The standard safety package across the line-up includes ABS brakes, stability control, trailer sway control, hill-start assist, hill descent control on 4x4 models and roll-over mitigation.

The SYNC3 with Navigation is standard on the upper models, linked to a 20cm touchscreen colour display, two USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

A bakkie-based ladder-frame chassis gives the Everest sturdy underpinnings for exploring rugged destinations such as the Okavango, and as part of its latest upgrade the suspension has been tweaked for enhanced ride quality and refinement, along with improved roll control and handling.

In contrast to the momentum-sapping soft sand we’d tackled earlier, the twisty approach road to the Makgadigkadi pans was hard-packed dirt that lent itself to exploring the Everest’s rallying credentials as we hastened to arrive at our camp before sunset.

With the adrenaline turned up the big Ford acquitted itself with a bump-soaking ride and a respectable lack of body roll — a setup that bred confidence to push the pace and bring out one’s inner Sarel van der Merwe.

Ford Everest pricing:

2.2 TDCi XLS 6AT 4x2 — R499,900

2.0 SiT XLT 10AT 4x2 — R584,900

2.0 BiT XLT 10AT 4x2 — R607,600

3.2 TDCi XLT 6AT 4x4 — R626,900

2.0 BiT XLT 10AT 4x4 — R669,500

2.0 BiT Limited 10AT 4x4 — R741,100

Prices include a four-year/120,000km warranty, three-year/unlimited distance roadside assistance and six-year/90,000km service plan   


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