Ford Everest. Picture: SUPPLIED
Ford Everest. Picture: SUPPLIED

Having made a big dent in Toyota Hilux’s dominance of the SA bakkie market, Ford has trained its sights on its posh brother, the Fortuner.

In three years, the Ford Ranger bakkie has gone from being just one of the herd to Toyota’s only real challenger in the volume stakes. Now, Ford Southern Africa marketing head Neale Hill hopes the new Everest sports utility vehicle (SUV) can do a similar job on the Fortuner.

With consumers worldwide demanding versatile vehicles, Ford, like other manufacturers, is feeding the frenzy. Almost a quarter of its sales globally are of SUVs. By 2020, says Hill, it’s forecast to rise to 29%.

Like the Hilux and Fortuner, the Ranger and Everest are manufactured off the same chassis. Until recently, however, the Everest was imported into SA. Now that it’s built at Ford’s Silverton, Pretoria, plant, the company can offer more derivatives.

Though there are plenty of other SUV competitors, Hill makes it clear that the Fortuner is the main target, and is betting that the Everest’s aggressive pricing and full house of technology will sway buyers.

There are eight turbo-diesel models, a mix of six-speed automatics and manuals. Five are driven by 2.2l engines and three by 3.2l. Two-wheel-drive versions start at R453,900 and 4x4s at R529,900.

Ford has gone out of its way to offer service and warranty packages superior to those of the Fortuner, and its service intervals, 20,000km apart, are double those of its rival.

Ultimately, however, it’s the vehicle itself that has to convince buyers and, based on the recent (admittedly brief) launch acquaintance, the Everest is a credible competitor.

Compared with the Fortuner’s sophisticated exterior styling, the Everest is a bit dull, and the seven-seater interior more functional. But there’s no such problem with the drive and handling. For occupants, the ride is very quiet, thanks to a particularly effective noise-cushioning system. There is also little of the roll that often typifies bakkie-based SUVs, though it would be going too far to say the ride is entirely car-like.

Power and acceleration are what you’d expect from such a vehicle; it’s definitely not a racer. Up to highway speed, it belts along without fuss. Offroad, the none-too-challenging 4x4 launch course posed few obstacles. I’d be interested to see how it fares under uncontrolled conditions.

First impressions are promising. Just don’t expect Toyota to sit still and let the challenge go unanswered.

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