There’s nothing like breathing in fresh mountain air, they say. Except perhaps, making a huge braai fire on Heritage Day while taking in some stunning Drakensberg views.
That’s exactly what my partner and I decided to do this National Braai Day and the steed that took us there was the new Ford Everest 2.0 BiTurbo XLT, also named after a mountain albeit one that’s perhaps a little out the way.
When the third-generation Ford Everest was launched late last year it was the 3.0 V6 Platinum that stole the limelight with its brawny engine, luxurious interior and enough shiny chrome bits to get you past security at Steyn City.
But since then the Everest family, now imported from Thailand, has welcomed a pair of 2.0-litre BiT XLT variants that serve at the more affordable end of the scale.
Granted, affordable is a relative term when we’re talking R848,300 for the XLT 4x2 or R913,400 for the XLT 4x4 that we had on test. Yet they do save you a huge chunk of change versus other Everest 4WD models like the 2.0 BiT Sport (R936,000 to R1,040,800), 3.0 V6 Wildtrak (R1,115,700) and the Platinum (R1,180,000).
Because it was a self catering holiday, read: lots of braais and potjies, we made good use of the Everest’s 892 litre boot capacity with the third row seating folded flat. A much better configuration than the awkward jump seats in the Toyota Fortuner, that’s for sure.
Hitting the N3 highway we were immediately impressed with its on-road refinement. It’s really quiet for a bakkie-based SUV, but that’s no surprise because the Ranger it’s based on already feels more like an SUV than a load hauler.
The XLT comes with the same 12-inch (30cm) vertical touchscreen infotainment system as the more expensive models, and it really works a treat.
The system paired easily (and wirelessly) with our iPhones, which fit securely in the inductive charging pad, and without sliding out and disconnecting like they do in some other vehicles.
The 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine, with 154kW and 500Nm, provided adequate performance in spite of the Everest’s 2.3-tonne tare. You’re never going to feel a jolt when flattening the right pedal, but it has enough power and torque to propel the Everest comfortably, and to overtake safely when the need arises. Did I mention it’s also really smooth-revving and quiet for a diesel?
The Everest’s chassis composure got good marks too, even when the roads became twisty towards Underberg and then turned to gravel for our last stretch. The big SUV felt stable on all these surfaces and the ride was nothing short of comfortable.
This is the kind of vehicle that allows you to tackle dirt roads with confidence, and as a result the 40km gravel stretch that took us to Bushman’s Nek Resort felt much quicker than expected.
That said, I would ultimately prefer the safety net of automatically engaging all-wheel drive like you get in the V6 models with 4A mode. The XLT’s part-time 4WD system does however have all the bits and bobs you’ll ever need for the most challenging off-road trails, which we never got to in this instance.
After more than seven hours on the road we arrived at the resort, meeting up with good friends who had invited us for the week, and lighting up that all-important wood fire for Braai Day.
The views were something amazing too, with the lodge overlooking a meadow and a mountain range just beyond the nearby Lesotho border.
We also got to test the Everest’s capabilities as a seven seater while exploring the area with our friends and their little ones the following day, and the second and third rows provided more than sufficient room to keep everybody content.
Although it’s not as lavishly equipped as the more premium Everest models, the XLT is still well appointed, with the aforementioned infotainment as well as (partially synthetic) leather seats, with power adjustment for the front pews, keyless start, cruise control and a powered tailgate.
Although it lacks some of the Wildtrak’s fancy features like active cruise control, the XLT does have a decent selection of driver-assisting safety gadgets, such as Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert and Trailer Coverage, as well as Lane Keeping System, Automated Emergency Braking, Reverse Brake Assist and Hill Descent Control.
Overall consumption for the round trip was 9.2 litres per 100km, but if you were just ‘plain sailing’ on the freeway without all the twists and turns of a KZN country road, you’d likely improve on that figure.
Although it doesn’t have all the trappings of the more expensive Ford Everest models, the XLT is quite possibly all the SUV you’ll ever need, with its semi-luxurious cabin and refined road manners.
While its size might make it a bit cumbersome for city life and the narrow parking lots that come with it, the big SUV is truly in its element when you hit the open road.
But being more expensive than the opposition, due to it now being an import, the Everest doesn’t quite play the same value card as its locally-built Ranger cousin does in relation to its rivals. You’ll also have to pay extra for a service plan. But all round, it’s still a very impressive chunk of metal.