Ever(est) ready for adventure

WILLIAM GREEN loves wild adventures but loathes braving holiday traffic to get to the remote places he likes to explore. He also loves his Ford Ranger Raptor. So, when he was ‘forced’ to drive the latest Everest on a recent trip, he was understandably reluctant… would the Everest be able to conquer Africa’s roads?

”Rather try out the new Ford Everest for your trip to the Wild Coast,” a friend suggested, just as I had planned our route down to the Transkei in my much-loved Ford Ranger Raptor. I’d been to those parts twice in the last few months and had a good idea of what the roads looked like. There may have been a time when they looked decent but now, as we are fully aware, they they are stuffed – regardless of whether you travel on tar or dirt! Which is why the Raptor would have been the ideal vehicle, but my parents taught me not to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially a generous one, so I agreed. I could choose between the Platinum 3.0-diesel V6 with 184kW and 600Nm on tap, or the 2.0-litre bi-turbo Sport providing 154kW and 500Nm, both paired to Ford’s 10-speed automatic gearbox.

My choice of the Sport was both practical and economical. We were going to be driving a couple of thousand kilometres and fuel isn’t exactly cheap. Also, the 20-inch rims with higher-profile tyres were going to handle the bad roads better than the Platinum’s 21-inch alloys. So, the white Everest Sport duly arrived at the office, ready for another adventure.

The first thing I checked was if it had an inverter for a camping fridge and freezer. Bingo! We would be able to keep meat frozen and have a constant supply of ice, while the veggies and other goodies that needed to stay cool would be sorted too. I’d asked before delivery whether Tracks4Africa was loaded onto the impressive 12-inch touchscreen infotainment setup with its new Sync 4A operating system like it was in the previous generation, but unfortunately that was a negative.

More on that later, but I did have a detailed Wild Coast Slingsby map with waypoints. Yes, an actual paper map that you can fold out on the dining room table or the car’s bonnet. Remember those?

We would be away for 16 days so there was a lot that needed to be packed including luggage, two fridges, cooler box, portable braai, beach chairs, food in ammo boxes and according to my partner, the whole of the Amazon Forest. Because you know – braai.

Dropping the second and third row of seats of the seven-seater revealed its 1 276 litres of rear space, about the size of a studio apartment in Sea Point. We loaded it up and turned the nose towards the KZN South Coast for two nights at my parents’ home before crossing into the Eastern Cape. Considering how much we were carrying, acceleration was smooth throughout the trip and once we got down to sea level the bi-turbo gained slightly more punch with the extra oxygen at its disposal.

Our phones connected easily while my partner’s phone rested on the charging pad allowing us to listen to music. A word of advice on music and driving the N3 during peak holiday season – choose calm vibes otherwise you’re going to become apoplectic and end up in ICU. I say it every year when the Transport Minister releases holiday traffic stats: South Africans must be some of the worst and most aggressive drivers in the world. We have no respect or consideration for other road users, gladly putting ourselves, our families and others in mortal danger.

I wondered how many of those cars were fitted with a Lane Keeping System, which includes Lane Keeping Alert and Lane Keeping Aid, along with Road Edge Detection and Driver Warning, Pre Collision Assist with Dynamic Brake Support, Forward Collision Warning and Automated Emergency Braking, not forgetting ABS and a swathe of airbags, like the Everest is. I stopped counting how many drivers I saw with a beer or a glass in their hands or cup holders and it seemed okay to throw empties and fast-food packets out the window (everywhere we drove) with gay abandon. Perhaps Hunter S Thompson had South Africa in mind in his book Generation of Swine…

Oh, and if there’s a massive truck accident (don’t get me started on the trucks) with bodies under silver blankets, the emergency lane is basically used to jump in front of the queue. Say something and you’re threatened and abused. Right, rant over. But I wasn’t going to be doing stop-start driving for a few hundred kilometres and put us at risk from crazed lunatics, so I turned off at Harrismith onto the R74, past the Sterkfontein Dam, down Oliviershoek Pass and back onto the N3 at Winterton. Rains have washed away part of the pass but at least it’s being repaired.

It was the first time I’d be driving the Everest fully loaded along some tight turns. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it did thanks, in part, to the 50mm increase in the new Everest’s track and tweaks to the suspension. It’s still a large SUV but even when quick action is needed to avoid the inevitable potholes it holds the line well with slight body roll quickly taken care of by that suspension. Steering is light and direct, which turned out to be a blessing later when we turned off to Coffee Bay and were confronted by a road that had been completely destroyed. The rest of our time on the N3 and N2 was uneventful and we set the cruise control to take us to Leisure Bay. Not exactly stress free but at least the seats were comfortable for the nine or so hours we spent in the cabin. We spent a few days with the family before we punched White Clay Resort into the GPS, filled the tank and started the journey to Coffee Bay. At this stage the fuel readout showed 9.5 litres/100km.

The route took us through a couple of smaller towns which – considering that this was the so-called ‘high season’ – were overflowing with people and cars loading up. It took quite a while to get through them, not helped by whatever loadshedding stage we were on and the sound of the multiple generators on the pavements.

Taking a left a few kilometres after Mthatha the fun and games began. I’ve seen some buggered roads but what the GPS showed as Main Road must be one of the worst I have ever driven. The last 35km is all but destroyed and we snaked our way behind taxis and locals trying to avoid the carnage. Some weren’t so lucky, and we counted five cars stranded next to the road with damaged rims and tyres.

Our saving grace were the tyres on the Everest, but even then, it took careful driving on and next to the road to try and avoid the worst… turning a trip that shouldn’t take longer than half an hour into an hour-and-a-half ordeal. I’m not exaggerating when I say it looked like the Nazis’ scorched earth destruction as they retreated from the advancing Allies.

Holiday mode activated

Comfortable accommodation, magnificent views, a fire and a drink eased us into holiday mode. Our neighbours on either side were in larger family units and it didn’t take long before they asked about the Everest. One was a long-time Ranger fan who had been waiting for the new one to hit the showrooms and on completion of a thorough inspection he confirmed his appreciation. As he and his wife walked away we could hear them discussing whether perhaps the Everest wasn’t more suited for their family rather than the double cab.

The Wild Coast really is wild but beautiful, with unspoilt beaches, clear water and bountiful sea life that regularly landed on the coals. It’s also a fantastic place to head into the wilderness and explore some of the lesser visited areas. Almost all of the roads are dirt, some in better condition than others but mostly in a state of disrepair, thanks to years of neglect and lots of rain.

All our driving was done in 4H using the Mud & Ruts or Sand modes selected via the dial in the centre console. Pushing the off-road icon on the 12-inch vertical screen reveals some cool graphics as you drive. To make the roads a bit more bearable we dropped the tyre pressure to 1.5 bar to allow for a slightly softer ride.

Using the map that had some of the GPS coordinates to the places we wanted to go we punched the first one in, but for love or money it wouldn’t allow us to plan a route with follow-up coordinates. No matter how many times we tried, it wouldn’t come to the party and the electronic owner’s manual only gave a very basic description of its functions. Google couldn’t help either because reception was sketchy at best. Back to the map then, and after spending some time at the stunning Hole in the Wall we took a drive inland.

Eventually the rain became so bad that we turned back, so I typed in the resort’s destination and followed the voice prompts. It started out well but because I’m a man (yes, I’ve always identified as one) asking directions isn’t my strong suit and anyway this has the latest technology. I suspected something was amiss when we crawled through a soggy tree laden spoor and ended in a dead end in front of one of the many spaza shops scattered all over the area. A bemused gogo gave us directions in broken English and from then on the GPS discussion was taboo and it was used again only once we hit the road back to Mthatha.

Days were spent fishing, reading, driving to different beaches and interesting locations, constantly on the lookout for Transkei traffic calming methods… cows, goats, pigs, dogs and sheep or as the locals call them, the big five. Because of this there was a lot of stop-start driving and idling, which pushed consumption to just over 13 litres/100km when we reluctantly repacked significantly lighter to go back to the big smoke.

My partner spent a good few hours behind the wheel both on tar and dirt and commented that, despite her small stature, the driving position was comfortable and easy to set. When we pulled into the driveway after a much less stressful drive home, we had covered 2 932km and consumption had dropped back to a more respectable 10 litres/100km.

The Ford Everest is the ideal family SUV that will serve you well, whether it’s the daily grind, towing or going on holiday. Seven proper seats, a cavernous interior, comfortable driving position, decent handling, technology, safety and exterior design put it at the top of the family SUV pile.

Would I have one instead of the Ford Raptor? Probably not. Not because the Everest is average, because it is far from that. The Raptor just suits my lifestyle better.

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