The body-on-frame or bakkie-based SUV segment arguably represents the last bastion for the traditional multi-seat off-roader in lieu of the ongoing rise in popularity and importance of crossovers and more on-road focused model.
As has been the case for over a decade now, the segment has been the stronghold of the Toyota Fortuner with the only real opposition coming from the also locally built Ford Everest, albeit with a considerable gap in-between, with even less being provided by the Isuzu MU-X and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.
Unlike its Toyota Hilux sibling though, which occasionally has come under fire from the Ford Ranger, the Fortuner has been able to see the threat of the Everest off with relative ease as shown by the monthly Naamsa figures.
The familiar pattern has however not put the Blue Oval off from rolling out new models with its most recent addition being the Everest Sport that follows the same approach as the Ranger FX4 that currently resides in our long-term test fleet, in being an aesthetically enhanced version of the mid-tier XLT.
As editor Jaco van der Merwe pointed out in his launch report earlier this year, the Everest’s comparatively poor sales showing and inability to crest Mount Fortuner belies its talents with the Sport in particular representing an enticing alternative to the comparative Fortuner the 2.4 GD-6.
It was a sentiment that presented itself in the clearest possible sense when a panda Everest Sport 4×4 recently arrived for the customary weeklong stay.
Confirmed to be replaced next year by an all-new model, the Sport package, while only a cosmetic enhancer, has worked a treat in endowing the Everest XLT with not only an uhmm… sporty persona, but an eye-catching suit the Fortuner cannot match.
Priced at R25 000 more than the XLT, which takes the sticker price of the four-wheel-drive to R718 000, the Sport gets a blacked-out mesh pattern grille based on that of the FX4, black mirror caps and door handles, LED headlights and daytime running diodes not offered on the XLT, a gloss black lower air intake and skidplate, Ebony black roof rails and menacing gloss black 20-inch alloy wheels also taken from the FX4.
Adding to the side steps are Sport decals on the tailgate and at the base of the rear doors, as well as gloss black block letter Everest badging on the bonnet that combines with the Frozen White paint finish to create a stunner that eschews the adage of boring black-and-white.
It is inside though where matters start to unravel somewhat for the Sport. Sans the leather upholstery, electric height adjustable driver’s seat, Sport embroidered front headrests, gloss black inserts and blue stitching, the cabin is beginning to show its age not just restricted to the dated CD receiver, but also in the use of cheap feeling plastics around the dual-zone climate control dials and to the touch in the case of the silver air vent surrounds.
Like the Ranger though, the dated design is still logically laid-out and while not equipped with embedded satellite navigation, the SYNC 3 eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is as simple to use and understand as ever with the added integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as dual USB ports and voice recognition.
Despite its XLT foundations, the made-in-Silverton Sport’s specification sheet is anything but sparse in that it comes as standard with a reverse camera plus front and rear parking sensors, an eight-speaker sound system, push-button start, second and third air vents with separate control panel, cruise control, keyless entry, rain sense wipers, Hill Descent Control, Rollover Mitigation and Hill Launch Assist to name but a few.
An area where the Sport also impressed was space. Despite the third-row being wholly unsuitable for anyone but small children, second-row head-and-legroom left little to be desired as did the folding mechanism for the seats that are split 60/40 and 50/50 in the case of the rears.
In terms of practicality, boot space is rated at 250-litres with all seven seats in use, but dropping the third row frees up an additional 800-litres. With the second and third rows folded flat, total boot space comes to a cavernous 2 010-litres.
It is however on the move where the Sport impresses. Like in the FX4, motivation comes from the single turbo 2.0-litre turbodiesel Panther engine that produces 132kW/420Nm.
While seemingly inept for the portly 2 360 kg Sport, and saddled with a rather raucous soundtrack even at the national limit, the Port Elizabeth-built unit offers a linear power delivery with enough in reserve should you feel the urge to burry your right foot more into the carpet.
Hooked to the now widely used ten-speed automatic gearbox, the drivetrain, like in the FX4, suits the Everest better than the bi-turbo, however, its penchant for skipping gears did result in it being found lacking for grunt on a few occasions. For the most part, it propels the Sport along with ease and recorded a best indicated consumption of 8.8 L/100 km.
Just as impressive was the Sport’s prowess off-road. While the course it traversed hardly rated as mountaineering up the side of the piece of earth it is named after, the Terrain Management system, which comes with four modes; Normal, Snow/Grass/Mud, Sand and Rock, guided the Everest over the sandy and rocky obstacles with ease, especially the latter which can only be selected when in row-range.
Away from putting its 225 mm of ground clearance in close proximity to the rough stuff, nevermind the locking rear differential, the Sport’s ride was another highlight with the suspension ironing the various imperfections out with supple ease while offering a soft ride instead of the bumpy feel normally associated with the bakkie foundations.
Defined as “an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities”, the sweet spot description in more ways than one applies to the Ford Everest Sport as it offers all the attributes of the XLT with an extra visual touch that is both tasteful and restrained.
While admittedly less powerful than the step-up 3.2 TDCi XLT 4×4 priced at R729 700 and the bi-turbo XLT at R759 400, it makes for a more complete package not deterred by its sibling or its arch rival.