SUV rivals in battle to own roads

By LERATO MATEBESE

The battle lines have been boldly drawn in the sand. The large sport utility vehicle (SUV) market is something of a fracas at the moment with the Ford Everest – which is now being built in South Africa – and the Toyota Fortuner, which has received a minor update, continuing scrambling to be the leader.

And whether Chevrolet has done enough to its Trailblazer to weigh in on the fight remains to be seen.

Toyota has been a dominant force in this segment with its Fortuner, but do the latest updates hint at an untold story that we should be reading between the lines? Is the mighty Fortuner under siege, quivering in its boots as the competition strengthens?

HOME-BUILT: The new Ford Everest range includes eight derivatives and three specification levels  Picture: QUICKPIC
HOME-BUILT: The new Ford Everest range includes eight derivatives and three specification levels. Picture: QUICKPIC

Well, we reckon it’s not the time for Toyota to rest on its laurels.

And the new updates, just months after the release of the latest generation Fortuner, mean it is taking the opposition quite seriously this time around.

It has been somewhat of an uphill battle for Ford’s Everest (which was initially imported from Thailand) since its launch locally in September last year and which was formerly available only in two trim levels – the XLT and Limited – both powered by a 3.2l five-potter from the Ranger.

It was a great package, but it was rather expensive with a starting price of R593000, rising to R646900 for the flagship Limited variant. In its defence, it looked butch in a manner only a purposeful American model can, while cabin appointments were comprehensive on both models, something that the long-in-the-tooth previous Toyota Fortuner could not beat.

From the starting blocks, the Everest had everything but price going for it.

TITLE HOLDER: The popular Toyota Fortuner is still the country’s top- selling SUV Picture: QUICKPIC
TITLE HOLDER: The popular Toyota Fortuner is still the country’s top- selling SUV. Picture: QUICKPIC

Enter the new Toyota Fortuner and right off the bat, the Japanese manufacturer seems to have made strides in the overall exterior design of the vehicle, which now looks more purposeful and SUV-like than its predecessor.

There is an air of Lexus about it, particularly at the rear, with those LED-equipped tail lights.

Thankfully, the premium theme also moves inwards with the latest Fortuner now sporting soft-touch materials and comfortable electric leather pews.

Now the model has been given a minor tweak to make it a more attractive proposition, thanks to the inclusion of bigger 18-inch alloy wheels on the 2.8 GD6 and 4.0l V6 variants, while both the 2.7l petrol and 2.4l turbodiesel now come standard with leather seats instead of the previous cloth material.

All this, according to Toyota, has been done without increasing the price on the respective models.

Ford responded to Toyota’s arsenal by manufacturing the Everest locally, which places it on an equal footing with the locally made Fortuner.

Ford has also made available five new 2.2l turbodiesel derivatives in both XLS and XLT to compete squarely with the fairly impressive 2.4l turbodiesel in the Fortuner line-up.

While the latter also has the 2.7l petrol variant, it is not the most popular derivative as the market in the segment leans towards diesel models, so I don’t foresee Ford making a four-cylinder petrol Everest available.

Driving the 2.8 GD6 in automatic guise reminded me of how remarkably improved the new Fortuner is, even compared with the Everest.

However, the latter’s Sync infotainment system works more intuitively than the Fortuner’s unit, which has an array of buttons on either side of the screen that take time to get accustomed to. The Everest has received an upgraded Sync 3 infotainment system, which is said to offer even more innovative ways of staying connected.

Then there’s the matter of the folding rearmost seats in the Fortuner, which still fold against the D-pillar, which creates a severe blindspot, while the actual operation of folding the seats is quite a task in itself. Here, the Everest creams the Toyota, thanks to seats that fold flush to the floor, therefore not encroaching severely into the available boot space.

Tactile quality, however, swings in the Toyota’s favour, thanks to the softer finishes, although the faux leather-covered dash is hard to the touch.

Going head to head, we found the engine in the Everest 3.2 XLT feels the gutsier, thanks to a larger swept area and lack of turbo lag compared with the Fortuner’s 2.8, which admittedly feels smoother than its rather agricultural 3.0l D-4D predecessor.

We have yet to drive the 2.2l Everest, but if the Ranger automatic we sampled a few months ago, which shares the same engine, is anything to go by, then the Everest should be a capable performer.

The Ford Everest’s pricing now starts at a more competitive R453900 to R698900, while the Fortuner is priced from R438000 to R660600.

Toyota SA says it will continuously evaluate its Fortuner offerings and tweak them according to market demand.

The manufacturer will not wait for a facelift to respond to the competition, which is a great thing, but could see pre-updated Fortuner owners becoming a little upset.

However, those who get their hands on updated versions will be buying a more relevant model.

It is safe to say that the battle between the Everest and Fortuner looks set to rage on.

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