First Drive: Ford Everest Wildtrak & XLT
Just writing the heading sentence of this article, I needed to press the Backspace button on my PC. Why? Muscle memory dictates that Ford's Wildtrak badge exclusively belongs to the Ranger. But, evidence suggests that Ford was never planning to keep the orange hues and ready-for-adventure disposition of the Wiltrak exclusively for its Ranger line… The elsewhere-only Bronco Wildtrak and now the locally-available Everest has received the coveted Wildtrak badge.
So, why now? We can speculate all day and conjure up creative conspiracies, but at the end of the day, all decisions are motivated by sales. The pre-existing line-up consisted of two core specifications; the Everest Sport, an upmarket iteration of the XLT (I'll get to it in a minute) and the chrome-and-luxury-infused Platinum.
Design and Style
What about the buyers then, who want something more than what the Sport offers with its 2.0-litre BiTurbo, but the no-expenses-spared Platinum is either out of reach, too blingy, or too OTT? See… it's a sales game with Ford increasing its spread. Enter the Everest Wildtrak. Ford is positioning it to be the SUV with everything you want without the frills you probably don't. Make no mistake, though; it's a looker with its 20" Wildtrak-spec wheels which Ford says it's willing to swap with 18-inchers wrapped in all-terrain tyres at no additional cost, blacked-out crossbars across the grille, a black and Bolder Grey (bottom crossbar) grille surround and Wildtrak lettering across the bonnet, just to ensure there's no confusion.
The XLT, now positioned as the bar of entry into the Everest range, is ever so slightly more subtle with a chrome-accented grille minus the jutting surrounds found on the Wildtrak. It's not apparent, as a side-to-side comparison is probably needed for the spot-the-differences game. Still, standard wheels on the XLT are 18", and while the ones on the Wildtrak are what most buyers would ideally want, there are not huge distinctions on the attractiveness scales since the XLT, even as the more affordable model, is still a mega attractive SUV – especially coated in the right colours. I'd personally recommend the Sedona Orange tint.
Inside, both the Wildtrak and XLT models are near-equally well-equipped while maintaining their particular charm. The XLT, in terms of trim, is an almost identical image of the Sport with partial leather seat trim. It still features 8-way-adjustable power seats in the front, and to keep you informed – and entertained – while on the move, it has an 8" digital instrument cluster and a 12" tablet-style infotainment screen powered by Ford's SYNC 4A software.
The Wildtrak, on the other hand, slightly ups the ante in the trim department with all of the above while adding Ford's signature 'Cyber Orange' stitching on the dash, the full-leather seats (Wildtrak) and Wildtrak emblems on the seat backs. The Wildtrak also adds an E-Shifter that automatically selects 'Park' should you forget it in 'Drive' when switching off the engine – a feature we're sure could be leveraged for an insurance discount… It also adds a 400 W inverter that, while unavailable on the XLT, is standard fare on the Sport, Wildtrak and Platinum.
Ford has masterfully blurred the lines between the cabin feel of the XLT and Wildtrak, with only marginal nice-to-haves distinguishing the pricier model – despite the inherent chasm that should exist between the two trim levels. What irked me, though, is the exclusion of the 360-degree camera with split-view display that isn't available as standard on the Everest Wildtrak, despite it being a feature the Ranger Wildtrak rolls out with. One could argue the economics of the Thai-built Everest and the locally-built Ranger. Still, it dramatically improves the trail driving experience – where the Wildtrak is positioned – since the high-rise bonnet lines of the Everest don't exactly improve visibility. For what it's worth, it's a standard feature on the range-topping Platinum.
Driving: XLT vs Wildtrak
The distinction between the XLT and Wildtrak becomes more apparent on the driving front. The XLT is powered by Ford's 2.0-litre bi-turbodiesel engine that delivers 154 kW of power and 500 Nm of torque. All this grunt is delivered via a 10-speed automatic transmission that sends drive to the wheels. Buyers can choose between a two-wheel or part-time four-wheel-drive derivative, with the latter featuring the now-mainstay electronic shift-on-the-fly ability. While the power and torque delivery proves more than enough for the sizable SUV with only slight hesitance to get going, the 10-speed gearbox, something that plagued older Fords, deserves an honorary mention. Its ability to cope with driver input demands has placed it a rung above its predecessor with programming that's considerably better at interpreting inputs.
The Wildtrak ups the ante with the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine borrowed from the range-topping Platinum. It thumps out a respectable 184 kW and 600 Nm and, with it, brings a more dynamic character to the Everest. While none of the derivatives are to be taken as a slouch, the V6 brings an added level of depth to the Everest nameplate with a characteristic-of-a-diesel-V6 soundtrack filling the cabin and an overtaking ability that belies the weight of the Everest. Both models have a rotary drive mode selector for various scenarios (XLT 4x2 doesn't include Mud/Ruts and Sand) and an electronic shift-on-the-fly. The Wildtrak adds 4A that automatically distributes drive to the wheels with optimum traction.
XLT or Wildtrak?
Both the XLT and Wildtrak models serve a particular driver with a specific budget. Starting at R832,400 for the XLT 4x2 (R896,300 for the 4x4), even the entry point into Everest ownership isn't what one would call cheap, but, despite it being no shrinking violet, it offers a value-first approach without some of the frills. The Wildtrak, on the other hand, is the heavy-handed, off-road-in-style offering that suits all conceivable environments – it will be equally at home in a parking lot and on an off-road trail with a competent V6 that can handle most demands.
The best part? Whether you choose the XLT or the Wildtrak, you won't feel like you're compromising. Ford has done a commendable job ensuring that the XLT, or the Wildtrak for that matter, doesn't feel like the budget-skate sibling.
- Everest XLT 2.0L BiT 4x2 10AT R832,400
- Everest XLT 2.0L BiT 4x4 10AT R896,300
- Everest Sport 2.0L BiT 4x2 10AT R918,500
- Everest Sport 2.0L BiT 4x4 10AT R984,800
- Everest Wildtrak 3.0L V6 4WD 10AT R1,084,000
- Everest Platinum 3.0L V6 4WD 10AT R1,146,500