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Car reviews - Ford - Territory - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, ride/handling, interior flexibility, styling, versatility, price
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption, some mismatched interior plastics, no lockable glovebox

23 Apr 2004

WAY back when it was revealed Ford Australia had approval to develop a Falcon-based cross-over at a cost of $500 million – around the same money it invested to produce the effectively new BA Falcon – the view of many in the industry was that the last thing Australia needed was another Ford SUV.

As details of the all-new product – a vision passionately backed by former president Geoff Polites - began to be leaked out over the next six years, however, it became apparent that E265, as it was codenamed, would be much more than a higher-riding Falcon wagon with a more flexible interior.

In the interim, direct rivals from Toyota (Kluger) and Holden (Adventra) were released, exerting even more pressure on Ford to get right what it has described as one of Australia’s most significant new vehicles ever. And to make the investment pay by attracting more buyers than any other SUV sold here.

Now we’ve driven it, the extent of Ford’s investment and its engineering ambitions are clearly apparent. And, after an extensive 450km first drive over the varied sealed and unsealed roads of New Zealand’s south island, it seems Territory really could be the vehicle a large slice of Australians have been looking for.

Shorter than the BA Falcon with which it shares the majority of its components, more stylish than the bland looking Kluger and a more cohesive and unique product than the Commodore wagon-based Adventra AWD, Territory was extensively benchmarked against its major SUV rivals, including luxury class leaders like BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz M-class and Lexus’ previous RX300.

The result is a relatively compact looking, high-riding wagon with distinct off-road styling cues and the capacity for seven seats. Territory differs significantly in philosophy, however, via its ability to be had in rear-drive configuration only, giving it a marked price advantage.

Even in AWD guise, however, Territory undercuts the entry-level Kluger AWD by $1000, although Holden has yet to release a cheaper V6-powered version of Adventra.

Inside, Territory’s Falcon origins are immediately apparent, with a familiar BA-based centre console housing major interior system controls complimented by a new-look, chequer-plate instrument design. Falcon-like it may be, but that’s not such a bad thing given the advances made by the BA interior.

Biggest change from the driver’s seat, however, is the vastly improved vision afforded by the totally redesigned glasshouse.

A 30mm higher dashboard, similarly higher roofline, much thinner pillars all round, larger wing mirrors and the relocation of Falcon’s intrusive A-pillars combine to produce a much roomier cockpit that provides greater visibility in all directions – despite height-adjustable head restraints for all seven seats.

In tandem with the increased ride height, which also makes exit/entry easier, Territory’s airier cabin offers a far more commanding view of the road ahead and behind, as well as of the scenery for rear-seat passengers.

The seats themselves are also a big advancement on Falcon’s, despite using the same seat frames on taller posts. Power-adjustable for seat cushion angle and height in base form, they’re much more liberally padded to suit the more upright posture and deliver higher levels of both lateral support and long-distance comfort.

The excellent (optional) leather steering wheel is a pearler as well – compact in diameter, thick-rimmed, nicely padded beneath its perforated leather cladding and with useful hand grips.

On the road, an afternoon’s drive around the urban roads of Christchurch - including slow traffic situations, shopping centre parking and other tight-turning situations – revealed Territory to be a breath of fresh air in terms of city driving for a seven-seat SUV.

Though its 25mm longer wheelbase ensures Territory doesn’t quite match Falcon’s 11.0-metre turning circle, at a reasonable 11.4 metres (matching Kluger and out-turning Adventra by half a metre), somehow it feels just as nimble thanks to a clear view of all four corners and a noticeably higher perspective.

But the most obvious trait on the road is cabin quietness, Territory offering superior noise suppression from wind, road and engine than Falcon at any speed.

Tyre noise is slightly more apparent in AWD variants with their all-terrain biased tyres – and it’s slightly louder in the back, too, as is an occasional Falcon-type suspension knock – but overall, while Territory doesn’t match its luxury SUV rivals, it offers a level of cabin serenity unseen in any locally produced Ford.

The refinement continues on the open road, where Territory is quiet and civilised all the way to its artificial 180km/h speed limit, feeling noticeably slower than its Falcon stablemate only in top gear on the open road, especially up long inclines, where it runs out of urge sooner.

That stands to reason for a 2000kg vehicle (extending to 2100kg in the Ghia AWD), which means the other trade-off over Falcon is increased fuel consumption. Officially listed at 13.1L/100km for RWD variants and 13.5L/100km for AWD variants, Territory’s fuel consumption doesn’t match the lighter, less powerful Kluger.

We averaged anywhere between 15 and 20 litres per km in New Zealand, figures that put Territory firmly in the ballpark of some V8-powered luxury SUVs for fuel economy.

Territory maintains a surprisingly flat attitude even when pushed, despite the impressive ride quality and a more supple ride that produces less head-toss than an X5 - and straight-line stability and well-weighted steering are other stand-out features.

Handling is very neutral, with neither front-end push or rear-end shove evident in most situations, either in RWD or AWD models.

On unsealed roads, Territory’s chassis balance and torsional strength presents itself via predictable, confidence-inspiring behaviour even on the loosest of surfaces. Of course, rear-drive variants offer a Falcon-like ability to power oversteer, provided the traction control system is switched off.

But, thanks to the 62 per cent rear-biased torque split of Territory’s AWD system (which employs slightly lower overall gearing, three open diffs and a German transfer case as used by Adventra and the previous X5, although it’s chain driven to improve noise, vibration and harshness, according to Ford) even AWD variants have a distinctly rear-drive feel to them.

But thanks to the 62 per cent rear-biased torque split of Territory’s AWD system, even AWD variants have a distinctly rear-drive feel to them

Of course, Territory’s advanced, fully switchable dynamic stability control system, which is unavailable on Adventra, makes light work of slippery situations, and an iced surface at a New Zealand proving ground demonstrated how intuitively and unobtrusively Territory is able to reduce engine torque and apply brake intervention to each individual wheel to maintain traction on all manner of surfaces.

More subtle than even BMW’s stability control, the Bosch 8.0-based system slips seamlessly between being totally passive to fully intervening, allowing a modicum of lift-off or power oversteer on greasy surfaces before reducing power then applying individual brakes to regain traction with impressive efficiency.

Territory also offers the most advanced hill descent control system available (as an option) by featuring a function that allows vehicle speed to be varied between a minimum of 4km/h and a maximum of 30km/h. It’s believed the system will also appear on the next-generation Discovery later this year. Territory’s standard power adjustable pedals are a boon, too.

Ground clearance isn’t one of Territory’s best attributes, its 178mm ride height (which is outdone by both Kluger and Adventra) being perhaps its greatest limiting factor in sand and deeply rutted trails, although Ford says the slightly protruding anti-roll bar linkages of the Control Blade IRS were never damaged in all its off-road development work.

The front cross member and exhaust guards provide reasonable under-body protection and an optional sump guard is available.

Without low-range gearing, it’s clear Territory, Kluger and Adventra – like their more expensive rivals in X5, ML, XC90, RX330, MDX and Allroad – are light-duty off-road propositions only, while the likes of Pajero and Prado are far more capable over a wider range of terrains.

That said, given the right preparation and a degree of caution, Territory will just as readily tackle cross-continent trips as its more rugged SUV competitors.

But where Territory shines is that it offers car-like ride, handling and comfort away from the beaten track, presenting less of a compromise for its owner in day-to-day use, with greater interior flexibility.

The more time one spends in Territory, the more attention to detail becomes obvious. All the fundamentals are there, including a three-point seatbelt and adjustable headrest for all seating positions, adjustable outboard seatbelt height, a separate-opening rear window, a low rear loading lip, three 12-volt power outlets, three overhead lights, a slide/fold function for the centre row that delivers a flat load space and enough headroom even in the third row to accommodate tall passengers reasonably comfortably.

There are even soft pads positioned to prevent noise and scuffing from the rear seatbelt buckles, and the only interior blights seem to be the absence of a locking glovebox, some subtly mismatched interior materials and creaking door skins in the pre-production vehicles we drove.

Ford says they are among the 30-odd final running changes to be made before job one is built. Oh, and the third row child seat anchors are mounted at the rear of the load space, limiting its functionality if child seats are placed in the rearmost seats.

The optional third row seat folds into a well under the cargo floor, which can be used for storage when seven seats are in use, and the centre row offers plenty of legroom even when positioned fully forward. Cupholders reside everywhere and there are large outboard storage bins, huge door pockets and an in-dash compartment.

There is a full-size spare located under the rear of the vehicle, lowered by an internal jack handle that’s stored in a rear side compartment and the optional tow pack has the capacity to tow up to 1600kg, matching the V8 Adventra.

Because of its more competitive pricetag, the forthcoming Adventra V6 will present a more viable alternative to Territory than the V8-only model currently offered by Holden, but there’s no disguising the Commodore wagon-based origins of Adventra, which offers inferior interior flexibility, refinement and technology.

Weight and fuel efficiency issues aside, Territory’s clever mix of passenger car-like performance, dynamics, safety and refinement, with people-mover-style flexibility and space, and the ability to tackle SUV-only terrains raises the bar for the Australian auto industry.

And we’re certain Territory will be a hit with a large number of sensible, adventurous Aussies, for whom the right mix of on and off-road practicality in a full-size Australian-made cross-over has proved elusive until now.

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