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

Our Opinion

We like
Refinement, performance, economy, dynamics, familiar Territory appeal and practicality
Room for improvement
Dashboard a tad too FG Falcon-esque

5 Apr 2011

FORD Australia’s product-led recovery begins today with the launch of one of the nation’s most important – as well as impressive – new models to date, the comprehensively upgraded SZ Territory.

Representing much more than a mere nip and tuck, the belated midlife makeover finally realises the full potential of Australia’s first and only locally designed and manufactured mid-sized SUV with the long-awaited adoption of diesel power – just as its late visionary father Geoff Polites intended.

A $3250 option on the entry-level $39,990 TX five-seater petrol model, and now the sole powerplant for every all-wheel drive Territory, the 2.7-litre Duratorq TDCi V6 diesel will invariably overshadow the many other deep-seated improvements to what still remains one of our favourite vehicles some seven years after its launch.

For 2011, the Territory also brings a measurably more economical yet gutsier 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol powerplant that now pushes out 195kW and 391Nm of torque.

The revised Territory is also safer, thanks to the latest Bosch electronic stability control system that now includes Roll-Over Mitigation, as well as a new driver’s knee airbag for all models.

There is also a new ‘pinched’ nose design that is said to preview what future big Fords will look like, the application of a six-speed automatic transmission across the entire range, a completely redesigned dashboard that at last features the latest touch-screen audio, media, navigation and phone technologies.

Ford says the development regime for its facelifted homegrown crossover took in over 800,000km of real-world testing – from Australia and New Zealand to Sweden, Alaska and the deserts of North America’s Death Valley.

However, early expectations turned to concern as it emerged prior to our pre-launch drive that the Territory’s perfectly tuned hydraulic rack-and-pinion power steering system – a highlight of the outgoing SY model - was giving way to a new electronic power steering (EPS) system.

After all, our time with similar systems in the latest Fiesta, launched in 2009, and the upcoming MkIII Focus showed that Ford had not quite matched old with new.

But no pre-conceived ideas could have prepared us for our first experience behind the wheel of the Territory TDCi.

With its new front-end, revised alloy wheels, fresh colours and a subtly reshaped rear-end with new tail-lights, the SZ is sufficiently altered in appearance to its long-lived predecessor to appear genuinely different.

Worryingly, the same is less true inside, since the Territory adopts much of the dashboard architecture that debuted in the 2008 FG Falcon (including its steering wheel, centre console switchgear and instrument dials), making it feel a little too familiar.

On the other hand, while out first taste of the 2011 Territory came in the form of a base TX TDCi with optional AWD, the TS and Titanium models positioned further upstream benefit from a larger centre touch-screen housing the whiz-bang new infotainment systems, so the Falcon effect is less pronounced here.

As before, the Territory’s cabin is remarkably commodious and inviting, with a spacious and unintimidating ambience that has helped Ford sell well over 100,000 units since 2004.

The driving position is agreeably elevated and easy to gel with, there is acres of space for adults in all five positions (the third row is an option on the TX), and the fit and finish of our pilot-build vehicle left us with no reason to doubt Ford hasn’t succeeded in its latest quality drive.

Then we turned the key and the sound of a quietly idling six-cylinder engine left us wondering whether the long-anticipated TDCi V6 that Ford co-developed with Jaguar Land Rover and PSA Peugeot-Citroen was indeed lurking beneath the Territory’s new bonnet.

Only after we cracked open the door to check the tailgate badge did the familiar diesel clatter flood in. Back inside, unless you are specifically listening out for it, the engine up ahead may as well be slurping petrol.

But that was just the first surprise from the Territory TDCi. Once warmed up and on the move, only the lower rev-meter markings – as well as the unmistakable torquey whoosh of available acceleration – betray the engine as an oil-burner.

We expect this level of noise insulation in a $100,000 SUV from Germany, but not in a $50K Ford. In short, the Territory diesel’s refinement levels astounded us for the duration of our 200km drive in all manner of city and urban driving.

Being AWD, our TX included the reengineered front differential, which is now mounted on the engine sump rather than on the chassis. As a result, it contributes to decreased noise, vibration and harshness, and is bolstered by a new ‘active’ transfer case that decouples drive via a clutch mechanism when the brakes are applied during idle, to eliminate another source of sound.

And what of the TDCi’s performance? With its muscular 440Nm of torque coming in from a relatively low 1900rpm, the 2.7L overcomes its relatively small displacement to give this 2000kg-plus SUV ample acceleration pretty much from standstill.

Even with all five seats occupied, air-con on and a decent load in the cargo area, the Territory is a lively performer. At a 110km/h cruise the engine is barely turning over, yet just a tickle of the throttle will have the Ford lunging forward. Brilliant.

The ZF-sourced six-speed automatic transmission deserves plenty of the credit here, as it is a perfect match to the diesel’s power characteristics. Again, words like slick, effortless and responsive spring to mind, as well as premium and upmarket.

The icing on this tasty new Territory cake is combined fuel consumption of 8.2 litres per 100km for RWD models (increasing to up to 9.0L/100km for AWD versions), but claims fuel-efficiency increases to just 6.5L/100km on the highway - and the slightly higher figures we achieved leave us no reason to doubt that.

Ford says it benchmarked the SZ against Land Rover’s Discovery and the BMW X5, and that’s another claim we have no reason to question when it comes to the SZ TDCi’s dynamics.

We could not drive old and new back-to-back, but we doubt anybody other than a long-time owner or Ford engineer will be able distinguish the old hydraulic steering from the new model’s EPS.

Light at low speeds yet satisfyingly meaty in the middle and completely natural and predictable at all times, the helm remains the cornerstone of why we love driving the Territory so much.

It delivers the sort of feedback and response that remains rare in most modern sedans – let alone SUVs. That old cliché of the car shrinking around you on the move is true for the Ford SUV, even with a 200kg-plus diesel engine and an electric steering system in the engine bay.

We decided to take the Territory TDCi on our secret hot-hatch driving course, to see how tight turns, potted road surfaces and uneven cambers affect the way it really steers. But it was here that the Ford shone with sedan-style handling and incredible body control and composure.

It left us wondering if there is a more fun and interactive SUV of any size available at this price.

Our only criticism is that a heavy right foot is necessary to get the diesel racing up the hillier parts. Here the V6’s lack of cubic centimetres is telling, but we doubt most buyers will be pummelling the Territory as we did.

And what of the I6? A few more kiloWatts and Newton metres mean the Territory petrol is still a powerful and strong ally, particularly as this RWD-only version’s newfound pairing with the ZF six-speed auto means that there are sizeable improvements in economy and driveability on offer for buyers of the base models.

Furthermore, the cornucopia of sound-deadening and refinement enhancing materials – wind noise is down to the tune of 30 per cent, Ford says – results in a palpably quieter experience. Imagine being in the old Territory but with earplugs in – that’s how much more hushed the SZ with the 4.0L six seems.

All in all then, the changes transform what is already a likeable, award-winning wagon into what might just be one of the greatest SUV buys on the planet right now. Adding diesel power and economy makes the 2011 Territory TDCi one of the most relevant vehicles every made in this country, while its appealingly cheaper petrol sibling is a very, very hard act to beat.

But the diesel is the star.

A subtle massage of a very successful package that has stood the test of time well gives the chassis a newfound tautness, control and confidence and – combined with the TDCi’s muscular power delivery and luxury-car refinement – transforms the Territory into a true world-class vehicle.

Lately the media has speculated about the future of the Falcon and Territory as Australian-designed, engineered and built vehicles once the current crop of cars come up for renewal around the middle of this decade.

Given the accomplishments of the Territory TDCi diesel alone, that would be a national tragedy.

In fact, we reckon a Ford sales renaissance is inevitable as a result, making anything possible for the Blue Oval in Australia going forward. Geoff Polites’ vision of what the Broadmeadows team can deliver is now a reality. Drive the new Territory for yourself to see what we mean.

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