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Car reviews - Ford - Territory - Ghia AWD 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Overall concept, chassis behaviour, quietness, all-wheel drive system, interior concept and flexibility
Room for improvement
Fuel consumption, rear suspension noise, low speed ride

24 Jun 2004

AS an introduction to the new Ford Territory range, the Ghia is a luxurious place to start, with its leather interior trim, dual-zone climate control and all the other bells and whistles you would expect.

But what the Ghia also provides is something the entry-level TX and mid-spec TS (when it goes on-sale) also supply just as amply – proof that in engineering and design terms Ford Australia has successfully nailed the cross-over genre.

Now we wait to see whether that’s enough to capture the public's attention, hearts, minds and wallets. We reckon Territory’s got a great chance.

Not just because it’s Australian, but because it deserves to do well, such is the depth of thought that has gone into this vehicle.

Okay, if it came out of Japan or Europe we’d be marking Territory harder, but that’s because the price would start a lot higher than the entry-level rear-wheel drive TX’s $38,990 ask.

Even in the low $50K range the Ghia is good value, such is its stack of specification, in terms of both comfort and mechanical items.

It’s not perfect though – what vehicle is? At this early stage of its life Territory has some build quality issues which time and experience will hopefully deal with and it has another challenge which won’t be so easily overcome – fuel consumption.

Back when Territory was first being conceived petrol was 70 cents per litre on a bad day, and we all know what the story is now. Our 10 days and 2000km in Territory produced an average fuel consumption rate of 14.4L/100km. Easily acceptable at 70c, but a hard ask for a lot of people at $1.00.

In practical terms that means the Ghia’s 75 litre tank will take you a bit over 500km before requiring a refuel. That starts to get expensive if you’re covering a few kilometres off your own bat, like on holiday. Head for the more remote regions and you’ll need to take spare fuel.

What a pity there’s no turbo-diesel version, or even an LPG option to supplement the only powertrain choice initially offered, the Barra 182 4.0-litre inline six-cylinder and four-speed automatic lifted straight from the BA Falcon.

Not that the latest variable DOHC, 24-valve 182kW/380Nm version of the venerable inoline six is going to draw many complaints other than on fuel consumption these days.

It’s now the strong, silent type, attributes accentuated by the latest round of Ford noise attenuation efforts that put Territory a step ahead of BA Falcon. Be it engine, wind or road noise, the Territory is terrific.

The four-speed auto mates very well with the engine. There’s enough torque low down in the rev range to make the use of the manual shifter only really necessary when you are looking for some engine braking assistance. Whack it in second too often and you can almost see the fuel gauge plummeting.

Of course, the Ghia AWD will be the heaviest user of fuel in the Territory range. It weighs in at 2100kg, 63kg more than the TX RWD, and also uses a shorter final drive ratio (4.10 versus 3.73).

While that means the Ghia accelerates in a spritely fashion and at basically the same pace as the RWD (roughly 9.5 seconds from 0-100km/h), it also drives up fuel consumption. Set on cruise control at 110km/h for a long run, the Ghia was revving at a high 2400rpm and its instant fuel consumption reading rarely dropping below 11L/100km.

Imagine what levels that will climb to when most running is done around town!

If you think we’re banging on a bit much about the fuel consumption then you obviously don’t pay for your own petrol. All of Territory’s other attributes are of little consequence if you can’t afford to drive the thing.

Of course, compared to other large-ish engine capacity AWD wagons the Territory Ghia’s fuel consumption numbers are not outlandish, certainly much better than the Holden Commodore-based, V8-only, Adventra wagon, which guzzles fuel at around 17.0L/100km.

But Territory’s thirst will still shock those who trade up from even a Falcon wagon or sedan, as many are expected to do. On the flip-side it will come as a pleasant surprise for those heading downscale from Leviathan LandCruisers and the like.

That’s not the only thing that will please refugees from the heavy-duty end of the SUV market, because Territory is quite simply one of the most outstanding vehicles of its type to drive.

That doesn’t mean it’s an outstanding drive in outright terms, rather that when most of these big, heavy, high wagons have given up the ghost and degenerated into body-rolling, tyre squealing, understeering heaps, the Ghia AWD is still in there impressing.

While it’s steering is a tad light for open-road driving, meaning you can wander a bit on freeways and so on unless you are paying attention, it sharpens up off centre, turns in with purpose and holds its line doggedly. Front-end pushing is a common AWD trait, but Territory eschews that to a great degree, as well as bodyroll.

Only when pushing hard into downhill off-camber cambers did the significant mass and higher centre of gravity start to really make themselves felt.

You pay for this civility with a slightly firmer ride than you would normally expect from this type of vehicle. It borders on harsh at slow speed, like when bumping over tree roots on a forest track, but as the pace build it becomes more compliant. Typical Australian lumpy country highways are dealt with in the most impressive and comfortable manner.

Why is it so good? Well, for a start Ford has tailored suspension settings to suit the varying weights of the two and four-wheel drive derivatives, all the while with the intention of retaining as much car-like feel as possible.

But more fundamental than that is the new double A-arm front suspension design necessary to allow the installation of front driveshafts, longer suspension travel and bigger brakes. Just as vital is the re-mounting the steering rack ahead of the front axle line.

Both are cited by Ford as key reasons the Territory steers and behaves as well as it does. They are also a vital in attaining the car-like 11.4-metre turning circle, a feat that greatly enhances Territory’s city useability.

At the rear, Territory employs the Control Blade independent suspension first spied here on the BA Falcon. An excellent unit, but in this case not quite as good as the front-end. This was where the sharpness in low speed ride was emanating from, and there was also some loud bangs over big holes and a knock when leaning over in corners.

One thing we should clear up right now is any misconception that Territory is merely a Falcon with a new body a few modifications. The E265 (as it was codenamed) project might have once started out that way but it soon got way more serious, and that goes a long way to explaining why it is a far more compelling effort than Adventra.

Apart from the engine, gearbox and rear suspension we have already mentioned as shared mechanical items, there’s only the engine box, the lower dash panel and the kick-up of the front floor that Territory takes from BA.

The vital measurements underline the differences to Falcon sedan. While its wheelbase is longer by 13mm, Territory’s overall length is shorter by 42mm, it’s more than 200mm higher and 30mm wider with a front track that’s 73mm wider. The rear track is 26mm wider.

That wide stance helps explains the Territory Ghia AWD’s confident handling, a trait it shows off-road as well as on. Of course, Ford’s Acutrac Plus stability control-based all-wheel drive system is a key contributor here as well. For a start, it’s full-time, permanently splitting drive 62 per cent rear and 38 per cent front via the same transfer case design as used by Holden in Adventra.

The drive heads out to the four wheels via three open differentials. The Bosch DSC system then redirects the torque flow to the appropriate wheel by braking individual wheels when it senses slippage. It can also cut engine power when it senses the need, or do both at the same time.

The system works very well, making this a confident and comfortable gravel road and bush track conveyance. Combine it with the quick, sharp, steering, excellent body control and responsive engine and you are soon belting along very comfortably at a good speed.

Churn into mud or deep sand and the AWD system gamely keeps pushing Territory forward, with the standard road-oriented P235/60R17 tyres being the first part of the package to cry enough.

Our test car also came with the optional Downhill Ascent system, which when activated applies the brakes to limit descent speeds, which can be adjusted from a minimum 4km/h to a maximum 25km/h via the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel. On the gnarly, wet clay hill we tried, HDC worked extremely well.

But the fact it’s there highlights the limited nature of Territory’s AWD. If it was truly intended as an off-roader it would have low range gearing to tackle the most challenging climbs and descents. The 178mm ground clearance isn’t in the big leagues either and as a result you spend too much time dragging the car’s belly along the ground on rutted tracks.

That’s not helped by the very ordinary 16-degree ramp-over angle, although the short overhangs at either end mean you are less likely to ground the front or rear. Our test car also had excellent underbody protection, but that doesn’t come standard. We’re pleased to say that a full-size spare does – essential on an off-roader but not always fitted.

Completing the mechanical package are 322mm disc brakes which are larger than Falcon to cope with the extra weight you’re hauling to a stop. While they required a bit of pressure to get an initial response from, they stood up to the punishment well without any real sign of fade. The dirt road ABS tuning was as good as any we have sampled.

From the drivers’ seat you’re in an environment that shares much with Falcon. The fundamental instrumentation and centre console designs are the same, although the dash is new and the graphics are different. The four-spoke steering wheel with stereo, cruise and rake and reach adjustment is straight from BA without change, which is fine.

The big difference compared to Falcon is that the driver's seat has been raised about 100mm to deliver that cross-over "command" driving position. The cowl too has been raised 70mm – so the net gain in angle for the driver is 30mm - as well as moved back by the same amount. This has been done to improve packaging and occupant room, remembering the Territory is shorter than a Falcon sedan.

So sit back in the large leather chair, featuring a new upper-section design and power fore-aft and height adjustment, select which of the three memory settings you want, and admire the interior that surrounds you.

There are neat ideas everywhere. A flip-top box on the dash, expanding bottle holders in the doors, a huge central lidded bin - albeit with a lid that was pretty wonky - and overhead sunglass holders. Standard power pedal adjustment aids comfort, but the lack of a left footrest does not.

Look behind you and there’s sprawling room for adults in the second row with heaps of elbow, head and leg room, and massive vision for them and you through the low-cut windows. Absolutely no trouble fitting three kids across there of course.

And hooray, the rear doors open wide, unlike Falcon that is cursed with small apertures, a design relic of the AU.

The second row of seats fold down 60/40 to create a flat floor and oodles of mountain bike swallowing space, while under the rear area are two wet areas. No sign of the nifty third row seat in this car, but from previous experience we can tell you that it’s stowaway design is brilliant and that it will comfortably accommodate all but large adults for an extended period. In leather trim, the third row seat is a $1700 option.

Everyone gets headrests, everyone gets lap-sash seatbelts with the four outboard items height adjustable. In this car the dual frontal airbags are supplemented by standard side curtain airbags that cover row one and two - an option on the TX but to be standard on TS.

As we already touched on at the beginning, there is plenty of standard comfort equipment to be enjoyed by Ghia buyers as well. Foglights, parking sensors, alloy wheels and body coloured extremities outside.

Inside there’s an electrochromatic rear-view mirror, a six-CD in-dash stacker, cruise control and top-spec colour TFT screen straight from the luxury BAs (which includes the trip computer).

Our test car was supplemented by the REX in-car DVD system ($3285) and DVD-based satellite-navigation ($3600), which includes a rather fussy remote controller that usually went missing under a seat.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the interior is the feel of cohesiveness. The colours coalesce cooly, the shapes meld and move cleanly into each other, the use of matt finishes and rubber-ised plastics around the hefty door grabhandles somehow exude solidity.

Only the exterior doorhandles – which look like they come straight off the smaller Escape – smack of cheapness.

But that’s a rare blight. Territory is a shining example of what the cross-over genre should be all about. It’s a family car with attitude a people-mover for those of us who still want to be moved it’s sensible and fun and responsible and a touch risky all at once.

As we have explained in depth, fuel consumption is Territory’s flaw. We don’t think it could possibly be fatal, but in these increasingly economic times it will be a deterrent.

As is, Territory is a great achievement. With a turbo-diesel engine it would be in my driveway.

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