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Car reviews - Ford - Territory - TX RWD 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Presentation, practicality, performance, versatility, value, design, vitality, lighter and more fun than heavier AWD
Room for improvement
Big thirst, no steering wheel controls illumination

21 Oct 2004

BESIDES its droning Alex Lloyd TV ad soundtrack, the most amazing thing about the Territory concept is that it has taken an Australian manufacturer this long to come up with it.

After all, Toyota demonstrated how well this could be done over a decade ago when it combined Celica, Camry and Corolla bits in a jacked-up new body to create the 1994 Rav4 as well as the car-based SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) blueprint.

Ford should have cottoned-on much earlier anyway, when its US arm cobbled the 1990-2001 Explorer from a small truck platform.

The company’s own research shows that Aussie motorists have moved from the traditional family car to larger 4WD SUVs for the extra ride height and cabin versatility without caring much about whether it has all-wheel drive or not.

This is where the rear-wheel drive (RWD) Territory fits in.

First off, it’s taller but not as long as a BA Falcon sedan. Also it has a four-door wagon body, at least five seats (a foldaway third-row seating is a $1500 option) and a big six-cylinder engine married to a four-speed automatic trannie.

And at under $40,000 for the base TX model, the Terry’s within reach of some Holden Commodore, Toyota Avalon, Mitsubishi Magna and, yep, Ford Falcon buyers.

So does it redefine the local automotive market, as former Ford Oz president Geoff Polites has put it?

Buried in the Territory’s press release is a quote from its Colour and Trim Design Manager Sharon Gauci: "It was important to bring the outside in." So to find out, that’s where GoAuto is starting.

When Territory prototypes hit the roads around Christmas last year, it was their road presence that immediately struck.

Ford rabbits on endlessly about getting its "DNA" into the vehicle. And it’s true the Terry does sit square, squat and sweetly proportioned on the road.

There’s a real European influence in the flared wheel arches, big glass areas, pronounced body crease, pullout door handles and very short overhangs.

But there’s also an Australian-ness to it – the simple front and rear graphics, lack of detail clutter and the fact it isn’t big for big’s sake.

And I think I’m not the only one who thinks the TX’s grey bumpers contrast nicely with brighter colours to help alleviate the lower body’s visual bulk. The same goes with the good-looking standard steel wheels.

Funnily, the Terry only looks large until something like a Nissan Patrol nestles next to it, downsizing the Ford to around Toyota Prado size.

It’s truly the most distinctly Australian car since the still-handsome EA-D Falcon of 1988 to 1994.

Inside, it’s also unmistakably Ford.

Gauci was talking about the cabin’s ambient tones, but it best fits how differently appealing the Territory feels from any other Australian-built family car.

I’m about average height for an Aussie male and I couldn’t have found entry and egress less of a hassle.

Wide opening doors, a perfect seat height and no bloody AU/BA Falcon A-pillar to pound my head on welcomed me.

Superbly accommodating and comfortable front seats pleasantly trimmed in varying cloth fabrics aren’t such a surprise in a post-BA Falcon world, but the expanse of headroom, legroom and shoulder room sure is.

It’s those absent AU posts, combined with the very SUV-like box shape that allows the aura of space.

You sit high – above regular cars but not quite up to a full-sized 4WD SUV, with the prerequisite command of the road feeling ahead of you.

Behind you the seats are even more highly set and give very little cause for complaint. Just remember to lift the cleverly designed headrests for comfort.

They, along with the deep windows, panoramic driving position and efficient use of space really do aid rear vision.

An optional rear-seat sliding mechanism was fitted to the test car and that can only be a boon for keeping kids within arm’s, or nose wiping, distance.

That bench folds down and forward with an easy single latch, without the need to remove those headrests, which is a welcome bonus.

Gauci says the interior, which is initially very BA in look but that soon fades as the Terry’s distinct touches take over, was inspired by both modern sneaker design as well as native nature like eucalyptus trees.

There are splashes of colour and plastic and soft-feel rubbery stuff that give the big Ford an active outdoorsy feel.

They tend to make up the interesting bits, like the door bottle holder straps, cupholder surrounds, dash-top bin lining, rear console plastic bin and the load area’s reversible waterproof flooring.

Two gold stars go to Ford for the sturdy rear load space cover, which can handle some lighter objects and folds logically, as well as the two-in-one "liftglass" and tailgate – the former is fantastic for just throwing stuff in.

Furthermore, whether one actually needs deep bins or trays (making up 32 storage compartments) or three 12-volt sockets spread across the car isn’t the point. They’re here, they’re near and they add to the big T’s family friendly appeal.

Adding hard plastic-backed front seats to resist scuffing and stop not-so-little legs jabbing those in the front is plain thoughtful.

Such things are essential to the Terry’s unique appeal, lifting what is otherwise a subdued and sober, though classily executed, dash and cabin.

Ergonomically, it’s all pretty much Falcon, from the simple and functional console-sited ventilation and audio controls to the usual wiper/headlight/flasher stalks and straightforward instrumentation.

Some may feel disappointed with the BA bits then, but it does all work well. The test car’s quality seemed surprisingly high, with a tight cabin free of rattles and squeaks.

In TX trim anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution, traction control, dual front airbags, power windows, keyless entry, auto-off delay headlights, CD player and steering wheel audio controls are included.

All that’s needed is the optional (by $350) load cover. It should be standard at this level.

So far so good, then ... brilliant even. The big Ford fulfils the styling, comfort and packaging requirements of a family sized wagon like it was its sole aim in life. Surely the driving can’t be as good ... can it?

Well, this is Ford, which hasn’t released a dud-driving car locally since the 1994 WB Festiva.

The thing is, though, that the Territory TX RWD exceeds expectations here too, precisely because it is a car-based (Falcon) vehicle that does away with a heavy ladder chassis. It’s not a 4WD, after all, and weighs in, so to speak, around 80kg under the all-paw version.

The Falcon connection continues with the 182kW 4.0-litre DOHC 24-valve variable-valve timing straight six-cylinder engine. Its power maximum occurs at 5000rpm while the 380Nm torque top happens at a lowly 3250rpm.

A strong and fairly silent type, the big 4.0 benefits from a shorter final-drive ratio (3.73:1 Vs 3.23:1) compared to the BA Falcon for similarly sprightly performance.

Even under light throttle there’s enough pull from this engine to keep things rolling along swiftly, so revving out really isn’t necessary. Or desirable either, as it just gets coarser.

Foot down and the Territory really builds up speed smartly, and you’re soon aware that this thing is very swift indeed.

Credit should also go to the four-speed automatic transmission, which handles all that torque with slurry ease.

Its Tiptronic-like shift facility is pretty much wasted in this application, however, since most of the driving action occurs in the lower-rev ranges. ‘D’ will do.

It’s such a refined vehicle, this Ford. Much of the sensation of speed is absent due to the sheer quietness of the drivetrain in general and whole car in particular. And this is the boggo model too!

Whether it’s dry or teeming with rain, the Ford tracks steadfastly on freeways, unfussed by high winds despite its obvious height and blunt frontal area.

Territory’s new Virtual Pivot Control Link front suspension, a four-link set-up, was engineered using "premium European and Japanese products" says Ford (translated: BMW X5 and Lexus’ RX) for car-like steering and dynamic properties.

And so it proves. Aided by a variation of the BA Falcon’s successful Control Blade independent rear suspension (no live axles here), the RWD Territory has impressively high levels of steering feel and finesse.

Territory doesn’t feel like a big wagon, let alone an SUV. It corners with a responsive lightness and eagerness that should please most keen drivers.

The roadholding is also spot-on, with plenty of grip for confident manoeuvring in a wide range of road and weather conditions. The driver, superbly located behind a well-designed wheel, always feels totally in control.

Specially prepared Goodyear Integrity 235/60 R17 tyres do a great job, maximising grip as effectively as they minimise road and tyre roar.

Ride quality is also good, with a happy compromise struck between how much suspension travel this has for dynamics’ sake and the level of comfort available. Only the occasional speed hump will emit an unpleasant thud from somewhere underneath.

Brakes aren’t bad at all either, especially as they have to haul up 1995kg-plus of fast Ford.

This is one of the most relaxing cars I have driven in a long time. Its greatest strength is just how effortless and cocooning a travelling experience it is, while providing a very high degree of steering and handling interaction.

OK, so in ultimate terms the BMW X5 is still the dynamic king, but the RWD Territory sees off all others, including the Mercedes ML, Honda MDX and Volvo XC90. It’s that good.

What keeps it from greatness though is fuel consumption, pure and simple. In a nutshell, this thing is too thirsty.

Gentle driving might bring economy down to under 11.0L/100km. Ford claims 13.1L/100km average. Around 15.1L/100km was GoAuto’s figure over a week of varied on-road only urban conditions.

This is very disappointing and not acceptable. Just as a Holden Adventra’s sizeable thirst is also not on.

Even if you’re not paying the fuel bills, the Territory’s sheer appetite for this natural resource should be a disincentive. What this car needs is a good European turbo-diesel engine.

Ford’s 2.7-litre V6 unit found in Jaguars and Land Rovers would fit (or rather split) the bill nicely.

Its 154kW isn’t too bad, but 434Nm at 1900rpm versus the Terry’s 380Nm – while returning 7.1L/100km average, a whisker under 40mpg, in the 1722kg Jag S-Type manual sedan – is sensational.

An extra cog or two in the gearbox department wouldn’t go astray either. How ‘bout it Ford? Go on!

No boundaries. Ford’s current slogan seems perfectly suitable for its off-road looking Territory. And Polites is right too about redefining local family cars.

It’s such an impressively refined vehicle to be in and to drive that perhaps its makers should resurrect that old company tag line "Have You Driven A Ford Lately?" instead.

If only because "A new kind of car for Australia" has already been taken.

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