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All eyes on Territory as Ford prepares SUV fight-back

Booster shot: Ford’s upgraded Aussie-built Territory SUV will offer significant styling improvements and an economical new turbo-diesel engine.

Ford looks to put more spring in the step of its bruised Territory SUV sales

28 Feb 2011

FORD’S facelifted Territory SUV cannot come quickly enough for the Blue Oval brand in Australia, bringing a spicy new 2.7-litre turbo-diesel engine and other tweaks to the showrooms from May.

Under attack from rivals such as the Holden Captiva, Territory’s sales have slumped by half in just six years, from 23,454 in 2005 to 11,558 in 2010.

Once the king of the medium SUV heap, the Territory last year slipped to fourth in the sales stakes.

A fresh face and the all-important new diesel engine – taken from the Ford parts bin in Europe where the Duratorq V6 once powered Land Rover, Jaguar and Peugeot vehicles – promises to give the biggest locally made Ford another chance.

The makeover will bring the first serious exterior change to the Territory’s styling since it was launched in 2004, although tweaks in 2006 and 2009 gave the range some impetus. In 2006, Ford added its stonking turbocharged straight-six engine to the Territory model mix, causing plenty of excitement but only a short-lived sales spike.

After all, SUV buyers tend to have their feet firmly planted on the ground, putting family values ahead of 0-100km/h times.

128 center imageFrom top: Facelifted Ford Territory, Holden Captiva 7, Toyota Kluger and Toyota Prado.

The main gain from the 2011 Territory will come from just such buyers, looking for fuel efficiency and understated muscles in a practical family vehicle.

For a change, the grunt-filled diesel V6 will give Ford a mechanical advantage over Territory’s two biggest rivals – the Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva 7.

Kluger offers no diesel at all, while Captiva’s optional diesel is only a four-cylinder, albeit a handy new 2.2-litre twin-cam four-cylinder unit that comes on stream to replace the noisy, asthmatic 2.0-litre unit from this month.

While we do not yet know the final performance figures for the Territory diesel – the company is expected to share more information on this at a special media technical presentation next week – the V6 produced 152kW of power and 440Nm of torque in Land Rover guise.

But more interesting than the engine output will be the price. Holden has just taken the shears to the pricing of its Korean-built seven-seat Captiva 7 – the slightly larger of the two Captivas, the other being the five-seat Captiva 5 – cutting $2000 from all but one model.

The cheapest Captiva 7 – the SX 2WD 2.4-litre petrol automatic – now starts at $32,490, which is more than $7000 cheaper than the most affordable current Territory, although that $39,890 2WD TX gets Ford’s much more powerful 4.0-litre petrol inline six.

If Holden buyers don’t mind slipping down to five seats, the Captiva 5 pricing starts at $27,990 for the 2WD 2.4-litre petrol manual.

In run-out mode, combined Captiva 5 and 7 sales last month drove Holden’s SUV twins to effective market leadership, although the ‘5’ is now regarded as a compact SUV.

However, the Toyota Kluger is arguably a more direct competitor for the Territory in both size and performance.

Powered exclusively by Toyota’s 3.5-litre petrol V6, Kluger pricing starts at a tick under $40,000 for the 2WD KX-R automatic.

Last November, Toyota upgraded the Kluger – which is built off the same platform as Camry – with some new sheetmetal, a fresh fascia and more equipment, along with price cuts of up to $1000 on all eight models.

But with no diesel in sight, nor a major model change on the horizon, Kluger could be right in the firing line.

Against that, the softer of Toyota’s two medium SUVs – the other being the top-selling rugged, go-anywhere ladder-chassis Prado – is armed with arguably the most potent weapon in the SUV world: the Toyota badge.

Toyota’s SUVs have been models of sales consistency over the years, only rarely being out-pointed by rivals, and then only for brief periods.

We will find out soon if Toyota fired all its shots in the 2010 upgrade, but the gentlemen from Taren Point, in Sydney, are highly unlikely to sit on their hands while firstly the Holden Captiva and, from May, Ford Territory run roughshod over their champion.

The question on their lips will be whether Ford can price the new diesel at a level to cause real heartburn for Toyota dealers, and whether Ford also hacks lumps off the price of its petrol models.

One thing is for certain, Ford needs to lift Territory sales. Last year, it managed to pull up Territory’s socks by 6.2 per cent, but that was in a market segment that rose 16.1 per cent.

With Ford’s market share slumping below 10 per cent in 2010, the guys in the blue corner need to make every new model count on the sales scoreboard in 2011, starting with Territory.

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