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Road Test: Ford Territory AWD & RWD

By Feann Torr & Peter Maniatis

Ford TerritoryFord appears to be on a bona fide home-grown winner with its new AWD crossover vehicle, the Territory.

You've got the entry-level price of $38,990 for the RWD model, a powerful 6-cylinder engine across the range, and the fact that it is the first locally manufactured Australian vehicle designed from the ground up helps give it bragging rights over the Holden Adventra, which is based on the Commodore wagon.

Ford wasn't messing around when it decided to plunge half-a-billion dollars into the project, and the results have so far been positive.

After only a few of months on sale, Ford's big investment has paid dividends: the Territory is selling like hotcakes and making a mockery of its rivals.

Not only has it raced to the top of the medium SUV market segment with a whopping 30 per cent market share (VFACTS) in the month of August [2004], but it has even demolished the once untouchable Toyota Prado by more than 350 units for the month as well.

So what is it about the new Territory that's got everyone so keen to go for a test drive? The European styling, the smooth straight six engine, the tiptronic gearbox or maybe the hundreds of stowage solutions? Perhaps a combination of these things?

With all the success that the Territory is experiencing so early in its life, should we just stop writing now and recommend that you buy two of them? Not quite. Until it's been given the Web Wombat rubber stamp of approval, all bets are off.

Make: Ford
Model: Territory
Price: $38,990 to $53,290 (TX RWD to Ghia AWD)
Transmission: 4-speed automatic w/tiptronic
Engine: 4.0-litre, 24-valve, L6 petrol
Fuel Consumption: Combined: 13.1 litres/100km
Seats: 5 to 7
Safety: Driver and front passenger SRS airbags, ABS, traction control, stability control* (*AWD models only)

Drive

Ford Territory

The Ford Territory: a smooth operator

The Territory and Falcon share some key components, mainly the engine and gearbox, and upon first plonking butts in seats, there is a very real sense of déjà vu.

But even with similar dashboard and seats, the Territory is a confident, proud vehicle that certainly feels very different to its family-car sibling, and the elevated seating position grants drivers with a very un-Falcon-like perspective.

There's also a lot more headroom than you'd expect from a crossover vehicle - one aspect we were pleasantly surprised with - and it certainly sits nicely on the road, while offering well-weighted, if somewhat light power steering that lends the vehicle a higher quality feel than its closest competitors.

Compared to the award-winning BA Falcon, the Territory is a little more ponderous to drive through twisty mountain roads thanks to the raised height, which affects the vehicle's centre of gravity.

In the real world, this won't disturb too many people, but what it does mean is that you can't plough through roundabouts in second gear like you might in a turbocharged XR6.

Built on the same production line as the Falcon, the Territory inherits items such as the Falcon's 182kW straight 6-cylinder engine and also an adapted iteration of the smooth Control Blade independent rear suspension rig. This last item, in combination with a completely different underbody structure to the Falcon and unique front suspension translates to a very composed feel on the road.

It's a great cruiser, and will happily cover hundreds of kilometres in a quiet, smooth and unflustered fashion, one that makes the larger 4x4s feel decidedly agricultural and sluggish.

While the Territory is a great vehicle to drive on all types of sealed roads, neither the rear wheel drive (RWD) nor all wheel drive (AWD) version could be pushed with confidence like a more traditional family sedan, as the higher centre of gravity and beefier kerb weight add significantly more body roll when cornering (even with nicely sorted spring settings) making things very dicey when you have to change direction quickly at speed.

Ford Territory

The Territory won't reward like a
sports car, but it still sticks to the road

But that's not say it's trash wagon through corners, as the wide 235/60 R17 tyres provide good levels of grip. It rides rather quietly and tracks round corners faithfully - provided you don't push too hard - and on sealed roads it is a very easy vehicle to drive, and a quite enjoyable one at that.

Of course, the flipside of this raised height is improved ground clearance, and while you'd be lucky to get your XR Falcon or SV6 Commodore through some steep driveways unscathed, the Territory handles such urban ditches with ease, and generally speaking this is where the Territory excels.

We drove both the AWD and RWD versions of the Territory, and both were more at home in the 'burbs and the concrete jungle than off the beaten track.

With features like the Hill Descent Control system and of course the AWD transmission, you'd expect quite a bit from the new Ford 4x4, but due to a lack of ground clearance (178mm) it can't touch vehicles like the Pajero and its ilk. That said, the Territory doesn't mind getting wet when fording creeks, and on occasion we were surprised that we didn't bog the things.

The AWD model felt slightly more planted than its RWD brethren on sealed roads, but in hindsight there wasn't a huge difference in the way they behaved on sealed roads.

For the uninitiated, it would be nigh on impossible to tell the difference between models on bitumen, but on unsealed roads and in the wet the AWD model felt much more secure with more grip and control.

When climbing up hills and steep inclines, the AWD Territory had the RWD model's measure yet again, but most Territorys will probably never leave the blacktop, one of the reasons why a RWD model is offered.

In addition to is relaxed driving style, we found that the Ford adapted to different circumstances with aplomb. We had to move some very large, very heavy servers from the Web Wombat HQ and with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats folded down, the jacked up wagon offered lots of space, while the optional $1500 pair of third row seats transforms the vehicle into a family-friendly people mover, and they're not bad rear seats either.

Ford Territory

It's no hard-core AWD, but it can go
places where a lot of passenger cars can't

The brakes are bigger than those offered on the Falcon, to deal with the 300-odd kilograms of extra weight, measuring 322 and 328mm in diametre for the front and rear ventilated discs respectively.

They do a good job in decelerating the big and bulky softroader, and combine with stability control (in AWD models) to great effect, while ABS, standard across the range, helps to reduce stopping distances under heavy braking or in foul conditions.

Despite the Territory impressing us on almost every level of operation, there was one area that it didn't excel in - fuel consumption.

The automatic-only transmission means that this aspect suffers somewhat, and seeing as it's close to 2 tonnes, returning Falcon-like figures is nigh on impossible.

The vehicle motivates well for an SUV, and has impressive levels of acceleration despite it's considerable mass, particularly when the revs reach to 2500 - 3000rpm, an area that makes freeway overtaking effortless.

But again, unless you're zealously hoarding all your Coles and Woolies dockets, expect to pay the price at the bowser, with average consumption levels at around 14.5 to 15-litres of fuel for every 100 kilometres driven.

Out on the freeway things get better, and the 4-speed automatic transmission is one of the best transmission offered in an Aussie car, with smooth, quick shifts and an intuitive tiptronic or 'sportsmode' feature.

At the end of the day, the pros far outweigh the cons, because what the Territory does do, it does incredibly well. It's easy to drive, had bag loads of cargo room, can transport up to seven people at once and has impressive levels of manoeuvrability for a car that measures 4.85 metres from end to end.

The Territory lives up to most of the promises made by Ford, and we had a great time punting both the RWD and AWD models around. Whether you enjoy driving, or just need a practical vehicle for commuting, the Territory will happily oblige.

Engine

Ford Barra 182 4.0-litre L6

The inline 6-cylinder engine has a 3984cc (4.0-litre) capacity with aluminium alloy cylinder heads and a cast-iron block. Dual overhead camshafts are chain-driven and actuate a total of 24-valves (4-valves per cylinder). The petrol-powered engine has a 9.7:1 compression ratio and has variable valve timing and a 75 litre fuel tank.

The 4.0-litre straight six that lives under the bonnet of Ford's crossover vehicle may have been around for some time now, but is still a very capable chunk of engineering, and one that offers remarkably high levels of torque.

With 380Nm on tap @ 3250rpm, you don't have to wring the engine's guts out to make the most of it. While there often feels like more of a gap between idle and about 1300rpm than in the Falcon, this could be put down to the vehicle's 1995 - 2095kg kerb weight, for the RWD TX and AWD Ghia models respectively.

The inline 6-cylinder engine has quite a nice thrum to it, and while we already mentioned the not-so-brilliant fuel economy, the car can be driven with a modicum of frugality thanks to the sensitive drive-by-wire throttle control.

In the AWD models, torque is apportioned 38:62 to the front:rear axles, and it's a constant AWD setup, meaning that power is always diverted to all four wheels.

For those drivers who feel that an AWD setup would be overkill, the RWD version offers a slightly different - perhaps more decisive - launch feel, but misses out on the AWD model's stability control, which helps drivers to regain control when things go pear shaped.

Peak power from the engine is a healthy 182kW, and this power peaks @ 5000rpm. With 4-valves per cylinder, the Barra 182 engine is a very smooth and comparatively refined engine, even compared to more sophisticated European sixes. The low-ish compression ratio also allows the Territory to drink 91 RON fuel.

Exterior

Ford Territory

Territory's understated look works well

The exterior styling of the Ford Territory isn't particularly radical or outgoing, yet it is contemporary enough to please a large majority of new car buyers and has just enough panache, we believe, to stand the test of time.

With fairly conservative styling overall - most people who see the Territory probably won't do a Ferrari-esque double take - the crossover vehicle has just enough rugged styling cues to give it some credibility.

The flared wheel arches, short overhangs and wide overall footprint combine well with the strong front end, and when you add just a touch of European styling to the rear end and C-pillars, it's difficult to justify calling the vehicle ugly.

"One of the real attributes of Territory is just how good the rear of the car looks; it has a presence that many vehicles in this class just don't have," said Simon Butterworth, Ford's Asia Pacific design director.

"We had some healthy discussions with Ford Design Vice President J Mays, who was very supportive of getting this strength and Ford DNA into Territory. That meant we were able to improve the stance of the vehicle, making the attitude and body section much stronger. The final design has an inert poise, an athletic stance, emphasised by the short front and rear overhangs."

It sits on the road very nicely with a somewhat squat stance, but never looks awkward or out of place, and has quite a hunkered down, stocky appearance that many drivers of smaller vehicles may appreciate.

With plenty of road presence thanks to its large size, it gets noticed by other drivers, and whether you get the steel or the alloy wheels, the two-tone or the solid paint job, it is a good looking car - arguably one of the best home-grown Australian vehicles to date.

Interior

Though the dashboard looked like it was ripped straight out of a Falcon, it wasn't - but we were still scratching our heads trying to figure out the differences. Beyond this very small quibble, the interior of the Territory is a complete and utter success and illustrates just how much hard work the Blue Oval has put into its crossover vehicle to get things right from the very beginning.

Ford Territory

Everything works, and everything fits

From behind the wheel, the view of the road is impressive. Higher than your normal family sedan, and with good levels of rearward vision thanks to the side mirrors and generous rear window.

The steering-wheel mounted cruise controls (optional on TX models) work remarkably well and also control the Hill Descent speed, while the adjustable throttle and brake pedals are a blessing for those who don't fall into the 'average' category of driver sizes.

Fit and finish is quite good overall, and the sheer number of storage solutions and cubby holes is mind boggling, while a trio of 12-volt power points will come in handy for running portable fridges, spotlights and videogame systems.

The interior also has an excellent sense of space, with both front and rear occupants gifted with good levels of knee and leg room, and even with an abundance of stowage spaces, the interior is thoughtfully and ergonomically designed, and never feels overly busy or complicated.

For $1500 you can get a factory-fitted third row of seats, which gives the Territory a true seven-seat capacity, and this $1500 option is a lot cheaper than shelling out for another mini van type vehicle. The final row consisting of two seats are actually very usable, and so long as you're not planning on traversing he Nullarbor Plain, even adults will be able to tolerate them across short distances.

Both the second and third row of seats fold flat with the floor without the need to remove the headrests, which frees up a huge amount of room for all the latest Ikea purchases, and we believe it's this versatility that is helping the Territory sell consistently well.

It must also be said that as family wagon the Territory excels, picking up and dropping off the little tackers with ease thanks to its ample seating and car-like handling, and the separately opening rear window simplifies throwing small items into the boot quickly and painlessly.

As far as safety goes, the Territory is the first locally built Ford to offer side curtain airbags for the TS and Ghia grades, while the entry-level TX can be retro-fitted with curtain airbags for a modest $800. Driver and front passenger airbags are standard across the range, and the introduction of breakaway pedals is another nice safety feature that exists to reduce injury to the legs and feet in a crash.

Overall: 4/5

 

We came, we drove, and we enjoyed ourselves in the new Territory. Sure, it's no BMW, but then it doesn't pretend to be, and for the price it represents very good value in our book.

Even the neighbours began asking all sorts of questions, and wanted to have a close look, expressing immediate interest in the vehicle - something the Territory has an innate ability to do, thanks to the impressive list of standard features, well sorted suspension, powerful engine and practical interior. We also think the light green paintjob had something to do with it.

The only real sour point on the Territory's report card is it's fuel efficiency, which is claimed as 13.1 litres (city/highway combined) per 100 kilometres, and it could be an issue that Ford may need to address in a few years when it updates the crossover vehicle.

Even with a less-than-rosy fuel efficiency, there are far thirstier vehicles out there, and judging by the current sales trend it doesn't appear to be impinging on its popularity.

The Territory is a well thought-out and refined vehicle that suits the Australian environment and it's roads perfectly, and it is safe to say that Ford's $500 million was money well spent - it's able to dart around the cities and suburbs with ease, while still offering a degree off road worthiness that will please most customers.

It just goes to show how good Australian product can be, and makes a mockery of some similarly priced Korean vehicles, and punches above its weight against some heftier competition from Europe to boot.

Well, that's about all we have got say about the new Territory. Oh, and does it finally deserve the Web Wombat rubber stamp of approval? Yeah, we reckon it truly does.

Pros:

Cons:


  • Versatile interior
  • Smooth ride & handling
  • Tractable engine
  • Conservative good looks


  • Fuel efficiency

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.


for detailed specs on the Ford Territory range.

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