Retro Review: 2004 Ford Territory - So you once vowed you'd never buy a crossover...

The Ford Territory was a game changer for Ford Australia. Here’s our first review of what was to become Australia’s best-selling locally made SUV.

Retro Review 2004 Ford Territory

So you once vowed you'd never buy a crossover...

FORD may just be the company to change your mind.

Here is a landmark in the evolution of the Australian car industry, the departure point from the sedan-based ranges that have always been the lifeblood of the business . .

With practically identical rear-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, The Ford Territory blurs the lines between conventional wagon, 4WD, and MPV categories. Ford believes its formula has huge appeal. And now we've tested it, so do we...

INNOVATION can be made very obvious, like a rainbow-coloured Dyson vacuum cleaner, for example. Or it can be made so subtle that it's almost invisible, like the Ford Territory RWD. But think about it for a moment, and you'll see these two products do have something in common. The see-through vacuum cleaner made a point of dispensing with the usual dusty bag. The Territory RWD, too, is remarkable for what it doesn't have. It's just that Ford has chosen not to draw attention to what's missing.

So you once vowed you'd never buy a crossover was first published in Wheels May 2004

Most people, seeing it for the first time, automatically file it in a familiar, existing category of car. It's a good-looking and slightly lower-than-usual 4WD wagon, right? A softroader, isn't that what they're called?

Wrong. The Territory RWD looks exactly like the AWD model - ground clearance, and wheel and tyre size are exactly the same - except that it doesn't have a pair of discreet chrome badges stuck beside the indicator repeater lights on its front guards.

Lacking 80kg of AWD hardware, and $4000 cheaper as a consequence, and with the option of an inexpensive third row, the rear-drive Territory TX doesn't have any obvious competitor. Yet it has the potential to win customers who might have chosen all sorts of other stuff. The Territory TX RWD isn't a compact 4WD, or a people-mover, or a conventional sedan-based wagon, but in various ways it's better than any of these.

Its price - $38,990 before the addition of any options or accessories - means the Territory TX RWD costs around the same money as a top-spec Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, or Toyota RAV4, all with four-cylinder engines and only five seats. The TX, like every other Territory model, is equipped with Ford's well-developed 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine.

It's larger, roomier, and performs better. For those who realise they don't really need AWD or off-road ability, the rear-drive Ford must be considered an attractive alternative.

For a reasonable $1500, the customer can add the factory-fitted extra seat. This price, by the way, includes two three-point seatbelts for the rear-seat passengers and the otherwise optional fore-aft adjustment feature for both sections of the 60/40-split second-row seat.

What this means is that the Territory TX can deliver seven-seat capacity for more than $3000 less than, say, the six-cylinder-but-five-seats-only Toyota Kluger CV. A seven-seat Territory TX RWD is also cheaper than four-cylinder, seven-seat people-movers such as the Toyota Avensis Verso and Mitsubishi Nimbus. At the same time, the Territory TX costs $460 less than Ford's own Falcon Futura wagon, a car that can't carry seven and which is lumbered with an old-fashioned rear suspension.

Oh, and there's one more thing; the Territory TX is a much better car to drive than any of the above. Its steering, handling, and ride comfort are outstanding. Truly. Our wide-ranging test covered more than 100km. City lanes, freeways, suburban streets, major highways, country backroads, and a lashing of dirt for good measure. There's no remotely comparable vehicle that approaches the TerritoryTX RWD's dynamic ability. None.

The brand-new front suspension and front-mounted steering rack, designed and developed by Ford Australia specifically for the Territory, works brilliantly. It delivers a tight turning circle – better than some sedans we can think of (okay, the Mitsubishi Magna) –- and this helps make it very user-friendly in car parks and city lanes. The steering's power assistance is not too light and the weighting remains admirably consistent. The Territory RWD's steering is noticeably lighter than in the AWD, and there's also more road feel.

Kickback on bumpy or potholed corners is negligible. Big, tall, two-tonne wagons just aren't supposed to steer so sweetly.

The handling is very, very good, too. There's a wonderful balance and fluidity to the way the Territory deals with winding roads. It doesn't lurch, or buck, or scrabble like other vehicles this large and heavy. Not only is it truly car-like, it's like a bloody good car.

Compared with the AWD, the Territory RWD's handling is noticeably more agile. It's more nimble in changes of direction and prompter in its response to steering inputs. It will, when provoked, push wide in a corner. The understeer builds progressively, and the steering sends clear communication to the driver that the limit of front-end grip has been exceeded.

On dirt - or any other slippery surface, for that matter- the Territory AWD feels better. More stable both when driving in a straight line or around a bend. The rear-drive Territory is a very benign and forgiving wagon to drive on dirt, and its standard switchable traction control system is effective without being an annoying electronic nanny, but the AWD is better.

While the Territory RWD's handling is good, the ride is better. Ford fits a slightly stiffer rear suspension in Territorys that have the third-row-seat option included. The road-test TX was a seven-seater, and the ride quality was always outstanding. Always. Even on corrugated dirt, the Ford's suspension delivers a serene ride. On bitumen, whatever the speed, it's brilliant. It soaks up bumps with nonchalance, yet the motions of the Territory's body are always delightfully disciplined.

Braking? Pretty good. No sign of fade, even when repeatedly pressured during the handling section of the road test. Like the Territory AWD, the RWD is fitted with larger brakes than the lighter Falcon. All four Territory brake discs are 322mm diameter, although those at the front are 2mm thicker than the rears. At first, particularly at low speed, they give the impression that a little more initial bite would be welcome. It's a feeling that doesn't last long.

There's no escaping the fact that the Territory is a heavy vehicle. The weight of the TX RWD, according to Ford, is 2005kg. Adding the optional third-row seat, as on the test vehicle, increases the figure by 32kg. This means the Territory AWD is lighter than a similarly equipped, traditional separate-chassis 4WD wagon such as the Toyota Prado, but not by as much as you might expect. The two are very close to the same length, and the slightly wider Ford's weight advantage over the noticeably taller Toyota is around 75kg.

While the Territory TX RWD's steering, handling, and braking conceal its bulk brilliantly, it's noticeable in other ways. Territory uses exactly the same 182kW in-line six-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission as the Falcon. To offset the extra weight, Ford's engineers chose a shorter 3.73:1 final-drive ratio instead of the Falcon's long-legged 3.23:1. It's not quite enough for the Territory RWD to deliver Falcon-equalling performance.

It takes about a second longer to accelerate from standstill to 100km/h.

Incidentally, with an even shorter 4.10:1 final drive, the Territory AWD's performance is practically identical to the RWD. There are differences in fuel consumption, naturally. The official figures suggest the AWD uses three percent more than the RWD. Over the course of our test, however, the RWD averaged 13.7L/100km and the AWD consumed 11 percent more 91-octane unleaded on average.

Fuel economy may not be outstanding, but it's tough to fault the drivetrain in any other way. An additional speed, or two, in the transmission would no doubt bring welcome incremental improvements in performance and fuel consumption. That said, the big engine is strong enough to cover the broad gaps between the four-speeder's gears quite well. What's most striking about the drivetrain is its high-level refinement. It might be the same engine as in Falcon, but installed in a Territory the six is perceptibly quieter and seems smoother.

Driving the Territory TX RWD is deeply impressive. But even before turning the ignition key, the interior will have made you want to like it. Not only is it spacious, but almost every cubic centimetre of the cabin has been used intelligently.

The ambience will be familiar to anyone who's seen a recent Falcon. The instrument cluster, steering wheel, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls, and face-level vents are all borrowed from the BA Falcon, but the Territory's dash is a new part.

Territory is wider inside and out than the Ford sedan, although 60mm shorter in length. The additional width isn't so apparent from the very comfortable front seats, but it makes the car's second-row seat remarkably roomy. There's noticeably more shoulder room than in a Falcon, and vastly better headroom and legroom. This, too, is a comfortable seat, with well-angled cushion and backrest. There are three-point seatbelts for all three seating positions (the centre belt's reel is inside the backrest).

The second-row seat is split 60/40. Each section can be folded down individually. As in the Mazda 6 hatchback and wagon, the folding mechanism is cleverly designed to lower the cushion as the backrest flops down. This refinement means the cargo-bay floor is perfectly flat when the seat is folded.

As mentioned, the TX tested was equipped with the optional third-row seat. This meant that the second-row seat came with fore-aft slide adjustment. The feature can also be ordered separately in a five-seat Territory. The big advantage of the sliding second row is that it makes it possible to increase legroom for third-row passengers by subtracting from the legroom of those ahead of them.

Deploying the optional third-row seat is quite easy. Move the kerb-side section of the second-row seat forward. Reach in and flip the third-row-seat backrest up, then tug the sliding seat cushion forward into position. The details are thoughtful. For instance, the third-row seat's two headrests don't have to be removed to fold the seat away again. Seatbelt guides are integrated in the backrest, meaning there's no fiddly preparation required to ready the three-point belts for use.

It's not a great seat for tall adults, but neither is it a kids-only affair. While there's sufficient headroom for those up to 185cm tall, the seat's cushion is low to the floor, dictating a knees-up position that's certain to be hard on joints and bums on a long journey. Legroom is tight unless the second-row seat is shifted some way forward.
Territory's seating is well thought out, but just as much thought – perhaps more – was put into making the cabin useful and user-friendly. As well as all the expected storage spots, such as glovebox, lidded centre-console bin, and cupholders, there is a horde of additional options.

Two highlights are the trays situated low down and on the outboard side of each of the front seats (perfect for a bottle of wine) and the concealed, lockable drawer beneath the driver's seat (great place to hide a laptop computer). Other well-conceived and well-executed touches include the pull-out liner that's a perfect rubbish bin for second-row-seat occupants, and the flexy drink bottle holder bands in all four doors. In TX specification, the only annoying thing about the Territory interior is that a cover for the load area is not included. It can be added at a cost of $350. At least the cover is rigid, so it can also serve as a shelf for lighter items.

I'm seriously impressed with the Territory. Even in basic TX RWD form, the car has an interior that's non-gimmicky and user-friendly. The exterior design is attractive, and its driving dynamics are simply brilliant. And, in Territory, Ford's 4.0-litre six seems more civilised than ever before. The TX RWD is also great value.

Stealthily innovative, yet obviously excellent, the Territory is a great achievement by Ford Australia.


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