Ford's compellingly good Territory
The explosion in New Zealand SUV sales has been accelerated by cheap used imports, but there’s no question the 4x4s have been wrongly maligned. They’ve been criticised for their size, their fuel consumption and emissions and their safety – yet the same criteria can be applied to some other classes of motor vehicles. It’s true many New Zealanders are using SUVs for the wrong reasons but the same could be said for other types of cars and light utilities.
Ford’s remarkably successful Territory is based on the EA169 Falcon platform, and though you will hear people becoming snappy about biggish SUVs like the Territory and the Range Rover, few word of negativity are directed at Falcons or Holden Commodores. It’s simply a matter of choice – and, rightly or wrongly, many people are choosing 4WDs.
The Territory is actually 61mm shorter than a Falcon but has more interior space. It has been this country’s best-selling SUV since it was launched in 2004. Last year the beefy Aussie Ford outsold the next-best 4WD by more than two to one. Remarkably, the 2407 new Territorys sold here in 2005 compared with 4547 Falcon sales. Even more astounding, the Territory is the fourth-best selling new car in New Zealand, an achievement that has even bowled
An essential ingredient of the vehicle is that it looks right from any angle. You may think the styling is a shade conservative, yet the shape is inoffensive and the proportions are dead right. The SY version that replaced the SX late last year is identical on the outside – why change what was already a good thing? Code named E265, the Territory is reminiscent of the Volvo S80-based North American Ford Freestyle, and the strong shape was always going to win favour over the somewhat awkward looking Holden Adventra. For every Adventra sold here last year, Ford put at least four Territorys on the road. At just on $65,000, the Ghia Territory is serious money and a less sumptuous TX AWD version can be had for $10,500 less. But the seven-seater, leather-trimmed Ghia is a seriously well-equipped crossover 4WD that even includes rear parking distance control and, in a first for an Aussie-made car, a TV reverse camera – a reassuring safety and convenience aid. The camera is mounted under the handle of the tailgate, tucked out of sight, out of mind, until you find yourself in a tricky reversing situation. Not that visibility is a significant problem from the high seating position, particularly towards the front where the squared off styling works for the driver.
There are plenty of things to like about this car. A pair of gas struts eases the bonnet open, cubbyholes and bottle holders are in abundance, and the rear load area is carefully trimmed in good quality carpeting. The separate release for the glass rear window is useful but the concealed release button for the exposed hinged hatchback is fiddly to locate. There’s no V8 option but the 4.0-litre straight six Barra 190 engine now has dual independent variable-valve timing and power goes from 182kW to 190kW. Torque increase fractionally to 383Nm at a lower 2500 revs, but the real improvement is the new ZF six-speed auto. Adding extra ratios, including a lower first, has improved performance and increases versatility. The 0 to 100km/h run needs only 6.5 seconds, a one second improvement on the old four-speed auto Territory, and mid-range urge is also better. Another positive is the adaptive nature of the auto that holds back on a trailing throttle when descending hills, so the driver isn’t constantly on the brakes. On occasions the electronics take this to extreme, but it’s good the way the transmission adapts to the mood and actions of the driver.
On the fuel front, the Territory is still a heavy drinker. As a result of the new automatic and an increase in engine compression ratio, the ADR fuel test reveals a 5.2 percent improvement from 13.5 litres/100km (20.9mpg) to 12.8 litres/100km (22.1mpg). However, we found fuel consumption little changed, with an average of 14.8 litres/100km (19.1mpg) reflecting a fair measure of open road driving. Given a heavy reliance on city motoring, 15.5 litres/100km (18.2 mpg) is a more realistic average. At 2125kg, the Ghia is no lightweight, and though the brakes perform well, they require moderately high pedal pressures. Improvements have been made to the ABS system, yet not so reassuring on the test car as it came to rest was the odd clunk from the brakes. The full-time 4WD system favours torque towards the rear wheels, and traction and stability control are standard. Ford’s chain drive 4WD arrangement is quieter than the gear drive on the Adventra. Hill descent control, inherited from Land Rover, is still an option but few owners will need or want it.
The Territory seems to shrink around the driver and feels relatively nimble, with good body control and neutral manners, skipping along at 100km/h with a mere 1800rpm on the dial. Unsprung weight is higher than the Falcon’s but the quiet-running Territory feels confident and its turning circle is trim, despite the 4856mm overall body length. Should Ford be savouring an Indian summer that can’t last forever? Holden likes to think so for it has the 3.2-litre V6 Captiva SUV waiting in the wings for introduction in the second half of this year. Holden’s new Captiva will be 221mm shorter than the Ford but 36mm higher at 1750mm, and it’s sure to be thriftier on fuel. The big question is whether it will have the ingredients to steal the successful sales recipe of the Territory, especially since Ford will have the added impetus of a turbo version by then.