Ford pushes into new Territory
By Toby Hagon
At its New Zealand launch, Toby Hagon explores a key component of Ford's Australian future -- and finds the much-heralded 2WD/AWD is competent but relatively heavy and thirsty.
Meet Ford's two-tonne family car, which is not a four-wheel-drive. The Ford Territory looks acceptably stylish and deceptively compact, as far as 4WDs go, and the Falcon-based wagon packs a weighty punch, making it the biggest thing to come out of the company's Broadmeadows assembly line -- in more than one way.
Every Territory model weighs more than two tonnes (some nearly 2.2 tonnes), heavier than standard family cars by hundreds of kilograms. Even so, it is shorter than a Falcon.
Ford insists it's on to a winner and predicts the Territory will outsell the likes of Toyota's LandCruiser and Honda's CR-V by two to one.
Just like its main rival, the Toyota Kluger, the Ford Territory is aimed at finding middle ground between a wagon, people mover and 4WD, in one family-friendly package. But Ford insists the Territory is not a 4WD but an all-wheel-drive (AWD), the subtle difference indicating its light-duty off-road capabilities.
The Territory is the first off-roader to be offered as a two-wheel-drive model, in an effort to broaden its appeal and give buyers that all-important off-road image -- complete with an upright seating position -- but without the added cost and weight of 4WD equipment.
That's turned into the $4000 question -- the price of the AWD system -- which Ford is predicting 60 percent of buyers will choose.
Speaking of money, the Territory AWD uses a claimed 13.5 L/100km of fuel, which is more than some V8s. Even as a 2WD its fuel consumption is above that of most passenger cars, at a claimed 13.1 L/100km, according to government figures.
Fuel costs aside, value is a big part of the Territory sales pitch. The entry-level TX -- as a 2WD -- sells for $38,990, including air-conditioning, power windows, remote locking, dual airbags and anti-lock brakes. Ford sees it as a viable alternative to existing wagons such as the Commodore and Falcon. Notable omissions include cruise control and side airbags, the latter being an $800 option.
The top-of-the-range Ghia sells from $49,290 and comes with such extras as alloy wheels, leather trim, foglights, cruise control, side airbags and reverse parking sensors.
Arriving in September is a mid-spec TS model, priced from $44,790, which includes things such as cruise control and side airbags.
Ford claims the Territory is a car designed in Australia, by Australians, for Australians. That the media launch was held in New Zealand appears illogical, although the company claims the diversity of roads and availability of snow was a determining factor.
The Territory was tested mostly in Australia and is part of a $500 million investment. It is "one of the most important new models" in the company's history, according to recently appointed president Tom Gorman. Witness the dozen media launches outlining everything from cupholders to the specifically designed tyres over the past two years.
To say Ford Australia is desperate to see the Territory a success is an understatement. From its June 1 on-sale date, Ford wants to sell more than 2000 Territorys a month, making it the best-selling off-roader.
Inside is a very Falcon theme, the dash a lightly redesigned version of the Falcon's, and the main controls very much part of the Ford family. The front seats offer a more spacious feel and superior driving position to that of a Falcon, and even in the middle row there's generous leg and headroom.
The Territory is a solid driving proposition. It's relatively quiet -- other than some back-seat roar generated from the tyres -- and the refinement is akin to that of a Falcon. The tall driving position, too, is appreciated and it doesn't have that enclosed feeling of a Falcon.
By 4WD standards the Territory is manoeuvrable in city streets. It sounds thoroughly Falcon but has a user-friendliness few off-roaders can match. Its car-derived set-up provides cornering assurance and the sort of comfort families will appreciate.
The Falcon's 4.0-litre engine makes good use of its 182kW of power, accelerating the Territory with ease, and the four-speed automatic provides respectably smooth changes. But the Territory has a serious thirst for fuel, sometimes slurping around 20 litres per 100 kilometres on our brief drive, but often as low as 15 L/100km. It's also prone to disconcerting clunks through the suspension.
Still, as a family truck it appears to have the appropriate credentials. The optional third row of seats (priced at $1500) provides flexibility between kid-carrying duties and load lugging. It's also well decked out with storage binnacles, with everything from cupholders to good-sized door pockets and sizeable covered bins.
Off-road, too, there's little doubt the Territory will perform the duties most expect of it, at least in 4WD guise. Despite a relatively low ground clearance of 178mm, it'll clear decent-sized obstacles, and the traction control system works to divert drive to the wheels that need it most.
But even Ford admits that the Territory will give up a long way before more respected off-roaders, such as Toyota's LandCruiser.
. The Territory uses a 4WD system almost identical to that used on the Holden Adventra and some BMWs, although Ford claims its system is superior because it uses a quieter-operating chain drive instead of the gear drive employed in the Holden.
. The Territory's ground clearance is lower than that of most off-roaders, at just 178mm. Even Ford's jacked-up two-wheel-drive Falcon RTV ute sits 215mm off the ground, and Holden's Adventra rides at 200mm. The company says it may soon offer a high-rise suspension kit.
. Ford revised its sales forecasts down on the Territory from an initial high of 30,000 a year to "as many as 25,000" a year. At those figures, though, the new off-roader will still outsell the best-selling 4WD of 2003, Toyota's Prado, by almost two-to-one.
. The Territory's rear luggage shelf was subjected to the ultimate design criterion -- it had to hold a slab of beer over bumpy roads. No word on whether they were cans or stubbies.
. The lightest Territory is still a hefty 2005kg, and that's only for the base rear-drive model. Considering there's an extra 80kg on 4WD models, it's a substantial vehicle.
. Safety is still an option on some Territorys, with side curtain airbags costing an extra $800 on base model cars. The electronic stability system, the first in an Australian-built car, helps control slides but only comes on 4WD models.
. The Territory has not been designed to take the Falcon's V8 engine. Instead, performance variants will use a turbocharged version of the in-line six-cylinder engine.
. Following the disaster that was the AU, the Territory was researched extensively to ensure it met customers' needs. It's designed to carry mountain bikes with minimal fuss, and the storage bin in the middle seats is dishwasher-safe to allow for easy cleaning.
. The Territory is roomier than the Falcon but 61mm shorter.
Prices and details correct at publication date.