Ford’s new Territory cross-over goes for a brief drive
By BRUCE NEWTON 15 December 2003
YEP, the headline doesn’t lie. We have driven Ford’s vital new family-oriented cross-over wagon nearly seven months before it goes on sale.
We wouldn’t call it a definitive drive though, not over just nine kilometres of tarred and gravelled roads at the Anglesea proving centre in bushland south-west of Geelong, Victoria.
No, we’d call it more of a taster, designed to whet our appetite and yours for what Ford Australia boss Geoff Polites has deemed “the most significant model that has been introduced since the first Holden”.
It’s a big call, but it’s a big project, with $500 million invested to create a second volume-selling vehicle alongside Falcon in the local Ford line-up.
Such is his closeness to the project and his determination that it succeed, Mr Polites’ personal ambition was to get the media into Territory, albeit briefly, before the end of 2004, to prove there was substance to Territory as well as talk.
“We have said to our troops all along, you do this but once in your entire career – nobody will ever invent a Territory again in Ford of Australia,” he said.
“The people who come along behind us will take whatever we leave and they will do the next generation.
“But they won’t start with a white sheet of paper, so from that perspective in terms of building a car it’s as exciting as it gets. ”
What was available for the media drive were two HTFB cars, or Hard Tool Functional Build. That means they were sign-off cars for engineering and management, fundamentally representative of what the public will be driving, although with plenty of rough edges in terms of build, materials quality and refinement.
Value to Ford? Each HTFB costs around $150,000 to build.
So while they look much the same inside and out, the HTFBs are not exact replicas of the production Territorys that will be on sale from June 1, 2004, or indeed the 300-odd Field Evaluation Units (FEUs) that Ford intends to hand out to dealers from April as part of its biggest test drive campaign ever.
Ford is aiming to get through three test drives per 24 hours – that’s two half-days and an over-nighter - of each FEU Territory over approximately six weeks period. You do the maths, that’s about 38,000 test drives!
Territory will be sold in two spec variants as either a rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, with the choice of five or seven seats. It will offer 4.0-litre inline six-cylinder power only, with a turbo version mooted as a possibility. There will be no V8 version offered initially.
Territory is forecast to eventually account for around 30,000 sales per annum. To do that, Ford has already indicated pricing will start for the RWD base model in the high $30,000 bracket, with all-wheel drive worth a premium of around $3000.
That sort of sales total is far more ambitious than Holden nominates for its recently launched Adventra cross-over. But that’s V8 only and very much based on the Commodore wagon.
Territory, by contrast, is very much separated from BA Falcon. It’s easier in fact to say what’s the same – the engine box, the lower dash panel, the kick-up of the front floor, the fundamentals of the rear suspension, the controls and steering wheel are items Ford admits to.
NOT only was there a chance to drive Territory at Anglesea, but also to closely inspect the much-touted interior, revealed to the public from a distance at the Sydney motor show last October.
The basics we have already reported, the similarity to Falcon in terms of dash presentation, the plethora of storage compartments (up to 33), the all-new upper seat designs and the split tailgate including flip glass. (For more on that go to our story “First look: Inside Ford's Territory”, published in the Future Models section of this site on October 16.)
But sitting behind the steering wheel emphasises this vehicle’s quasi off-roader ambitions. You look down on the instruments much more than in a Falcon. That’s because the driver's seat has been raised about 100mm to deliver that “command” driving position.
The cowl too has been raised 70mm – so the net gain in angle for the driver is 30mm - as well as moved back by the same amount. This has been done to improve packaging and occupant room, remembering the Territory is shorter than a Falcon sedan.
The second and optional third row of seats sit “theatre-style” 40mm respectively higher to improve visibility. Despite that, there’s no shortage of headroom in any row – another cross-over signature. There’s also enough room in the second row to seat three adults side-by-side.
The second row slides fore and aft to aid both access and foot room when the third row is installed. The second row also folds flat to aid third row access, although that still means small feet will be treading all over the seatback on the way through. That’s when they can be bothered to operate the mechanism. Impatience will dictate they often simply clamber over the seat.
A flip-forward function on the second row seat could have been the better bet here. Nevertheless, the opening mechanism and access to it seems well thought out, solid and simple.
The third row is quite upright and really designed for kids and young teenagers. Adults would not want to spend much more than an hour stuck back there. Call this a 5+2 rather than a seven-seater.
The seat base stows cleverly, the base sliding back into a hole under the luggage compartment while the back folds forward, forming a 1.8-metre plus flat floor in tandem with the second row.
There are plenty of neat Aussie touches – like the rear compartment cover that can support a slab of beer and the luggage compartment that is wide enough to accommodate full size golf bags.
TWO Territorys were available for the media to sample – a high-spec RWD and a base-spec all-wheel drive, both five-seaters. One lap of the course in each car was allocated, one time driving and one time as a rear-seat passenger.
The course was a combination of gravel and tar, much of it winding. An 80km/h speed limit was imposed – not by Ford but the facility - just to make the assessment that much more restricted.
But some things were still pretty obvious. Like the fact that Territory – even in rear-drive form – is light years ahead of Ford’s only other locally-build seven-seat offering – the Falcon wagon.
As it should be, considering it has a much more sophisticated suspension underpinning it. But not only was the grip far better on even chopped-out gravel sweepers and potholes where a leaf-sprung Falcon would be sideways, it was also still car-like with its responsive steering and limited bodyroll.
It’s way too easy to make a definitive call, but on suspension and chassis basics, it seems Ford is on the right track with Territory. Which is no surprise considering the amount of effort that’s gone into it. (For more on that go to our story “Ford Territory: New suspension revealed”, published in the Future Models section of this site on August 19.)
There were no serious challenges for the four-wheel drive version, which uses a stability control-based traction system mated to three open differentials and the same New Venture Gear transfer case as the Holden Adventra and BMW X5. (For more on that go to our story “Ford Territory: Stability set for debut”, published in the Future Models section of this site on September 16.)
Other impressions? The BA-sourced Barra 182 engine and updated four-speed automatic transmissions with sequential sports shift remains an impressively smooth unit, although acceleration did not seem as sparkling in Territory, a reflection of the increased kerb weight Territory totes around.
Up front, Territory is noticeably quieter than Falcon and that’s reflective of more NVH work that has gone on quelling engine and road noise since BA was released. Sitting in the second row though, the exhaust noise was rather too intrusive, something Ford promises is already being fixed.
Back there in the second row the ride also seemed a bit jittery and the seat a little flat and unsupportive. That’s a constrast to the newly designed drivers’ seat, which seems to offer excellent support.
But don’t take all that as gospel just yet. Nine kilometres of driving a prototype is enough merely to tell us that Ford seems to be heading in the right direction with Territory.
But there are plenty of kilometres that need to be covered yet.