The Ford Territory is now back towards the pointy end of local SUV sales, with its fortunes having been rescued by a belated diesel offering that arrived seven years after the car’s 2004 debut.
It’s a variant that has brought a much-needed alternative to the doughty but thirsty locally made 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol, reducing running costs for families watching their pennies.
Diesel versions of the Ford Territory start at $43,240 for a rear-wheel-drive version or $48,240 if you want all-wheel drive.
Here we tested the Titanium TDCi RWD that sits just below the uppermost spot in the Ford Territory range, and asks $58,060.
The 2.7-litre V6 turbo diesel engine – borrowed from JaguarLand Rover – generates 140kW of power at 4000rpm and 440Nm of torque at a supremely usable 1900rpm. While a little laggy initially, it has more than enough grunt to shift its not insignificant weight around plus provide legitimate towing capabilities (2300kg braked).
The advantages of having diesel propulsion in something the size of the 2109kg Ford Territory, instead of a humble petrol engine, are twofold: loads of pulling power low down in the rev range, and fuel economy.
On the books the Ford Territory TDCi RWD averages 8.2 litres per 100km – compared with more than 10.5L/100km for the equivalently specced petrol model. Over our time with the car we averaged 9.1L/100km – a respectable figure in real world terms.
The downsides of having a diesel in the engine bay are that they can sound rather truck-like from the outside. And worse still, that sound can penetrate into the cabin.
Though noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels in the Ford Territory are good – with road noise being present but only ever minimal – it’s the diesel engine that permeates most. While a large number of modern cars have become rather proficient at exploiting the benefits of diesels and at masking their sound – Audi and Mercedes-Benz for example – the Territory doesn’t fall into this category.
A big tick for the Ford, however, is its classic torque converter-style six-speed automatic transmission.
The gearbox’s smooth changes and low-speed fluidity are a refreshing change from the indecisive and at times jerky shifts of the in-trend dual clutch-style transmissions.
While some gearchanges in the Territory can be a little slow, and a solid thump when selecting reverse isn’t uncommon, overall the gearbox works well with the engine in making getting around a breeze.
The Ford Territory’s steering makes manoeuvring the SUV easy, with the Territory actually tracking quite well on its 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels.
Though its soft suspension does mean a fair amount of body roll, it rides exceptionally well, handling bumps without bother and taking road imperfections in its stride, never upsetting driver or passenger.
Interior quality is a mixed bag, with hard plastics and the occasional piece of creaking trim combining for a feeling of cost cutting, though space inside the Ford Territory is plentiful.
Occupants in the Titanium model are afforded leather upholstery, a Premium Interior Command Centre with 8-inch touchscreen and satellite navigation, and an Alpine rear DVD entertainment system with 10.2-inch screen, two wireless headphones and a remote control.
Drivers are kept happy with a six-way power adjustable seat with memory function, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control, audio and phone controls.
The car’s Bluetooth phone connectivity is reasonably quick and easy to set up but it does require you to physically turn on the audio system individually before allowing audio streaming from the just-connected phone.
It also doesn’t auto play or continue on from where you were when you return to the car after exiting it, meaning you have to select ‘Media’ to play music from your phone every single time you get back in.
The centre touchscreen menus look bland and dated compared to other cars in this highly competitive segment, and navigating the unit can be a little fiddly as the system is sometimes slow to react.
Another big oversight is the loss of the clock whenever the Sat Nav is in use. While the screen displays an estimated arrival time, the current time disappears altogether.
Despite its feature-packed entertainment additions, the Ford Territory Titanium’s audio system sound quality is average at best. Even after we toyed with the settings to try and extract the best sound out of the speakers, they could only ever generate a tinny, cheap sound – particularly disappointing given the Titanium’s premium spec level and associated price tag.
Rear passengers are able to enjoy acres of space, with ample head and legroom allowing anyone from small kids all the way to six-footers to inhabit the second row of seating.
The last seating row, however, is strictly the domain of the little ones, with next to no legroom but still copious amounts of headroom and comfy seats (that are able to be hidden away ensuring a totally flat extended boot space with the backrests down).
The flexible seating and space options are easy enough to manage in the Territory with straightforward mechanisms for moving seating positions around and dropping row after row of seats – easier, more modern mechanisms do exist though in both the Hyundai Santa Fe and Holden Captiva 7.
Boot space is very limited when seating a full load of seven but access is possible via two means from the rear of the car: the glass hatch, which is quick but usage comes with a high load height, and the full tailgate which is vault-like in both the sheer aperture it presents but also the weight of the thing – a hefty unit going up and coming down.
It’s cup holders aplenty in the Ford Territory with two in the centre console, one in each door (front and rear) alongside door pockets, two in the centre arm rest for rear passengers and one on each side for the last seating row. If you’re planning on carrying a drink in a car, this is the car for you.
There’s also extra storage space for the front two seats located near the seat position controls as well as map pockets in the back of the driver and passenger seats. In fact, Ford says the Territory has 30 storage spaces available including the cavernous centre console between driver and passenger.
There are some oddities to the popular Ford SUV, though: drivers get an auto down function for the electric windows but there’s no auto up, and the default setting for the indicator flash on locking and unlocking only sees them flash when the lock button is depressed – the setting can be changed however.
If you need a big solid car to carry plenty of cargo, human or otherwise, and will likely require the use of a tow-bar, then the Ford Territory provides a good, if slightly expensive, platform.
It’s also a better SUV to drive than either the Captiva 7 or Toyota Kluger. But with the Australian-built SUV having only had relatively minor updates since its 2004 launch, a 2014 update will be an opportunity to bring some key areas of the Territory up to speed with emerging rivals.
Especially ones such as the new Hyundai Santa Fe that are currently offering more features and stronger value.