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The Ford Territory and Subaru Outback have a few things in common. They’re both quite car-like due to the fact they share their DNA with sedans, they’re both widely recognised nameplates, and they’ve both been either updated (Territory) or entered a new generation (Outback) in the past few months.

As part of these step-changes, each has also received a significant series of price cuts, of between $3000 and $6500 on the Ford and $2000 and $10,000 on the Subaru, depending on the variant you choose.

In the blue corner, the Australian-designed, -engineered and -built Territory is now on sale in SZ II guise, which ostensibly brings an update to the multimedia system to see it through to the end of its tenure as a locally made car in late 2016.

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But don’t read that the wrong way, because the Territory remains one of the better-packaged SUVs out there, and easily the sharpest one to drive that isn’t wearing a BMW or Porsche badge.

In the red corner is the new-generation Outback, a continuation of a legacy (pardon that pun, Subaru aficionados) that matches evolutionary styling and a carryover diesel engine with an improved cabin and value equation to boot.

Just as well, too, given the even more consequential role that Subaru is asking the new Outback to play. In one fell swoop of product cutbacks, the new Outback is also required to serve as replacement-by-proxy for the axed Liberty wagon and seven-seat Tribeca.

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And that’s another good reason beyond those listed to pit these foes against one another. Because not only is the Outback the ‘new’ kid on the block, but Subaru is pitching it as its answer to the large family SUV question, even though it’s only a five-seater.

Here we pit the top-spec Outback Premium 2.0D against a Territory TS all-wheel-drive. Like all Subarus bar the BRZ, the Outback is an AWD-only proposition. Both models also come in petrol forms — a 2.5-litre four or 3.6-litre Boxer six for the Outback and a 4.0-litre inline-six for the Ford.

Our rationale for this choice is quite simple really, given the base rear-drive TX Territory doesn’t even come close to the Subaru on specification and the Titanium is too expensive for comparison. Furthermore, a sizeable proportion of family SUV sales in Australia are of highly-specified variants.

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Pricing in this specification is $43,490 plus on-road costs for the Outback, compared with $49,990 for the Territory. These figures are $2500 and $6000 cheaper than they were in previous iterations. That said, we’ve heard of people getting some serious discounts on Territories if they haggle.

Both come standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, touchscreen displays (8.0-inch on the Ford and 7.0-inch on the Subaru), cruise control, dual-zone climate control, voice control, Bluetooth phone and audio, 2 x USB ports, reverse cameras, seven airbags and five-star ANCAP ratings.

Unfortunately, Subaru cannot offer its EyeSight active safety suite with the diesel engine though the Ford offers no technology such as radar cruise or lane-departure monitoring to counter, so consider them even.

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2015-fordVsubaru-terryVoutback-comparo-9Above: Ford Territory (top) and Subaru Outback (bottom). 

The Subaru ups the ante by offering extras not found on the Ford including satellite navigation, Pandora integration, an electric tailgate, full rather than partial leather seats with heating, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, electrically adjustable seats, keyless start, an electric parking brake and a sunroof.

However, the Ford counters with unique features such as front and rear sensors — Subaru should be chastened for not offering these as standard on a family vehicle — DAB+ digital radio, SYNC Emergency Assistance that dials 000 automatically in a serious accident, and a split rear tailgate with a separately-opening glass section.

The Ford is also the bigger car — 73mm longer, 58mm wider, 39mm taller and sitting on a 98mm longer wheelbase — though both have excellent rear space and cargo storage with proper spare wheels under the floor.

2015-fordVsubaru-terryVoutback-comparo-54Above: Ford Territory third row seats.

More importantly, the Ford also comes with seven seats (though you can delete the third row on order). This third row has a clever system in which the seat bases retract into a storage nook under the cargo floor, and though the space is limited, it’s a vital selling point.

If you positively need more than five seats, then the decision between these two is obvious. But if that third row is more just a bonus for a rainy day as it is for many buyers out there (the five-seat Jeep Grand Cherokee dominates in this segment, remember) then read on.

Beyond this factor, and the fact we both love DAB+ and disapprove of Subaru’s desire to sting you extra for sensors, we have to give points on value to the Outback. It’s cheaper and notably better equipped — largely because it’s had more than a shoestring update like the Ford.

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2015-fordVsubaru-terryVoutback-comparo-17Above: Ford Territory (top) and Subaru Outback (bottom). 

As with the Falcon, the Territory’s cabin is eminently recognisable beyond its new SYNC 2 infotainment system, and as such it’s showing its age. The Subaru has the more modern design, the more pleasing materials and the better build quality of this pair, by some margin.

It’s not just the lack of a starter button, sat-nav or electric parking brake that dent the Ford’s cabin, it’s the monochrome trip computer against the Subaru’s modern colour one (both have digital speedos embedded), the masses of grey plastic and buttons (including steering wheel buttons without night-time illumination) and cheap door trims compared with the Subaru’s supple leather.

The Outback has the more solid feel — its console doesn’t move when prodded, though it’s smaller, and its dash-top binnacle doesn’t creak like the cheap surfacing on the Ford’s — while silver highlights and soft leather padding everywhere lend a superior ambience.

2015-fordVsubaru-terryVoutback-comparo-30Above: Ford Territory. 

Both are generally ergonomically sound, though the Ford’s steering column doesn’t shift high enough for all legs. The Ford counters with the best air-conditioning system in the business, given it was developed in Australia for our summers. Not that the Subaru’s is bad.

Both sport excellent infotainment systems. Ford’s new SYNC 2 system has four quadrants on the home screen that are simple to navigate, though the Subaru’s screen, while smaller, is the more touch-sensitive and responsive. It’s icons are also larger for shaky or stubby fingers and it has the higher-res reversing camera.

Each also has fantastic voice controls systems that will respond to commands along the lines of “change the station to 102.7FM” or “change the temperature to 22 degrees”, meaning your hands are on the wheel, where they should be, more often.

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2015-fordVsubaru-terryVoutback-comparo-7Above: Ford Territory (top) and Subaru Outback (bottom). 

Out back (ahem), the Ford has more headroom, though despite the longer wheelbase there isn’t as much in it for useable legroom as you might think. The Ford also has the superior middle second-row seat, and the lap-sash belt is anchored to the seat rather than the roof. Both have rear cupholders, ski ports, air vents and door pockets.

The Ford’s rear seat bench also slides forwards, while the Subaru counters by offering two rake angles. Cabin storage honours goes to the Ford, with its larger console, rear storage cubby, adjustable bottle holders in each door and hiding holes next to the front seats outdoing the Outback.

Both cars have folding second-row seats, though the Subaru makes it easier and more intuitive to do one-handed while holding groceries or a baby. Both cars come with three child seat anchors, including two ISOFIX anchors on the Subaru. 

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2015-fordVsubaru-terryVoutback-comparo-13Above: Ford Territory (top) and Subaru Outback (bottom).

The Ford wins rear access with its separately opening rear glass section, though the Subaru counters with its electric tailgate. You can also flip down the rear seats in the Subaru via levers in the rear loading area, unlike the Ford.

In short, the Ford is more spacious and has clever storage, but the Subaru has a number of conveniences not matched by the Ford. If it’s pure size and space you want, the Ford remains an awfully clever offering. But the Subaru uses what it has just as effectively, if not more so.

Under the bonnet, the Ford is the clear winner for power and torque. Its 140kW/440Nm 2.7-litre V6 turbo-diesel trounces the Subaru’s 110kW/350Nm horizontally-opposed four-pot, though the Subaru offers the broader peak torque band.

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2015-fordVsubaru-terryVoutback-comparo-12Above: Ford Territory (top) and Subaru Outback (bottom).

The Ford feels punchier despite being the bigger car of the pair — though not as refined — much of which we put down to the six-speed automatic transmission, which is more decisive and less prone to amplify a doughy throttle than the Subaru’s CVT with paddles.

That said, Subaru’s decision to program six artificial stepped ratios into its CVT means it behaves more like a torque-converter or dual-clutch auto, with defined shift points rather than a propensity to move about the rev band aimlessly.

Still, following a swift punch of the throttle it’s easier to catch the Outback napping than the Ford where it can elicit a degree of lag. The Ford’s 2700kg braked towing capacity is also 1000kg greater than the Subaru’s.

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The Subaru, though, as well as being more refined, is also more economical. On our combined-cycle route we used 7.6 litres of diesel per 100km (1.3L/100km more than the factory claim), against 9.4L/100km for the Ford (0.4L/100km more than the claim).

Both cars as tested here come with permanent all-wheel-drive systems, but are soft-roaders at their core.

In the vital area of urban ride, the Ford is the winner, though both sit on 18s (the Subaru sits on 225-mm, 60-aspect tyres whereas the Ford rides on 235/55s).

The Subaru has a habit of catching and amplifying rapid corrugations, such as the those surrounding tram tracks, which you scarcely notice in the Ford. That said, the Outback is noticeably better than its Liberty sibling in this area, perhaps due to its greater suspension travel.

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To counter, the Subaru’s electric power-assisted steering is lighter around town than the Ford’s, making it easier to park. Its turning circle is also 0.4 metres smaller than the Ford’s, and its smaller C-pillar gives it superior rear visibility (somewhat making up for the lack of sensors).

At speed, the lightness of the Subaru’s steering turns to vagueness next to the Ford’s, which offers the kind of feel and feedback that makes its Falcon sibling rightly adored. Given the Territory was engineered and tested in regional Victoria, it’s always going to feel more at home there.

On B-roads, both straight and curved, as well as patchy bitumen and gravel, the Ford soaks up whatever you throw at it with aplomb. The Subaru catches the odd divot and sends more rapid-fire jitters into the cabin. It’s not bad, but the Ford is nearly flawless. That Control Blade independent rear suspension is still a benchmark.

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Over coarse chip bitumen roads, our decibel meter could scarcely distinguish between the two, which is a massive hat-tip to Subaru. The 2.0D Premium’s Bridgestones are also a step above the old Outback’s squeal-prone Yokohamas, though they’re more road-biased than the Territory’s Goodyears that painted tracks under an emergency brake test.

The Ford convincingly wins in the handling stakes once you leave with big smoke — though the Subaru looks more car-like, it’s the Territory with the more nimble disposition. It’s nose is more eager to tuck in than the Subaru’s, though the latter now has a torque-vectoring system to diminish the propensity for understeer, and its body control is better managed.

Another area where the Subaru is narrowly less sharp is in the area of running costs. Both Ford and Subaru offer lifetime capped-price servicing, but the Ford at the current rates should prove cheaper.

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The first six paid services in the Outback cost a total of $2444, compared to the Ford which will cost (on current rates, though the figures can creep as the story linked above mentions) $2110. However, given the Subaru’s intervals are six-months/12,500km compared to the Ford’s longer 12-month/15,000km intervals, the first six services in the Ford also cover a longer period.

Ford does, however, sting you an extra $80 every second year for new brake fluid, and $190 once every 3-10 years for new radiator coolant.

It may be showing its age inside and out, then, but the Territory remains an absolute benchmark in the areas of of ride and handling — in fact, nothing shy of a Cayenne or X5 matches it. It’s also more powerful and can tow loads the Subaru can’t, though that’s not gong to affect a large number of buyers, based on buyer trends. 

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But the Outback looks to offer better overall value here — unless you twist your Ford dealers arm hard, like some people we know of — and though it’s slower, it offers greater economy than the Ford.

More importantly, its cabin feels light years beyond the Ford’s in all bar storage space, and the gulf in dynamism isn’t as large as it once was.

Do you absolutely need seven seats? Then cross shop a Territory with suspects such as a Toyota Kluger or Hyundai Santa Fe, or the forthcoming Kia Sorento. If you don’t, then as much as we love the Ford for the beautiful drive it offers, we’d suggest the Subaru. By a nose.

Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.



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