It’s been a decade since the Ford Territory leapt local manufacturing onto the SUV train that back then was fast gathering momentum. The Australian designed, engineered and built Territory may be in the twilight years of its life, expected to be replaced by the US-designed Edge (possibly still called Territory) in 2017, but it remains a family favourite in this country as that boom continues.
A facelifted Territory is due later this year, though the changes aren’t as expected to be as fundamental as those featured in the current model tested here that was released in 2011.
The middle-grade Ford Territory TS tested here costs $47,740 (excluding on road costs), though nobody is paying retail for this SUV these days – expect savings of around $7000 driveaway.
This Territory TS costs $6750 more than the entry-level TX, but $7250 less than the flagship Titanium.
Those prices are all based on selecting the 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol that’s been a staple in the Territory for a decade (and the Falcon for decades). These days, however, that engine is only available in two-wheel-drive (specifically, rear-drive, where most of its competitors such as the Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder drive only the front wheels).
You can choose a 2.7-litre turbo diesel V6 for an extra $3250 – for $50,990 in the case of the TS – though it’s the engine you’ll need if you want all-wheel drive, which adds a further $5000 to the cost.
There are some big styling and equipment benefits choosing the TS over the TX. On the outside there’s extra chrome, larger 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s) and the addition of fog lights. Inside, velour trim covers the outer bolsters of the seats, there’s door lighting, and kids won’t have to bug the parent driver to turn the air-conditioning colder or warmer, as an extra zone is added to the climate control.
While an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen is a welcome improvement on the dated 5.0-inch monochromatic screen featured in the TX, you’ll need to spend up on the Titanium to get satellite navigation. The Territory can’t at any price match the modern connectivity options of other newer Ford models in the range, such as the Kuga, which features voice control and digital radio on some models.
The TX, TS and Titanium all get simple Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a USB input. The touchscreen itself is slow to react, though its layers of commands are easy to access and helpfully each menu is colour coded differently.
Third-row seating is optional on the Territory TX, but standard on Territory TS, though this is not a seven-seater for lugging adults around over a country weekender (kids are fine though – more on that later).
Ford lists a full 30 storage compartments inside the Territory interior, and the three-year-old cabin’s design is certainly more about function than form. Hard and scratchy plastics dominate the design, and our test car suffered from some ill-fitting trim – such as the glovebox and power window switches – which is disappointing for a car of this size.
On the upside the front and rear seats are among the most comfortable in the class, the rubber-lined bottle holders are adjustable to fit different sized bottles – pure genius – and there’s even a tissue box holder in the console and removable rubbish bin in the rear compartment.
Legroom for the middle-row is adult-sized, perhaps not as generous as the newer Kluger and Pathfinder, though a lot of ground is made up in terms of the Territory’s excellent seat comfort and visibility.
Where the big Ford can’t match those rivals is in space or comfort for the two people seated in the third-row. Practically speaking, the ability to open the rear tail-gate and pull the seat base into the boot floor then flip over the backrest is brilliantly simple. However the backrest only folds in one piece, meaning if the Territory is used as a six-seater you can’t have one half of the third row used as boot space. That the seat base slides back into the floor means there’s only enough space for it to be short and thin, which makes it uncomfortable for occupants.
Once seated, there’s limited headroom and footroom for third-row passengers unless the sliding middle-row is pressed right up against the front seats – affecting legroom for centre passengers. On the upside, there’s two armrest storage bins and a cupholder on each side.
With all seats in place there’s almost no room left for luggage, however, so the Territory remains very much an occasional seven-seater.
There are benefits to this, however, and they come in the driving. The Ford feels noticeably smaller and more nimble than its Toyota and Nissan rivals around town. It is easier to park, not just thanks to its smaller dimensions but also the slick and light steering, and the whole experience is very car-like. By contrast its rivals sometimes make you feel like you’re navigating a bus through Broadway.
The Territory may not feel premium inside, but it certainly does in terms of its engineering. Its ride comfort over poorly maintained roads that dominate in Australian capital cities is exceptional, well beyond the standards of its rivals. For rural customers, its ability to dispatch with bad roads at speed is equally impressive.
Noise supression measures introduced in 2011 to coincide with the addition of a louder diesel engine also reap rewards for the petrol-engined Territory. Already quieter to begin with, the 4.0-litre six is now largely subdued around the area where its peak 391Nm of torque is made (3250rpm), which, by the way, is about 50Nm more than its rivals. Only when the tachometer needle closes in on where the peak 195kW of power is produced (at 6000rpm) does engine noise really intrude.
Although the optional diesel has even more torque (440Nm) at lower revs (1900rpm), the petrol engine also has crisp throttle response rather than the doughy turbo lag of the 2.7-litre. The petrol feels less like you’re driving a bus, as it is more responsive, though it claims to use more fuel – 10.6 litres per 100 kilometres versus 8.2L/100km for the diesel.
Either way, the standard six-speed automatic works quietly and intuitively. For those who order their Territory with an optional tow pack, both petrol and diesel rear-wheel-drive models are rated at 2300kg maximum, upped to 2700kg with the diesel-only all-wheel-drive.
The Ford Territory may be showing its age in a few areas, most notably interior presentation and technology that will hopefully be addressed with the forthcoming, final facelift of this generation. It also isn’t the largest car in its class, though that reaps dividends in the city where the Ford is superbly nimble, comfortably straddling the line between car-like drivability and SUV-like practicality.