It’s exactly 10 years since the Ford Territory was released in 2004 as a landmark vehicle for Australia.
After decades of locally built small cars and large sedans, the Territory arrived not only as the country’s first homegrown SUV but also one offering rear-wheel drive as well as all-wheel drive.
If Ford Australia’s product planners haven’t always got things right, the Territory – championed by the late, great boss Geoff Polites – tapped into a burgeoning demand for high-riding wagons to great success.
More than 155,000 sales later, the Territory enters its final chapter – with the SZ MkII that will take the SUV through to the end of local production in October 2016.
Despite the Territory outselling the Falcon by a decent margin since 2012, the big SUV hasn’t been given as much of an update as the last (FG X) Falcon launching at the same time.
The main design changes for the 2015 Territory include a less cluttered central hexagonal grill that breaks its visual link with the EcoSport baby SUV and links it more closely with the family face applied to most Fords including the new-look Falcon.
The slimline upper grille also drops from two chrome bars to one and there’s a C-shaped profile to the revised foglights.
There are also new-look alloy wheels through a line-up that again comprises TX, TS and Titanium badges.
Ford has also taken the scalpel to pricing, with the Falcon-based SUV starting $3000 lower than before – now from $36,990 – while standard equipment has been lifted for the base model TX.
TX now features a reverse-view camera and front sensors.
The 2015 Ford Territory joins the Falcon in receiving the latest Ford-Microsoft joint venture infotainment system.
Expanded voice command control and additional connectivity are central to the new Sync 2, while the foundation is an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen.
Split into four ‘Smart corners’, each quadrant represents phone, entertainment, climate or navigation – though the latter is only included on the range-topping Titanium.
If you get tired of having to confirm multiple commands, a more advanced setting for voice control can accelerate the instruction process. The nav also has an option to speak a full address in one command rather than having to go through the usual state/town/street steps.
Other additions include digital radio and emergency assistance that can automatically dial 000 if occupants are rendered unconscious or unable to reach their phone in the case of an accident.
The touchscreen’s fonts and graphics are sharp, and the menu system straightforward.
As with the Falcon, however, the Territory’s cabin suffers from the lack of any meaningful makeover.
The Sync display is a rare spot of colour standing out against a vast spread of greys and blacks. At least in the Titanium you can get tan-coloured leather seats to help brighten up the interior.
Plastics quality remains below average for the large-SUV class, with fit and finish similarly ranked.
Clever storage options never go out of date, of course, and with 30-odd parking spots for bottles, mobiles, etc the big Ford scores a big tick for functionality.
A third row is still a $2500 option for the base TX and standard in the mid-range TS and range-topper Titanium.
Unlike the rearmost seats in the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Kluger, space is cramped for adults in the Territory. And while the seats stow handily in the cargo floor, they’re not split 50:50 to offer flexibility if only six seats are needed.
Comfort is better in the middle row.
Territory is at its most competitive – and beyond – on the move.
It’s a better-riding, better-steering vehicle than any rivals, and you can even throw in the similarly sized Germans – the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes ML.
The Territory is supple-y suspended, soaking up the worst of Australian roads whether the patchy bitumen is in the city or out in the country.
It feels relatively nimble if those country roads swerve along a scenic route, with steering that is smooth and effortless.
The 2.7-litre turbo diesel introduced in 2011 and borrowed from the Land Rover Discovery continues to make a natural pairing with the Territory’s calming abilities.
Respectably quiet thanks to the additional sound deadening introduced in that update three years ago, the diesel trades a $3250 premium over the 4.0-litre six-cylinder petrol for stronger pulling power.
It produces an extra 49Nm, at 440Nm, and delivers it at a more beneficial point in the rev range – 1900rpm compared with the petrol’s 3250rpm. Choose all-wheel drive instead of rear-drive and you also get a greater towing capacity (via the $550 tow pack): 2700kg v 2300kg.
Official fuel consumption figures for diesel Territorys are unchanged: 8.2 litres per 100km for the TX, 8.8L/100km TS and 9.0L/100km for Titanium.
Ford’s own six-cylinder petrol – still not available with the expensive ($5000) AWD option – closes the gap fractionally with the SZ MkII update. The entry TX drops 0.4L to 10.2L/100km with the TS and Titanium both at 10.5L/100km (down 0.1L).
That’s chiefly brought about by the petrol engine being teamed with a lighter, more efficient ZF six-speed auto – a Chinese-built unit that replaces the previous, German-sourced transmission.
We only had a chance to drive a diesel Territory on launch, but our experience of the new auto in the new-look Falcon suggests no noticeable change to the refined gearshifting operation.
So if the Territory continues to be rather lacklustre when viewed statically, it continues to be world class on the move.
Time will tell whether the new Ford Edge that will replace the Territory (though possibly retain its name) will prove to be as good to drive or whether the Ford Motor Company has made a poor error in not making Australia’s only homegrown high-riding wagon the One Ford blueprint for a big Ford SUV.