An emotional and fond farewell to what was one of the best cars ever produced in Australia - James drives the Ford Territory for the last time.
Well, today is the day. Twelve years, five months and fourteen days since the first 'production' Ford Territory rolled off the line in Campbellfield, Victoria. Today, the story of Australia’s first SUV comes to an end.
There will be plenty of opinion pieces written about what might have been, if Ford Australia had been able to get Dearborn to sit up and take notice of a car that may well have been a world beater. What would have happened if more money had been made available for Territory development, how much more could the car have achieved?
Saying goodbye is never easy, of course, but weeping for what may have been doesn’t solve anything.
We prefer our farewell of the 2016 Ford Territory Titanium, a eulogy of sorts, to be a chance to remember what was, and to celebrate what was undoubtedly one of the best cars ever created in this country.
The media has been focused mainly on the demise of the the Falcon, but I think we can all agree that, as a large car, it really had run its course. But the Territory, a seven-seat diesel SUV, is as relevant now as it was at launch, over a decade ago.
Almost 200,000 Ford Territorys have been built (198,445 to be precise), a proudly Australian car even named for the Australian landscape. It would surprise no one that in proper Aussie tradition, the car is known affectionately as just ‘Terry’.
The final SZII platform was released in 2014 and was just a subtle update over the car’s only major facelift in 2011. Our Silhouette metallic black ($500 option) RWD Titanium ($52,740 before options and on-road costs) is a shade innocuous. We’ve always been partial to the Emperor red.
And on those prices, that's just 'list'. We're pretty sure you could negotiate a sensational deal at the moment.
Always a handsome car, the Territory’s fat C-pillar design still holds up well, and is something it has in common with the overseas Ford Explorer. If anything, the Territory looks under-wheeled, especially at the rear where the top-spec Titanium still has 18-inch wheels in a market where even 20 inches is becoming common.
The facelifted model's chrome-trimmed grille and slim projector headlamps deliver a more up-market look than before, but the lack of LED lighting, even as a DRL signature, is just the start of where the Territory begins to fall behind.
Ford spent $250 million on the upgrade from SY to the significantly re-styled SZ Territory. That may sound like a lot, but, for context, Mercedes-Benz spends that on research and development every two-weeks.
To be fair, the Territory was only ever built as a right-hand-drive car and, despite being exported to South Africa and Thailand - which explains why you occasionally saw them getting shot at and blown up on episodes of Homeland - it was never going to get the global attention from head office. Particularly when the Escape, Explorer and Edge all sit within the blue-oval’s left-hook portfolio.
But I digress.
More money could have made Territory better, but what we got wasn’t half bad.
The integrated roof rails look smart and the clever split tailgate and rear privacy glass are features usually found on more up-market cars. It isn’t perfect by any stretch, though - the rear view camera is particularly susceptible to dirt and grime, and the non-powered boot can be heavy.
Inside, too, there’s good and bad in equal measure.
With the third row of seats stored, you have 1153 litres of space, which is bigger than a Mazda CX-9 (810 litres). Flip them out, and you still have 441 litres available, more than a Kia Sorento (142 itres).
Speak of folding that third row, it can be tricky to work with, given the seat base ‘appears’ from beneath the boot floor and the sliding second row needs to be forward so that the third-row seatback has room to fold.
It all sounds pretty complex and if, like me, you’ve had to go from fitting five to fitting seven in short order, there are a bunch of swear words the waiting passengers may learn in the process…
Use the handy red tabs to set the car in either mode, though, and there’s good room and storage in the back for little ones. The second row is comfortable and offers cup holders, vents and storage, plus there’s a roof-mounted screen and DVD player to keep the punters amused. It even comes with wireless headsets, and USB input so those ‘movies you bought online’ can be played as well!
Step up front to get behind the wheel and the first thing you notice is just how fantastically comfortable those leather seats are. It is easy to adjust to a good driving position despite not having a powered control for the back rest. The steering wheel has height and telescopic adjustment, and can hilariously be lowered to an angle which no human could describe as ergonomic. Again, the layout isn't perfect but it does the job.
Your instruments are clear but simple, and although the digital display in the center of the binnacle is looking quite dated, there is still a digital speedo and feedback on your cruise control speed setting. A Toyota Kluger still misses these functions.
No, there are none of the clever driver-assistance features, no lane departure, pre-collision detection or adaptive cruise control functions that the Territory’s showroom stablemate, the Ranger pickup, has available.
The mass of buttons on the center console came with the SZ update in 2011, but even the inclusion of the eight-inch LCD touchscreen and Sync 2 software isn’t enough to make this feel modern.
Sync 2 is well featured, with navigation and digital radio among the core functions, but it isn’t without its flaws. Activation areas on the screen can be small and difficult to use on the move, the menu designs aren’t wholly intuitive, and the navigation has motion lockout – which is hugely frustrating when you have a passenger available to manage the direction inputs.
There’s only one auto-down window, and none auto-up. The steering wheel buttons don’t have any backlighting to help you see at night, and tapping the plastic on top of the infotainment screen… just don’t.
After a bit of time behind the wheel, you do get used to it, as you do with the clever storage that includes the cubby behind the ‘garage door’ on the center stack, deep console bin with dedicated coin and phone holder slots, as well as a pair of USB points.
Clever items like the adjustable-size bottle holders and ‘coin collectors’ show that the Territory was designed with real family use in mind. In fact, we drove to a McDonald's drive-through for a fun ‘typical Terry’ photo opportunity – where those plastic trays to the side of the front seats have saved the Australian economy billions of dollars in lost change as you pull a wallet out to shout a round of Happy Meals, and pulled up behind another Territory in the queue.
In fact, on our short drive to grab some extra photos of the black Terry in action, we lost count at the numbers on the road. Initiate a game of ‘Terry Punch’ on your next road trip with caution.
Forget that the Territory has had over a decade to mark its… territory, this year, with almost 5500 sales under its belt, the Territory is outselling the Jeep Grand Cherokee and much-lauded Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. Yes it is Australia’s SUV, but after one drive you’ll know why it is so popular.
The engineers at Ford have devised a ride comfort for the Territory that puts even some of the more expensive European brands to shame. The Terry finds a way to flatten surfaces, and smooth corrugations while still offering a direct feel through the wheel.
Turn in is direct but not particularly sporty, and it does err to being a bit floaty at times, but never in a way that makes you lose confidence.
On a typical family road-trip, the Territory is a well-behaved, relaxed and comfortable cruiser that can eat up mile upon mile of Australian road, sealed or not.
Our tester has a 2300kg tow rating (with the optional heavy-duty tow pack, otherwise the standard is 1600kg), and if big trailers are your thing, Ford dealers can fit an electronic brake controller as an accessory under your new vehicle warranty.
The 2.7-litre turbo-diesel V6 is a well suited powerplant for the Territory, offering 140kW and 440Nm while returning an easy-to-match combined fuel consumption figure of 8.2L/100km.
Peak torque is available from 1900rpm and the Ford drives in a relaxed and seemingly effortless manner. Try to push it a bit, and you’ll start to see the V6 operate outside of its comfort zone, plus the absence of a diesel particulate filter means you’ll also see a cloud of diesel smoke from the single exhaust (the pair of cut-outs on the rear valance are design elements only).
It’s no hot rod, but it and the six-speed auto work well together. You can tip the gear shift to a manual mode, but leaving it in automatic gives smooth and predictable shifts. Slow down to make a turn in traffic and the needle will drop below 2000rpm, giving the car a bit of a delayed response when powering away again.
The best part of all of this, though, is the noise. In the cabin the Territory diesel is near-on silent. OK, outside it sounds a bit clackety, but once on the move, that is technically everyone else’s problem.
It’s more reason to why the Terry tours so well. Quiet, efficient and comfortable; usually you can choose just two, but the Territory offers all three.
Even now, 4550 days on, the 2016 Ford Territory Titanium Diesel is still an excellent family car. And, given that cars tend to age in dog-years, the Terry has done well these past dozen years in maintaining its relevance and practicality against the ravages of time.
Even for a car, goodbyes can be emotional, but any passing is time for reflection and remembrance. As I said at the start of this review, don’t be sad for what might have been - be proud of what was.
If you built, bought or even only once drove a Territory, I’m sure you will join me in feeling immense pride for what the world-class car, created here, was. It is a true and genuine testament to the engineering knowledge that exists within this country, evidence that Ford has chosen wisely in its decision to maintain a crucial design and development operation here beyond today.
One thing is for sure: while production may have ended, the Territory we know now will remain a fond and familiar sight on our roads in the years ahead. Next time you pass one, give Terry a nod and a wave. He’d probably do the same for you.
I have a huge soft spot for the Territory. Not because it was designed and engineered in Australia, but because it was the first car I ever tested. I drove the Territory over 3000km just a few days after it was publicly released. It paved the way for my career in motoring journalism and, subsequently, engineering.
At the time, it straddled the line between sedan and SUV. It wasn't a full-blown SUV like the Toyota Prado, but it wasn't a Falcon either. It was the perfect compromise.
Back then, SUVs weren't anywhere near as trendy as they are today, so the practical elements such as the split tailgate and hundreds of storage bins made it stand out from the pack.
My father worked at Ford for 25 years and was close to the Ford employees that worked hard to bring the Territory to fruition. Some 12 years on and the Territory remains a cracking SUV.
Sure, it's not anywhere near as modern as most other SUVs on the market, but it represents the best of Australian engineering for its time. It represents ingenuity and will always have a place in my heart!
Vale Ford Territory, 23/4/04 – 7/10/16
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.