It’s just over two years since the Ford Territory went out of production, and Australia’s only ever locally built SUV has been sorely missed.
World-class driving manners, a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, (eventually) an alternative turbo diesel option to the staple 4.0-litre straight-six, clever storage solutions, and a spacious cabin that could accommodate up to seven people.
Ford Australia understandably awaited that update before introducing the model locally.
And it did consider re-using the Territory name but its instincts (as well as some consumer research and a desire to have all SUVs starting with an ‘E’) led to an all-new name.
The company says a new name also reflects a different positioning for what it says is a more advanced SUV – and one that starts about $4750 higher than its predecessor, priced from $44,990.
There’s also recognition that the Endura is a five-seater only despite its 4.8-metre length (just 54mm shorter than a Territory), with no third row to accommodate more people than a 4.5-metre Escape.
The majority of its (numerous) rivals, even those similar in size, provide +2 seating or a full-size extra row.
Ford is confident there are plenty of buyers, including families, who will find five seats sufficient, with the Everest placed as the seven-seater option.
Importantly, the Endura’s interior space – benefiting from a wheelbase fractionally longer than the Territory’s – is more generous than the Escape’s.
Even my 6ft 2in colleague could sit behind his driving position with comfortable knee clearance. Plenty of headroom, too, even with the dual-pane sunroof that’s a $2500 option on the base Trend and mid-range ST-Line and standard on the range-topping Titanium.
And a good width to the cabin suggests three adults can sit across the back in relative comfort, while Ford says three child seats can be accommodated if necessary (though only the outer seats feature Isofix points).
For buyers satisfied with a permanent large boot rather than a flip-up third-row seats, there’s 602 litres measured up to the cargo blind or 800 litres measured up to the roof-lining.
While that’s less than the Territory’s 1157L, the Endura’s boot is much bigger than those found in most medium-sized SUVs as well as similarly sized large SUVs.
Cargo space expands to 1857 litres (to the roofline) when the second-row seats are folded – an action that happens simply and electrically via a rocker switch in the boot.
The seatbacks don’t fold completely flat, though, while Ford hasn’t taken advantage of the absence of third-row seats to do something clever with the boot’s underfloor storage.
Glance quickly at the front of the cabin and you might even think you’d just jumped back a couple of years. The angled surround panel for the Endura’s integrated 8.0-inch touchscreen is reminiscent of the design installed for the Territory’s 2011 (SZ) update. (Though it misses the former model’s hood so sun-glare can be more noticeable.)
Perhaps it’s that similarity that prompts thoughts that the Endura’s interior, at least stylistically, doesn’t feel a generation ahead of its predecessor in the way the new Focus moves the game on significantly for Ford’s small car.
There are plenty of hard plastics evident, too, though quality is generally a step up – if mostly noticeable in the Titanium.
There’s also a contemporary touch in the form of the e-shifter rotary dial (also found on the new Focus), which doesn’t rise out of the console as it does so theatrically in some Jaguars and Land Rovers yet operates with greater smoothness.
And you notice the technology at your disposal (as well as an electric driver’s seat that isn’t usual on a base model in this segment).
Every Endura, for example, is standard with navigation, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights with auto high beam, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, and speed-limit-sign reading.
There’s also active intervention on the steering in a couple of scenarios. Evasive Steer Assist is designed to increase the steering input when a driver tries to swerve around a hazard. And the Lane Keeping system monitors both the edge of the road and lane markings, giving the steering a nudge in the opposite direction to get the vehicle back on track. It works very effectively (and not intrusive like the lane-keep system on Hyundai’s Santa Fe).
However, only the Titanium features blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, which are standard on entry versions of two large-SUV rivals, the Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8, which match most of the Endura’s features. The Ford also misses out on drowsiness alert offered by those (seven-seater) models.
The steering is a particular highlight of the Endura driving experience. On the lightest Endura that also wears the smallest wheels (18s), it even reminded us of the superb steering in the previous-generation Focus.
Perfectly linear through its rotation, the steering produces a natural feel and a weighting that offers some heft that’s in keeping with a large SUV yet is effortless enough in its action.
There’s some mild torque steer in front-wheel-drive models if attempting strong acceleration from lower speeds, while the Hankook Ventus 20-inch tyres fitted to our Titanium FWD test car didn’t feel especially grippy in wet conditions.
The Endura’s body control provides more confidence when cornering, though you’re always mindful this is a big and heavy car. And there wasn’t an opportunity on the local launch drive to assess whether the vehicle’s sizeable width – 2.2 metres including side mirrors – would feel intimidating on narrower urban roads.
We’ll also have to wait for such roads to provide a more definitive view on the Endura’s ride. On the varied Victorian country roads chosen for the launch, though, the big Ford SUV demonstrated a fine balance between suppleness and disciplined damping to make long-distance cruising a relaxing affair.
There’s some extra firmness from the Titanium’s 20-inch wheels, though we didn’t experience excessive fidgeting that can be common with such big wheels.
Tyre noise also seemed well contained for a model that, in all trim grades, features Active Noise Cancellation – a technology that uses sensitive, soundwave-emitting microphones to counteract engine and road noise.
Limited time meant we had only a very brief drive in the body-kitted ST-Line, though initial thoughts are that the sportier variant’s firmer suspension tune doesn’t drastically degrade the level of ride comfort.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel and eight-speed auto add to the occasion with their smooth performance. As does the engine’s hushed manner – especially in the Titanium model with its extra noise insulation.
Only when asking more from the diesel engine does it emit that characteristic clatter, though even in the lower-spec Enduras it’s never intrusive.
And the engine does need to be provoked for overtaking, as the diesel’s mid-range performance – despite 400Nm of torque – feels only adequate in the context of an SUV weighing up to 2.1 tonnes in its Titanium AWD guise (and we tested only front-drive variants). The 2.2-litre turbo diesels found in the Santa Fe (440Nm) and CX-8 (450Nm), for example again, feel punchier.
Keener drivers might wish Ford Australia offered the 235kW/475Nm turbocharged V6 petrol available in the US (and sampled by CarAdvice earlier in 2018).
That would be much thirstier than the diesel, though, which brings an official fuel consumption of 6.7 litres per 100km – decent, if certainly not class-leading.
If towing capacity is a consideration – as it often is for large-SUV buyers – the Endura’s maximum rating is 2000kg (braked). That falls short of the old Territory AWD diesel’s 2700kg, though is typical for the segment.
The Endura certainly has its natural place in Ford’s SUV line-up, offering more interior space than an Escape and lower pricing and greater on-road focus than an Everest.
Whether it stands out sufficiently in a crowded mainstream large-SUV class full of seven-seaters is another question.
For buyers, including families, who don’t even feel the need for “occasional” third-row seats, first impressions suggest the Ford Endura could offer plenty of appeal if compared with higher-specification mid-sized SUVs.