Ford Australia has had a hole in its product line-up since October 2016. A 4.89-metre hole to be exact, and it went by the name of Territory.
There’s been the Everest, of course, but ute-based SUVs still don’t drive like a car-based SUV, and the Ranger-derived Everest is notably more expensive than the Territory was.
A solution, however, has arrived from the US. The Ford Edge – which adopts the Endura badge locally – certainly helps fill that product gap physically, as the large SUV is 4.83m long. So, why didn’t Ford Australia just rename the vehicle Territory for the Australian market? Well, the company admits it was tempted, but a few key factors dissuaded it.
Firstly, the Endura is not available as a seven-seater. Secondly, there’s no choice of petrol or diesel power (latter only). And, thirdly, the towing capacity is lower (2000kg versus the 2700kg available with the diesel Territory).
Few SUVs of this size don’t offer a third row – the Jeep Grand Cherokee being one – but that hasn’t stopped Ford Australia calling out a couple of seven-seaters as its primary competitors: the Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8.
The Santa Fe diesel is all-wheel-drive only, so here we’re pitting the front-wheel-drive CX-8 Sport against the Endura’s equivalent base model, the Trend FWD.
Ford Australia says it has deliberately skipped an Endura Ambiente variant that would likely have matched the sub-$40,000 starting point of the Territory, so the Trend gets the six-model range underway from $44,990.
So, a good equipment line-up is the plan, and the Endura gets off to a good start against the CX-8 with a bunch of exclusive items that include LED fog lights, 10-way electric driver’s seat, audio with nine speakers (versus the Mazda’s six), tyre pressure monitoring, a slightly bigger infotainment display (8.0 versus 7.0 inches), keyless entry, and front and rear sensors (rear only for CX-8).
The CX-8 Sport’s $42,490 sticker gives buyers an immediate $1500 saving, though there are no options to put that money towards to help match the Endura.
There are some driver-aid advantages for the Mazda: blind spot and rear-cross traffic monitoring are standard only on the range-topping Endura Titanium, while the CX-8 provides a drowsiness alert and teams lane-keeping steering assistance with lane-departure warning.
The Endura Trend has a lane-keeping aid, too, and both vehicles feature traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control. Mazda’s system is slightly more advanced as it includes a stop-and-go function for rush-hour traffic.
Options for the Trend comprise 19-inch alloy wheels, dual-pane panoramic sunroof, twin DVD rear entertainment system, and tow bar.
Hang on, isn’t that infotainment display section straight out of the Territory? Sure looks like it, and the Edge/Endura in fact made its North American debut in 2015 – not long after the SZII update.
The Territory’s interior design, thanks to years of investment neglect, wasn’t its greatest asset, though the Endura’s cabin doesn’t move the game on significantly – or certainly not in the way the new Focus does for Ford’s small cars.
There’s a large percentage of dull, hard plastics, even at the mid level, with softer materials applied to the main dash, upper doors and sides of the centre console. The tactility of all the buttons is consistently good, and the console presentation is boosted by the rotary transmission dial that looks just as smart as the Jaguar/Land Rover versions, but seems to waste a fair bit of space.
An ergonomic shortfall is the reach required for the touchscreen, but Ford’s Sync system is otherwise great to use – including the phone-pairing process that is always a slow, frustrating process in Mazdas for some reason.
There’s a lot of depth to the infotainment set-up yet it’s highly intuitive (including the excellent navigation), and there are clever features such as the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function on the phone menu page.
Storage is a big tick – especially the Grand Canyon-sized console bin that is one of the deepest this writer has seen. It includes a flip-up, felt-lined storage tray for smaller items. An angled, lidded slot in the dash provides storage for a smartphone and includes two USB ports.
There are only the subtlest of differences between the CX-5 and CX-7 dashes, and probably the most notable change up front is that the CX-8 features a console bin with twin lids compared to the CX-5’s single lid.
While this means the CX-8 doesn’t feel as premium inside as the CX-9, its level of smartness feels a step up over the Endura with cheaper plastics better concealed. That includes the cloth seats that look a little posher than the Ford’s cloth upholstery.
The CX-5 relationship, however, means the CX-8 gets Mazda’s smaller, 7.0-inch infotainment display whereas the CX-9’s is 8.0 inches. And the 7.0-inch version still seems too small. The menu system is also fairly simplistic, if well presented, and easy to use via the dial/joystick on the console.
At the time of writing, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also need to be retro-fitted – a $495 cost. Mazda needs to step things up on the infotainment front beyond smartphone mirroring, so we’re looking forward to testing the company’s new system that debuts in the forthcoming 3.
(Note: Shortly after publishing this test, Mazda announced Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would now be standard on the CX-8 from March 2019 onwards.)
The CX-8’s front cabin isn’t as useful for storing odds and sods as the Endura, either.
The rear half of the cabin is where the CX-8 distinguishes itself most from the CX-5, which isn’t particularly generous with rear legroom. With the same wheelbase as the CX-9, the CX-8’s back seat provides significantly more legroom.
There’s also loads of headroom and the rear bench offers seatback reclining and slides forwards/backwards to help balance passenger space between the second and third rows (or contract/expand the boot area).
A centre armrest is equipped with two cupholders and a lidded tray featuring another two USB ports. Other storage comes from good-size door bins and seatback pockets lined inside with durable, protective plastic.
And not only are there vents, but rear passengers get to control their own temperature.
The CX-8 is the same width as the CX-5, and combined with an uncomfortably high middle seat, it’s not a realistic three-adult rear bench.
Access to the rear seats (presuming they have in fact been pulled up out of the cargo floor!) is straightforward. Simply pull a lever on top of the second-row seat and slide it forward. Once ensconced, it’s also easy for the passenger to slide the second-row seat back into position, and then exit using the same lever.
Adults won’t necessarily want to spend too long there (and there are no extra vents), but unless you’re a cruel type of person, you’re not going to put the taller passengers in the group in the third row.
The seatbacks also have anchor points for child seats – a feature you can’t take for granted on all seven-seaters. You can’t put younger children in the rearmost seats of a Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace or Hyundai Santa Fe, for example.
The Ford Endura’s rear doors don’t open quite as wide as the CX-8’s almost-90-degree rear doors, but they’re not far off, so getting in and out is still easy.
Despite a shorter wheelbase than the CX-8, there’s actually slightly more rear legroom in the Endura. And when our three testers clambered in, they discovered superior shoulder width that makes the Endura a vehicle that can carry five adults in uncompromised comfort.
It makes for an important point in the context of a five-seater versus seven-seater comparison.
If you’re a family of four comprising two parents and two young kids, for example, and need to carry an extra adult occasionally – aunty, grandad or grandma, perhaps – the CX-8’s third row is crucial. The extended member of the family simply wouldn’t be comfortable sitting between two child seats (whether standard or booster type). They would be with the same set-up in the Endura, which also features a transmission hump that interferes with feet less.
There’s an inviting sponginess to the Endura’s cushioning, too, not that the CX-8’s seats would be described as uncomfortable – just firmer.
No USB ports for rear passengers, though, and they don’t get to control their climate through the rear vents. Smaller door bins as well, and there are 12V and 230V inverter sockets. There’s another 12V socket in the boot (matched by the Mazda).
In the broader battle of the boot, matters are just as even.
On paper, its 800-litre capacity trumps the CX-8’s 742L (both measured up to the roof, and of course with the Mazda’s third-row seats folded flat to create the cargo floor).
The Ford’s extra boot width (by a good few centimetres) is most noticeable. It’s the difference between two super-size suitcases slotting in side by side with ease and being jammed in. There are also useful hideaway sections either side of the Endura’s boot.
But if you want to hide stuff in the actual boot, bad luck, as you have to step up to the Endura ST-Line for a cargo blind (and cargo net).
The CX-8 Sport comes standard with a retractable cargo blind. The Mazda’s second-row seats also fold flatter than the Endura’s, though neither floor is what you would call entirely horizontal.
Ford quotes 1847L up to the front seats versus Mazda’s quote of 1727L. Lowering the seats in the Endura is via electric release buttons; the CX-8 misses out on the pull-release levers of the CX-5. The CX-8’s cargo space is inevitably compromised with its extra seats in place: just 209L. There’s some extra underfloor storage, though.
Neither of these trim grades provides an electrically operated tailgate. You need either the Endura ST-Line/Titanium or the CX-8 Akari for that.
So, it’s diesel versus diesel. Ford Australia has for now left four-cylinder and V6 turbo petrol engines available in the US on the shelf, as the company says the Territory petrol/diesel split fell heavily in the latter’s favour (about 70 per cent).
Mazda Australia doesn’t have a choice. The CX-8 is a model that was originally intended for the Japanese market, only for the local arm to use its strong influence to grab another seven-seater to go with the petrol-only CX-9.
Ford’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel produces 140kW and 400Nm distributed to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic.
Mazda’s drivetrain features an auto with only six speeds, but its slightly larger, 2.2-litre four-cylinder beats the Endura’s torque output by 50Nm (while matching power).
That’s a useful 12.5 per cent advantage in pulling power, but the performance difference between the two SUVs is also influenced heavily – you might say literally – by the respective kerb weights. The Endura Trend FWD weighs 1976kg compared with 1840kg for the CX-8 Sport FWD.
On the road, the Mazda feels noticeably lighter and its diesel engine delivers stronger mid-range grunt. It’s also more responsive around town.
Part of that is down to the six-speed auto being more decisive than the Ford’s eight-speeder, while you experience slightly less turbo lag when pulling away from standstill or low speeds in the Mazda.
However, the Endura features a Sport mode that improves the Ford’s throttle response, lifting revs by about 500rpm – crucially taking the engine into a sweeter spot around 2000rpm where maximum torque kicks in.
We were tempted to leave the mode engaged permanently, as it doesn’t make the drivetrain jerky at lower speeds.
Leave the engine in Normal on freeways and country roads, though, and those extra two gears prove their worth, as the Endura’s diesel here proves to be even quieter than the CX-8’s refined engine.
At about 100km/h, the Mazda’s engine is running at 2000rpm to the Endura’s 1500rpm. The Ford also features tech similar to that used by your favourite airplane headphones: noise cancellation.
At lower speeds, the CX-8’s diesel is the quieter and smoother unit.
Trip computers suggested similar fuel economy (around the 8.0L/100km mark), whereas official figures place an exact litre of difference every 100 kays: CX-8 5.7L/100km v Endura 6.7L/100km.
Intriguingly, the front-drive Endura Trend is no more frugal than the AWD version, whereas the Sport FWD saves 0.3 litres compared with the Sport AWD (6.0L/100km).
If you want all-wheel drive, both manufacturers agree on $4000 as the price for the extra pair of driven wheels.
Forget just filling a product hole, the Endura also has big boots to fill when it comes to driving manners. The Territory, particularly in rear-wheel-drive form, put many a luxury SUV to shame with the quality of its steering, ride comfort, and handling.
The Endura isn’t as good to drive, but it’s not without plenty of merit.
The steering is a big positive. There’s a bit of meatiness to its weighting that feels well suited to a large SUV, while the Endura’s front end responds willingly to a turn of the wheel.
It’s not often Mazda steering would come off second-best in a comparison test, though Ford has plenty of form in this department. Some buyers, though, may prefer the CX-8’s lighter steering and be less fussed about the more leisurely approach to turn-in on a country road.
And on such scenic drives, both SUVs are enjoyable and assuring to steer – providing a good level of tyre grip and confident cornering attitudes, if with more body lean than you’d experience in a Ford Mondeo or Mazda 6 wagon. The Endura’s wider footprint just seems to give it a hint of extra cornering stability.
(Note: Mazda’s March 2019 update for the CX-8 includes the addition of G-vectoring Control Plus, which the company claims improves the vehicle’s stability/handling – which has yet to be tested.)
Ride comfort is a bigger factor for most SUV buyers, and this is where the Endura can’t match the graceful, loping ride of its Australian-engineered predecessor.
The Ford, which wears slightly larger wheels to the Mazda (18s v 17s), can get jiggly on country roads, while around town the damping often feels over-eager. Over medium- to large-sized bumps, it can be slightly jarring.
Difficult to live with? Not at all, but the CX-8 – as fellow tester Rob Margeit put so perfectly – is gentler on its occupants. The suspension isn’t as impressively compliant as the CX-9’s, but the CX-8’s ride is generally soothing.
Both SUVs provide good all-round vision. The Endura’s bulky front guards just make it a little trickier to see over the corners of the vehicle, particularly when trying to navigate small, tight roundabouts.
The Endura Trend doesn’t offer a head-up display like its rival, though unlike the CX-8 its instrument panel includes a digital speedo, balancing things out.
The Ford Endura will cost owners nearly $1000 less to run over five years than the Mazda CX-8, at least in terms of servicing and roadside assistance. Ford Australia caps annual maintenance at $299 and throws roadside assistance in for free (provided servicing is carried out at authorised dealerships).
Mazda charges between $322 and $393 for every service, plus there are extras for brake fluid and cabin air filter replacements – all up, it’s a total cost of $2484 over five years compared with $1495 for the Ford.
That’s a minimum figure for the Mazda, too, because with shorter-than-average intervals of 10,000km, costs will rise for owners using their vehicles closer to the 15,000km driven by the average Australian motorist every year.
Both models are backed by a five-year factory warranty.
If styling points counted, the Endura would win the design category for its stocky, planted stance. The CX-8’s awkward proportions stem from dimensions that are much longer than a CX-5 but no wider.
But even putting the CX-8’s extra seats aside for the moment, even someone considering a mid-spec CX-5 might be tempted by the longer SUV’s extra rear legroom and boot space.
The lack of a third row will surely hurt the Endura’s sales in a segment where most buyers expect a seven-seat option, even if it partially compensates with its excellent rear bench.
With ride quality that doesn’t match its predecessor’s comfort levels, it might leave some wishing Ford Motor Company had established the Territory as its global large SUV. Still, the Trend’s infotainment system and its steering/handling are particular highlights (provided you’re not too aggressive with the throttle to overwhelm the front tyres).
It also offers a stronger value case than its rival. While the CX-8 Sport FWD is $2000 cheaper to buy in the first place, the Endura Trend FWD counters that with more features that buyers will appreciate, plus it’s cheaper to service. In fact, the Endura Trend also beats the rival Hyundai Santa Fe Active diesel and Kia Sorento Si diesel for value.
And that makes this comparison even closer than it might otherwise have been. However, the entry-level CX-8’s more responsive diesel, more smartly presented cabin, and a more flexible interior just give it the nod in the twin test.
NOTE: After this comparison was originally published, Mazda gave the CX-8 a mild update – adding tyre pressure monitoring and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the Sport, though increasing its price by $920 – to $43,410 (before on-roads).