THE latest vehicle to represent the ongoing vehicle exchange between South Africa and Australia is the Ford Territory, a simply styled, spacious yet not cumbersome seven-seat SUV that has been developed Down Under. Manufactured in Oz, it is surprisingly understated in appearance, devoid of any signs of being styled with a chest expander. In fact, at first sight there is a relative gentleness about the vehicle’s persona, but looks can be deceiving. Territory was Australia’s Car Of The Year 2004, and won a major design award the same year.

For South Africa, three models are offered, all powered by a 4,0- litre straight-six engine mated with a four-speed adaptive transmission. The range consists of rear-wheel drive TX and Ghia models, with an all-wheel drive Ghia – as featured in this test – topping the bill.

Now excuse us if you have heard this one before, but Ford-speak describes the Territory as being a combination of (primarily) family saloon, MPV and SUV, but you can play with the acronyms. In layout, you cannot help but think MPV, but in 4wd guise the SUV aspect is perhaps stronger. Family saloon? Far more station wagon than hatchback – even if viewed as a crossover – so one has to assume this aspect comes from the dynamics, which we will discuss later…

Overall, the styling is quite plain, with slightly rounded edges to its two-box shape – which promises practicality – and looks that, well, neither excite nor offend. Not likely to date, easily, either.

Blip the selective central locking button on the (separate from the key) fob, and the big side doors unlatch – open up, and slide into what immediately comes across as a spacious cabin. (Ford makes a point about the seat height being relative to an average adult’s hip height). OK, not up with Dr Who’s Tardis, but enough to swing a, er, koala. The simplicity of design is carried over to the interior furnishings, which makes you feel at home right away. The glasshouse is generous, and the view out commanding.

The facia is neat and tidy, and looks well put together. Instruments are typically Ford legible, with controls all clearly marked and finger friendly. In the hangdown section, beneath the central air vents, is a 147 mm info screen (that lights up with a “Welcome Ford Interior Command Centre“ message) displaying the audio and climate control settings, trip computer readout and outside temperature. Beneath is a row of audio controls, then the dual-zone climate controls, and finally a quartet of buttons for the DSC, central locking, interior light and trip computer. A digital clock, sunglasses holder and dual maplights sit above the windscreen.

Territory offers a rare feature that contributes greatly towards driver comfort: electrically adjustable pedals. Not token movement, either: the range really is useful, and combined with the plentiful seat adjustment (electric fore/aft and cushion height, manual backrest angle and lumbar support) and rake- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, anyone should be able to find an ideal setting. Bolstering could be a bit firmer, though, and a raised left-foot rest would be of more use. The driver’s seat has a three-setting memory.

In fact, seating is a “Territorial” advantage, for the vehicle is fairly practical seven-seater, with “theatre seating”– the middle three-place bench is positioned slightly higher than the front seats, and the rearmost twoplace bench is sited a tad higher again, to afford a full complement of passengers a reasonable view out. Each section of the 60:40 split middle bench has some fore-aft adjustment to vary rear seat legroom. Headroom is more than adequate right through. With all seats erect, there is 144 dm3 of boot space, but fold the rear seat flat into the floor (with head restraints in situ), and there is an enormous 464 dm3 load area under the stiff three-section folding cargo cover. Fold away the middle seats as well – a neat “kneeling” action that also does not require the head restraints to be removed – and 1 624 dm3 of utility space is created on a flat floor. The back window can be opened separately from the tailgate, which is yet another one of Territory’s numerous excellent space utilisation and practical features.

Incidentally, to accommodate the folded rear seat, the full-size alloy spare wheel is mounted underneath the body.

Ghia spec provides lots of creature comfort goodies including cruise control, self-dimming interior mirror, electrically adjusted exterior mirrors, power windows all round (one-touch down for the driver), auto on/off headlamps, speed dependent intermittent wiper action, and a reverse distance sensor. Also standard are a radio/6-CD front loader with 150W amplifier, six speakers and sub-woofer plus satellite controls on the steering wheel, CFC-free air-conditioning with pollen filter, three 12V power outlets, and no less than 31 storage compartments. The latter includes a lockable security bin under the driver’s seat, a pair of drinkholders for each row of seats, and a removable rubbish bin that can be cleaned in a household dishwasher…

Plenty to admire in the body, then, but what about the mechanicals? Up front is an in-line six with seamless variable timing for the twin overhead cams that operate 24 valves. Electronic throttle control is used, and the engine provides refined performance from its 4,0-litre capacity. Peak outputs are 182 kW at 5 000 r/min, and 380 N.m at 3 250, which are healthy enough figures, but on-the-road performance does not feel particularly strong. However, the test figures prove otherwise: 0-100 km/h is dispatched in 9,47 seconds, and the standing kilometre in 30,36 seconds at 177 km/h, which is just shy of the imposed top speed of 180 km/h. The smooth shifting three-plus-overdrive transmission contributes to unfussed progress – overall NVH is well controlled – which may help explain why the performance feels leisurely.

The gearbox automatically adapts to the driver’s style, but offers a sport mode (it locks out fourth), and has a manual sequential override that – hurrah – allows the driver to hang on to a gear. In this all-wheel drive version, drive is permanently apportioned 62 per cent to the front wheels, 38 to the rears, and DSC dynamic stability and traction control is standard.

The combination appears to be well thought out: during the test period we undertook a lengthy trip inland in some atrocious wet and wintry weather, which the fully laden Territory completed with easy, sure-footed competence. There is no low range, but a button-activated hill descent control, the speed of which can be set via the cruise control, is fitted, allowing some reasonably adventurous off-roading.

Good news with the ride and handling, too. A relatively sophisticated “virtual pivot control link” suspension set-up at the front, coupled with a derivative of Ford’s “control blade” independent rear end, provide the Territory with excellent dynamics. It is stable, body roll is minimal, and the springs absorb almost all road imperfections. The power-assisted steering directs the 17-inch alloys with precision and even offers a little feedback. Brisk cornering failed to provoke the usual 4wd early understeer, being reassuringly benign instead. All-disc brakes with ABS and EBD do an effective job of bringing the fairly hefty 2 154 kg Territory to a stop.

Dual stage driver and front passenger airbags and full-length side curtain ’bags are standard, along with pre-tensioned front seatbelts, three-point harnesses for all seven seats, and child seat anchorages.

Test summary

There is a lot to admire with this Oz-built Ford. Studded with a host of practical features, spacious, versatile, comfortable, easy to drive and with ample performance, the Territory could prove to be the surprise package in a year that is seeing the Blue Oval revive some past glories. At R385 000, the Territory Ghia AWD is not cheap, but study the overall spec then look around for an equivalent, and you will likely conclude that it is a relative bargain. For once, the “three vehicles in one” marketing claim carries some substance.

Original article from Car