Ford’s decision to build an all-new car in the Territory was one of the bravest made by a car company involved in the local industry. Thankfully for those involved it proved an exceptionally good decision, but had it gone wrong it could easily have spelt the end for Ford in Australia as we know it.
The decision is credited to Geoff Polites, then the boss of Ford Australia who had brought the company back from the brink after suffering an alarming sales slump through the years of the controversial AU Falcon.
Polites made a number of brave decisions while heading Ford, his gamble to invest heavily in BA instead of doing a simple cosmetic makeover of the AU being the first. That one worked a treat and the Falcon is now back in the game, and it can only be assumed that it gave him the confidence to push ahead with the Territory.
The Territory shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone listening to Polites at his monthly briefings when he took every opportunity to talk up the success of SUVs. He could see that private car buyers were turning their backs on the traditional sedans and wagons and buying more and more four-wheel drives instead. From there it wasn’t a huge step to make the decision to build one of his own.
The formula Ford followed for building the Territory isn’t a new one. SUVs have been a regular part of the automotive diet for several years, and Ford has built plenty of them in other parts of the world.
One difference, a bold one at that, is that Ford decided to build a two-wheel drive version as well as the traditional four-wheel drive wagon. Polites recognised that many SUV buyers really just wanted a high riding, roomy station wagon for the perceived benefits of being able to see the road better and weren’t interested in going off the black top.
Apart from the drive train the Territory didn’t have much in common with the Falcon, it was fundamentally a new car from the ground up.
It rolled on a longer wheelbase than the Falcon, but was shorter in length and was much taller. Its shape was neat and clean, its lines uncluttered and purposeful, overall it was a neat looking wagon that fitted the new genre perfectly.
Inside it was roomy with comfortable accommodation for five in standard form, but up to seven adults with the optional third row, and plenty of space for everything a family needs to take with them when venturing out in the big wide world.
There was a host of natty little storage bins, cup holders and pockets to take small bits and pieces that might be needed while on the road, and the list of standard features was comprehensive.
Mechanically the Territory was similar to the BA Falcon. It had the same 182 kW 4.0-litre double overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine for power, the same four-speed automatic transmission with sequential sports shift and the choice of either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
While it rode higher than the Falcon the suspension was similar, the Territory boasting independent front suspension with the Falcon’s control blade independent rear. Brakes were disc front and rear with anti-skid electronics, traction control and grade control for offroad safety.
The TX paved the way to the new Territory, but it still had plenty of standard features an owner could boast about. There was air-conditioning, trip computer, adjustable pedals, power windows, cloth trim, CD player and remote central locking. For more there was the TS, which also came with dual climate control air, cruise, rear cargo shelf, velour trim, six-CD stacker and alloy wheels. Step up to the range-topping Ghia and you also drove away holding a leather-wrapped steering wheel, seated on leather trimmed power driver’s seat looking into an auto dimming rear view mirror.
ON THE LOT
While the prices of full sized sedans and wagons is suffering with a glut of ex-fleet and lease cars working their way through the auction system to the used car market the same isn’t happening with the Territory. While there are some ex-lease Territorys for the most part they have been bought by private buyers so they aren’t yet as plentiful on the used car scene.
For a TX range opener pay $25,000-$30,000, add $3000 for a four-wheel drive model. To step up to a TS pay $32,000-$35,000 with a similar premium for the four-wheel drive version. For the ultimate Territory, the Ghia, pay $35,000-$40,000, and add another $3000 to get the four-wheel drive model.
IN THE SHOP
Being barely two years old the Territory is still in its infancy so there’s not much to report from the field. Few will have been driven off road, certainly the two-wheel drive cars will have stuck to the black top, but it’s worth checking underneath four-wheel drives for any damage that might have been sustained by driving off road. When Cars Guide tested one shortly after its release the fuel tank guard was damaged from grounding in a rut on a bush track and a section of the rear bumper was dislodged when caught on the road while attempting a steep climb.
There’s plenty of choice on the market so it’s well worth being choosey and walking away from a car that shows the signs of offroad use. They’re also used as family cars so look for damage to trim and interior fittings caused by kids bored during the journey. Being favoured for family transport look for dings and dents from the daily shopping centre car park grand prix.
Some owners are concerned about the fuel consumption and looking to convert to dual-fuel. Ford doesn’t offer a system, but there are aftermarket systems available to convert the Territory to dual-fuel to save on running costs. Later reports are that the Territory suffered failure of the front suspension lower control arm ball joints, and there are a number of worrying reports of brake hoses failing.
IN A CRASH
The concern with high riding cars is that the higher centre of gravity means sloppier handling, but the Territory rides and handles quite well with no obvious problems because of the higher ride. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS anti-skid and brake force distribution electronics, power steering and independent suspension make an impressive primary safety package for crash avoidance. All models boast dual front airbags, but with side curtain airbags the TS and Ghia offer superior secondary crash protection.
• car park dings and scratches
• underbody damage from offroad usage
• good visibility from high driving position
• clean simple styling
• room for up to seven
• generally reliable engine and gearbox
• can be converted to dual-fuel
• Holden Adventra – 2003-2004 – $28,000-$38,000
• Honda CRV – 2002-2004 – $20,000-$28,000
• Mazda Tribute – 2001-2004 – $20,000-$29,000
THE BOTTOM LINE
Roomy reliable wagon with proven Falcon mechanicals makes the Territory an attractive family package.