Unremarkable automobiles that are unexpectedly good: Ford Territory

Unremarkable automobiles that are unexpectedly good: Ford Territory

While Holden was faffing about with Adventra, Ford’s terrific Territory showed just how good an Australian SUV could be

When Ford’s landmark Territory arrived in 2004, nobody really knew how to categorise it.

It wasn’t a car, or a four-wheel-drive like the lumbering Mitsubishi Pajero or Toyota Prado. Some called it a crossover or a soft-roader, others a Sport Utility Vehicle, singling them out as someone who might start quietly calling a prawn a shrimp, or a boot a trunk.

Designed, engineered and built in Australia, by Australians, the Ford Territory was amazingly prescient. With sedan sales sliding, Ford could sense Aussies aspired to park a new type of vehicle in their driveway – different to the daggy Falcon of their mums and dads. An opportunity existed for a vehicle that combined the best characteristics of a four-wheel-drive, people-mover and sedan-based wagon, while minimising their many flaws. The success of vehicles like the Subaru Forester and original Toyota RAV4 showed that the SUV was the next big thing.

Work on the Australian SUV began in 1998. After exhaustively consulting numerous research clinics, Ford Australia boss Geoff Polites believed they had their car – and their pitch. Polites led an Aussie envoy to Ford HQ in Dearborn, USA, where they presented a 40 per cent scale, highly detailed glass-fibre model – of the future of Ford Australia.

Competing with other markets around the Ford world for R&D money, Polites’ pitch worked, and the team secured the $500 million it needed for the program, a rare achievement for a vehicle with no export plans. Territory was go.

At the 2002 Melbourne Motor Show, the stunning, dayglo-red R7 concept previewed the then top secret Ford Australia SUV. A strong reception emboldened the fast-tracking of production and by April 2004, a showroom-ready version was rolling out of Ford’s Broadmeadows factory, fairly faithful to the original concept – even if it didn’t have its show-stopping 20-inch wheels.

Compared to Holden’s Adventra – which was a raised, all-wheel-drive Commodore wagon – the Territory was far removed from its sedan stablemate. Of Territory’s 227 body stampings, only 76 were shared with the BA Falcon, making it uniquely its own thing.

In 182kW guise, the hallowed Barra 4.0-litre twin-cam inline-six did the gruntwork; while a four-speed automatic was initially offered, as was both rear- and all-wheel-drive. The Territory was also the first Australian vehicle to come with the life-saving technology, Electronic Stability Control.

The original Territory’s interior was its checkmate move, bristling with clever touches and no fewer than 30 storage bins – including a rubbish bin in the second row, whose removable plastic liner was dishwasher safe. An electrically adjustable pedal box allowed for 65mm of adjustment – helping create an outstanding driving position. And the drive itself, with the Control Blade independent rear suspension, was unrivalled, with outstanding refinement and hard-to-fault dynamics – that taught the rest of the world how to make an SUV.

Diesel, performance and even FPV versions followed – as did a major facelift in 2011 – while the Territory was exported to New Zealand, South Africa and Thailand. In 2011, the Territory even out-sold the four-door Falcon for the first time, somewhat proving true Polites’ original prophecy.

A blizzard of forces conspired against the Australian SUV, however, and after 14 years, on October 7, 2016, the 178,214th – and final – Ford Territory was built. The final Ford Falcon rolled off the line the same day, both vehicles leaving a void that has yet to be filled.

When the Territory arrived, one in four passenger vehicles sold was an SUV. Today, it’s one in two.

The Territory name lives on, peculiarly, as a compact crossover SUV made in China and sold in the Middle East, Philippines and Latin America. While its owners would probably have no idea of the original Ford Territory, no doubt they’d be just that little bit prouder an owner if they knew.

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