Ford SZ Territory test

A turbo-diesel engine from Land Rover makes the Ford SZ Territory the perfect SUV.

Aussie-built 4X4s have been thin on the ground – there were the Holden Overlander and XY Falcon 4X4 back in the 70s, but they were low-volume conversions; the big local manufacturers have never got behind the concept. Ridiculous, really, in a country that embraces 4X4s and SUVs for their cabin space and go-anywhere ability.

The only recent vehicle that fits the bill is Ford's Territory. A softroader that is available in both two- and all-wheel drive, it is the most successful SUV ever built here and it has just got a whole lot better with a major upgrade and the introduction of a turbo-diesel engine.

Many said the Australian vehicle companies arrived late to the SUV boom; the original SY Territory was launched in 2004 and was a huge success. Over its seven years on sale, including a Mk II upgrade, it sold more than 105,000 units. It was close to being the perfect Aussie-family car offering versatility, performance, space and the ability of AWD. It was the space and versatility that buyers flocked for, 2WD models outsold AWD and the Territory’s success contributed to the demise of the Ford Falcon station wagon.

After seven years on sale, the original was getting long in the tooth and buyers were turning away in droves looking for more fuel efficient alternatives to the petrol inline six-cylinder-powered Ford.

A more economical drivetrain, such as a diesel engine, was long overdue, and after many rumours of its imminence, it finally arrived in 2011.

Ford didn’t have to look far for a suitable diesel engine for the Territory. It owned Land Rover at the time, and the 2.7-litre TDV6 powerplant from the lauded Discovery 3 was the logical choice. This engine has been relegated to the entry-level model only in the Discovery 4, supplanted by the 3.0-litre TDV6, and Land Rover is now under the ownership of Tata, but the engine is still made at Ford UK's Dagenham plant. This is the first time the 'Lion' TDV6 engine has been used in a Ford-badged vehicle after previous use in Land Rover, Jaguar, Peugeot and Citroen vehicles.

Ford Australia calls the mill the Duratorq TDCi engine and it continues as a 60-degree V6 with CGI block, aluminium DOHC heads, common-rail direct fuel injection, single turbocharger and intercooling. In the Territory it produces 140kW at 4000rpm and 440Nm at 1900rpm, the same as it makes in the Discovery 4. These are modest specific output figures when compared to some of the latest Euro diesel engines, but it is perfectly matched to the Territory. This is the engine the Territory has been screaming out for since launch and it makes a good thing even better.

The Duratorq-powered Territory is no neck-snapping high-performance SUV like the discontinued petrol six-cylinder turbo was, but it delivers the strong, linear acceleration you expect of a modern turbo-diesel with excellent driveability and exceptional refinement.

It’s become a cliche to say that you can’t tell that an engine is a diesel, but Ford Australia has done an amazing job of isolating the engine from the cabin. With the windows up you can’t hear the engine at idle and it remains smooth and quiet through the rev range.

The high levels of refinement continue on the road. The Territory covers sealed roads in poor and patched condition and gravel roads with consummate ease and in comfort. Potholes and ruts do little to upset the independent suspension and it’s easy to maintain a swift pace in quiet comfort. It’s only when you glance at the speedometer and the poor condition of the road surface that you fully appreciate what a great job Ford Oz has done with the Territory’s chassis. It benchmarked it against vehicles like the Discovery and BMW X5 and has achieved its goals.

The Duratorq engine is backed by a six-speed auto that gives no reason to comment other than it does what is asked of it without complaint. The all-wheel-drive system uses open diffs and relies on the electronic traction control for grip. This is well suited to the light-duty applications in the Territory and, again, is fuss-free.

The TDCi-powered AWD Territory returns a claimed 8.8L/100km of fuel consumption (9.0L/100km for the top-spec Titanium model). For comparison, the 2WD petrol SZ claims 10.6L/100km, while the 2.7-litre TDV6 powered Disco 4 returns 10.2L/100km.

If there is one area for complaint, it is that the steering can get light and vague at some points when punting hard on gravel roads. Ford has replaced the conventional power steering for an electrically assisted system and claims to have matched the old set up, but there were some corners where it lost its feel. The SZ Territory gets more modern styling and every panel bar the roof is new. The updated interior is more Falcon-like and retains the flexibility and usability of the outgoing model. It is available with five or seven seats.

The petrol six-cylinder engine has also received updates to make it more efficient but is now only available with the 2WD drivetrain. The turbo-diesel is available in 4X2 and 4X4 configurations.

The new model, specifically the diesel, should see the Territory get a much-needed new lease on life. Like the model’s initial introduction, the diesel engine comes late but it’s been worth waiting for. If the original Territory was the perfect Aussie family wagon, the diesel engine cements this position. PRICING From $39,990 (TX RWD petrol) to $63,240 (Titanium AWD diesel)

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