Ford has finally come good with its promise of a diesel-powered Territory, but is it too little, too late? We test it against Kia’s excellent Sorento to find out.
It’s been a long time coming, but the diesel Territory is finally here. In fact, it’s taken Ford seven years from when the Territory first appeared in 2004 to introduce the diesel variant. But, sadly, it comes at a time when the future of both the Falcon and the Territory is unclear, given Ford’s global move to reduce the number of vehicle platforms it produces.
Our test vehicle is the premium Titanium-spec all-wheel drive diesel Territory – not that the spec level is all that important here; it’s the mechanical package that’s of interest. And we chose the Kia Sorento as a worthy opponent to Ford’s newcomer. Why a Sorento? We reckon it’s the current pick of the crop in the mid-to-large diesel softroader market. Like the Territory, the Sorento has a six-speed automatic gearbox, seats up to seven and is built on a monocoque platform with independent suspension at both ends.
Four or six?
The Ford’s diesel engine may be new for the Territory, but it’s not new globally – it was used in the Land Rover’s Discovery 3 and serves in the base-model D4. It saw service in the Range Rover Sport for some time, all thanks to Ford’s ownership of Land Rover from 2000 to 2008. The engine, developed jointly by Ford and Peugeot, is a 2.7-litre V6 turbo-diesel that makes a claimed 140kW at 4000rpm and 440Nm at 1900rpm. The gearbox, a six-speed automatic ZF unit, might be more familiar, because it’s been used not just in the Land Rovers listed, but in the Territory (and the Falcon), and in BMW’s X5 from 2004 to 2010.
The Kia’s powertrain is much newer and only saw the light of day in 2009. It combines a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel with a six-speed automatic and, despite being more than half a litre (521cc to be exact) smaller, than the Ford unit, it claims similar power and torque figures with 145kW at 3800rpm and 436Nm from 1800 to 2500rpm.
While one engine is a V6 and the other a smaller four, both have similar turbo-diesel tech, including Bosch common-rail injection, fast-switching piezo injectors and a variable-vane turbocharger.
On the road, both engines provide effortless performance, even in demanding conditions, and plenty of overtaking power. The secret, of course, is the fact that both are typical turbo-diesels in making good power at modest engine speeds – they don’t need high revs to give their best.
On paper, the Sorento, with a whisker more peak power, some 200kg less weight to haul, and slightly shorter gearing, should shade the Territory, but that’s not the case. The truth is that the two are close to line-ball in on-road performance and, if anything, the Territory is a tad punchier. Countering this, the Sorento uses a little less fuel. During our test the Sorento’s 10.1L/100km bettered the 10.4L/100km of the Territory. This is not a significant difference and much closer than the official ADR figures (7.4L/100km for the Kia and 9.0L/100km for the Ford) would suggest. Either way they have similar fuel ranges as the Territory has a 75-litre tank, while the Sorento measures 70 litres.
Both vehicles offer first-class engine refinement and noise control, and gearboxes extremely well matched to their engine characteristics. But, again, the Ford just shades the Kia here, even if there’s not much in it.
A dynamic story
Given that both of these vehicles have fully independent suspension and monocoque construction, it’s not surprising both have an on-road feel more akin to a conventional passenger car than a traditional 4X4.
Both cover rough secondary roads – sealed or unsealed – with a great deal of confidence and comfort, even at speed. Of the two, however, the Territory strikes a better balance between suspension comfort and suspension control. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Sorento here, it’s just that Ford’s engineers have done a brilliant job of calibrating the suspension for Australian conditions.
The Territory has a wonderfully soft and comfortable ride yet, at the same time, manages to steer and handle with great precision and accuracy.
For its part, the Sorento also strikes a fine balance between comfort and control, but the suspension isn’t quite as supple as the Ford’s, nor is the general handling quite as tidy.
Neither Sorento nor Territory can claim any sort of serious 4X4 ability but, of the two, the Sorento is clearly ahead. To be fair, the Territory is clearly marketed as an all-wheel drive vehicle and not a 4X4, so there’s no shame in the fact that it’s very limited in anything approaching off-road conditions. Aside from not having low-range, the Territory’s limitations stem from its lack of clearance and the relatively long front and rear overhangs.
What’s more, it has a full-time 4X4 system with three open diffs and relies solely on its electronic traction control to limit both cross-axle and inter-axle wheel spin. It’s the same system used by the now-defunct Holden Adventra and early BMW X5s. However, BMW soon realised the limitations of the set-up and, in 2004 (four years after the X5 debuted), added a self-proportioning and self-locking centre diff, which makes a huge difference when traction is at a premium.
The Sorento’s single-range 4X4 system is completely different, in that it’s an on-demand system that operates via a self-proportioning electronic clutch (that serves as a centre diff) which automatically transfers drive to the rear wheels should the front wheels lose traction. The driver can also manually lock this ‘centre diff’, which splits the drive 50:50 front to rear.
The Sorento also has more clearance than the Territory and better approach and departure angles. While nothing approaching a serious 4X4, the Sorento still has far more off-road ability than most people would give it credit for and, either way, is well ahead of the Territory in this regard.
Both Sorento and Territory offer spacious, comfortable and well-finished cabins, although the Territory’s front seats are slightly more comfortable, even if the driver’s seat adjustment is a mixture of electric and manual, including on the top-spec model. By contrast, even the mid-spec Sorento has full electric adjustment. Both have tilt and reach steering wheel adjustment; and both have manual adjustment for the front passenger seat.
The second-row seat is a squeeze for three adults in both vehicles. The Territory offers more shoulder room, even if the leg and head room is similar.
The Sorento seats seven as standard, and the Territory is either a five- or seven-seater. The Titanium model, as tested here, comes standard with seven seats, but it can be ordered with five if you want more luggage volume. Both third rows are more suitable for children than adults.
Running the numbers
The Territory comes with either 235/60R17 or 235/55R18 wheels/tyres; and, whichever you choose, you get a 235/60R17 spare. The Sorento has slightly more practical (higher-profile) rubber with either 235/65R17s or 235/60R18s and a spare that is a full match for the road wheels.
For those interested in towing, the Sorento has a maximum (braked) capacity of 2000kg with a maximum towball download of 150kg. As standard, the Territory can tow up to 1600kg (braked) with a 160kg towball download, but the optional heavy-duty tow pack sees AWD models uprated to a handier 2700kg with a 270kg towball download.
Putting aside the question of price, there’s no doubt Ford has done an excellent job with the diesel Territory. The powertrain and the chassis are extremely well sorted and work in complete harmony to produce what has to be the best all-roads touring vehicle – bar none – ever produced by an Australian manufacturer.
But the Territory doesn’t like anything much beyond an easy fire trail.
For its part, the Sorento makes a fine back-roads tourer, yet can go much further more happily than the Territory when the going gets rough.
More telling still is the pricing. The extremely well-equipped top-spec Sorento is around the same price as the base-model AWD Territory diesel, which makes the Sorento hard to go past in this contest, even if the Territory is a great drive.