Ford NZ on edge about next SUV choice

Ford is still declining to confirm what comes after the current Territory.


THE vehicle set to replace the now ancient Territory might well be officially identified within weeks, but until then it’s purely speculative to suggest the most logical candidate will have the job.

So says Ford New Zealand in an increasingly desperate – and seemingly futile – effort to shut down continued media comment, from this writer included, that the role will go to the Edge, an appealing looking Mondeo-based global product that, having started life in North America, is now starting to roam the world, latterly in right-hand-drive.

Edge isn’t yet quite right, insofar that while a seven-seater seems to be in the mix, at the moment the only right-hook versions being produced currently, for the United Kingdom, solely come in five-seater, four-wheel-drive format and with a four-cylinder diesel and automated manual.

It’s potentially not a bad powertrain choice for NZ consumption though realistically having petrol and front-drive alternates as well would be better.

Even so, it still has to be the best choice to replace Territory – a seven chair offer that is larger, including being 108mm longer, with six-cylinder petrol and diesel - which along with the Falcon it is based on will end production forever in October.

Ford Australia has already signaled intention to announce its large SUV plans in July, but has declined to elaborate on what that means. In the meantime, it won’t confirm Edge is even on the shortlist – but neither will it deny, either.

In the meantime, Edge clearly has Ford on edge. When Motoring Network mentioned earlier this that the model seemed set to take over from Territory, Ford New Zealand’s Tom Clancy reacted swiftly, saying: “No announcement to that effect has been made. That is speculation at this point.”

Clancy confirmed there will be an announcement in Australia in July, but claimed ignorance about what will be said.

“I’m not across what that announcement is going to be. I’m not aware of the context, I have not seen any drafts of it.”

Ford assuredly needs to have a large sport utility in Australasia – SUVs and crossovers, remember, now capture more than 40 percent of new car sales here, and even though Territory has fallen well off the favourites’ list, it would be remarkable for Ford to abdicate the sector.

So why not Everest? There are various reasons. Ford, for starters, is insistent that the Ranger-based wagon is not a Territory replacement: A point reinforced by Clancy today.

“I have said that and I will continue to say that. It (Everest) is not a replacement for Territory.”

Also, at $75,990 even the cheapest of the three variants is in a higher price range than Territory and is built off a ute-based vehicle, with all the pluses and minuses that come with that approach.

On the one hand, Everest is rugged and strong - there’s good off-road and towing ability. On the other, it’s not as car-like as, say, a Toyota Highlander or Hyundai Santa Fe. Despite a major suspension re-engineering, it still provides a truck-like driving experience and ambience. The styling and interior are workmanlike and the second and third row seating room is compromised by the high floor.

Edge, on the other hand, is more like a car – and thus more like the biggest sellers in this sector – and in entry British market form, it sells for around $10,000 less than Territory lists for here.

The five-person model going into the UK is from a factory in Canada, but there’s evidence to suggest a seven-seater has been devised and is going to be built in China. Australian media say a Ford Asia Pacific engineers have been spotted driving what appear to be driving seven-seat Edge “mules” in Australia.

The engine lineup isn’t as restricted as it might seem, either. The UK market has determined to go with a four-cylinder turbodiesel in single turbo 132kW and twin-turbo 154kW formats with the Powershift automated manual. But that’s simply because that’s what the Brits want.

In North America Edge also sells in two-wheel drive, with EcoBoost petrol engines, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder and a pair of V6s, and a six-speed automatic transmission. The smaller petrol is a 182kW unit similar to the one offered in Falcon and Mondeo. The V6 choices are a 234kW turbocharged 2.7-litre and and 208kW normally-aspirated 3.5.

In Europe, the Edge’s role is very clearly defined. It sits above the Kuga as Ford's flagship SUV and is packed with technology, starting with the Blue Oval’s latest Intelligent All-Wheel Drive transmission.

The latter gives it the right to wear a a 4x4 badge regardless that it is a set-up designed to allow the vehicle to spend most of its time driving just the front wheels, a bid to save fuel.

It’s successful in this regard - Ford cites an overall economy of less than 6.0L/100km – so much better than the fulltime all-wheel-drive Territory can provide with either of its archaic engines.

Those who have experienced Edge say that it is the styling that'll primarily grab attention first. Said one: “In a world of increasingly homogenised styling … the bold look of Ford’s new SUV is very welcome. There is a whiff of Americana about it – the Edge has already seen a year of sales Stateside -- but it is more handsome than brash.”

The Sport and Titanium editions going into the UK are both lookers. Confusingly, whereas the latter tag is used to designate a premium version here, in England it signals a mid-level grade. Anyway, both run on big wheels – 20 inch alloys on the Sport, 19s with Titanium – and are loaded. There’s also an entry Zetec.

Every UK edition of Edge has alloy wheels, foglights, automatic headlights with auto high beam, power folding mirrors, folding rear seat, digital radio and SYNC connectivity, active noise control, dual-zone air-conditioning, idle stop and lane keep assist.

The Titanium gains front and rear parking sensors, hands-free tailgate opening, sports seats with variable heating and sat-nav. The Sport version is the same car with a bodykit, including roof rails and side skirts, bigger alloys – also in black – plus sports suspension, adaptive steering and sports pedals.

One last point: the name. Edge might be okay for NZ, but it doesn’t fit with product-sharing Australia, because over there it’s a nomenclature already nabbed by Toyota.

Thus, there’s every chance the Territory name could continue …