Endura ST-Line: Such a big deal

How much edge does Ford’s big North American deliver to the hotly-fought large SUV sector?

BIG ‘T’ words seem to be nothing but trouble for the makers of the latest big American SUV to land here, out of Ford.

Even before the model got here, Toyota rocked the marketing boat by kyboshing use of the original birth name. Japan’s No.1 delivered a costly blow in claiming dibs on Edge by virtue of having used it for a special edition of Hilux. Even renaming exercises are far from cheap; it’s so much more than digging up a new badge.

So, here it’s an Endura. Which is a shame. I’m surely not alone in thinking this one has a bit too much of a prophylactic ring to it. Anyway, it’s done and that’s that.

Now there’s potentially a bigger ‘T’ threat, from Donald Trump with his talk of tariffs. That’s even less welcome news.

The Endura, you see, comes purely from a plant in Canada. America’s president has the view that this makes this Dearborn-drawn global design a foreign import. So it would therefore conceivably be subject to financial impositions he wants to introduce to … get this … protect the US auto industry. Which is quite happy with the status quo.

Anyway, the industry has warned that were plants north of the border be thus affected, chances are they would very likely become untenable, to the point of facing closure. No, that’s not fake news.

The prospect of saying good bye to the Endura before it even properly arrived is not a palatable one, by any means.

The edition here now serves as a decent appetiser to a fulsome range arriving next year. For sure, there’s some strength to the argument that you might be better served bypassing the first serving and awaiting the main course, because everything points to this even better.

The 2019 Endura will certainly be different to what we have now and probably even better-suited to our tastes. New drivetrain, altered styling, more kit and a wider price span.

However, that’s not to say the single-choice ST-Line edition working the beat at present should be ignored. For sure, it’s a big ask simply on price alone. You’d have to imagine that this model would stand a better chance of acceptance were it sitting $10 lower than the $73,990 tag it carries, simply because it’s clearly not wholly fresh fruit.

Being a derivative of a line that has been in production for several years before it entered this part of the world has taken a toll on the design impression; it’s handsome, but there are a few wrinkles, not just on the outside, but also within.

Compare the cabin layout and technical provision here with the next generation layout provisioned in the newly updated Mustang and you’ll see what I mean. If what you see in the coupe is very likely what’s coming in the 2019 Endura, then you’d want to wait. It’s simply smarter, sharper, more stylish.

On top of this, the supposed effort to tune the suspension to European standard doesn’t really come through. Even though the ride is extremely decent, with a beautiful compliance, there’s plenty to suggest the near two- tonne weight blunts the dynamics somewhat.

While it has enough talent to avoid expressing as a lumbering old-school American, Endura isn’t all that edgy, either. Though it deals with mid-corner bumps well, it also certainly doesn’t change direction with the deftness you’ll experience from a BMW X3 or Audi Q5, which might be considered rivals at this price point. It also has a massive turning circle.

The one other challenge to acceptance is acceptance is something that won’t be addressed going forward: the chair count. Photos don’t really parlay how seriously imposing and large the Endura is: As well as being taller than you think, it is also wider, to the point where – as I discovered – when parking in supermarket-style spots it so fills the space you may well have trouble exiting without a metal-on-metal clash.

There’s going to be surprise, then, that even though it has similar substance to seven-seater SUVs and conceivably has enough space to provision a third seating row, that expansion does not seem to be likely.

Ford simply sees this product working better as an expansive five-seater; its priority is to offer enhanced rear passenger space and it certainly hits that target. Also, the boot is massive.

Personally, I can see the practical benefits of it provisioning a larger than average cabin and load bay – it really is brilliant if you’ve big, bulky items to shift. Drop the rear seats and you’re presented with flat floor and virtually no load lip – features that, as was pointed out to me by a photographer colleague, anyone whose lifestyle or profession requires them to cart around tonnes of gear everywhere they go will simply love.

Yet, of course, a seven-chair count is something buyers also look out for, often as a make-or-break proposition. This must be a challenge for those Territory owners who will be considering Endura as a potential step-up. I can see a lot of them diverting beyond the brand, toward a Skoda Kodiaq or VW Tiguan Allspace.

So, yeah, it’s an interesting proposition. Still, there’s considerable buy-in potential if you are seeking a comfortable, spacious, relaxing four-wheel-drive that delivers practicality, a touch of off-road operation, a high level of refinement and an abiding impression of being a particularly good choice for long-distance family cruising.

The 154kW/450Nm Duratorq diesel and its six-speed direct shift gearbox are short-term visitors, set to usurped by an eight-speed auto married to another biturbo 2.0-litre diesel from the latest EcoBlue family, yet is hardly unappealing. The engine has beautiful manners, with heaps of low to mid-range torque. Though a little laidback, it and the dual-clutch automatic gearbox reward in going very quietly about their business (take note that Endura has been treated to some snazzy noise-cancelling technology). While the drivetrain demeanour is blighted just a bit by a touch of gear-to-gear hesitancy, if you had to pick between this or a CVT, Ford’s would … erm … trump. The fuel burn is also okay, though personal experience suggests the optimal 5.9L/100km cited by the maker is not going to be easily challenged.

Thought expressed on launch about its limitations beyond formed roads have not changed. Simply, it’s best not to get too excited about heading cross-country. It’s a car (Mondeo)-based crossover and while ground clearance is okay and all-wheel-drive system seems to be clever, that 20-inch rubber is not good outdoors-wear. Interestingly, Ford information from overseas suggests the 2019 has an upgraded AWD. Whether that’s to make it smarter on seal, or beyond, is not clear.

The big wheels come with a suspension tune that slightly lowers the ride height and firms up the springs. This package’s ‘sports’ label is also not to be taken too literally. Yes, it demonstrates good grip and balance; the steering is also nicely progressive in its feel and the brakes, when asked to enact with urgency do so without fuss. Active City Stop with pedestrian detection and lane-assist are valuable assist that work unobstrusively and effectively. Overall, though, everything about the driving style suggests comfort comes first.

That impression continues with the cabin. Front chairs are big and form-fitting; with 10-way power adjustment, it’s not hard to achieve a good driving position in the driver’s perch.

The layout is from the design era as the current generation but soon-to-depart Focus, but on larger scale. The substantial touch screen features the Sync 3 system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but its implementation into the old-style Sony set-up that features something you just usually see in a new car. A CD player is not seamless. Not only are some of the controls cumbersome but, during my time, the CarPlay operation was haphazard. Sometimes it would enact, sometimes it wouldn’t and, when it did, it was often slow.

Fit and finish is impressive, the quality of some plastics a bit less so, though they look hard-wearing, which yet given its family-first potential, is a good thing. One appeal is the storage space elsewhere in the cabin. The glovebox and front door bins are of a decent size and there’s more to be found, such as a small cubby beneath the heating and air-con controls. Also welcomed are the pair of USB ports and 12V socket under the front armrest. ST-Line provisions heated and cooled seats – a nice idea, though the fans are noisy – and a very good air conditioning system; cabin heating is very swift.

As it stands, Endura is overall a solid proposition on most scores; handling errs on the side of comfort, yet it’s a solid drive with lots of luxury, plenty of tech and safety kit and no shortage of space. As it is set to come, it should be even better, though perhaps the chair count will also pin it back, not least given how many SUVs that can fulfil that function are in the same price zone.

Realisation of Trump’s most dangerous instincts on the automotive industry could be far-reaching for this vehicle and a lot of others we see from that part of the world. Let’s hope nothing comes of it.