First drive of Ford’s family-friendly, full-sized Endura SUV
WELCOME to the cluttered Australian SUV market, Ford Endura.
Hop right in, the water's very warm.
If a mainstream brand's SUV portfolio isn't bubbling over it's being left behind, and Ford's been playing SUV catch-up since the seven-seat Australian-made Territory's sad demise in 2016.
Ford insists we can't call Endura a Territory replacement, and in some ways that's justified. It's a premium mid-to-large SUV we're told. Sophisticated. Luxurious.
But it misses out on aspects that endeared Australian families to Territory. There are five seats instead of seven, and Endura tows just 2000kg; the SUV it isn't replacing managed 2700kg.
Yes Ford has the Everest to cover three rows of seats and 3000kg attached, but this ute-based 4x4 beastie is hardly the urban transport family buyers covet. Hence why rival large SUVs Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe and Holden's new Acadia make good sense. All, of course, with seven chairs.
Plenty of SUV shoppers are satisfied with five good-sized seats and plenty of cargo room though, and it's just these types Endura targets. Tough good looks, decent standard inclusions and safety kit, plus an economical diesel engine all help its cause.
With designs on semi-premium, there's a sticker price to match.
Entry fee is $44,990 for a front-drive Trend, jumping mightily to $53,990 for mid-range ST-Line, then summiting at $63,990 for a packed Titanium.
All-wheel-drive adds $4000 on each, so with a few extra options thrown in the range topper breaks through $70k. Five-seat SUV buyers not needing quite as big a car could cross-shop against a BMW X3 or Audi Q5.
So price and lack of seven-seat versatility will exclude Endura straight away for some, but others may find it a perfect fit. Families with teenagers hankering after a dash more sophistication and ride comfort seems obvious, as would anyone wanting to sling in a bike or other "lifestyle" gear with ease.
"Endura sits in its own space as a premium offering that we've previously not offered," says Ford Australia chief executive Kay Hart. That may be, but can buyers see the Blue Oval as less blue collar and more semi-premium in the vein of, say, Volkswagen and Mazda?
Keen to champion the new Ford's high level of equipment, Endura marketing manager Karen Larkin says it's for those seeking something "special and opulent."
"Endura is for customers looking to reward themselves with the latest innovations and technology … instead of looking to impress others with a basic vehicle wearing a prestige badge."
On the features, equipment and safety it's hard to argue.
Endura's stacked with kit from its Trend entry level. Keyless entry, 18-inch alloys, auto wipers, LED lights all-round, power driver's seat, paddle shifters, dual-zone climate control, 8-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satnav, adaptive cruise control and a 10-inch digital driver instrument cluster isn't shabby for an entry-level.
Safety's covered with eight airbags, rear camera, sensors all around, auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection and traffic sign recognition. The Endura also autonomously adds some steering input if your crash avoidance isn't ample, plus features "MyKey" parental control so you can Big Brother your kids' (or partner's) naughty driving habits.
Ford expects the mid-range ST-Line to be volume seller, but it's a sizeable $9000 jump. You gain slightly lower suspension, body kit, 20-inch rims with grippier rubber, leather and suede seat trim, electric passenger seat, heated and cooled front seats and power tailgate.
Drop $10k more and you get Titanium premium. Adaptive bi-LED headlights, panoramic glass roof, perforated leather seats - heated front and rear - and bright finish 20-inch alloys.
Dangled carrots such as twin DVD rear entertainment ($1600) and Bang & Olufsen audio ($1000) should be standard on your flagship though.
The benefits of not having seven seats are apparent when sitting in the back. Leg and headroom are excellent, and the seat backs recline to an impressively relaxing angle.
Those upfront will struggle to find the "premium opulence" though. Seat trim is classy in the two top grades, door touch points are soft and the screen and digital dash display pleasing, but not uncommon for the segment at this price.
The plasticky centre console, buttons and switches - including a rotary dial to select gears - feel too "everyman Ford" to be deemed a class above. Compared to the rival Mazda CX-8 or CX-9 the Endura's dash feels plain.
Its functionality, clear layout, strong build quality and plentiful cabin storage to go with ample boot (602-litres) are all positives though.
ON THE ROAD
On paper the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel's 140kW and 400Nm look lowly for a two-tonne SUV with premium aspirations.
But what it lacks in outright urge it makes up for in driveability and very good fuel economy; key attributes for a suburban SUV.
The four-cylinder is common across numerous Fords, but in this state of tune with a single turbo and all-new eight-speed auto gearbox, the drivetrain is unique to our market.
A variation of the engine with more power and torque powers Ford's Ranger Raptor, and higher grade Enduras - or AWD versions planned for towing - would benefit from these higher figures.
Progress is smooth and the cabin very well insulated as the turbo-diesel hums along at 1900rpm at 100km/h. Gear changes are seamless when up to speed, and you can take control with paddles if you fancy holding gears longer.
The Endura feels a bit bumpy at low speeds, especially on uneven roads, but on the highway and through corners the big SUV feels competent and always errs on the side of comfort rather than dynamism.
Sadly our test was in monsoon conditions and tyre grip levels ran out early, but the big Ford, to its credit, always mopped up any over-eager wet cornering.
AT A GLANCE
Price: $44,990 drive away to $67,990 plus on-roads (expensive)
Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/unlimited km (good), $897 for 3 years (very good)
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 140kW/400Nm (below average)
Safety: 5 stars, 8 airbags, AEB with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, My Key (very good)
Thirst: 6.7L/100km (decent)
Spare: Space-saver (not good)
Luggage: 602L (large)