“THE PAST is a foreign country,” says the famous first line of L.P Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between, referring to how perspectives can inextricably shift with the passage of time.
Certainly there have been seismic shifts in Ford’s past. There were five decades of success as the Falcon Car Company, until we started falling out of love with sedans. Then visionary product ingenuity saw the related Territory of 2004 blaze a lone trail as Australia’s own SUV, right up to when the factories closed a dozen years later. Highly regarded, the latter remained a superior proposition against crossover contemporaries costing thrice the price.
What a legacy, then, for the ‘new’ Endura to live up to.
“Don’t call it the Territory replacement!” exclaims Ford, presumably as it’s diesel-only, five-seater only and, well, not Aussie. But as Shakira once shrilled… hips don’t lie. Some 30mm wider and with an 8mm-longer wheelbase, the Canadian-built five-seater wagon’s only real dimensional concession to its predecessor is a 57mm length deficit.
Endura is essentially an SUV spin-off of the American Mondeo/Fusion mid-sizer – and is just as old, too, since this second-generation Edge (as it’s called everywhere else) surfaced Stateside in 2014. Ours is actually the Edge Series II facelift. Size wise, the attractively proportioned Ford sits between Toyota’s RAV4 and Kluger.
Pricing, however, is right in seven-seat Toyota territory, ranging from $44,990 for the Trend front-driver to $67,990 for the flagship Titanium AWD tested here.
Admittedly, there’s heaps of kit – AEB of course, along with lane-keep and steering assist, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), auto high-beam, traffic-sign recognition, hill-start assist, front and rear sensors, reverse camera, (hopeless) auto parking, adaptive bi-LED headlights, cornering LED foglights, part-digital instrumentation, paddle shifters, folding/heated mirrors, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support, digital radio, dual-zone climate, keyless entry/start, electric front seats with heating, cooling and memory, heated rear seats, leather, powered tailgate, dual-panel sunroof, 20-inch alloys and the only five-year warranty among our three contenders. But there are anomalies, too. For instance, adaptive cruise is standard, but it’s the old-school tech that drops out under 30km/h instead of the latest stop/go version offered in international versions of the Edge.
The sole engine is a 2.0-litre TDCi diesel, good for 140kW/400Nm, driving the front or all four wheels via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic.
Our Titanium also includes metallic paint, a rear-seat DVD player and upgraded audio, taking the price to, gulp, $71,240. Can a blue-collar Ford cut it against premium-medium-ish five-seater SUV AWD diesels?
To find out, we’ve assembled the class best in our 2018 COTY-winning Volvo XC60 from Sweden, and a segment pioneer with BMW’s X3 from Germany – via the USA. We did also request the bestseller (Mercedes’ GLC), but that’s about to undergo a facelift so it was unavailable, while Audi was clean out of the required Q5.
On with the show, then.
Now in its third iteration in 15 years, the G01-series X3 has remained BMW’s strongest seller. Longer, wider, roomier and about 55kg lighter than before, the $69,900 X3 xDrive 20d uses a 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-pot diesel, though ours steps up with $10K’s worth of leather, sunroof, wireless phone charging and ‘M Sport Package’, including bodykit, racier trim, adaptive dampers, 19-inch alloys on run-flat tyres, LED fog lights and gearshift paddles. Total: $80,450. Stop/go adaptive cruise, RCTA, CarPlay/Auto cost extra still, but that’s offset somewhat by the head-up display, three-zone climate and sports seats – items foreign to any Endura driver.
We planned to have the Volvo XC60 D4 Inscription AWD mid-ranger from $68,990 for an even playing field, but had to settle for the altogether ritzier D5 R-Design from $75,990, bumping its 2.0-litre unit’s outputs from 140kW/400Nm to a thumping 177kW/500Nm. For that kind of kick from BMW you’d need an $85K X3 xDrive 30d with a 195kW/620Nm 3.0-litre in-line six. Why the Endura forgoes the 177kW/500Nm upgrade available elsewhere in the world is beyond us.
Adaptive cruise, sunroof, heated seats, up-spec audio and paddles are XC60 options, but then every model boasts unique, in-built outboard rear-seat booster-cushions and 360-degree camera, while our R-Design brings a head-up display, four-zone climate and bolstered front seats. However, any semblance of parity vanishes as the Premium Pack (heated front seats, powered rear backrest and headrests, upgraded audio, active dampers and air suspension), plus a panoramic sunroof and metallic paint, blow that out to $87,340.
Like the Endura/Edge, the XC60 is into its second generation but, as with the BMW, it is a far-more recent design, having debuted in late 2017. Curiously, however, for all their size, pricing and specification differences and anomalies, all three SUVs seem nearly identical from a packaging point of view.
August 2014 and the Endura slipping into our market last December. The delay was likely due to Australia not being part of the original planned program, meaning that local homologation work began well after initial development. Petrol engines in 2.0-litre turbo, 2.7-litre V6 turbo and 3.5-litre V6 atmo sizes are available elsewhere. The Mk1 Edge debuted in North America during 2006, and was loosely based on the contemporary Mazda 6 platform.
Let’s start with the newest yet oldest, the Ford. If luxury was measured in girth then the Endura would own this bout, for three burly bodies can be carried across the back seat, no sweat. It feels vast. Airy too, due to deep side windows and a massive windscreen sprawled out ahead. What dates our Titanium is the visual layout of the dash, but to its credit it is a doddle to operate. Ventilation is great, storage is vast and the controls completely logical. And while most materials feel cheap and cheerful, no squeaks or rattles reared their ugly heads. Big, soft seats and a hungry boot complete a pleasing interior experience.
The same – minus the width – applies to the X3, which rights the wrongs of its predecessor with a cabin of an invitingly high standard in our M Sport upgrade. A great driving position, fine seats, brilliant ergonomics, heaps of room, good vision, ample practicality, rock-solid build quality – nothing’s really amiss.
Yet the XC60’s interior amps up both the symmetry of the Endura’s and the craftsmanship of the X3’s a notch or three, if not quite besting the latter’s ergonomic mastery. Looking beyond the lush R-Design add-ons, the basic architecture is as sound as Volvo’s safety credentials, majoring on lovely and distinctive detailing.
Not everyone will dig the horizontal twist-knob starter or tablet-swipe touchscreen operation, but everything is present, there’s actually an enormous amount of space, all outboard seating is first-class and the commanding driving position hints at what lays ahead dynamically. A lush, luxurious and aromatic experience, then.
Further helping to justify the Swede’s price differential is its stirring performance – once some momentary twin-turbo lag that all three seem to suffer from is overcome.
Unsurprisingly, with 33kW/100Nm of extra oomph on tap, the XC60 demolishes its rivals here, pulling ahead by half-a-second at 60km/h, more than double that at 100 and, by 140, it’s about 3.5s in front and rising. Yet these numbers only tell half the story. It’s the Volvo’s sheer mid-range flexibility that’s likely to elicit an eyebrow cock, despite having the lowest rev limit (redline is 4800rpm) and a circa-250kg mass handicap compared to this threesome’s lightweight (the X3).
Floor it, and the D5 charges forward with effortless vigour; check out the 80-120km/h differences – 5.1s versus 6.5s for the BMW, and a tardy 8.4s for the lardy Endura.
With the regular 140kW/400Nm on tap, the BMW is satisfyingly punchy, and more muted than the Gothenburg Express in everyday commuting, relying on an excellent spread of ratios from its ZF-supplied transmission to really hustle along – or simply resting on a deep well of torque when something more relaxing is required.
No, there’s no way that the German will catch the rampaging Swede once that speedo heads north, but the X3’s brisk acceleration at throttle tip-in feels alive and switched on.
The two latter points, sadly, cannot quite describe the Ford’s performance. Blame those extra 300kg. Result? Driven gingerly, even with a sizeable load on board, off-the-line response is actually more than sufficient – spirited even – with the Endura just 0.1s behind the BMW at the 50km/h mark.
Again, clever gearing and some smart tuning help the Titanium stay in the game. By 80 it’s 0.7s shy of the X3, and falling, and by 120 that gap is 2.5s and widening. The Volvo, meanwhile, has reached its destination.
PREMIUMS VERSUS NOT-SO-MUCH
X3 X3 finally matures to deserve its BMW badge, with more quality, refinement, space and comfort than before – especially with adaptive dampers. Classy yet functional dash, firm but shapely seats in M Sport, excellent iDrive multimedia and perfect driving position also on-brand. Wheel is too thick rimmed for some drivers. Beware of cheap, clangy rear central cupholders. Rear seats firm but shapely. Rear backrest doesn’t recline, but is well suited to family duties. Boot is 550L. Tyres are run-flats. Ground clearance is 204mm.
Welcome to five years ago. SYNC3 user experience (if not dated graphics) and Jag-esque gear selector apart, Endura feels old and downmarket in this company. Lack of rear-seat USB connectors also betrays the Endura’s advancing years. But super-wide doors that aid entry, pleasing road and mechanical noise isolation, big soft cushions, reclinable rear backrest, heaps of standard kit, huge glass areas and stupendously generous storage are plus points. Windscreen reflections can distract, however. Luggage capacity is 602L. Ground clearance is 206mm. Spare is space saver.
XC60 in R-Design guise nails the luxury medium SUV brief with a transformative cabin offering lots of space, brilliant seats, expensive finishes and plenty of advanced tech. Just ensure the expensive air suspension option is ticked to soothe the ride. Feels $100K plus as specified. Door pillar and centrally located rear air vents provide all the air you need back there. Outboard child booster seats are a boon for growing families. Boot is 505L. Ground clearance is 216mm/209mm on air suspension. Spare is a space saver.
On the flipside, the Endura is frugal, returning an extraordinary 7.5L/100km, versus 8.1 for X3 and a thirsty 9.2 for the XC60. That’s blue-collar credits for the Blue Oval blimp.
Here’s another shock for this American Ford: it possesses the sweetest steering. Just like a Mondeo’s, the helm feels carlike in its nature, with crisp turn-in and delightful feedback. If tactility is your thing then the Endura will spark joy. There is some leaning in fast, tight turns, but the overall cohesiveness reveals a hippo that can tango with the best of them. However, and invariably, with 20-inch hoops and the group’s only steelspring/standard dampers combo, the Titanium’s firmly set-up suspension lacks the supple waftiness found in some related Fords. The ride isn’t hard, just occasionally abrupt.
Our test X3 has adaptive dampers on 19-inch runflats, and they do a fine job quelling a fair array of surface irregularities, while keeping the body firmly controlled. As you’d hope. But is the BMW engaging? Not as it should be, in contrast to the touchy-feely Ford, since the steering is deflatingly numb – but also slightly over-eager.
Admittedly this is really only evident racing between apexes, and the latest X3 is light years better than before.
The Volvo, dynamically, is an in-betweener, though remember that our air-sprung R-Design wears 21-inch wheels with grippy Pirelli P-Zero tyres. The combination makes the XC60 feel impervious to most conditions, with astounding abilities to ride out the rough stuff (although some agitation transmits inside) while still being able to corner with indecent speed and agility. The steering isn’t as talkative as the Ford’s, but it’s still fluent enough to bond with the keener driver.
As with every second-gen XC60 we’ve driven, it is clear the Swedes are at the top of their game in this segment. The D5 R-Design actually costs less than it feels it should in this group, even with the highest price tag. An emphatic victory for Volvo.
The X3 M Sport also won us over, delivering BMW brand values confidently on almost all fronts – bar steering feel. That badge also means extras can be costly. Still, if you can’t quite stretch to an X5, never mind, because the Bavarian mid-sizer can at last step up.
So, the Ford finishes last. To its credit, the Titanium excels as a roomy, economical, dynamic and enjoyable family crossover – but then so does the $45K Trend. And therein lies the rub. As tested, the Blue Oval flagship is simply too expensive against newer, slicker premium rivals.
Ultimately, the Endura is what it is – an ageing North American SUV from the past, in a foreign country, managing to shift not a single paradigm.
A modern Territory it ain’t.
Homegrown Ford Territory aside, only Jeep, out of the mainstream marques, has managed to make the large, five-seater SUV segment work Down Under. It’s done so since 1996, with four generations of the Grand Cherokee, probably only because of the model’s off-road capabilities. In contrast, the Nissan Maxima-based Murano crossover struggled to gain traction over two series for a decade from 2005, while others, like Toyota (with the Camry-based Venza from 2008-17), and soon Chevrolet with the 2020 Blazer, haven’t even bothered.