Join Date: May 2001
Location: Somewhere over the rainbow
BA article from Canberra Times
Ford set to soar with some classy touches in major Falcon overhaul
WHEN the ball is bounced for the start of the Australian Football League grand final at the MCG tomorrow afternoon, it will also mark the beginning of the biggest Aussie family car stoush seen in years.
That's when Ford officially cranks up the heat on its arch-rival Commodore by rolling out its multi-million dollar marketing push in a bid to woo buyers over to the new BA Falcon.
Market success of this car is crucial to Ford's prosperity in Australia and the company has spent $500 million double the cost that Holden poured into its latest VY Commodore facelift to settle an old score with its biggest rival.
Even if the Falcon is a huge and immediate success, the Commodore has built up a momentum which will take some months to rein in. It will be a two-way sales battle fought in incremental stages of loss and gain, rather than giant surges of volume.
"We've been living and breathing this car [the BA Falcon] for three-and-a-half years and we're confident that it's the best we could produce for the money," Ford president Geoff Polites said.
"Success won't necessarily be measured by winning market leadership. If it happens, it happens. And of course, we would enjoy that.
"But more important for us is building 412 cars a day at Broadmeadows and making money.
"The customer is always the final arbiter. Our biggest fleet customers have crawled all over the car, asked us lots of questions, and told us they like what they see. Reaction from private customers, too, has been very positive.
"From a sales perspective, we hope to be within spitting distance [of the Commodore] next year."
This new Falcon program goes far further than just fresher sheetmetal front and rear, and a remodelled interior.
Unlike Holden, Ford also put the Falcon in for a major mechanical overhaul. The old 4.0-litre six cylinder has been given a cylinder head upgrade with added performance and better breathing from twin variable-timed camshafts and four valves per cylinder.
In a first for Ford Australia, a turbocharger has been strapped to the six to give the XR6 model genuine zip. And a new V8 arrives as a $5000 option across the range, except on the Futura model, which is six cylinder only.
Here's a wrap-up of the Falcon's major changes after a first drive in the car, and some comparisons with the VY Commodore.
Ford doesn't believe the new Falcon is more conservative in its looks than the AU but that's certainly how it will be assessed.
It looks good out on the road, with the tyres properly filling the wheel arches. There is a design restraint, attention to detail, and touches of elegance which we've never seen on a Falcon before.
It's also the most European-influenced Falcon exterior in history, and clean-cut in a Germanic style.
Like the Commodore, the turret of the car the centre section and the doors are carried over from the previous model but there's been a clever skin graft front and rear to make it look a cohesive whole.
The front end is fairly bland on most models and not as distinctive as the AU, with the XR treatment as the pick of the crop. The performance model retains the quad headlights but loses the deep sculpting which set the lights deep in the metalwork. Now there are four headlight semi-circle cut-outs in the bumper just like the BMW 3-Series to quickly identify the XR on approach.
At the rear, there's an Audi-like impression because the tail-lights are smaller and appear to be pinched by the greater amount of metal. It's derivative, but nonetheless an impressive view.
In all, the BA Falcon should age more gracefully than the AU because like the previous car, the design doesn't try too hard to be different. It suits "middle Australia" perfectly and offers a good springboard for the wilder-looking cars the GT and GT-P to come.
Engines and gearboxes
The turbocharger XR6 engine is a ripper. It uses a very modest boost pressure (just 6 psi) to achieve its 240kW of power which, incidentally, is 5kW more than the "high output" version of the Commodore's 5.7-litre V8.
But if you thought the V8's advantage was in its effortless lugging from low engine revs, then there's a surprise waiting. The XR6's turbo engine makes its maximum torque of 450Nm at just 2000rpm (compared to the V8's 4400rpm).
The force-fed Ford can be trickled to below 1000rpm in fifth gear, given full throttle, and it pulls cleanly away and lag-free without any hiccup, hesitation or driveline jerkiness.
For academic interest only (or if you're visiting the limit-free roads of the Northern Territory), top speed is 230km/h.
The only disappointment is the flat, unexciting exhaust note. Whether turboed or not, the Falcon six sounds about as stirring as a household vacuum cleaner.
Premium fuel is recommended, although an inbuilt knock sensor means the turbo engine will run okay (at a lower output) on standard ULP. Engine presentation is reasonable, with a big sheet of heat shielding over the cast stainless steel exhaust manifold to indicate the installation has been engineered to cope with some seriously hot work.
The BA Falcon is the first Ford anywhere in the world to use the 5.4-litre V8 with three-valves per cylinder.
It's imported from Canada, and fettled here with Australian-designed manifolds. Output is 220kW, but more importantly the torque is a generous 470Nm. It promises to be an ideal engine for towing with the Falcon retaining its 2300kg tow capacity, provided electric brakes are fitted.
The "standard" V8 has one camshaft per bank of cylinders, whereas the XR8 version of this engine which arrives early next year will have four cams and produce 260kW, plus 500Nm of torque.
It's likely that the range-topping GT, with its engines hand-built by Ford Performance Engineering, will have closer to 300kW.
Traction control is still not fitted to the standard six cylinder car but is a $440 option.
This is the watershed change: the complete cabin design (including the seats) now smacks of genuine class, from the base XT model right through to the XRs and Fairmont Ghia.
The chronograph-style graduations around the main instruments are faddish but the rest of the dashboard design is the classiest execution on any Australian-made car.
Quality of materials used has taken a major leap forward but more importantly, the look is much more contemporary. The old oval themes are out and crisp, linear shapes are in.
Ford Australia enlisted the expertise of a US specialist in interior "craftsmanship" to give the type of look and feel you'd find in Volkswagen cabin furnishings, although using softer, warmer tones than is customary in the German cars. The improved materials on the base model XT is far superior to the AU, with a woven headlining, two-tone dash and door trims, and fawn coloured (yes, brown is back) cloth inserts on the doors to match the soft velour seat colour.
For a classy touch, there's satin chrome on the door handles and gear lever and for the first time, drivers of the entry level model won't feel as though they've been short-changed.
The LED display on the "central command module" designed to look like a personal computer is easy to read and understand and the buttons to control most of the functions, although smaller in size, have a nicer feel.
The old-fashioned aerial fixed to the body are replaced by one integrated in the rear glass.
The steering wheel is smaller in diameter and less imposing. It adjusts for reach and height on all models.
There's attention to detail with fingertip controls on the steering wheel (in all models) for the stereo, cruise control (when fitted) and trip computer.
Another handy feature is the little receptacle in front of the gear lever which is custom-designed to hold a small box of tissues. Ford even supplies the first box, with its own brand label.
The Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia have a separate dashboard design, with a small analogue clock fixed in a high, central position. Front map reading lights are standard on all cars but a cigarette lighter is optional.
And the new seats are worthy of special mention, too. Bigger side bolsters are used, the contouring is nicely supportive, and a four-way power adjustment for the driver's chair is standard, even on the base model.
The only criticism we'd have is that the motors under the seats raise the setting higher than some drivers prefer. We pushed the setting as low as possible on every BA Falcon we drove, but none would drop quite low enough.
Every Falcon sedan has a 60-40 split-fold rear seat for through-loading longer objects.
It's a sign of the times: those annoying seat belt reminder chimes common on imported Japanese and US cars are fitted to the BA Falcon but with an Aussie-developed difference.
The so-called "beltminder" only starts chiming when you drive the car away, not when you're at rest. It's speed-sensitive, too, and repeats every 30 seconds for about five minutes before stopping completely (as if to say: "well, you're on your own now, you dunce").
The bodyshell of the BA has an astonishing 88 per cent greater rigidity than AU, which pays off in many important ways including better suspension tuning and performance, higher crash safety and greater refinement.
However, the downside is that it's a heavier car. The base model XT is about 140kg more than previous Forte equivalent, while at the top end of the range, the Ghia is about 50kg more.
To compensate, and keep average fuel economy about the same as before (although slightly better on the highway), there's a taller diff ratio.
The drive experience reveals noticeably less road rumble and wind noise intruding to the cabin.
Every car gets dual airbags, with side airbags standard on the Fairmont and Ghia and offered as a $500 option on all other models. For such low cost, it's a feature well worth having.
The company looked closely at fitting curtain-style airbags for the side windows but because the new car keeps the old AU roof, that safety feature would have reduced the headroom too much.
But we'll probably see curtain airbags arrive with the next major Falcon change, the model codenamed E265 and due out in 2004.
For this BA program, Ford conducted 1750 virtual (computer-simulated) crash tests and 80 real crashes.
A lot of effort has been directed into improving the steering design, feel and effort, from increasing the thickness of the steering wheel rim, to changing the ratio and making the column stiffer.
The Falcon now has the largest brake rotors fitted to any Australian car. They don't necessarily pull the car up any faster the old AU was pretty handy in that department anyway but are engineered for better durability and performance under high stress conditions.
Brake pads are said to have a longer service life and pedal feel is much improved, too.
What we like
It's the little things you notice:
XR6's turbocharged engine: Nicer to drive in manual form than Holden's big V8 because the gearbox is better to use and the Ford's torque spread across the rev range is extraordinary. Its downfall is that it is likely to be hit hard by higher insurance premiums. Does not have the same lovely exhaust grumble as the Holden V8.
Tissue box holder: Sounds corny, right? But it beats the kids wiping their sticky hands all over the upholstery. Small box fits in the dashboard slot perfectly.
Gas struts: One pair lifts the boot lid (no more cheap swing hinges) and another pair supports the bonnet.
60/40 split rear seat: Demonstrates the Falcon's excellent torsional rigidity. Some cars have to fix the rear seat, or keep the opening to a minimum, to brace the body.
You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine.'So that was nice.