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Old 08-11-2004, 23:20   #1 (permalink)
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Prize fight -courtesy www.Drive.com.au

The first journo comparo I've found. I'm still reading it now.....

While the two automotive giants continue to trade blows, the public is the real winner, says David Morley.

It's a stoush that's been going on for the past 45 years but it shows no signs of slowing down, nor of the fight fans losing interest. And now, with the launch of the VZ Holden Commodore, the bell has just rung for the latest round.

It might seem a predictable pairing, but the Holden and Ford big-cars punch-up has always provided plenty of scoring blows as the pair have swapped market positions over the years.

But if revisiting the same battle with every new model seems like a yawn, think again, because the car-buying public has been the real winner over the years. It's fair to say that without such good sparring partners, neither the Ford Falcon nor Holden Commodore would be the world-class cars they are today.

In any case, the new VZ Commodore marks the final facelift of the current-generation Commodore bodyshell, which will be replaced by the all-new VE model in 2006. So, although the car is nearing the end of the road, the big news is that the VZ ushers in Holden's first new six-cylinder engine in 16 years.

Along with the new V6 comes a pair of new transmissions and some styling and specification changes to give the VZ its own personality.

Stepping through the ropes to shape up to the VZ is the BA Falcon, although details of the Mark II were cheekily announced by Ford in the same week as the VZ went public. The handful of slight changes for the October launch are vastly more restrained, with the only meaningful alterations being a shift to a six-speed manual gearbox in the XR8 and XR6 Turbo models and cruise control on the entry-level XT.

With such little changes not arriving for another two months, Drive grabbed a base-model Falcon (XT) and its Holden opposite number (Executive), threw them in the ring and stood back to watch.


Price/equipment
Both cars offer plenty of performance, space and ability for the money. There is still, however, some evidence of a tight price-target and inclusions such as manually wound rear windows, a single-disc CD player and plastic wheel covers stamp them as base models.
On the upside, you do get nice touches such as remote-central locking and power mirrors, although you'll pay extra for air-conditioning in the Holden (it's standard in the Ford).

The scales balance a little with cruise control a $660 option in the Falcon and standard in the Commodore (as it should be in 2004).

A Commodore Executive (there's no manual option) with air-conditioning tips the scales at $35,410, while the Falcon XT sells for $34,660. But add cruise control to the Ford and it carries a near-identical sticker of $35,440.

Ford Falcon XT -- 4 stars
Holden Commodore Executive -- 4 stars


Engines/performance

With an all-new V6 engine one of the VZ's main selling points, we are somewhat disappointed in the powerplant. High-tech though it is on paper, in actual use it's not the great leap forward many have been hoping for.

At 3.6 litres, it's nearly half a litre shy of the Ford's 4.0-litre engine, but, like the Ford, it uses a twin-overhead-camshaft design for better breathing ability. It also has variable valve timing, even in the base model's 175kW format (there's a 190kW variant in the more expensive Commodores) and all-alloy construction.

Yet for all that, it doesn't feel like a dramatic improvement over the old Buick-derived pushrod V6 that was fitted to Commodores from 1988.

There's good mid-range flexibility from the new V6, but if you were expecting the smoothness and sophisticated feel of, say, a Toyota Camry V6, you'll be disappointed.

At lower engine speeds, the Holden is fine (although it still sounds disturbingly similar to the old engine) but rev it hard and it loses some of its composure. It revs freely enough but with a fair degree of unpleasant noise and vibration.

The Falcon's inline six-cylinder has zinginess to it that the Commodore's V6 simply can't match, and there's real refinement across the Ford's operating range.

The bald numbers -- 175kW of power and 320Nm of torque for the Holden and 182kW and 380Nm for the Ford -- suggest an edge for the Falcon, and that's how it pans out. Even though the Ford is 126kg heavier, it uses its torque advantage nicely from a standing start and produces more urge on the run.

The Falcon's cause is helped further by its four-speed transmission, which seems well able to second-guess the driver's intentions and deliver the right ratio (and hold it) pretty much all of the time. In contrast, the Holden's transmission is still a let-down, despite plenty of work being put into the carryover four-speed. But it can still be caught hunting for a gear and the quality of the downshifts is poor. It also lacks the Ford's manual-shift plane and is best left out of "Power" mode, where it's even less likely to pick an appropriate ratio or hold it when it does.

Holden does have an excellent, smooth-shifting five-speed automatic on the high-level variants, but unless you're spending a lot more money, the old four-speeder is your lot.

The counterpunch comes in the form of fuel economy: we recorded a reasonable (considering the driving style on the day) 11.5 litres per 100km in the Falcon, but the Commodore used just 10.2 litres per 100km over the same course at the same velocities.

Ford Falcon XT -- 4 stars
Holden Commodore Executive -- 3.5 stars


On the road

For those who value more sporty handling, the Commodore will be a natural choice.

The Ford has plenty of grip but it is more softly suspended and requires a little more effort to keep it on line through faster, sweeping corners. The Falcon's steering is accurate enough but it's not as talkative as it might be and falls behind the Commodore's. Particularly pleasing is the way the Commodore can be tipped into a corner with plenty of confidence and will hold that line with minimal correction needed.

The trade-off for the Holden's poise is a reduced ride quality, with some impact harshness (particularly from the front end) that gets into the cabin and through the seats.

Like the Ford, the Commodore's suspension works very quietly, but the former has a more soothing ride quality.

Both cars exhibit excellent stability through the bumpiest of bends and refuse to be thrown off line.

Ford Falcon XT -- 4 stars
Holden Commodore Executive -- 4 stars


Safety

Both cars get off to a good start safety-wise, with dual front airbags as standard and anti-lock brakes (ABS). They also get seatbelt pretensioners and lap-sash belts all round.

Side airbags are optional on both cars, Ford charging $550 for them and Holden offering them for $520.

Holden's overall braking package is more comprehensive than Ford's, with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution, which ensures the wheels with the best grip get more braking power in extreme stops.

Traction control is offered by both manufacturers, but not at this level, although at least it's optional in the Falcon at $470.

Like traction control, Holden's new Electronic Stability Program -- which brakes individual wheels to regain control when the car is skidding - is not available on the Executive.

For Holden buyers, the Acclaim, which still comes in under $40,000, gets all those features plus side airbags. A similar stability control program is available on all-wheel-drive versions of the new Ford Territory, but it has not yet been adapted to the Falcon platform.

Ford Falcon XT -- 3.5 stars
Holden Commodore Executive -- 4 stars


Packaging

The Commodore is well-built, but in Executive trim the interior feels slightly spartan and plasticky. The door trims don't feel right and the dashboard instruments look fairly nasty.

The Falcon is no pinnacle of virtue in this regard, either, although its instruments are more stylish and its switchgear seems generally to work more intuitively.

The Commodore's big failings in that regard include the cruise control switches on a stalk (the Ford has them on the steering wheel), centre-console-mounted power window switches and the separate on-off switch for the stereo.

In accommodation terms, the Holden picks up plenty of points with better front seats and a lower seating position that makes the Ford's higher riding position feel outdated.

In the rear seat, it's no contest, the Commodore winning easily with doors that open wider, a more comfortable rear seat, more leg room and better headroom. It's also quieter at speed than the Ford and passengers have more glass area for a better view.

But the Ford's boot doesn't have the Commodore's swing arms to foul luggage.

Ford Falcon XT -- 4 stars
Holden Commodore Executive -- 4 stars


Conclusion

Holden-Ford grudge matches have often been close contests, but rarely have they been this close. With that in mind, any decision must be a qualified one, and it would have been easy to sit on the fence and feel justified.

In the end, we've gone for the Falcon by the tiniest margin, mainly because of its better ride quality and the soothing but powerful driveline, even if it does use noticeably more fuel in the process.

If you put a high priority on driving a favourite piece of winding road, the Holden will probably be your first choice. But that must be tempered with the knowledge that the Ford is not a world away in its cornering abilities.

The other set of circumstances in which the Commodore would win involves a family with bigger kids. The Holden's rear-seat accommodation is simply better in every regard and is a more pleasant place to spend time. But long after the slightly better finish has worn off, the Falcon's superior ergonomics and more cohesive driveline will still be impressing and, for that reason, we've given it the nod. A points decision, but by no means a knockout.

Having said that, if we had compared the slightly more expensive Commodore Acclaim and Falcon Futura, the decision may well have swung the other way, considering the Commodore's potentially life-saving ESP system.

Ford Falcon XT 4.5 stars
Holden Commodore Executive -- 4 stars


Prices and details correct at publication date.
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Old 08-11-2004, 23:35   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Prize fight -courtesy www.Drive.com.au

Repost:
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