By JUSTIN LACY 14 October 2002
THE last chapter in Ford's staggered BA Falcon launch has been written, for 2002 anyway, with the release of an updated ute range.
The high-performance XR8, long wheelbase and luxury BA models are still to come in the first quarter of 2003, but the ute rounds out the long running "Secrets Revealed" campaign for the remainder of this year.
It is no secret that the ute has been an extremely important model for Ford, particularly over the past 18 months, as it has effectively been the last stronghold in the Falcon range and therefore the only one to really withstand the relentless attack from Commodore that began as far back as 1997.
The ute has dragged the Blue Oval brand through an extremely tough period to be one of the only shining lights in the company's vehicle line-up.
Changes to the ute range are in line with those given to the sedan models late last month, which means new exterior styling, new engines, a new interior and a host of other mechanical modifications.
Just as with the sedan models, the new frontal styling - bonnet, guards, headlights, grille and bumper - has the effect of widening the ute's stance, giving it greater road presence.
The performance XR6 variants are now fitted as standard with a sports bodykit, similar to the one fitted to the Pursuit 250.
The ute was always one of the better looking AU variants and the new design enhances its visual appeal even further.
Under the bonnet goes the entry level Barra 182 in-line six-cylinder engine with its class leading 182kW of power and 380Nm of torque, while the E-Gas dedicated LPG engine and Barra 220 5.4 litre V8 are available as options on the XL and XLS models.
The base XR6 also uses Barra 182, as with its sedan stablemate, while the range-topping (for now) XR6 Turbo employs the 240kW Barra 240T turbocharged and intercooled six-cylinder powerplant.
Other front-end changes have also been carried across, including the Sequential Sports Shift automatic transmission, bigger brakes with EBD (Electronic Brake force Distribution), revised steering and recalibrated double wishbone suspension.
The live axle, leaf spring rear suspension has been retained although it has been retuned as part of the BA upgrade.
New, larger diameter, lower friction shock absorbers have been incorporated into the rear set-up, measuring 36mm compared to 30mm on AU, along with other minor modifications to improve NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).
Three levels of suspension tune are offered on the BA ute - standard, sports and one-tonne.
The sports suspension pack, which sits 20mm lower than standard trim and features stiffer front and rear springs and sports shock absorbers, is standard on XLS and both XR6 models.
The one-tonne suspension package features heavier leaf springs, a slightly raised ride height and runs on C-rated tyres (for commercial vehicles). It is standard on XL cab chassis and optional on XL Styleside and XLS.
Inside, the ute picks up the same redesign as fitted to the rest of the BA range - an all-new dash, console and instrument panel, as well as new seats, steering wheel and minor switchgear.
The new Interior Command Centre for air-conditioning/ventilation and audio system controls once again dominates the comprehensively overhauled interior package, doing its part to improve the ambience of what is still a light commercial vehicle.
New features include electric adjustment of the driver's seat base, electric windows on all models and an optional new fixed centre seat fitted with a three-point lap/sash seatbelt. As the centre seat is now fixed, both driver and passenger can still adjust their seat position separately.
A variety of safety upgrades are also part of the BA ute story. Headed by new dual stage airbags and including seatbelt reminder chimes, the ute models also benefit from the front structure enhancements delivered to the BA sedan - reductions to footwell intrusion, A-pillar movement, instrument panel movement, brake pedal intrusion and steering column intrusion.
Pricing for the BA ute range was released just over a week before the official launch, but now that the ute is here at least the customers can see what they are getting for the extra money.
Price increases range from 0.6 to 5.2 per cent, or $180 to $1260, depending on the model. The base XL cab chassis was hit with the steepest hike while the XLS Styleside was blessed with the smallest rise.
XL Cab Chassis $25,590
XL Cab Chassis (a) $26,510
XL Cab Chassis V8 $30,590
XL Cab Chassis V8 (a) $31,510
XL Styleside $26,190
XL Styleside (a) $27,110
XL Styleside V8 $31,190
XL Styleside V8 (a) $32,110
XLS Cab Chassis $28,580
XLS Cab Chassis (a) $29,500
XLS Cab Chassis V8 $33,580
XLS Cab Chassis V8 (a) $34,500
XLS Styleside $29,380
XLS Styleside (a) $30,300
XLS Styleside V8 $34,380
XLS StylesideV8 (a) $35,300
XR6 Styleside $34,205
XR6 Styleside (a) $35,125
XR6 Turbo Styleside $39,675
XR6 Turbo Styleside (a) $40,595
E-Gas dedicated LPG $1100
Four-speed column auto $770
Heavy duty suspension $470
Air-conditioning (XL and XLS) $2250
Cruise control $460
Passenger airbag $495
Leather seats (XR) $1015
Tonneau cover $255
Hard tonneau cover $1695
Aluminium tray $1220
Towpack (1600kg) $345
THERE is no mistaking the new BA ute for anything other than a Falcon ute at first glance, which can't be said about the BA sedan, especially from the rear.
Although the styling changes are comprehensive, particularly at the front, the fact that it still looks familiar is not a bad thing, as the AU ute (especially in XR guise) was always one of the more attractive AU models.
Despite all the changes made in and underneath the BA ute, the driving experience remains very similar.
Despite the up to 50kg weight gain (depending on the model) the ute's performance has improved courtesy of the new engines while the new Sequential Sports Shift auto raises the bar dramatically over the competition (read Commodore).
The Barra 240T turbocharged engine is undoubtedly the highlight of the BA range, be that sedan or ute. Its V8-like torque output means there is some serious urge from low down right through the mid range, while it is also quite happy to spin all the way to redline without sounding anywhere near as stressed as the previous XR6 VCT engine.
The big problem is with the instruments, where there is no redline marked on the tachometer, so you have no idea where to change up until the limiter has cut in a few times to point it out.
The new interior makes a world of difference to how the ute feels from the inside, as it seems to have an even greater effect on improving the ambience of the cabin than it does on the sedan models.
You expect a car to maintain a certain level of class, but in a light commercial vehicle it is fair to say you would generally put up with a lot worse.
Put a BA side by side with an XH, for instance, and you'll see the great chasm that has opened up in the areas of design, build quality and refinement over the past six or seven years
The new BA ute now has an air of class, inside and out, that just wasn't present with the previous AU models. Prices may have risen, but the new engine technology and especially the new interior more than compensate for those increases.
The success of the upgrade will be told on the sales charts, but expect the raft of modifications and improvements to help it keep its nose in front of Holden's Commodore-based ute - at least until the General's own cab chassis variant arrives, along with the dual cab Cross8.