<b>Gutsy Ghia's finally here</b>
By NEIL DOWLING
YOU can see it in their 7.30am eyes. On the Mitchell Freeway, inching towards paypackets hidden somewhere in the skyrise ahead, a casual glance gives way to vague familiarity and finally recognition.
That's right sleepy-head, it's a new Falcon. Or more precisely, a Fairmont Ghia.
It's not a car that dramatically attracts attention, rather it's a subtle look that's modestly holding together Ford Australia's future.
Unfairly, the freshly-styled BA-series Fairmont and its junior buddy, the new Falcon have been classed as attractive predominantly because, by comparison, its AU-series predecessor looked awful.
Beyond the shape, the BA Fairmont is a superb Australian car that you'll absolutely love to drive.
Clearly, if this BA was presented as the AU in 1998, Holden may not have the sales war stitched up.
Sitting in a traffic jam is as much fun as shelling peas, but it gives a chance to fiddle with the semi-manual gearbox an accoutrement making Ford only the second local carmaker (after Mitsubishi) to offer hands-on shifting in an automatic box.
Flick the jet-style lever to the left and there's manual control of the auto's four forward cogs, sending the tacho to the 6000rpm limit to let the twin-cam six enjoy a bit of heavy breathing. The quick change suits rapid country overtaking, yet Ford hasn't followed European convention with the pattern. Instead of the common movement backwards to pick a higher gear, the Ford does the opposite.
The 182kW 24-valve 4-litre engine is a clean revver, smoother than the Commodore's V6, and spirited driving saw a respectable 14-litres/100km. Less enthusiasm should get closer to Ford's claimed 11.5-litres/100km city figure. The AU, especially in the Series II and III versions, had predictable and even enjoyable road manners. The BA is better again, with improved steering feel and greater confidence through the bends.
The ride and handling is complemented by the best seats in any Australian-built sedan. There's plenty of cushioning, enhanced by side bolsters to give a high degree of lateral support.
To suit all statures, the small-diameter steering wheel adjusts telescopically and for height, the Fairmont gets an electric driver's seat with memory, and the pedals are electrically adjustable for reach.
Top marks to the instrument panel for clarity and ease of use. The location of the electric window switchgear on the driver's door is more ergonomic than the Commodore's centre console-mounted switches.
Interior space is on a par with the outgoing AU, retaining its ability to seat five adults, with 1.8m rear seat occupants left with plenty of leg and headroom. Moving the fuel tank to beneath the rear seat primarily in line with Ford US policy adds more room in the boot. Ford hasn't gone to full-width 60/40 fold down seats, though there's a large tunnel to extend the boot's capacity into the passenger area.
The Fairmont Ghia comes with all the fruit expected of its $49,980, including leather seats, 6-stack CD player, trip computer, cruise control, independent airconditioning with climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, ABS, six airbags and heaps more.
I can tell you that the F'Ghia is totally and untterly the bees knees in terms of driving. The total package can only be verified by driving one. So I did...
I had a chance to drive a V8 a couple of times last week. While it was a first in production model - hence a few hiccups, it was just great to drive. With the sport suspension package that is fitted standard to the Ghia, it handles really well without crashing through pothalls like the XR's. The seats are superb, lots of support for fast corners and long in the base for 2m lads like me. The electronic pedal adjustment meant that I could get the perfect driving posi!! The TFT info panel is smick, plenty of gizzmos to play with and it's all within reach. And the smaller steering wheel feels good, as are the controls. Brushed stainless is a nice touch too. Great Stuff!!
As for the V8, well, in the ghia it doesn't sound like one. Even at full open throttle, it's too subdued. But shesus christ, hang on to the wheel 'coz this thing flies!! Without traction control interferring, this thing would stand still with plenty of smoke!! Sucked the doors off a VR-X and still had time to chat to the missus before crossing the lines on the opposite side of the intersection!
Only compliant I've got is the shifter - back for up and forward for down. I prefer the Euro selection. That is, push forward for changing up and push back for downshifting. It's a little disconcerting for sure! Oh, that and the fact that there is no foot rest. But, I'm sure I could get over these things!!
Now, I wonder if FPV will do anything with the Fairlane?
I think Ford's got the gear shifting the right way round.
when you're accelerating hard, having to shift back to change up goes with your momentum. when you break, your momentum takes you forward and it's easier to change down by pushing forward.
Just imaging trying to change up by pushing forward when you've got your foot flat to the floor pushing you back hard in the chair.
Well done Ford.
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