FALCON V COMMODORE
GRAHAM SMITH, GAVIN McGRATH, ANDREW MacLEAN, JAMES STANFORD
Two cars, one winner THE Cars Guide team took the base Ford Falcon and the Holden Commodore and put them to the test over thousands of kilometres around town, on country roads, dirt and carparks to find
The Falcon was the XT model with automatic transmission, which is priced at $ 34,560.
The Commodore was an Executive with automatic transmission and airconditioning. It costs $33,900.
Specifications are basically the same except the Falcon XT comes standard with front electric windows, which are not available on the Executive. Here's what we thought.
FALCON BUYERS can rest easy now Ford has produced a car the neighbours won't laugh at. With new nose and tail, the BA now has a pleasant masculine stance in place of the down-in-the mouth sorry look of the AU.
While styling is important, the real story of the BA is under the skin. The double-overhead cam six is a gem. With 182kW it has the sort of power expected from a V8 of just a few years ago.
As a result, it's responsive and has a steady flow of power from low down to the top of the range at 6000 revs. It's also silky smooth, unlike Falcon sixes of old.
The four-speed auto is well matched to the engine and has nicely assertive shifts, along with the option of manual shifting when you feel like having some fun.
On the road, the BA feels nicely balanced and has a responsive chassis that turns in and maintains its line without the need for adjustment. The steering is well weighted and gives the driver plenty of feedback.
If there's a criticism of the BA, it's the dash, which is downmarket and has a look and feel of cheap plastic. The controls are light and have a flimsy feel that adds to the feeling of cheapness.
COMMODORE buyers could now become the butt of jokes.
The front of the VY is an attractive rework of the VT/VX with sharper lines, but the rear has been borrowed from somewhere else . . . Mitsubishi perhaps. There is a lack of balance between front and rear.
The story doesn't get any better under the skin. The V6 feels course and gasps for air at the top end.
Making things worse, the auto transmission has trouble when downshifting. The shifts are sloppy.
The VY feels solid on the road and the steering is precise, but too heavy for a family ride. And the ride is too hard for a family car.
The VY's new dash is a winner. It's well laid out, the controls have a nice firm feel and the plastics have a quality feel and appearance.
THE FALCON has had twice as much money spent on it, is more powerful and has a lot more torque than its opponent -- so, on paper, it's hardly a fair fight.
Universal opinion is the Falcon XT is a handsome, if understated car.
Inside, the improvement is just as profound. The new Falcon interior is smart and functional. I like the large, central screen and the climate and audio controls on the XT.
On the road, the Falcon feels solid and secure, and its Control Blade suspension is first class.
But the most impressive thing about it is its 182kW double-overhead camshaft inline-six and smooth auto transmission.
But there is a price to pay for all this -- the car's weight. The Falcon uses more petrol overall than its rival.
And it costs more, too.
THE VY Commodore is also a noticeable improvement over the car it replaces.
The Executive is a good-looking car, but while the front looks terrific, the squeezed look of the rear doesn't.
Internally, the Executive's climate and audio controls and instrument panel look sparse, but are easy to use.
While the Commodore is less expensive, it doesn't have power front windows and airconditioning standard -- factor those in and the cost difference is about $500.
The Holden has improved most its steering, which now has a sportier feel than the Falcon.
But Commodore's drive-train lets it down against the Falcon. The 3.8-litre V6 feels feeble compared with its rival, and its transmission isn't as smooth.
THE BA is a huge leap forward for Ford in almost every aspect.
The basic twin-cam
six-cylinder engine is a vast improvement and delivers plenty of power and good torque.
The suspension set-up on the base XT Falcon didn't feel as responsive as previous Falcons. But what it sacrifices in terms of pin-sharp
handling, it makes up in comfort.
The addition of a tip-shift function in the four-speed auto makes a difference only in sporty driving and probably won't be used too much in normal conditions.
But the biggest improvement in the BA is the touchy-feely stuff inside the cabin.
When it comes to shape, the Falcon's front is bulky below the bumper line, while the rear end looks simple and classy.
WHILE the BA Falcon is at least two steps ahead of the AU series, the VY Commodore is a more conventional, one-step update.
The improved steering feel is immediately noticeable and the basic suspension set-up seems more solid and sporty than the Falcon.
The V6 engine feels tired and underpowered, compared with the Falcon's revamped six.
The Commodore's interior plastics are tougher than Falcon's, the console design is not as classy but better ergonomically designed.
The Commodore looks more cohesive front to rear and the upright tail lights look better in the metal than they did the first time I saw them in the paper.
THE Falcon is a good thing. The new dual overhead camshaft engine is smooth and powerful, without the coarse feel through the pedal that was there in the last one.
The extra torque and a sweet four-speed auto mean the engine doesn't have to work as hard or change down as quickly as the Commodore.
Extra weight means the Falcon uses slightly more fuel on the test than the Holden, but the difference is worth only a few dollars a week.
The Falcon is much more comfortable in stop-start traffic because of the quiet cabin, the smooth engine and transmission and the softer ride that is not unsettled by bumps that can jolt the Holden.
The XT model doesn't feel as sporty as the Commodore and the steering is lighter, but it has no problem gripping the road.
Inside, the BA is much better than the AU and has a more elegant feel and a clean dash and controls.
Some knobs in the test car feel a little cheap and the piano-key controls for the sound system seem more novel than practical. The new steering wheel also feels a bit awkward.
STYLING and steering are the big Commodore changes.
Reaction to the styling changes comes down to personal taste. A lot of people don't mind the front but dislike the tail.
Steering in the Commodore is much firmer and feels sportier than the previous system. But the steering could be too heavy for many people at low speed in places such as carparks.
The ride is also on the sporty side. It can be a bit harsh around town and less luxurious than the Ford.
The V6 engine is still the same with 152kW. It is coarse when revved but fine when cruising.
It has less power and torque than the Falcon engine and the noisy auto has to hunt around for the right gear.
That said, the V6 has great pull of the line and contributes to slightly better fuel economy.
The interior is improved, simple and well-laid out, but perhaps a little dated for some.
FORD FALCON XT
From $33,640 ($34,560 as tested)
4.0-litre inline six cylinder with alloy head, double overhead camshafts and four valves a cylinder
182kW at 5000 revs
380Nm at 3250 revs
4-speed automatic with sequential shift,
Length 4917, width 1864mm, height 1444mm
* FUEL TANK:
* ECONOMY (on test):
Independent front end with double wishbone and independent control blade rear , with roll bars
Front 298mm ventilated discs; rear 303mm discs, and anti-skid brakes
* STANDARD FEATURES:
Airconditioning, electric windows, trip computer, driver and passenger airbags, remote central locking, anti-skid brakes, in-glass radio antenna, CD player, 16-inch wheels
HOLDEN COMMODORE EXECUTIVE
From $30,880 ($33,900 as tested)
3.8-litre V6 with cast-iron block and heads
152kW at 5200 revs
305Nm at 3600 revs
Length 4891mm, width 1842mm, height 1425mm
* FUEL TANK:
* ECONOMY (on test):
Independent front end with MacPherson struts and independent rear with semi- trailing arms, and anti-roll bars
Front 296mm ventilated discs; rear 286mm discs and anti-skid brakes
* STANDARD FEATURES:
Trip computer, driver and passenger airbags, remote central locking, anti- skid brakes, CD player, 15-inch wheels