FALCON ON HUNT
Ford should claw back market share with the FG, writes NEIL McDONALD
THE new Falcon needs to be good — and it is. With large-car sales stagnating, Ford has to engage prospective buyers with its big sedan to ensure not only the success of the car but its large car-manufacturing operations.
The entire range, from fleet favourite the XT to the G-Series range and sporty XR6 and XR8, deliver in the areas of refinement, ride, dynamics and overall safety.
Perhaps most importantly, the Falcon presents a good value-for-money proposition against key rivals Holden Commodore and Toyota Aurion.
The vehicles drove for more than 450km over a variety of country roads were what Ford calls ‘‘field evaluation units’’ or FEUs, which customarily come down the production line well ahead of fully ramped-up customer cars.
But if these FEUs are any indication of the level of quality likely to be available in showrooms, Ford has no need to worry.
Apart from a couple of small glitches with trim, mostly around the A-pillars, the FEUs were all tight, impressively quiet and had excellent shut-lines and panel fit.
Functionality has also improved over the old AU-inspired BF range.
The FG Falcon answers the criticisms of the old car concerning the rear-door openings and sloping roofline, which meant the A-pillar and C-pillar were too close to occupants’ heads.
A new roof and vehicle silhouette have delivered gains in headroom, particularly in the back, where passengers now have 13mm more headroom.
New doors and improved door trims have provided slightly more front and rear shoulder room.
Buyers cross-shopping interior legroom between the Falcon and the Commodore and Aurion will not be disappointed.
The new instrument panel, steering column shroud and redesigned footwell have improved driver kneeroom. NTERIOR packaging finally lifts the car into another league. The boot has 535 litres of space and a spacesaver spare is now part of the package.
But, as with the Commodore, customers can specify an optional fullsize spare for an extra $100.
Inside, engineers have made the Falcon a snug place to be.
The centre console and gearlever are placed higher, the steering wheel looks and feels slightly smaller and the information display is better located in the driver’s sight-line.
The door-mounted armrests have been raised to match the new dashboard height, and the instrument panel has been angled closer towards the driver, for improved visibility and reach.
The pleasant touch and sensation of the rubber-backed door pulls, airvents and ancillary switchgear gives the Falcon a quality air.
Under the skin, so thorough is Ford’s engineering that the FG gets monotube shock absorbers — normally the domain of luxury European cars — and four suspension tunes for the sedan.
The XT gets the most benign setting, but it is by no means lacking or too soft.
The G6 and G6E get their own ‘‘luxury sports suspension’’ tune and the G6E Turbo, in keeping with its sports credentials, has a ‘‘luxury performance suspension’’.
The XR Series cars get the firmest settings, but again this is not to the detriment of the overall ride.
Suspension-wise, the Falcon gets a lightweight ‘‘virtual pivot’’ front suspension and the control-blade rear suspension gets new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.
The steering is now forwardmounted with a variable ratio and Y-shaped steering rack to improve stiffness and smooth operation.
Ford’s engineers have dissected the old car and taken a fine-tooth comb to each component.
The result is impressive, but what is the FG Falcon really like on the road? First, the XT. The bread-and-butter sedan may look humble, with its steel rims and lack of chrome adornment, but what will be the fleet favourite lifts the dynamic bar over the Commodore Omega and base-model Aurion.
The only oversight is that the Omega and Aurion get side curtain airbags as standard, but they are a $300 stand-alone option on the XT.
Ford points out that the base car actually does get front, side, head and thorax airbags.
The XT costs $500 more than the outgoing model, but is light-years ahead in most areas.
The old car’s 4.0-litre in-line six was already an impressive piece of engineering. Smooth, quiet and willing to rev, it is now 5kW more powerful and peak torque is up 8Nm.
It is mated to a new five-speed gearbox with ratios perfectly matched to the engine.
The 4.0-litre engine is good for 195kW at 6000 revs and 391Nm and 3250 revs, which betters the Omega’s 180kW and 330Nm from its 3.6-litre V6. The Aurion 3.5-litre V6 may beat it on outright power with 200kW, but is down on torque at 336Nm.
Economy in the FG is a strong point. The Falcon delivers 10.5 litres/ 100km, close to the Aurion’s 9.9 litres/100km and beats the Omega’s 10.9 litres/100km. With the optional six-speed ZF automatic, economy improves to 10.1 litres/100km.
Inside, the base XT seats are comfy but too soft for press-on driving.
The centre LED-backlit LCD dotmatrix information screen also lacks the colour, features and flare of the G-Series cars.
What will impress is the digital speedo readout, like the Commodore, but the Falcon goes one better with a set-point cruise control.
You can also throw another $500 at the XT to get stylish 16-inch alloys that lift the car’s plain Jane exterior.
When the VE Commodore arrived more than a year ago it was hailed for its on-road prowess.
The Falcon will give it a serious run for its money. It feels more agile, has a more compliant ride and the steering turn-in is crisper than the Omega.
Ultimately, too, the XR-sourced brakes provide high levels of reassuring stopping power.
Crucially, visibility through the A-pillars and out the back of the car is far better than the Commodore. Next, the G Series models. Significantly, Ford has chosen to drop the Futura, Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia names in favour of the new G-Series cars. It is a bold step that has paid off. The G6, G6E and G6E turbo deserve their new credentials and are refined enough to validate the decision to do away with the old names.
The G-Series cars deliver a new level of individuality within the Falcon family.
The starter G6 has a sub-$40,000 price point and is clearly aimed at the middle manager.
It has enough ‘‘bling’’ to justify the extra $3500 spend over the XT.
Visually, it gets a bit more exterior chrome and on the inside a G6-branded upmarket interior.
The suede-style trim looks good and is topped off with an elegant, upmarket dashboard with a colour information display.
The suspension tune, supple ride, 17-inch alloys and crispness of the dynamics give the G6 enough clout to tackle some of the smaller Japanese imports that push the sports-touring theme. It also outclasses its large local rivals.
Further up the tree is the G6E and G6E Turbo, both with more kit.
Among the standard gear is a reversing camera, sports leather steering wheel, curtain airbags, 18-inch alloys, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, faux carbon fibre trim and piano black highlights, eight-speaker CD stereo and dual-zone climate control.
The G6E Turbo is the surprise package. With its own suspension tune and 270kW and 533Nm on tap, this is the car Ford Australia chief Bill Osborne has ordered for his personal transport.
The turbo six is silky smooth and with so much torque available almost makes the V8 redundant, except for those fans who really insist on a bent eight under the bonnet.
The six-speed ZF automatic is well matched to the turbo-six engine. It does not hunt through the gears, allowing the surge of torque to build without downshifting too often.
The ride comfort on the 18-inch rims is a good blend of plushness without any harshness.
The performance XR6, XR6 Turbo and XR8 will keep the boy racers’ happy.
WITH the sweet-revving sixes, in normally aspirated and turbo guises, you would have to wonder why anyone would really need the 290kW/520Nm 5.4-litre XR8, even though it gets a semi-active muffler to ensure pedestrians know there’s a V8 under the bonnet. But on paper the smaller-capacity Ford V8 does do well against the Commodore SS’s 6.0-litre V8, which pumps out 270kW and 530Nm.
But we suspect Falcon performance buyers will opt for the XR6 Turbo.
At 270kW, the turbo I6 is down 20kW on the 5.4-litre V8 but delivers its 533Nm from only 2000 revs, across a flat torque curve.
What makes the XR6 Turbo convincing is that at $45,490 it is now lineball on price with the XR8.
Our initial feeling is that the new Falcon does not reinvent the wheel and some would argue that there is not enough styling differentiation from the old model.
But Ford has made a damn good effort in delivering a car that will make people rethink their choices.
More importantly, there’s a chance big could be back in vogue again.
Head start: a new roof and vehicle silhouette have increased the headroom in the Ford Falcon FG range, particularly in the back seat.