FAL­CON ON HUNT

Ford should claw back mar­ket share with the FG, writes NEIL McDON­ALD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

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.

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