Car reviews - Ford - Fairlane - Ghia sedan
Styling, interior, IRS, ride quality, steering, drivetrain, value
Room for improvement
Fuel economy, lack of differentiation, sequential auto shift pattern
2 Dec 2003
By TIM BRITTEN
SWINGS and roundabouts. That’s probably the best way to look at Holden’s recent dominance of a market segment originated, and once owned, by Ford.
The market battering suffered by Ford Australia since the launch of the AU Falcon in 1998 and the long-wheelbase Fairlane and LTD in 1999 cut deeply for the company. So deeply, that it was forced into an extensive mid-life revamp that introduced virtually all-new models.
But it’s paid off – and it needed to – for Ford, which is unmistakably on a resurgence. Falcon sales inched briefly ahead of Commodore in September 2003, which was something it hadn’t done since the VT Commodore's release in 1997.
The rework of the Falcon was chiefly responsible for this of course, but the new "Barra" Fairlane and LTD contributed their share too.
The long-wheelbase Fords follow the same restyle themes that were applied to the Falcon except they are somehow less visually dramatic. Although virtually as much work has been done on Fairlane/LTD, the effects are much subtler.
What you do get is a wider, bolder front-end with new bonnet, grille and guards, a tidied-up rear with new shapes for the C-pillars and rear three-quarter panels, as well as a tighter side profile where a lot of effort has been put into making the car sit comfortably, with the wheels nicely filling the arches.
The front-end adopts BA Falcon-style headlights and a new grille, looking less brassy than before, while the boot, in similar style to the new Holden Statesman/Caprice, gets a sharp-cut look with a big, flattish panel separating the tail-lights.
In reality there’s more to the external changes than there appears to be but, unlike the BA Falcon, you need to look a lot harder for them.
The story is quite different inside, where the BA Fairmont Ghia’s all-new dash panel has been adopted, and spruced up a little to give the long-wheelbase Ford a luxury feel appropriate to its station in life.
It gets the same, boldly styled centre console sweeping up to the very top of the dash, and the new, opera-house style pod under which the instruments reside, preventing reflections on the windscreen.
The steering wheel is new, too, with a larger central pad area and bigger, bolder buttons for cruise control and sound system.
The centre console area has a more squared off, geometric look to it than before, proving plenty of room for the Fairlane’s optional satellite-navigation system as well as on-screen readouts for sound and climate control systems.
Fairlane’s generous internal dimensions are of course a given. With all the Falcon’s internal cabin width, plus its wheelbase stretch, the Fairlane remains the quintessential Aussie sedan, with ample stretching room for five well-fed passengers and a big, useful boot accessible via a 60-40 split-fold rear seat that makes a mockery of Holden’s measly ski-port arrangement.
As if all the visual attention wasn’t enough, Ford spent heavily on the driveline too, picking up the multitudinous improvements ushered in with the BA Falcon.
It’s hard to say which is most significant here the upgraded 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine with its twin overhead camshafts and four-valve heads, the new 5.4-litre overhead camshaft V8 that replaces the long-lived Windsor engines, or the new "Control Blade" independent rear suspension that replaces the previous heavy, complex multi-link system.
Our test car was an entry-level, base model Fairlane Ghia six-cylinder, which comes in at just less than $56,000 before on-road costs. It was optioned up a little to show off some of the big Ford’s new technology an onboard DVD system was hanging off the roof, making the Fairlane an entertainment centre on wheels, and there were larger, 17-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard 16-inchers.
Standard Ghia gear includes the "Premium" audio with six-disc in-dash CD, dual-zone climate control, trip computer, leather seats, part-power front seats with driver memory, and power adjustable floor pedals and mirrors, also with memory.
There’s a smattering of woodgrain trim on the doors, dash and shift lever too, as well as a leather-rimmed steering wheel.
The new six-cylinder churns out a decent – by local car standards, anyway – 182kW at a relaxed 5000rpm, along with a very reasonable 380Nm of torque at a less relaxed 3250rpm. It’s a little hard to believe this engine has its roots back in the old, carburettor pushrod six – although despite its twin camshafts, 24 valves and high-tech engine management, it still doesn’t sound like a BMW.
But it propels the nearly 1.8-tonne Fairlane with ease, helped along by a smooth four-speed auto that now comes with sequential shifting controlled not by steering wheel buttons but by the central shift lever.
The only anomaly is that the shift function is in reverse pattern to that applied by just about everybody else but BMW. To shift up, the lever is pulled back, while to shift down, it is pushed forward. Owners who don’t continually step from one make of car to another will have little trouble adjusting to it though.
The Fairlane’s weight doesn’t help at the fuel pumps, with averages not much better than 14 litres per 100km being a reasonable expectation. Engine efficiency can only do so much.
The Fairlane moves along pretty smoothly with its new, more compliant and quieter-operating rear suspension (which increases the wheelbase by 18mm) contrasting with the harsh and noisy behaviour of the previous system.
And the steering is hard to fault. It shares its "sportier" steering rack with the Fairmont Ghia and offers a decent amount of road feel, yet is light enough to make low-speed manoeuvring easy. It contrasts favourably with the dead feel of Holden’s steering system.
The car’s overall feel is also affected in a subtle way by a general body-stiffening exercise that was part of the BA’s development. The new Fairlane bodyshell is claimed to be a big 50 per cent stiffer than before.
It might sound like something of a stretch to say it, but the Fairlane, in its general steering feel and response could be a beneficiary of Ford’s ownership of Jaguar. Thanks in part to the steering, the big car doesn’t really feel all that massive from the driver’s seat - which fits nicely with the company’s attempts to push the driveability of the new model.
The Fairlane Ghia is not the sporty version – Ford leaves that to the V8-engined G220 - but it acquits itself very well. On top of that, it remains an awful lot of car for the money, especially when compared with the Europeans that are attracting more and more buyers in this part of the market.
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