Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - Futura sedan
Big interior, comfort, torque
Room for improvement
Light steering, live rear axle
3 Apr 2002
By TIM BRITTEN
THE Futura Falcon certainly suffered attention deficit when Ford introduced the AUII version in April, 2000. Desperate to arrest sliding sales of its volume Forte model, Ford lavished most attention at this level, even to the point of giving it the same grille and bonnet structure as the upmarket versions.
The Futura got the same base grille and bonnet too, but this only served to bring it closer to the Forte in appearance. Standard alloy wheels helped, as did a boot spoiler introduced at AUII time, but the Futura did tend to get lost somewhere in the mix.
With the arrival of the AUIII, a little work has been done to separate between basic and slightly less basic models, but the Forte is now so well equipped that it is difficult to justify the extra dollars for the Futura. Slap on a set of alloys and add a few internal items such as power rear windows and the Forte really comes very close.
The Futura is still seen as a step upmarket from Forte and the keen-eyed will always be able to pick the difference - especially in corporate car parks where company car allocations are closely observed.
That the AUIII Futura is a well presented, well equipped family car there can be no question. Already benefiting from subtle, ongoing post-AU changes that have lowered the ride height, filled the arches with bigger wheels, refashioned the front and rear ends with the aim of making them more aesthetically acceptable and remodelled the dash into more conservative but more acceptable shapes, the Falcon has come a long way since 1998.
As part of the effort to improve customer appeal and help lift resale values, free servicing and a three-year roadside assistance plan were also thrown in, at AUII time, as part of the base Falcon package.
And what are the items that separate Futura from Forte?
Well, Futura buyers will be looking at things such as the aforementioned alloys and boot spoiler, but there are other features to consider as well.
The Futura comes with a chrome grille surround, bumper and body side protection mouldings with a chrome insert, front and rear power windows with time delay after the ignition is switched off, as well as a driver's auto down feature.
Cruise control with steering wheel-mounted switches is also part of the Futura package, as are integrated front and rear passenger grab handles and coat hooks, adjustable lumbar support for both front seats, and a power radio antenna. This is on top of the driver and front passenger airbags, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning, four-speaker AM/FM radio with single-disc CD player, remote central locking and power front windows that are now standard in the Forte.
Driving the AUIII Futura is really no different to an AUII. The engine is strong on torque and although it is no sporting powerplant, it is slightly happier to rev than the Commodore V6. The slightly bigger capacity and extra power - as well as a small weight penalty - do extract a small toll though, with slightly more thirsty city and highway figures than the Commodore's 3.8-litre V6.
The car rides smoothly and cruises serenely, responding adroitly enough to steering wheel inputs. At the end of the day though, the steering is a little over-assisted to our liking even though it might offer a tad more progressiveness than Holden's Commodore.
The front seats are good for long spells at the wheel with their generous size and supportive padding, although laterally they are nothing special. This lack of sideways support against cornering forces is particularly noticeable in the back where the shaping is less thoughtful. Still, there are not too many large sedans that will provide the back seat shoulder width available in the Futura.
Ford made the Falcons safer at AUII time with extra structural work put into protecting passengers better in side and offset front impacts, as well as providing pyrotechnic front seatbelt pretensioners designed to hold passengers firmly in place in an accident.
At the same time the Falcon got revised suspensions, on both live-axle and independent rear ends, improved brakes and the double-skin firewall that reduced the amount of engine noise finding its way into the interior.
The four-speed automatic is pretty much as you would expect it mates well with the engine and is willing enough to swap ratios when asked, but it is now an older generation auto that lacks the driver interaction available through "sequential" autos as used in the upmarket FTE sporting Fords. Generally, though, it is a nice, smooth changing auto to live with.
Of course the Futura gets the flip-down, roof-mounted sunglasses holder, dual map-reading lights and a four-speaker, 100-watt sound system with a single-disc, in-dash CD player and steering wheel-mounted controls. All the windows are power operated - a significant one-up on the Commodore which lists these as optional even at equivalent Acclaim level.
The Futura is a Forte with a touch more street credibility, but underneath it is the same sound, basic Falcon package that offers better interior space, more luggage carrying versatility and a good reliability record as justification for not buying a Commodore.
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