Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - Futura sedan
Engine performance, transmission, ride/handling, interior
Room for improvement
Driver's footrest, lack of redline, weight, fuel economy
31 Oct 2002
FUTURA has always represented good value in the Falcon range. Like Holden's Commodore Acclaim, it improves in certain key areas on the entry level XT Falcon.
For around $3000 more than the equivalent automatic XT, Futura banishes to the dustbin the base model's cheap-looking 16-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel caps, replacing them with similar sized but much classier looking alloys.
Further lifting the BA Falcon's well proportioned exterior are body-coloured rub strips and wing mirrors while, inside, extra useful equipment such as cruise control, rear power windows, passenger lumbar support, rear grab handles, rear reading lights, rear cupholders and a centre rear armrest improve Futura's convenience levels significantly.
Featuring BTR's brilliant new four-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual control as standard, Futura also comes standard with a different version of the knitted velour upholstery found in the vastly improved XT.
Indeed, Ford has lifted the level of the basic Falcon so far with the $500 million BA facelift - which is better described as a new model - that improvements for Futura have been hard to come by.
But the differences are still enough to warrant Futura's station as the best value Falcon. So much so that the state motoring clubs awarded it their Best Family Car award in 2003, while Falcon also took out the coveted Wheels Car of the Year award for the first time in 36 years.
Simply, Futura improves enough on the basic XT Falcon - itself an example of competition improving the breed after five years of being comprehensively outsold by its opposite number at Holden - to make it appealing enough for many Australians to want to park one in their sheds.
Underneath the clean, conservative but more masculine front and rear-end styling, a torque-laden, twin-cam 182kW version of Ford's trusty sixpack combines effectively with the new auto to make Falcon easily the most powerful in class - and a delight to drive.
Finally, Falcon matches Commodore with independent rear suspension across the range. Not just any suspension, mind you, but a classy new Control Blade multi-link set-up borrowed from Focus that improves even on the upstream models' former double wishbone IRS - which was already streets ahead of Commodore's old-world trailing arm design.
Improving handling dynamics and stability markedly, the new IRS and substantial flooplan refinements together achieve big gains in noise, vibration and harshness - as well as deliver a ride more prestige than any previous Falcon, even in low-series guise. Much of which comes courtesy of an 88 per cent stiffer bodyshell, which affords that hard to trace feeling of luxury and build quality.
Vastly better brakes and more refined steering are simply icing on the cake - another two areas in which Falcon scores points over Commodore.
Indeed, driving blindfolded, it would be easy to mistake the BA Falcon for something far more expensive and perhaps even with a European badge up front. Which says something about the degree to which BA has lifted entry level Australian-made automotive standards.
Of course, the new Futura is not without its problems. The boot is slightly smaller (but still a bit bigger than Commodore's) and has lost its flat floor because of the more intrusive IRS, the driver's footrest is poorly angled and we lament the lack of a redline for the classy new instruments.
While interior fit, finish and material choice is more consistent than in Commodore, there are still some uneven interior shut lines - particularly between the new dash and door skins.
Falcon's biggest faux pas, however, is weight and therefore fuel consumption. Considerably more power - some 30kW more than Commodore's V6 - and better handling come at the expense of some 130kg on average, which means lower fuel efficiency.
It's not enough to change Falcon's claimed fuel economy figure and amounts to little more than a couple of dollars a week, but Commodore is now a clear winner in this department.
And it could turn out to be the VY Commodore's saving grace.
Holden's is confident Commodore's sales momentum will continue thanks to brand loyalty despite the VY's edgy new styling. But we can't think of a single logical reason - other than fuel consumption - to warrant buying buy a VY Acclaim over the sophisticated new BA Futura.
Which is high praise for a model whose predecessor rated a distant second.
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