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Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - Futura sedan


1 Nov 2002

A KEY component in BA Falcon's improved dynamics is the adoption of Control Blade independent rear suspension as standard across the range, finally putting Falcon on par with Commodore - on paper at least.

One drive is enough, however, to sense Falcon's all-new multi-link system has leapfrogged both Commodore's simpler Control Link trailing arm set-up and the sophisticated but heavy double wishbone IRS it replaces on top-shelf Falcons.

Attached to an 88 per cent stiffer chassis and available in four levels of tune - more than any previous Falcon - Control Blade raises the ride/handling benchmark for entry level Australian-made motoring considerably.

Similar to the rear suspension found in the Ford Focus and Jaguar X-Type, but locally modified for its first rear-wheel drive application, the Control Blade relegates the both the Falcon Forte's long-serving Watts Link live-axle system and the AU IRS to the dustbin. Though it was developed to be as robust as the previous beam axle set-up, BA wagons and utes continue with the rigid Hotchkiss live axle system.

Working in concert with a thoroughly retuned version of Falcon's tried and proven double wishbone front suspension, the XT's Standard IRS is shared with Futura and Fairmont, while the slightly firmer, lower Sports IRS/17-inch wheel and tyre package is standard in Fairmont Ghia and optional on downstream models.

Finally, the even more serious Tickford IRS is available exclusively for XR models, while Heavy Duty IRS offers increased ride height and yet stiffer springs and dampers for the most demanding XT sedan buyers.

Control Blade effectively separates the ride and handling functions of a suspension, with a long, beefy longitudinal trailing arm basically serving the former and lateral links maintaining the latter. Attached to a steel underbody-mounted subframe via a large, plush bush, the substantial trailing arm is compliant in vertical and horizontal directions, which reduces noise and harshness transmission and allows the lateral links to precisely define castor and toe angles better handling.

Put simply, XT's new rear suspension offers better wheel location and is mated to a stiffer body with a wider rear wheel track and bigger wheels, which improves handling and allows a more compliant set-up. Despite delivering better ride quality than both AU Forte and VY Executive, BA XT will sit flat and composed in corners its predecessor would have floated cumbersomely through, as well as absorb mid-corner potholes or bumps that would have both cars skipping and crashing in protest.

The vastly better planted rear-end conveys a greater sense of security and confidence than before, and combines with Falcon's neutral chassis balance and feedback to provide XT with the kind of ride comfort, road holding and body control expected of more expensive large sedans. Greatly reduced bodyroll, more progressive breakaway, a much quieter cabin and the general feeling of solidity and luxury are simply icing on the cake.

Downsides? Although lighter than the outgoing IRS, Control Blade still contributes significantly to XT's big 144kg overall weight (and slight fuel) increase over Forte. Mainstream Falcon customers have lamented Commodore's standard IRS for the five years since VT was launched, but the wait nonetheless appears to have been worth it.

Did you know?

Barra Falcon road tests were carried out in three continents - Australia, USA and Europe, with suspension tuning conducted at the famous Nurburgring circuit in Germany

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