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Launch Story

17 Oct 2005

Falcon finds further refinement. That’s the headline that springs to mind after driving several versions of Ford’s updated Falcon range, the BF.

And while the big news is the limited use of ZF’s six-speed automatic gearbox that has helped to transform upper-end versions of the BA-based BF Ford into sedans with seriously world-class capabilities and value-for-money, it’s what you don’t hear that’s just as impressive.

In the six-speed auto cars, gone forever, finally, is that taxi-like transmission whine you’d always find in yesterday’s Falcons. Actually it hasn’t been too bad since the ’02 BA, but it was still heard there in the background. Four-speed Commodore’s still have it too.

The thing is though, it’s also much quieter now in Falcons that still continue with the (albeit improved and refined) Ion four-speed auto, thanks to concerted work to deaden noise paths with fancy padding from the engine bay, parcel shelf, roof and other known areas that transmit it.

We guarantee you’ll notice how much more hushed the base-model Falcon XT is. Ford says the BF is now up to 10 decibels quieter than the BA... and that’s no BS.

About the only downsides to reducing the mechanical racket is that you may now become more aware of wind noise, particularly from around the A and B-pillars. This car’s basic body is seven-plus years old, after all.

You may also be delighted by how smooth and linear the acceleration is - that’s the revised electronic throttle working with an engine now torquier down low and yet punchier up high due to more sophisticated variable-valve timing.

Or how much better the brakes feel on unsealed surfaces. Upgraded anti-lock and traction control systems are at work here.

But credit where credit’s due: the six-speed automatic is the real star of the BF improvements.

The Falcon was always the driver’s choice compared to the VZ Commodore, Camry and outgoing Magna/Verada. Now its lead has stretched decisively.

In conjunction with the other improvements, all four engines tied with the six-speed automatic sampled (190kW 4.0, 245kW 4.0 turbo, 230kW 5.4 24V V8 and 260kW 5.4 DOHC 32V V8) now respond extremely eagerly to throttle inputs.

So fluid are the changes up or down they’re difficult to pinpoint.

There’s high-tech hardware that adapts to the driver’s style, road conditions and engine and vehicle speeds so the feel and character of the whole car seems to change depending on how hard or otherwise the Falcon is being driven.

A demonstration over twisty and winding country roads with Ford Australia’s engineering chief Trevor Worthington in the luxury-with-a-sporty-edge Fairlane G8 revealed just how Jeckyl and Hyde the ZF gearbox can be.

The car didn’t miss a beat: gears were held on automatically during uphill switchbacks while three and four-gear kick-downs when instant acceleration was needed was no sweat for this barge yet at 100km/h on the flats in sixth the 5.4 V8 G8 was barely breaking 1500rpm.

Mind you, there’s seriously good independent rear suspension and a massively rigid body and under-structure to complement the gearbox and engine upgrades.

Ford has also tweaked the trannie’s software so every model’s differing driving experience is reflected in how swift the changes are within the varying gear ratios. At 100km/h the harder, sportier XR6 Turbo, for instance, is turning its engine at 1600rpm.

In fact this engine/gearbox combo is arguably the most compelling out of all the BF cars since the power and gearing seem spot-on. With each shift the German transmission takes up the power and runs with it like an Olympic relay racer.

Yet... as in the BA, the Fairmont Ghia V8 seems to have the most sophisticated sporty/comfort compromise, displaying fine body control over a variety of roads while deflecting disturbances for an impressively supple ride.

As the model that best shows off the six-speeder’s attributes, the Ghia approaches some big-buck Benz/BMW grand tourers.

The ZF liberates performance Falcons from the confines of the previous four ratios into the wider playing field that six ratios provide for the significant power and torque outputs involved while the revised four-speed auto doesn’t have to cope with as many stresses now since it isn’t tied to the turbos and V8s. As Mr Worthington put it, this gearbox "... is less stretched."

Plus the lever action itself is more pleasant to use too thanks to a more defined shift quality with less travel. Only the tacky ‘6-speed’ badge ruins the ‘you could be in a BMW’ effect (if eyes are closed – not recommended).

The new colours also do wonders for the BF.

The sandy beige and sky blue were popular among onlookers, while the more vivid purple really does suit the sporty nature of the XRs. Few could stomach much of the fluorescent green though.

After the impressive strides in driveability and refinement, it’s a shame Ford hasn’t invested more in visually separating BF from BA. Even diehard Falcon trainspotters will have to look twice to spot the differences. Unfortunately the neighbours will have to as well if keeping up with the Jones’ is important.

Even a new grille or more-obvious tail-light change might have given the worthwhile engineering advances a better chance of being noticed in the fiercely competitive market place.

It’s worth remembering though that about $1.1 billion is believed to have gone into the combined BA/BF Falcon and SX/SY Territory cars so far (Ford isn’t saying). Perhaps the dosh just wasn’t there for mere cosmetics.

Nevermind. Mr Worthington calls this "the best automatic in the world". Going on how responsive, smooth and flexible it is in the latest Falcon, we’re not about to argue with him.

And considering all the other improvements, the BF is an ‘inside-out’ facelift (as Ford puts it) then. And so only a serious drive will do such absolutely worthwhile changes justice.

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