Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - range
Value for money, space, ride quality, well executed facelift, Sync2 connectivity system, performance of turbo-powered versions, marks the return of the iconic XR8
Room for improvement
Lack of interior refinement, cabin looks and feels old, high-set seats, poor steering wheel adjustment, it’s the last one ever
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27 Nov 2014
AND so it comes down to this. Fifty-four years, and seven generations – with a whole bunch of facelifts and updates in between – of the Australian designed, engineered and built Ford Falcon come to an end with the new FG X.
Ever since Ford announced last year that it was no longer viable to build cars in Australia and that it would shut its local operation in 2016, there has been much sadness around the demise of the iconic Aussie nameplate.
But in recent months that melancholy has turned to nervous excitement among the local motoring media and fans, as Ford began a lengthy teaser campaign designed to boost interest in the swansong Falcon.
A new Falcon or Commodore is always going to generate crazy levels of interest, but the excitement related to the fact that the final Falcon was actually happening, that Ford stayed true to its word to farewell the big sedan with one last makeover, rather than skipping town early.
And here it is, the newish Falcon FG X. So what’s the goss with the farewell Falcon? For starters Ford has chopped the line-up a bit by ditching the mid-spec G6 variant, but it has re-introduced a little something that has been missing for about four years – the high-performance XR8.
Ford resurrected it for FG X as a thank-you to its loyal customers, but the closure of its performance arm FPV earlier this year made it easier for the Blue Oval to bring it back as it had the powertrains ready to go.
But more on the XR8 later.
Elsewhere in the range, Ford has dropped the XT moniker for the base variant, instead dubbing it quite simply, Falcon. Why not?Prices have dropped, too, with the Falcon now starting at $35,900, plus on-roads before hitting $54,690 for the automatic XR8. In between there is still the XR6, XR6 Turbo and more premium G6E and G6E Turbo.
A $34 million government co-investment was never going to be enough cash for a full model change, good thing too given that it will only have a two-year shelf life, but it is clear Ford has used its funding very wisely in re-jigging the Falcon.
When we got our first look at the Falcon in the flesh, we were surprised at how different it looks to the outgoing FG, from the front at least.
Ford’s local design team deserve a big pat on the back for their efforts in bringing the Blue Oval’s latest global design language to the big body of the Falcon.
The large trapezoidal grille and the slim-line headlights give the Falcon a look that fits right in with Ford’s current theme.
Squint and it could easily be the new-gen Mondeo that is due here in the first half of next year, which is fitting given it will take the place of the Falcon as Ford’s mid-large size passenger offering from late 2016 after the factory closes.
As reported when it was finally revealed a few months back, the restyled tail end of the Falcon is very Jaguar XF, which is far from a bad thing.
Each variant gets its own flourishes to identify itself too, and even in base guise, the new look lifts the Falcon.
This entry level variant gets a more basic grille and the 16-inch alloy wheels look a touch small in the wheel arches, but again it is a big improvement.
The appeal of the new Falcon design is clear from front on and at the rear, but from side on, its FG base is more evident with the middle of the car from the A- to the C-pillar carried over. But again, kudos to Ford designers for making it look this good.
In base guise, Ford offered up its LPG-powered EcoLPI version, which adds $2500 to the $35,900 price-tag. At this end of the range, buyers get single zone climate control, cruise control with steering-mounted controls, power windows/mirrors, four-way power adjustable driver’s seat, Bluetooth phone and audio and Ford’s latest Sync2 connectivity system that is standard across the range.
This latest iteration of Sync is a winner. The new standard eight-inch high-resolution touchscreen is divided into four quarters – navigation, climate, audio and phone, although nav is not standard on the base Falcon.
Most things can be done by voice control, like lock in an address for the nav system – Ford calls it ‘One Shot’ destination entry, where you just say “set destination” followed by the desired address or location. And it actually works.
You can do a bunch of other things through voice control, like change the temperature, find the nearest restaurant or service station, and change the music to something else in the genre you are listening to by saying “play similar music”.
Of course if voice control is a bit too scary, you can always just touch the screen or the various buttons housed on the steering wheel or on the centre stack. Easy.
Elsewhere in the cabin, little has changed over the FG, aside from new seat trims. In base guise, it is all very grey, and the hard dash plastics and unappealing ‘plasticy’ steering wheel reminds you of its entry-level status.
Other than that the Falcon, as it has always been, is massive and has acres of leg, head and shoulder room in the front and rear.
Ford has not changed the seats which offer only moderate support and they still sit too high. The steering wheel sits way too low and can only be adjusted for height and reach by a small amount so it is harder to personalise your seating position than in other more modern cars.
There is a slight delay when you turn on the ignition in the Falcon EcoLPI and another slight delay when taking off, but once the 198kW/409Nm 4.0-litre unit is up and running, the Falcon offers enough performance to get you to the legal limit in decent time.
If fuel saving is a priority then this, or the 2.0-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost powertrains are the best options, but there is no getting away from the fact that the EcoLPI sounds like a taxi when accelerating.
Next up was the more high-end G6E that adds luxury touches and is priced from $40,110. The cabin gains leather trim which, in the case of our test car, was in a new-to-the-range tan colour.
While the quality of the leather and the shade of tan is not quite up to European standards, the contrast between the black and grey colours of the cabin is appreciated.
The G6E also gets soft-touch materials on the dash and a few chrome accents, but the plastic panels that run across the passenger side of the dash and the ageing door handles bring the tone down a bit.
Luckily on the road, the 195kW/391Nm 4.0-litre inline six helps the G6E accelerate off the line briskly and there is very little noise in the cabin.
The suspension set-up – carried over from FG – makes for a super comfortable ride as the Falcon glides over most road surfaces without fuss.
If performance is a priority but your budget doesn’t stretch to the range-topping XR8, then the XR6 Turbo from $42,990 or the more luxurious G6E Turbo from $46,550 are your options.
We did not get time behind the wheel of the blown XR6 but the G6E Turbo features the same powertrain.
While a good percentage of Falcon buyers are going to choose a sporty variant, we reckon the G6E wins in the styling stakes. The chrome grille, U-shaped daytime running lights, and neat tail-end without a spoiler give it a more understated look compared with its performance-focussed siblings.
The Turbo is a hoot to drive. It is lively off the line, providing instant response – particularly in Sport mode where there was zero lag – and it maintains the Falcon’s ride quality.
Steering across the range from Falcon to G6E Turbo did not seem to differ and it is direct, with weighting a little on the heavy side. The brakes too are a little mushy, meaning the driver must really plant the foot on the pedal to pull the big sedan up.
Our final blast for the launch drive was in the reborn XR8, which retails for $52,490 in manual guise, while the six-speed ZF auto carries a $2200 premium.
As well as a boot spoiler, the XR8, and indeed the XR6 models, feature a honeycomb mesh grille instead of the slatted unit from other variants, and it gains twin hockey-stick-shaped daytime running lights that give the performance cars their own distinct look. Nicely done, Ford.
Within 15 seconds of being behind the wheel of the XR8, we could feel the tail on the verge of hanging out as we pulled away from the carpark.
The 335kW/570Nm ‘Miami’ Boss 5.0-litre supercharged V8 unit has been lifted from one of FPV’s more recent efforts, the GT RSPEC from 2012.
In fact, the entire suspension set-up from the RSPEC has been fitted into the XR8, which means retuned springs and dampers, a larger rear stabiliser bar, and stiff spring mounts and upper control arms at the front.
The six-speed manual is clunky but it does the job with relatively short throws, and despite the decline in sales of manual cars in Australia, we reckon many enthusiasts will pick this version. We prefer the ZF six-speed auto.
The XR8 is ferocious off the line, and that engine note is absolutely delicious. It’s a little noisier on the road, possibly due to the 19-inch x 8.0-inch front and 9.0-inch rear wheels and 275/35 R19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT tyres. Ford has wisely upgraded the brakes for the XR8 and they are Brembo four-piston calliper brakes up front and rear single-piston calliper brakes. The XR8 also gets a high-specification cooling fan, limited slip differential, heavy duty battery and sports steering gear.
The supercharged engine makes for manic inline performance, but the brutal XR8 has been engineered brilliantly by Ford Australia and it manages to keep itself composed, even when thrown into corners at high, yet legal speeds.
It probably didn’t need to but Ford has included launch control on the XR8. We were lucky enough to test this out at Winton Raceway in northern Victoria and can happily say it makes for absolutely silly performance off the line.
Some motorkhana exercises highlighted how well the stability control worked, and then with the safety system turned off, we discovered how much fun it can be getting the XR8’s rear end out.
There are some negatives. The XR8 is the priciest Falcon on offer now, but it doesn’t include full power seats. It misses out on features that some low-end small cars have, such as a push button start, and there is no escaping the age of the vehicle when you look around the cabin.
But the XR8 features the running gear from the FPV RSPEC that retailed for $76,990 when new, representing a saving of slightly less than $25,000.
The XR8 could be one of the performance bargains of the year. It is certainly our top pick in the Falcon range, closely followed by the G6E Turbo.
It’s no secret that Falcon sales have been on the decline for years now, and the company has said it is not expecting some kind of epic sales boost from the FG X.
Despite the brilliantly executed facelift, there is no hiding the age of the final Falcon and there are other options in the mid-size, large and SUV segments that offer the latest tech and better quality interiors.
But this is the final Falcon, and people will buy it based on that fact alone.
But we hope that fanatics are not the only ones to look at the FG X Falcon. We hope that people will see the qualities that have made the Falcon one of the most popular cars ever built and sold in this country.
Solid, reliable, excellent ride quality, loads of interior space, scintillating performance in the sporty models and that iconic badge.
The Falcon deserves to go out in style, and Ford Australia has made sure that it will.
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