Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - S sedan
Big, comfortable interior, easy power of base six-cylinder engine
Room for improvement
Door squeaks under stress, bringing questions on torsional rigidity
21 Feb 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
FOR: Big, comfortable interior, easy power of base six-cylinder engine AGAINST: Door squeaks under stress, bringing questions on torsional rigidity By TIM BRITTEN IF you were disappointed with the extent of visual changes to the AUII series Ford Falcons, you will be happy to know the driving experience more than compensates.
The AUII turns out to be a very nicely refined family car.
In terms of customer expectations, it addresses both the superficial and the deep and meaningful.
The superficial will hopefully make the general public feel more favourably towards Ford's volume seller, while the more meaningful stuff will help them feel happier about their investment.
Addressing the latter, Ford has provided a happier, safer on-road experience.
In base form, in Forte or "S" trim, the exterior appears to have received only a superficial glossing-over that gives it a new, conservative grille less likely to offend people.
Other changes need a close second look, although they do subtly lift the car's general appearance.
These include some work on the controversial rear end - in some opinions more of a problem area than the previous bladed Forte grille - where the bumper drops lower to conceal more of the private, unsightly stuff, and has been given a slightly square profile.
It takes more than one look to pick the new bumper, although a clue to look for is the removable panel concealing a hole for the towbar. Forte and S also get the "jewelled" tail-light lenses formerly only used from Fairmont upwards.
A new boot lid applique is also used to subtly relieve the tendency of the nipped-in, ovoid rear end to look somewhat sad.
There is also a jump in wheel size, up from 15 inches to 16 inches on Forte and Futura.
This is another subtle change that complements the lowered ride height introduced fairly early in the AU's life in an attempt at making it look more purposeful on the road.
Continuing on the more superficial themes, Ford has done some work inside, aimed at relieving the "taxi" connotations.
The controversial rounded centre control panel has been revised with a neater, more squared-off layout of controls and a dab of metallic paint on the switches gives a slightly classier look.
Trim materials in general are darker and the cheap-looking vinyl on the front seat backs has been dropped in favour of cloth.
There are also things like a flip-down sunglasses holder in a new roof console, a standard single-disc CD player operating through a 100 Watt system on base models and an interior light that turns on with the removal of the ignition key.
Intermittent wipers are now standard across the range and an over-speed alert finds its way into Forte, S, Futura, XRs and Falcon utes.
The result is a warmer, more welcoming interior that is more pleasantly tactile than the Commodore.
That's the superficial. What is really important is that Ford has put solid effort into making the Falcon drive better as well as making it safer, more comfortable and less expensive to live with.
The adoption of standard, dual front airbags across the range is a significant competitive advantage over Commodore, as is the free-servicing package that applies for the first 60,000km.
Pyrotechnic front seatbelt pretensioners that hold passengers firmly in place in an accident are now also standard across the range.
This is all backed by revised suspensions, on both live-axle and independent rear ends, improved brakes and a dedicated LPG-only option - as already offered on Falcon ute - for six-cylinder auto Forte, Futura and S models.
The test car was an automatic six-cylinder S model, complete with tied-down sports suspension (including optional independent rear end), alloy wheels and a larger rear spoiler than the subtle item attached to the back of Futura models.
This is a well balanced package with enough visual separation via the alloy wheels and rear spoiler to distinguish it from less sporty models and a tight, controlled feel to the suspension.
The stock single cam, 4.0-litre six, unchanged for AUII, does a capable job of upholding the athletic image. Less omnipresent than in the original AU thanks to a new double-firewall design, it feels strong and responsive.
With 157kW and a not insignificant 357Nm at its disposal, the engine moves the Falcon along without effort, reactive to the accelerator and not particularly fussed if worked towards the upper part of its rpm band.
Still, with maximum power coming in at just 4900rpm it is not exactly a sporty engine.
The four-speed automatic 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.
The revamped interior certainly makes a difference to the Ford.
The darker tones and subtle touches like those fake-metal control knobs, plus a comfortable, good-looking leather-bound steering wheel all add up to make the Falcon quite classy.
The seats are big, well-shaped and quite supportive laterally, and there is plenty of scope for finding a comfortable driving position via the all-ways adjustable steering wheel.
The driver sits a little higher, in a more commanding position than the Commodore, which will be a plus for some drivers who might otherwise be intimidated by this relatively large car.
Back seat space is not problem, only encroached on when a really tall driver is sitting up front, but even then it is generous enough for three full-size people to accommodate themselves comfortably.
The boot is not too bad either, especially with the standard split-fold rear seat that makes it better than the average sedan even if it does not have quite the capacity of a wide-opening hatchback.
Loading up a bicycle proved to be relatively easy provided a wheel was removed (from the bike).
The new-found silence of operation is noticeable immediately the Falcon is fired up.
The familiar Falcon drone is there but very muted, not at all unpleasant and relatively unobtrusive even when the engine is working hard.
So the Falcon S feels calm and competent, almost surprising with its overall sense of refinement and all-round competence.
The only letdown is the firm suspension's ability to seek out any rattles or squeaks - the most disturbing being a tendency for the car to groan when being subjected to twisting forces, such as when exiting an uneven driveway.
The Falcon does not appear fond of uneven weight shifts between front and rear wheels.
Strangely, this does not mean the car feels loose on rough roads.
A few rattles might be elicited but their relatively superficial nature makes this more annoying than scary.
The S model's ability to track accurately makes it a rewarding car to drive quickly, especially when equipped with the optional independent rear end and ABS braking.
Decent bumps might create the odd thump from the rear end - a common problem with the Ford double-wishbone system - but the ride will probably please most people who prefer a firmly suspended car.
The rack and pinion steering is one of Falcon's strengths. It provides just the right amount of feel and telegraphs with relative clarity what the front wheels are doing.
The four-wheel disc brakes are capable operators, upgraded in the AUII with thicker front rotors, thicker pads and new twin-pot callipers, as well as a revised master cylinder and a stronger power boost.
So, yes, the AUII Falcon is a perceptibly improved car, surprisingly refined even in base form and, as usual, a very comfortable means of travel for up to five adult passengers.
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