Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - XR6 Turbo sedan
Turbocharged engine, BA styling, much improved interior
Room for improvement
Manual transmission, driver's footrest, thirsty engine
19 Dec 2002
By JUSTIN LACY
WHEN Ford introduced the Falcon XR6 nameplate with the EBII upgrade in late 1992, it brought with it a whole new level of six-cylinder performance - one that had been missing from the local market since the VL Commodore Turbo circa 1986.
While the original XR6 was credited with V8-beating acceleration and subsequently awarded the accolade of fastest locally produced sports sedan, the market has since moved on.
By the end of the 1990s the hot Falcon six had been swamped by a new generation of high-powered V8s to the point where, now with the BA range, the base XR6 runs the same six-cylinder powerplant as the entry-level, fleet fodder XT variant.
So the Blue Oval brand had to come up with a new take on the six-pack format if it was to restore the XR6 tag to its former glory, and that's exactly what it has achieved with the XR6 Turbo.
At the heart of the XR6-T package is the new force-fed engine, a relatively unique combination of big capacity straight six and intercooled turbocharger.
Power and torque outputs have blown out to V8 levels as a result of the turbo installation. The quoted 240kW power figure outpoints even Holden's new 235kW high performance Gen III V8 in the SS and SV8, while torque is just 15Nm shy of the 465Nm in the hot Holdens - although at a much more accessible 2000-4500rpm, while the SS and SV8 need 4400rpm on board to produce the peak.
On the road those numbers add up to serious straight-line acceleration and effortless overtaking power, combined with an unexpected dose of refinement and user friendliness.
This is like no Falcon six to come before it - compared to the engine in the AU XR6, which is noisy, breathless at the top-end and fairly rough in the way that it revs, the new engine is smooth, quiet and refined.
Turbo lag is virtually non-existent, with the huffer ready to unleash its boost at any point below 4500rpm, while the new 24-valve alloy head helps the engine to breathe and remain smooth at the top-end.
Plus it's not like Falcon's 4.0-litre six is short on torque even in naturally aspirated form.
The XR6-T has one sweet engine under its bonnet and much to the annoyance of die-hard Holden fans, it'll be good enough to convert at least some of the Lion brand's followers.
We're yet to sample the Falcon's new Sequential Sports Shift automatic transmission in conjunction with the turbo engine, but by virtue of its performance when mated to the entry-level six-cylinder and V8 engines, all indicators point to it being a refined and rewarding combination.
It is just a pity the same can't be said about the five-speed manual, which is one of the XR6-T's few weak links.
While the gearshift is now positioned closer to the driver, consigning one of Falcon's bugbears to history in the process, the gearshift itself is notchy and poorly gated.
The first to second change doesn't like to be rushed and a fifth-to-third downshift is virtually impossible to pull off courtesy of the vague gate arrangement, while the lack of a shift pattern diagram on the optional aluminium gear knob makes finding reverse for the first time an interesting exercise. Turns out it's where it always was!
Barring the odd glitch and some build quality issues, like panel fit between the dash and the doors, the rest of the new interior is a vast improvement over the old car, which has the effect of lifting the ambience from taxi-pack to Euro-slick in one fell swoop.
The lack of a proper footrest and no redline marking on tacho are two specific items that fall into the odd glitch category, but realistically they are minor annoyances that would be quickly dismissed during ownership.
However, the engine is so willing to rev cleanly all the way to redline, that you'll hit the limiter a few times before you can pinpoint exactly where the redline is.
Unlike the AU sixes, the turbo powerplant is not screaming for mercy in its upper reaches so therefore it doesn't give off any aural clues that it's time to change gears.
On the equipment front the XR6-T is by no means a poor cousin to the V8-powered XR8 model either, as both come standard with the same bodykit and attractive 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as the mechanical goodies like traction control and a limited-slip differential.
It has everything you would expect of a $40,000-plus sports sedan, as well as a touch of class not previously associated with Falcon models.
So after some lean sales years with the much-maligned AU models, Ford is now hitting back with a product that shouldn't turn buyers away with its looks, nor cause them any embarrassment in the office carpark or neighbourhood driveway.
Add to that the hottest production Falcon six in history under the bonnet of the XR6-T (its top sports model until the XR8 arrives) and it's clear the $500 million BA development cost has been well spent.
Seems the Blue Oval brand is now up off the canvas and taking some measured swings at its Holden rival.
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