Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - XT sedan
Engine performance, transmission, ride/handling, interior
Room for improvement
driver's footrest, no redline, fuel economy
19 Dec 2002
FORD's long-awaited BA Falcon is as close as it can be to an all-new car without actually being one. Radical changes inside and out have seen the new Barra Falcon emerge from the ashes of its predecessor with cleaner and more conservative front and rear-end styling that should have wider appeal.
The overhauled interior is right on the money too, offering a well thought-out layout with enormous attention to detail and, unlike Commodore, a highly tactile new feel to back up the Euro look. To boot, not only are Falcon XT's new seats more comfortable than Commodore's, the driving position is now lower and makes Falcon's problematic A-pillar seem less claustrophobic.
However, as the new BA nomenclature suggests, the 2003 Falcon goes much further than what's expected from a traditional mid-life facelift.
Of course, there's the muscular new engine that delivers best-in-class performance and raises Falcon's driving experience to a new level. When combined with BTR's brilliant new auto with manual shift function and a superb new performance mode, however, it's clear Holden and plenty of catching up to do in powertrain terms.
But Ford didn't stop there, fitting sophisticated new multi-link independent rear suspension across the board that not only leaves the Forte's live axle system for dead, but makes Commodore's trailing arm set-up feel archaic too. Delivering compliance and road holding with vastly reduced bodyroll, Falcon's ride/handling compromise is brilliant even in entry level form. Once a Commodore strength, ride comfort is now Falcon's domain.
An upgraded PBR braking package delivers better initial pedal bite, more feedback and abundantly more stopping power, while the revised steering rack and larger 16-inch wheels as standard combine to further improve Falcon's legendary agility.
Performance, handling and styling aside, however, the most noticeable change is Falcon's whisper-quiet cabin, which has benefited from a raft of measures to isolate noise, vibration and harshness upgrade. Combined with the stiffer new bodyshell that simply refuses to squeak or rattle, Falcon now exudes a prestige cabin ambience that wouldn't be out of place in some far more expensive vehicles.
Of course, few things are all good, and Barra is no exception. The boot is slightly smaller and has lost its flat floor because of the more intrusive IRS, the driver's footrest is poor, we lament the lack of a redline for the classy new instruments and, though fit and finish is superior to Commodore, there are still some uneven interior shut lines.
More importantly, considerably more power and weight conspire to increase fuel consumption. It's not enough to change the claimed figure, but Commodore is now a clear winner in this department.
But it needs to be, because in virtually every other area Falcon is the wiser choice. Never has entry level mainstream Aussie motoring been so sophisticated.
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