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Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - XT sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Crisp new steering feel and response improved chassis balance and dynamics quieter, smoother, more powerful, more fuel-efficient and more characterful engine stronger brakes plush ride quality more spacious interior ingress/egress visibility value for money
Room for improvement
Side curtain airbags are not standard alloy wheels are not standard a degree of steering rack rattle over bumpy bends overhead lighting console rattles five-speed auto not as smooth as previous four-speed lack of visual differentiation with the outgoing BF Falcon

10 Apr 2008

IT MIGHT not smack you in the face as being all-new like Holden's aggressively-styled billion-dollar VE Commodore, but Ford's redesigned FG Falcon sedan sets new benchmarks in the areas of handling dynamics and value for money.

In typical Ford fashion, the best parts of the Blue Oval's newest Australian large car lie beneath its subtle new sheetmetal, which is indeed significantly different to the BFII Falcon it replaces but in isolation on the road risks being mistaken as a mild upgrade – especially in entry-level XT guise.

But it is in XT form that the first all-new Falcon since the 1998 AU, the model that began the current sales slide for Ford Australia's vital homegrown hero, most impresses as one of the most high-tech, safe, powerful, efficient, refined, well-equipped and well-packaged cars Australia has ever produced – and it is priced from $36,490.

Our first drive took place over a challenging and varied 450km mix of Victorian country roads, but even before a wheel had turned it was obvious the larger new sedan is easier to get into and out of, thanks to its higher roofline and more upright A-pillar.

Combined with larger door openings and wider-opening doors, the banishment of the AU-BF series' too-fast A-pillar will be welcome news for everyday Falcon drivers, who will also love the best-in-class head, elbow and hip space that the slightly wider and much better-packaged new interior brings.

The new Falcon cabin falls short of the Commodore's only when it comes to legroom, both front and rear, where 10mm more space than before should still be enough for most.

It still offers a class-leading 535 litres of boot space, which drops to 505 litres when a full-size spare wheel is optioned (for $100, as with Commodore).

Unlike the Commodore's boot, however, it is made more versatile by a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, as well as more convenient thanks to a boot release button on the bootlid itself – rather than on the dash (as before) or, worse still, in the glovebox (as with the Commodore).

Of course, the boot continues to be fully lined and illuminated, and the bootlid has multilink hinges that do not rob luggage space.

Visibility from the cavernous new interior, which now accommodates even the tallest of occupants and then some, is not only better than before, but better than in the Commodore, which has an unusually thick A-pillar that encroaches on forward vision. Ford says it has strict A-pillar width dimensions globally, and that it achieved its chassis rigidity targets without widening its A-pillars to the same degree (or fitting a fixed rear seat).

That said, Ford executives privately admit the 92 per cent new FG body is not as rigid as the VE's and that it does not deliver the same structural rigidity gains as the BA Falcon did in 2002, when Ford applied a $500 million facelift to the slow-selling AU that lifted body strength by almost 60 per cent.

With gains of up to 20 per cent, the BA-FG model change was never going to feel as significant as the structural integrity improvements wrought by the VE, which replaced VT-VZ Commodore lineage that dated back to at least 1997. In short, the FG comes off a much higher base than the VE and is therefore a victim of the law of diminishing returns.

But it is what Ford has bolted to its upgraded new FG platform that has transformed the handling of Ford's large sedan.

Apart from refinements to its proven independent rear end, monotube shock absorbers all round, a longer wheelbase and wider wheel tracks, the FG features an all-new front end design comprising a 22kg-lighter aluminium Virtual Pivot Control Link suspension like that seen in the Territory and a forward-mounted Y-shaped steering rack with variable-ratio gearing supplied by Bishop.

Combined, they not only return a tight 2.6 turns lock-to-lock and a best-in-class 11.0-metre turning circle, but allow the FG to leapfrog the VE in terms of steering feedback and response – especially at base level. If the VE's steering caught up with the Falcon of the day, then the FG moves back ahead with even more response as you wind the lock on and less nervousness around centre.

Despite being less busy and more relaxing to drive, the FG offers an even better feel for the road. The only criticism we have, which revealed itself on all cars we drove, was a small but consistent amount of steering rack rattle when loaded up over mid-corner bumps. But that is a small price to pay for the huge increases in steering communication the FG delivers.

Combined with the suspension changes all round, the new Falcon feels much more willing to steer in any given direction, more linear in its progression from left to right-hand turns and vice-versa, less prone to diagonally pitching than before and generally lighter on its feet.

It is a dynamic step that comes at no expense to ride quality and makes the new Falcon perform far better than suggested by the sum of its parts. And it will make both the school run and the mountain pass more enjoyable for commuters and enthusiasts alike.

While the VE Omega's accomplished ride/handling prowess feels as if it comes exclusively from its super-stiff chassis, the XT is more of a unified package in which improved steering and front suspension designs make lighter work of corners, the better-damped suspension results in superior body control on undulating roads and the beefier new XR-sourced brakes keep it all under control.

Complementing the revitalised FG Falcon chassis is a more powerful, more economical and more refined 4.0-litre petrol engine, which will be the final iteration of the Falcon's long-running inline six.

Revving beyond 6000rpm with a new-found mechanical raspiness that is almost BMW-like, the XT's six-pack delivers 5kW more power and 8Nm more peak torque, but delivers both peak figures more smoothly and effectively than before.

It is mated to a new five-speed automatic transmission that is built in France, offers one extra ratio over the Omega, has a manual-shift mode that won't override the driver's gear selection by changing either up or down, but is not as smooth-shifting as the BF's trusty four-speed.

The revised engine is not only responsive and refined enough to make the XT the finest taxi Australia has ever seen, but a fitting tribute to a long line of inline Falcon sixes.

The icing on the cake is fuel consumption that drops to 10.5L/100km, almost matching Toyota's 200kW Aurion (9.9L/100km) and easily bettering the 190kW Omega (10.9L/100km). It falls further still to 10.1L/100km with the optional six-speed ZF auto.

Apart from being bigger, the XT cabin is a vast step up on the previous model in terms of presentation, fit and finish.

There was an annoying rattle from the overhead lighting console fitted to all low-grade models (which lose their predecessors' sunglasses holder), but the high-mounted centre console information screen is larger, more legible and more comprehensive than the Omega's and, though it still lacks a redline on its tacho, the FG's instruments are now separated by a simple, effective and classy trip computer display.

Markedly quieter inside than the BF, the new Falcon is a good match for the Commodore but lacks the hushed refinement of the Aurion. And though it still sounds distinctly like an I6-equipped Falcon, its new-found engine note leaves the Commodore's thrashy Alloytec for dead.

The XT (and every FG Falcon sedan variant this side of the Fairmont Ghia-replacing G6E) cops criticism for not matching the Commodore Omega's recent upgrade that now sees it include side curtain airbags as standard.

Side curtains cost an extra $300 on the XT, which happens to be the amount by which the XT undercuts the Omega, so it's certain Ford could have made them standard across the FG sedan range and still been cheaper than the VE sedan at base level – at least until you fit alloy wheels to the XT, which are a $500 option but now standard on the Omega.

Otherwise, the XT and Omega equipment list lines up almost identically, with the exception of climate-control air-conditioning, which is standard on the Ford but not the Omega.

Ford says that it won't make side curtains standard on the XT because, off the record, the fleet buyers who predominantly buy the base Falcon shouldn't have to pay for rear passenger protecting airbags when they rarely carry rear passengers. But, at the expense of a slightly higher entry price, Ford could easily have made six airbags standard across the FG range, as it is on its two chief rivals.

As it is, that's the only omission from a new Falcon XT that is not only roomier, more refined and more powerful than Australia's top-selling large sedan, but less expensive, more economical and dynamically superior.

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