Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - XT sedan
Silky smooth drivetrain, improved handling, brilliant ride, good value for money
Room for improvement
Doesn’t look much different, curtain airbags not standard, some signs of cost cutting
12 Jun 2008
IT MIGHT not have the styling or the features to impress your family and friends, but in its own way the XT is the most impressive vehicle in the FG Falcon range.
The bread and butter Falcon model is by no means a stripped-out fleet special.
Indeed, it has a substantially more upmarket feel than its rivals, with a higher standard of plastics and fabric trim as well as a new dashboard and centre console that doesn’t look like it belongs in an entry level car at $36,490.
There are some minor glitches, such as the cheap-looking plastic door grab handles, but otherwise the standard is high.
From outside, though, the XT is a let-down. There are some nice new lines and details if you look close enough, but most people will not even notice any of that because the front looks so similar to its BF II predecessor.
It is strange that Ford would give away so much of the previous shape almost two years ago, but even stranger not to update the wheel covers, which can be traced back to the BA in 2002.
It’s unfortunate because the lack of exterior difference may mean some people dismiss this car without even trying a test drive, but those who do look past the limited exterior changes will likely be extremely impressed.
The FG Falcon has raised the bar in several key areas, including performance, comfort, noise suppression and handling, as well as the interior.
We especially like the centre command screen, which has crisp lettering. It might not be as impressive as the high-end control screens, but the monochrome display of the XT model looks quite good.
There is also an information screen in between the speedo and tacho, which can display anything from fuel use to current speed in a large, easily read format.
Above that is a secondary, far smaller, information display. This sounds minor, but it allows, for example, the driver to select speed to be shown in large figures while keeping an eye on the average fuel consumption at the same time.
The controls on the dashboard are also far easier to use, which is an improvement over the BA/BF, where some controls were lost behind the steering wheel.
The steering wheel of the BA/BF was an awkward design, but the new FG wheel feels much better.
Start driving and you will soon notice a good feature of the FG, the narrow A-pillars, especially compared to the rival Holden Commodore.
The engine is immediately impressive. There is so much torque down low that you won’t need to work it hard - you can simply ease on the throttle and let it do the work at low engine speeds.
The smoothness of the in-line six-cylinder engine and the vast supply of torque thanks to its relatively large displacement puts it well ahead of the Commodore V6.
The good news is that you can also rev the engine right out without the coarseness you might expect. It really does feel like a marked improvement over what was already quite a good engine.
Ford Australia has a big challenge ahead of it to match the I6’s nature when it replaces it with an imported V6 in 2010.
The new five-speed automatic is not as crisp or precise as the ZF six-speed automatic in higher-range models, but is a step ahead of the old four-speed auto.
Fuel economy is an area where the XT shines, especially on the highway.
A trip down the highway from Campbellfield to Geelong, which included some heavy traffic, resulted in a simply stunning fuel economy figure of 7.4L/100km. Of course, the figure was higher around town, but ended up averaging 10.4L/100km after a mix of city and highway running.
When you consider how much nicer it is to drive than a four-cylinder, the consumption is excellent.
The XT is also very quiet,with cabin serenity is verging on BMW-like. The XT is actually quieter than most other models in the range, which have larger wheels and lower profile tyres with more aggressive tread.
Ford has also made improvements when it comes to the steering, with the FG system feeling more solid and less nervous than before. We noticed some steering rack rattle on the launch, but didn’t pick up any when we had the car for a week.
The suspension of the XT is also well-tuned for a good mix between agility and comfort.
While some of the larger wheels on other models can pick up a lot of imperfections, the 16-inch rims and higher profile tyres on the XT are great at soaking up the bumps.
Of course, it is not as sharp in the corners as the XR models, but it is still quite handy in the twisty stuff.
Your passenger may notice something as you run through the corners hard, though – the lack of grab handles above the windows.
The cost-cutters simply removed them and that could be a problem for some customers. These handles are not just to hang onto when an enthusiastic driver is at the wheel, but also help people with mobility issues get in and out of the car.
The XT cabin, like all other FGs, is spacious and the seats are comfortable.
We like the fact that the rear seats fold down, unlike the rear seats of the Commodore, but the opening through to the boot seems to be narrower than before and the boot floor is not flat, which can make carrying some items awkward.
Going for a space saver spare wheel, another cost cutting move, is a negative. Holden has done the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
Most people don’t care if their car has a space saver until they get a puncture. If it happens after hours, somewhere remote, they tend to become quite angry quite quickly.
The decision not to include side airbags as standard, when they are fitted to every Holden Commodore, seems foolish. Adding them to the base model is a $300 option.
Perhaps it is no surprise that the XT is therefore exactly $300 cheaper than the Commodore Omega.
Ford could fit the curtain airbags as standard and still have a car that is the same price as its main rival.
Our test drive demonstrated that the XT is a better car than the Omega, so dealers should still be able to get customers to buy it without a $300 price advantage.
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