Car reviews - Ford - T-Series - TE50 sedan
Agile suspension, smooth-revving V8, interior space
Room for improvement
Traction control on auto only, high fuel consumption
21 Feb 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
FOR: Agile suspension, smooth-revving V8, interior space AGAINST: Traction control on auto only, high fuel consumption By TIM BRITTEN SUBTLETY is out, replaced by in-your-face exhibitionism at Ford's performance arm, Tickford.
Realising that fast-car buyers don't always want to sneak about surreptitiously, the people behind the T-Series Fords (TE50, TS50 and long-wheelbase TL50) have injected a little showmanship into the latest range of performance saloons.
They have also quietly shelved the 200kW V8 that originally powered the entry-level TE50, adopting the muscular 220kW roller-rocker engine across the board.
The new-found visual extravagances aren't compulsory, however: The T-Series buyer can opt to do away altogether with the extrovert stuff by ticking the delete option box and posing as a regular Falcon driver.
But, ignoring these possibilities, it's fair to say the latest version of the TE50 has the capability of searing the eyeballs. Particularly if the chosen colour is Venom Red - a new hue that can be optionally matched with an extroverted interior complete with great swathes of red leather on seats, doors and steering wheel, all contrasting effectively with the black leather used elsewhere.
This is a great interior, and rarely fails to make an impression on those entering the TE50 for the first time.
Even more importantly, FTE engines across the range are all now the roller-rocker, 220kW version previously only used in the classier TS50.
Apart from a camshaft revision that improves torque at lower rpm, the V8 is much the same. Output figures remain as before with an energetic 220kW at 5250rpm, and 435Nm of torque at 4000rpm. The previous TE50's engine - now consigned to history - gave 200kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 3750rpm.
And just to cap it off, the 220kW engine, in both TE50 and TS50, can now be had with five-speed manual transmission: In the previous TS50 version, the 220kW engine was only available as an automatic.
Mechanically the formula is as before: Brakes are lifted straight from the XR8 - although the upgraded system complete with grooved rotors used on the TS50 and TL50 is optionally available - and the suspension is carried over from the previous models.
This means the TE50 approaches spring/shocker rates more softly, giving a slightly more compliant ride than the TS50 and LS50, both of which underwrite firmer springs with Koni hydraulic shock absorbers.
All models benefit from the upgrades applied to AUII Falcons, particularly from the double-skinned firewall that mellows the under-bonnet cacophony without removing the characteristic V8 mumble.
In many ways, the TE50 is the pick of the T-Series Fords. The TS50 adds a little more class in terms of trim and equipment, but is pretty uncompromising with its bolted-down suspension and generally more focussed approach.
The TE50 is a little suppler, a little lighter on its feet - although the buyer can still add most of those things that underpin the TS50, apart from the Koni suspension, if so desired.
Externally, the rework has been pretty subtle.
The back end has seen the biggest change, and now sports the new AUII licence plate trim along with a flattop spoiler.
Changes to the bumper assemblies incorporate silver grey inserts and there are now body colour paint-outs under the headlight glass.
The overall effect is one of subtle improvement, perhaps not as urgently needed with the FTE Fords as it was down at Forte level, but enough to make the latest T-Series identifiable for those who care to take a close look.
For unrestrained showing off, the TE50 buyer can, of course, go for broke with the wheels by taking the massive 18-inch, multi-spoked alloys - with 245/40ZR18 tyres - now included on the options list.
The interior tells much the same story. Although these cars use high-line Falcon models as the base, the TE50 still feels more low-rent than the TS50, usually due to subtle things like the lack of chrome door handles (as in TS50) and the choice of material for the upper dash insert - in this case it's a sort of imitation carbon fibre.
Power seat adjustment still fails to make an appearance at this level, but the car picks up the overhead sunglasses holder now standard across the Falcon range, as well as an upgraded stereo system.
The car is plush enough and accommodating enough, with heaps of stretching space on big, comfortable seats and a nice tactility that the buyer has every right to expect of a car costing well past $55,000 on its way to the road.
Some drivers may find the fit between seat cushion and steering wheel a little tight - although the wheel is adjustable for both reach and height.
The 220kW V8 linked to the five-speed manual transmission is well on the way to becoming a legitimate competitor for the deep-chested 5.7-litre HSV cars.
With a lot more urgency than the former 200kW version, the latest TE50 is able to sit driver and passengers deeply in their seats as it blasts off the line and the tacho swings rapidly towards the 6000rpm red line.
Traction control is only available with the auto, which is a pity considering the power available.
First gear is relatively low, helping disguise the fact the V8 actually doesn't start producing big torque until after around 3000rpm.
This means there's a bit of a jump to second gear, but by then the car is moving swiftly enough that there's no real deterioration of accelerative power.
Thereafter the gaps between ratios are reasonably close and it's not really difficult finding the right gear for all occasions.
Still, the TE50 is not a grunter capable of powering away forcefully in higher gears - you do need to use that gearbox. At idle, the worked V8 rocks around suggestively - a characteristic that will be welcomed by most owners.
The shift action requires plenty of macho positivism from the driver but is relatively accurate as it moves across the gate and although the clutch errs towards heavy it does operate smoothly. The handbrake requires a hefty tug before getting purchase on the rear wheels.
The bigger footprint provided by the 18-inch tyres means the car grabs bitumen better than the last TE50 tested, without any noticeable deterioration in ride quality.
Although the steering still feels a little too easy, the TE50 points accurately, holding understeer well at bay most of the time.
Some kickback from the 245/40ZR18 rubber is something to be expected, considering the wider offset and grip provided. Tight roundabouts approached with a little verve create a slightly unsettling feel, not unlike that experienced in the Honda S2000, where the suggestion is that some of the contact patch on the wide rear tyres is lost and oversteer is suddenly factored in.
But on wide, smooth sweepers the TE50 sits flat and forceful, blasting from the exits and swooping in a confident, balanced way into the next bend.
The XR8 four-wheel discs do a solid job of hauling down the car's 1600kg-plus bulk although the premium system would do even more for driver confidence. But there is rarely any thought that, under the skin, this car is a basic family conveyance.
There was never any doubt that the people at Tickford had done a good job on refining the hot Falcon image to appeal to a more mature, executive market - but there appeared to be an issue of whether those same executives were as conservative and retiring as imagined.
The people at Holden Special Vehicles have spent a number of years proving that in-your-face performance sedans aren't a problem for the so-called mature market and the latest T-Series belatedly recognises that.
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