Car reviews - Ford - T-Series - TE50 sedan
Power of engine, superb chassis, excellent manual gearbox
Room for improvement
Cheap feel of interior presentation, heavy fuel consumption
13 Jun 2002
By BRUCE NEWTON
THERE'S no doubt that the hero car of Ford and performance partner Tickford's in-your-face T3 T-Series is the TS50, but if you are talking bang for your buck then the TE50 is the one you cannot ignore.
Starting well under $60,000, it is cheaper and just that smidgen quicker than its fellow Falcon-based sibling. Slightly less equipment is the reason for both the dollar and weight cut compared to TS, but importantly the two cars are identical in the engine bay.
That means TE gets the same stroked 5.6-litre version of the Windsor V8, pumping out a maximum of 250kW at 5250rpm and a gob-smacking 500Nm of torque at 4250rpm.
They are serious stats which produce serious performance figures - Ford officially claiming 5.9 second to 100km/h and 14.1 seconds across the quarter-mile for the five-speed manual version.
While that should be good enough to shade the TS, much more importantly as far and Ford and Tickford are concerned, it is good enough to just beat the Gen III Chev-engined HSV ClubSport.
The Holden actually has five more kilowatts but the Ford outdoes it significantly on torque, with 27 more Newton-metres. Indeed, the stroked Windsor is such a grunter that it produces more pulling power at 1800rpm than the 220kW, 5.0-litre XR8 at its peak.
The Windsor delivers its extra performance thanks to an all-new crankshaft, ported cylinder-head with high performance springs and valves, billet machined connecting rods, lightweight pistons with fully floating pins, a revised camshaft profile, an 82mm diameter throttle body, three-piece high-flow inlet manifold and conical air-cleaner with dedicated mass air flow sensor. Most of those parts have been developed and manufactured in Australia.
The result is the most powerful production Falcon ever and certainly one of the few volume-manufacture based cars in the world to have a hand-built engine. To signify that, each engine carries a build plate signed by the Tickford technician who worked on it.
And they can be proud of their achievements because out in the real world this is an engine that performs brilliantly. A little grumbly at low revs, particularly when cold, it soon livens and loosens up to its bellowing best when the throttle is pressed.
Funnily enough, it does not feel as quick as claimed - until you check the speedo. This car literally has a wall of acceleration, with nary a peak or a flat-spot. And the noise is brilliant! If you love V8s you will love this engine as the note swells along with the speed, that deep beat underpinning the whole thing.
It is heavy on fuel though with Ford's 9.0L/100km highway and 15.0L/100km city cycle claim for the manual on the conservative side. The only other negative is that the engine gets a little rough and stressed in the very upper echelons of the rev range, but you do not really need to go there to get the best out of the engine.
The 5.6 is mated in manual form to the other significant mechanical change for T3 - the Tremec TR-3650 five-speed manual gearbox. The old T5 was not able to cope with the increased torque, so Tickford adapted the Mexican-built Tremec from the Mustang. The adaptive four-speed BTR LE97 continues as the auto option.
We sampled the manual, and again, once it warmed up, it proved an able accomplice to the engine.
Sure it is still quite a heavy shift and not one I would choose to live with everyday around town, but it is better than the HSV's baulky T56 box, being a crisp two-stage affair. It is quite a stretch across to the lever though and make sure you fully depress the clutch pedal, otherwise ... crunch.
The TE50 now gets Ford's Premium brake package as standard, comprising 329 x 28mm grooved rotors with twin piston callipers up front, and grooved 287 x 10.6mm rotors at the rear. Three-channel ABS is standard with the manual while four-channel comes with the auto. Traction control, however, is dropped across the range.
Our test car actually had the optional Brembo package, which comprises 355mm cross-drilled and ventilated front discs and 330mm cross-drilled and ventilated rear discs, all with four-piston callipers. Stopping power was superb but at well over $5000, it is quite an expensive option.
While the double wishbone suspension tune remains unchanged, the other option our car had was the Koni sports suspension, which is standard on TS and replaced the Monro damper set-up usually offered with TE. At around $1600, it is well worth it, offering just that little more body control.
This is a super-fun car to drive along windy roads with heaps of grip and steering accuracy. It certainly still feels large and not as chuckable as some smaller sports sedans, but the tremendous grunt and grip make it a real buzz.
And that sports handling does not come totally at the expense of ride. This is a surprisingly comfortable car on most surfaces and the suspension is impressively quiet.
The grip is boosted a little because the TE50 wheel size does grow one inch from 17 to 18 x 8-inches, mated to 245/40 Dunlop SP Sport 9000 tyres. Wheels are a multi-spoke design called Azzurro, which is one of the main external distinguishing features from the TS, which has a five-spoke design.
The rest of the exterior is suitably loud, the aggressive new body kit dominated by a surfboard rear wing inspired by the Falcon V8Supercar. It does offer downforce and therefore more rear grip, but only as speeds rise into the illegal zone.
The rest of the kit comprises new front and rear fascias, a black mesh grille incorporating the Tickford logo, side skirts with T-Series badging, deeper rear bumpers and exposed twin chromed exhausts.
Inside, the TE is disappointingly downmarket thanks to the decision to downgrade to the "low-series" teardrop fascia, which means no climate control air-conditioning, six-stack CD player or full-spec trip computer.
But you still get a choice of three leather trims, sports seats, a unique blue instrument presentation, dual frontal airbags, single CD player and high levels of security with an alarm and DataDot standard. That latter item is significant as it is already offered by HSV and is further proof of Ford's desire that T-Series go toe-to-toe with its great rival.
Of course, in late 2002 Ford plans to leap ahead with the T4 T-Series based on the dramatically modded Barra Falcon, complete with a new 5.4-litre V8 engine and Control Blade rear suspension.
That means T3 TE and its siblings are with us for less than one year and represent the end of an era. It's a hell of a way to go out.
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