Car reviews - Ford - T-Series - TS50 sedan
Surprising refinement, strong performance
Room for improvement
Hard ride, where are the full-electric seats?
21 Feb 2001
FORD buyers are getting more than a car when they lay out their hard-earned fringe benefits at an FTE dealership.
Well, FTE is the acronym for a new upmarket enterprise by Ford, based around a new range of performance cars developed by the company's hot-car partner, Tickford.
The cars, designated T-Series, will be sold exclusively through a hand-picked group of dealers.
Not unlike Toyota with Lexus or Holden with HSV, Ford's T-Series range concentrates on unique ownership experiences and distinctly different product to tap the upper end of the new-car market.
Owners will benefit from a degree of individualised service and special privileges not offered to owners of more pedestrian Fords.
These will include things such as a personal dealer service representative who is briefed to encourage customers to watch their cars being serviced (by specially trained technicians), loan cars, free emergency fuel and legal/medical advice.
If they wish, buyers of Falcon/Fairlane based FTE cars also get the chance to participate in the building of their cars at the Tickford facility in Campbellfield, Victoria.
Pricing of the T-Series cars places them well above any current Fords.
The long-wheelbase TL50 comes in not far under $80,000 while the entry level TE50 sits around the $60,000 mark.
The most powerful model is the TS50, priced just under the TL50 but expressing most forcefully the spirit behind the T-Series concept.
Its aluminium-headed 5.0-litre V8 winds out an impressive 220kW. This is equal to the thundering Holden 5.7-litre engine in kiloWatts if not torque - although 435Nm at 4000rpm is not too shabby for the capacity, only 11 Newton metres behind the GM product and actually produced at lower rpm.
On the road, the Ford's significantly greater weight conspires against it though - but more of that later.
The intriguing thing about the TS50 is it manages to distance itself from the taxi connotations afflicting both Falcon and Commodore - much more effectively than in the also Tickford-inspired XR series.
Both exterior and interior rework jobs have created a more positive touchy-feely Falcon, helping in some ways to relieve the sad rear-end look of other AU models and introducing an interior that feels quite comfortable with its high price tag.
Clearly the T-Series cars are aimed at a more mature audience than that targeted by Holden Special Vehicles.
The TS50's massive 18-inch wheels and mesh grille treatment combine well with the subtle bodykit to make this a car that attracts attention - in a classy sort of way.
The engine recreates the fuss and fury that were hallmarks of the 5.7-litre Cleveland V8s used in the Falcon GT HO heydays, with a power figure virtually equal to that quoted for the bigger 1970s engine.
Tickford delved into its extensive parts bin to bump the power over the already impressive 200kW achieved by the TE50 and TL50.
Changes include the adoption of alloy cylinder heads, a high-lift camshaft with larger inlet valves and a flow-matched inlet manifold.
A new throttle body also assists the gas flow, as has the larger diameter exhaust system with unique catalytic converters.
This is on top of the aluminium roller rockers and needle roller bearings used in the cylinder heads of the 200kW engine.
As with most power-enhanced engines, there is some penalty: in this case the fuel consumption goes up and it is a requirement by Ford that premium-grade unleaded petrol is used.
Putting this through to the road, in the case of the TS50 and TL50, is a new "Electronic Sports Shift" (ESS) transmission that rates as an Australian first for Ford.
ESS is the only transmission available with TS50 and TL50 and gives the driver the choice of regular automatic operation or "sequential manual" shifting via thumb-press buttons on the steering wheel.
The TE50 is available with a five-speed manual as well as the ESS transmission.
Suspension has been dramatically reworked too, more so on the TS50 and TL50 than the TE50.
All models naturally employ Ford's effective multi-link independent rear suspension, in the TS50 using variable rate rear springs with Koni shock absorbers, plus a rework of the front end to complement the low-profile 245/40ZR 18 tyres.
Braking upgrades include the adoption of larger, ventilated and grooved discs at the front and solid, standard size grooved discs at the rear.
The TS50 and TL50 both use a four-channel anti-lock system rather than the three-channel system used in the TE50.
The result is probably the best Falcon ever, certainly a more impressive car than the GTs Ford bolted together in 1992 and again, as a 30th anniversary car, in 1997.
From its clear-lens headlights, wire-mesh grille, brassy 18-inch alloy wheels and classy leather interior, the TS50 is impressive to look at and impressively comfortable inside.
Redesigning the interior, Ford hit the mark pretty accurately.
The TS50 deftly balances luxury and sporty connotations with a blend of leather trim and special touches such as "Raindrop" pseudo woven fibre inserts on instrument panel and doors, plus the (predictable) white-faced instrument dials.
The switches and controls all have a pleasant, precise feel also reflected in the gauges and digital readouts. It is a tasteful living room.
Naturally, the TS50 is a sports sedan with more than enough stretching space. Few people would be unable to find a perfectly comfortable driving position.
The driver's seat adjusts electrically for reach and cushion tilt but, strangely, not for backrest recline. Other passengers are able to lounge in comfort on well-padded leather with abundant leg and shoulder room supplied.
The impressions of quiet competence projected by the interior prove to be accurate.
The V8 springs to life with a business-like clatter from the valve gear and an underlying engine note that is more a burble than a drone.
Moving off, the low-profile rubber transmits some road noise into the car but this is more reassuring than unpleasant, entirely in keeping with the character of the TS50.
Plant the accelerator and the engine bursts into frantic life, propelling the car forcefully, and in a dead-straight line, towards the horizon.
In contrast to the aural attack, there is little else other than G-forces to indicate how quickly the car is moving.
The traction control takes care of the bulk of wheelspin and, thanks to the rear-drive configuration, there is no torque steer to worry about.
Yes, the TS50 feels thoroughly competent, the rear suspension thoroughly happy contending with those 435 Newton metres.
And the suspension does a pretty good job of directing the big car securely and accurately around corners, too.
The TS50 feels more "planted" than any other fast Ford driven so far, very sure- footed and always transmitting accurate information to the driver.
Maybe the only complaint is the ride errs too far on the side of firmness. It is fine on smooth roads but begins to deteriorate if a mix of potholes and poorly repaired tarmac appears.
There is enough compliance that the suspension does not crash into bumps and it does not buck or bounce like some high-performance cars, but the TS50 can at times joggle passengers around uncomfortably.
The steering is accurate and easy to live with but is maybe a tad over-assisted and the big tyres do introduce a small degree of bump-steer and some "tramlining" - standard features with any big-tyred car.
But none of this detracts from the overall competence of the suspension.
It is good enough to compensate for the fact that while the car can not and does not accelerate as quickly as, say, an HSV Commodore, it makes up ground with a chassis that always steers and tracks faithfully and predictably, even if there is some trade-off in ride comfort.
And there is also a very strong braking system to wash off speed repeatedly without breaking out into terminal fade. It is a very quick car point to point.
As far as the ESS auto is concerned, yes it is a bonus on give-and-take winding roads where a regular automatic would be shuffling aimlessly between gears - and rarely in exactly the right one - but in regular use it is difficult to see any real value.
And the location of the shift buttons on the steering wheel rim only works when the wheel is pointed directly ahead.
Apply a bit of lock and it is not only difficult to use the shift buttons, but also inadvisable.
Under normal circumstances, the combination of strong torque and a quick kickdown make the regular auto mode the most practical choice.
The TS50's equipment levels make sure the owner never feels short-changed in having committed to so much cash, although the absence of full electric seat controls - and even a sunroof - seems strange at this end of the market.
After all, howevere, the fast Ford is based on a regular Ford Falcon, not a 5 Series BMW - which was apparently the car benchmarked by Ford during the development of the FTE range.
A Ford Falcon that hands over little change from $80,000? The TS50 makes a good case for local product, having what it takes to slug it out, dollar, for dollar, with many Europeans.
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