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FG Falcon: Engineered to lead

Redesigned: FG Falcon's wheelbase is 9mm longer than BA/BF's.

Ford says the MkVIII Falcon sedan sets fresh dynamic benchmarks on a global scale

17 Feb 2008

NEW, Territory-style front suspension, variable-ratio steering and overhauled chassis control systems lead a myriad of engineering changes introduced for the 2008 Falcon sedan and utility.

Supporting these are Australian vehicle-firsts like monotube shock absorbers and a self-tuning parking brake.

All underpin Ford’s goal in achieving “clear and demonstrable leadership” in the way the eighth all-new model since 1960 – dubbed the FG series – rides, steers, handles and brakes.

And while the basic rear-wheel drive chassis of the outgoing (BFII) Falcon sedan continues, including its Control Blade multi-link independent rear suspension that debuted in the BA sedan back in September 2002 as part of the $500 million Barra program, a wider track and longer footprint reveals a significantly re-engineered platform.

The FG sedan’s wheelbase grows 9mm to 2838mm, the front track by 30mm to 1583mm and the rear track by 27mm to 1598mm.

Similarly, the FG ute's wheelbase also grows 9mm, to 3104mm, staying 266mm longer than the sedan's, while the front and rear tracks edge outwards by 30 and 35mm respectively over the BFII Ute to come in at 1583mm apiece.

Together, they serve completely redesigned four-door sedan and two-door ute “upper halves” that have been four years in the making.

“Our aim is to deliver what customers are looking for and more,” declared Ford Australia engineer Trevor Worthington.

“And... it is significantly newer than what the Barra was.”

Front suspension

THE biggest engineering change is the implementation of the Virtual Pivot Control Link front suspension set-up in the Falcon.

Similar to the Territory’s front suspension design, Ford says that the springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, suspension bushes and suspension geometry “have all been optimised” for their application in the FG.

It is a double-wishbone design with two lower ball-joints. The old set-up incorporated a different double A-arm wishbone design.

Using aluminium and high-strength steel has cut weight by 22kg compared to the BFII, while going for the Virtual Pivot design provides for reduced King Pin offset packaging, which allows for a forward-mounted steering rack.

27 center imageFord says that compared to the VE Commodore’s MacPherson strut, the FG Falcon’s lower link and upper A-arm application results in better camber control when cornering for improved tyre contact with the road, equalling in a more assured feel for the driver.

A pair of ball-joints connects the separate lower arms to the suspension knuckle, with two separate lower links defining a virtual pivot for the lower arm, allowing the suspension to behave as though the lower pivot point is at the intersection of the two arms.

According to Ford, the virtual pivot point is further outboard than can be achieved by a conventional suspension system, leading to a reduction in the King Pin Axis offset, reducing the ability for wheel disturbances from wheel balance and tyre irregularities to be transmitted to the driver via the steering wheel. Longer tyre life is another welcome upshot of this.

There is also a degree of self-correcting steering torque while braking occurring by the wheel as a result of the negative scrub radius generated by the new front suspension design, aiding braking stability and improving driver control across a wide range of conditions.

Better stability also comes thanks to the aforementioned increases in the track and wheelbase.

When the Virtual Pivot Control Link front suspension was developed for the Territory in the early 2000s, Ford benchmarked it against the BMW E53 X5 in order to provide a much-more car-like experience in an SUV application.

This provided a sound basis for Ford’s engineers to then modify the set-up for the FG, but Ford says the changes are significant enough for the Falcon’s front-end to be completely different to the Territory’s.

“This is its own car in its own right,” Mr Worthington stressed.

The goal of all this is for the new Falcon to deliver the perfect balance of ride, handling and steering best suited to a sedan on Australian roads, says Ford.

Variable-ratio steering

FOR the FG, and compared to the BFII, Ford’s engineers desired more front axle compliance understeer, in order to achieve a balance of steering precision, handling stability and high-speed controllability.

To that end, the rack-and-pinion steering gear now boasts variable-ratio functionality, for optimum low-speed steering sensitivity and a more relaxed tiller at higher speeds.

While the old car’s 11.0-metre turning circle is retained, the 2.6 turns lock-to-lock is a 0.2-turn reduction, claimed to be achieved without a nervous feel during straightline driving.

Another steering-relating change is the local-first adoption of a Y-shaped steering rack – an invention by Australian company Bishop Steering Technology. Porsche and BMW are among Bishop’s other customers.

Significantly improving stiffness and smoothness in motion while eliminating what Ford calls “the knobbly, discontinuous feel that is normally prevalent in vehicles with a variable-ratio steering gear” as a result of rolling torque around the steering gear axis whenever the steering wheel is turned.

There are also two new power-assisted steering calibrations for the FG, along with two new-look, ergonomically designed steering wheels.

The goal of the steering changes are to make the Falcon keep its high levels of responsiveness at low speeds while making it feel less nervous during highway driving.

Yet, despite this, Ford says the FG is still a sharper steer at speed than the VE.

Rear suspension modifications

FOR the sedan's Control Blade rear suspension set-up, a number of modifications have been implemented, affecting springs and dampers and the anti-roll bar, to match the front suspension changes.

For instance, a higher roll centre is claimed to cut in-corner roll and improve straightline stability, along with a revised toe-angle to provide better steering feel and vehicle stability.

New ‘point three’ bushings reduce noise, vibration and harshness elements without hindering steering or handling finesse, while the rear track is now 30mm wider than in BFII sedan.

These, combined with a new rear anti-roll bar connection link, conspire to deliver greater steering efficiency and precision, says Ford.

The goal is for the new Falcon to keep providing unparalleled driving enjoyment and confidence.

However, unlike Holden’s independently sprung VE Ute, the Falcon’s Ute’s rear suspension is the Hotchkiss leaf spring live rear-axle arrangement.

Monotube shock absorbers

ALL FG sedans and “most” utes gain German ZF Sachs monotube shock absorbers that deliver better body control and handling compared to the regular twin-tube shocks, while introducing improved plushness and vibration absorption to the ride without ‘floatiness’.

As its name suggests, there is only one tube, not two, with a gas cup to first separate the gas and oil and then house the oil displaced by the rod entering the cavity twin-tube shocks don’t separate the oil and gas, and operate by transferring the former from the pressure chamber via a base valve as the shock rod displaces.

The monotube has a larger piston area, which cuts hydraulic pressure, thereby improving sensitivity and control. It also operates a higher internal gas pressure of 18-bar rather than just four bar, allowing the damper to build controlling forces faster and virtually eliminate cavitation or foaming during normal operation for more consistent ride feel and control and significantly better performance.

Monotube shocks better withstand higher consistent working temperatures and thus perform better in strenuous conditions such as on corrugated road surfaces, while being better able to dissipate heat. They also absorb more energy for longer periods of time, increasing robustness, and weigh 30 per cent less to boot.

The goal here is for drivers to notice better steering and handling without any loss of ride quality whatsoever, says Ford.

Tyres

IMPROVEMENTS in road noise, wet grip, dry grip and handling, steering compliance, ride, rolling resistance and steering linearity are the claims Ford is making for its new range of tyres devised especially for the FG.

The Falcon XT now rides on Goodyear Eagle Excellence 215/60R16 luxury sports models employ the same model tyre but in a 235/50R17.

Dunlop SP Sport 01A 245/45R17 are XR6 sedan and ute fair, while the Maxx 245/40R18 version of these are the high-series tyres in the sports and sports luxury models.

A no-cost option variation of this – in 245/45R17 size – has been formulated especially for XR6 Turbo buyers seeking “superior handling and steering”, according to Ford.

Ford is also rolling out a Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 145/35/R19 tyre size for the first time, in conjunction with a new 19-inch alloy wheel option.

Other ute-specific tyres have also been developed and will be revealed when that variant is launched in May.

Suspension tunes

THE FG range introduces increased suspension complexity to Falcon, resulting in six distinct states of tune.

There is the Standard Heavy Duty for greater ground clearance a Luxury Sports (firm but supple) and Luxury Performance (firmer) duo the XR Sports state and the seriously sporty FPV Sports.

Electronic chassis control systems

ALL petrol-powered Falcon sedans will now have (fully switchable) DSC stability control and TCS traction control systems as standard.

The state of control and intervention of DSC and TCS will be in accordance to which model they are fitted. For example, the XT has a relatively conservative activation threshold, while the drivers of Falcon XR6s can enjoy a little more slip angle.

And while the big Fords have had ABS anti-lock brakes with EBD Electronic Brake-force Distribution for some time, EBA Emergency Brake Assist is new to the range.

All FG Falcon utes will come with ABS and EBD, with the XR utes adding TCS, which is now also optional across the whole petrol ute range - unlike Holden's Ute, which offers DSC as standard.

Self-adjusting parking brake

A FIRST for a locally-manufactured vehicle, a self-adjusting parking brake arrives on all sedan and ute models – minus the latter fitted with a column-shift automatic gearbox.

The name says it all: the park brake automatically removes any slackness that develops over time through a tension cable that automatically self-adjusts after each time the handbrake is employed, for maximum operational performance. This reduces unintentional rolling and, potentially, cost come service time.

FG Falcon benchmarks

BENCHMARKS for the FG were the BMW E60 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz W211 E-class models – continuing on from the BA/Barra program of 2002 that saw the previous 5 Series (E39) employed as the yardstick for the Control Blade rear suspension system and its utilisation.

The goal is for the FG to espouse the Ford brand’s dynamic ‘DNA’ of precision and agility without being ‘nervous’ to drive.

According to Ford Australia’s vehicle dynamics manager, Alex de Vlugt, the result is a Falcon that can boast “...a global scale of dynamic competitiveness.”

Interestingly, the VE Commodore did not get a look in, with Ford arguing that Holden simply played catch up with the 2002 BA.

“In the second half of 2006 our major competitor came out with the VE Commodore.

“We think they have delivered a good car that frankly – in our opinion – has caught up with the Barra dynamics, but didn’t really outperform it... in a mix of areas, the Barra still has the edge,” Mr de Vlugt believes.

Along with the design element, the FG’s engineering consumed 48 months.

However, Ford won't reveal the total investment, saying that it does not want to make a marketing issue of the cost involved.

“We have found ways over the last 10 years to spend our money significantly more efficiently to deliver a better outcome.

“It is the largest design and engineering program since the AU of 1998,” is all that Mr Worthington would reveal on the matter.

FG Falcon ute specifics

FORD’S FG Ute continues the successful formula of its AU/BA/BF-era predecessor with completely redesigned version of the coupe-utility (Styleside Box) and one-tonne Cab Chassis bodystyles.

Like the FG sedan, there are new model variants too, making up an eight-pronged assault on the popular two-wheel drive pick-up and cab-chassis segment.

XL gives way to plain Falcon, R6 elbows XLS aside, while the popular XR6, XR6 Turbo and XR8 names continue. Like the sedan, the latter two are now identical in specification save for a two-cylinder difference and the V8’s signature ‘power bulge’ bonnet.

Ford is now alone in offering a locally-built one-tonne cab/chassis variant. It is available in Falcon, R6 and XR6 specification.

Ford is offering three-quarter tonne, one-tonne and sports suspension tunes, with a limited-slip differential option on some models and the full gamut of new-generation tyres and alloy wheels ranging from 16 to 19-inch sizes. Under the slick new bonnet are the latest iterations of the venerable 4.0-litre twin-cam 24-valve variable-valve timing I6 in-line six-cylinder engines in 195kW/391Nm normally aspirated, 270kW/533Nm turbocharged and 156kW/371Nm LPG E-Gas guises, as well as the ex-BF FPV GT Boss 290 290kW/520Nm 5.4-litre twin-cam 32-vavle V8.

Mirroring the FG sedan, the Ute’s naturally-aspirated I6 petrol engine is connected to a new French-made five-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox, while the E-Gas unit continues with the four-speed auto transmission.

XR6 Turbo and V8 FG Ute buyers are rewarded with the new Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual gearbox that was only launched last year in the US Ford Mustang GT 500. Standard on XR8, the ZF six-speed auto remains optional for the XR6T.

Towing capacities kick off at 1200kg, and can be extended to 1600kg and 2300kg, while the payload ratings start at 540kg for the XR8 and reaches up to 1240kg for the base Falcon Cab Chassis, with the standard FG Styleside Ute offering 775kg.

Read more:

FG Falcon: No FG wagon - yet

FG Falcon: Inline Aussie six's final swansong

FG Falcon: A better packaged interior

FG Falcon: Ford goes to finishing school


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