New models - Ford - Fairlane
First drive: New Fairlane a leap forward
Ford has revealed the final models in the BA range, the Fairlane and LTD
10 Jul 2003
By BRUCE NEWTON
WITH the launch of the BA Fairlane and LTD, Ford Australia closes a grim chapter in its history.
The Falcon AU-based long wheelbase cars, although out of production, have still been at least theoretically on sale and in new model price lists, months after the BA short wheelbase, utility and wagon appeared.
Launched in 1999, the big, squared-off and blocky AU LWBs were meant to appeal to a mature, conservative and predominantly male audience who liked a big grille and plenty of chrome.
The trouble was Holden's VT Commodore-based WH Statesman and Caprice arrived soon after with their more shapely style, superior interior comfort and that Gen III 5.7-litre V8, which boasted a 45kW power advantage over the Ford.
The sales chart tells the story. From leading Statesman in 1999, Fairlane slipped to half the Holden's sales total in 2000 and has never recovered. From close to parity in the mid-1990s, LTD was outsold 6:1 by Caprice in 2002.
Those results were a reflection of what was occurring in the rest of the Falcon v Commodore world, where VT/VX was giving AU, AUII and AUIII a pretty vicious kicking. If anything, the sales slaughter was even more acute in LWB, where customers are more influenced by the arrival of fresh metal.
It was all so galling for Ford, because back in 1967 it actually invented the local long wheelbase segment when it stretched the wheelbase of Falcon, added some extras and called the result the Fairlane 500.
Essentially, the new car sticks closely to that original philosophy. The advances in terms of chassis structure, driveline, suspension and interior that the short wheelbase BA benefited from have also gone into the LWB.
In fact Ford can't even give a program cost for new Fairlane and LTD because it is wrapped up so intrinsically within the $500 million total spend on the BA range.
Because it was a part of BA rather than an afterthought, development of LWB actually began more than three years ago, and we've been seeing pre-production prototypes running around on the roads for at least 12 months now.
Ford gave us a preview of the new look back in March at the Melbourne motor show, released spec details in May at the same time as Holden launched its WK Statesman and Caprice and then issued prices about one month ago. It's also been working the garden, food and wine show circuit in recent months, warming up potential customers.
What Ford has never made any bones about is the fundamental linkage with BA Falcon:
For a start, it looks better in the flesh than in the pictures. The car has lost the heaviness and overblown jewellery of its predecessor and is more flowing and modern. That's thanks to the new front sheetmetal including unique bumper, grille, bonnet and quarter panels. There's a new roof, a more raked out C-pillar, new three-quarter panels and at the rear a new and far cleaner decklid and bumper.
The headlights are carry-over from the BA and the central section of the car, including the doors, is straight from AU, just like the Falcon.
But that is a specific problem fro LWB because it means the rear doors continue to be too small and the opening too narrow, a real drama for the chauffer market.
Although when you see the TV ad for the Fairlane you'll quickly figure out that Ford is accentuating the driving rather than the passengering. The hero is the new model in the range, the V8 G220.
While the Fairlane Ghia and the LTD continue in their traditional luxury roles, the G220 is aimed at the emerging sports luxury market - a younger audience with the money to spend on a big car that is a rewarding drive. It's a similar line of thinking - but a different solution - to Holden, which has sexed up the Caprice for WK.
G220 varies from the other cars in a few ways. Mechanically, the engine is unchanged but the auto is calibrated to be a little sharper shifting and it gets a shorter final drive ratio for snappier acceleration.
The G220's suspension is pretty much a straight lift from the Fairmont Ghia, while the other two pick up the plusher Fairmont set-up, albeit with returned shock absorbers. All three cars have the same steering rack out of the Fairmont Ghia, which is the sportier, heavier choice from SWB BA.
The G220 also gets 17x7.5-inch alloy wheels shod with 225/50R17 tyres, while the others make do with 225/60R16 tyres on 16x17.5-inch alloy wheels. All three cars get unique wheel designs. The brakes come straight from Falcon and include ABS and EBD, while traction control is standard across the range as well.
It's not all a one-way street of course. The benefits of a new sound package developed for LWB will make its way back down to Falcon in some form, while new boot trim originally sourced for the luxury models has been introduced as a running change for the other models as well.
The same applies for the collapsible pedals standard on Fairlane and LTD. Since May, they have been fitted on Falcon as well.
Which brings us to equipment. All the fundamentals are there including powered leather seats, leather steering wheel and gear lever, reverse sensing system, six-disc in-dash CD player, dual zone climate control, cruise control and front and side airbags.
Unique G220 items include sports-look black-out front headlights, red leather seats called redline and brushed aluminium-look trim rather than the woodgrain offerd by the other two.
Ghia adds a sunroof, 10-way and passenger seats with memory, electrochromatic rear view mirror and some leather, and a couple of LTD emblems.
You can also option a DVD system for any model in the range - including sat-nav - for $3600. Interestingly, the Holden Caprice comes standard with a DVD player but sat-nav still remains an option there.
Pricing has climbed - no surprise really. Ghia now up $980 for the six and just over $2600 for the V8. The LTD V8 is up just under $1000, while you can no longer get a six-cylinder version. The G220 sits not far above the Ghia and about $10,000 shy of the LTD at $62,270.
Against Statesman, Fairlane Ghia is now a fraction more expensive, while the LTD undercuts V8 Caprice.
Ford is not making great claims for Fairlane and LTD in sales terms. It just wants repectability. The target is 400 cars per month, which does not sound too hard until you consider the average in 2002 was 175. The new G220 is expected to account for between 25 and 30 per cent of those sales.
Ford Fairlane Ghia six-cyl $54,950
Ford Fairlane Ghia V8 $59,700
Ford Fairlane G220 $62,270
Ford Fairlane LTD $72,070
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:FAIRLANE is a name intrinsic to Australian motoring. If you didn't ride in your grandad's as a kid, you remember those Wilpena Pound television ads from the 1980s or even owned one yourself.
There was leather, lots of shiney bits, plenty of equipment, a real cossetting feel and lots of sprawling room. Big, safe and Aussie.
With AU the mix got a little shaken up. The car looked old and fussy, yet the drive was actually pretty good because of that double wishbone suspension. But the sway had gone too far that way because AU Fairlane was a jittery and noisy car to travel in.
BA is a significant leap in the right direction It looks a fair bit better, it feels tauter than AU, tougher and more tied down, yet also more compliant and undoubtedly quieter.
That's hardly a surprise considering the substantial donation made technically by the short wheelbase BA. But this car still identifiably has its own closely related but separate character, perhaps because of that extra in-built compliance courtesy of the longer wheelbase.
The Ghia and the LTD are the most familiar of course, there's a level of comfort and fluency that traditional Ford LWB owners would recognise, while G220 goes a big step down the sports road.
But the new model would still seem to be a better all-rounder than the AU. It is quieter (although Fairlane on 17s is not brilliant in this regard) and while the ride is firmed up, it has lost its predecessor's fussiness. The roll control is better and the steering quite crisp.
The driveline is a huge boost. Mind you, we are talking about a kerb weight spread here between 1770kg and 1865kg (as much as 200kg up), so both six-cylinder and V8 appreciate a bit of boot application to stir things along. We think the official fuel estimates of 12.0/7.4L/100km for the six and 15.0/9.0L/100km would be conservative.
The six works hard and well, teaming with the four-speed auto for a pretty slick combination, but it's undoubtedly the V8 that has the real presence and poise. Plenty of pulling power, a nice, unobtrusive burble, a real kick when it's needed.
In the G220 it's a real hoot. Winding roads are an enjoyable challenge. You are aware it is a big car, but the ability to hold gears with the manual shifter adds an extra dimension of driver control. Grip and turn-in are impressive as well. Why, it's almost nimble.
Of course, a car such as this at 5.153m long is always going to be more at home on the open road. As an interstate cruiser it would have few peers for any money.
The Holden definitely ranks up there in this regard and perhaps still shades the Ford for ride and for quelling road noise. But the Statesman's drivetrain - particularly in V6 form - is long in the tooth and showing it compared to this combination.
Inside Fairlane there's acres of space front and back. The unique seats are pretty comfortable, although the back seats seemed too upright and the seat cushions in the front perhaps under-padded.
Where the Fairlane really lets itself down is in the cockpit. It's a big step forward from the ovoid AU and there are unique touches, but overall it is too similar to the dash and instrumentation of the BA Fairmont Ghia. Holden has done a better job of differentiating its latest LWB range from the Calais.
If Ford expects customers to cough up as much as $20,000 more for this car, they deserve something more bespoke than this, surely.
It's a reminder - one of many - of the close links that exist between Fairlane and Falcon. In AU that closeness was a bad thing. This time round with BA, most of the rub-off has been a positive.
Welcome back Fairlane, we missed you.
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