We get the Taurus. Mr. and Mrs. Australia get a kick-butt cop cruiser. BY AARON ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON KILEY July 2004 The Ford Motor Company would like you to please turn the page. There’s nothing for American readers here, just some funny business from Australia that doesn’t concern you. Please go about your regularly scheduled Taurus leases and forget everything you’ve seen. Still reading? Okay, but you’re risking total disgust with the current crop of domestic Ford sedans. For American mid-size buyers, Ford excretes the tired, charm-free front-drive Taurus with a Tupperware interior and floppy handling. Meanwhile, Australians get their kicks in a rear-drive bomb with wind-smoothed sheetmetal and a Euro-tune suspension. Where’s the justice? It turns out that we Star Spangled singers have been getting the shaft for years. Ford introduced the Melbourne-built Falcon to Australia in 1960, and it never stopped evolving. Redesigned for 2003, today’s Falcon has independent suspensions at both ends and overhead-cam engines across the line. It’s an entire Ford dealership packed into one model, with various versions sold as taxis, cop cars, family wagons, executive limos, even pickup trucks. Haul a steer to town with the “one-tonne” Falcon Ute flatbed, and then have the town over for steaks with the “BBQ Ute” edition, a Falcon fitted with a broiler and companion esky (a beer cooler) housed in an aluminum cylinder the size of God’s own septic tank. The Falcon XR6 and XR8 are the swaggering road burners of the family. For a base price of U.S. $37,859, an XR8 driver sits behind Ford’s 5.4-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8, outracing a kookaburra’s call with 349 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of steamship torque. Ford calls the engine the “Boss 260,” but to Australians it’s a hallowed “vee-bloody-eight.” Antipodean fuel is pricey, however, so Ford has developed the new $36,065 XR6 Turbo, which is just a well-aimed spit from the XR8 in performance. It gets—now follow this closely—a 4.0-liter DOHC 24-valve inline-six with an electronic throttle and variable valve timing on both cams. A Garrett GT40 ball-bearing turbo spins a humongous 3.2-inch-diameter compressor wheel, blowing 5.8 psi of air and allowing the so-called Barra 240T to drop 322 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque into your choice of a four-speed automatic or, if you’d rather stir with a stick, a five-speed manual. Thanks to Garrett, we were able to peel off a few quarter-miles in Detroit with an XR6 manual. Once your left hand learns to shift, it’s a 14.3-second ride with a trap speed of 98 mph while 60 mph passes in 5.9 seconds, the Barra roaring nicely to its 5900-rpm redline and the turbo whooshing hard. The power flows in a silky wave from the naturally balanced six, a gentle push at first that quickly grows into a linebacker’s shove once the big turbo gets its wind up. Minus the driver, there are 3849 pounds to stop, and the ABS disc brakes bring the Falcon down from 70 mph in a commendable 169 feet. The XR6 has familiar domestic-sedan dimensions and might pass unnoticed in Detroit but for the body-color aero add-ons, gaping nose ducts, and 17-inch five-spoke wheels inside 235/45 Dunlops. Once a native looks down the sides, it’s only seconds before he or she discovers the misplaced steering wheel and invariably asks, “What is that?” It’s a proper interior, for one thing, lined with squishable matte-finish moldings and sharp-acting buttons, and simple dials read with a quick glance. The XR6 trim treatment is subtle, just a few silver-painted swaths. Nothing feels penny-pinched or flimsy, especially the deeply bolstered bucket seats. Were this a cop car, the folding back seat would be a perp’s paradise. Despite the high driveshaft tunnel, there are scads of head- and legroom between the large taxi-duty doors. The deep trunk will swallow a full bullet-proof ensemble. What the marketers call the Falcon’s new “Control Blade IRS,” we call one big trailing link, two lateral links, and a toe-control link. It’s all mounted to a drop-in subframe because the Falcon wagon still rides on a live axle and leaf springs. Compared with Ford’s main Australian rival, the Holden Commodore (the basis for the Pontiac GTO) with its semi-trailing-arm rear suspension, the Control Blade is space-age stuff. Brutally rough roads can unsettle the mechanism, the body skittering sideways with repeated hammer blows from the pavement. Otherwise, the stiff structure dissipates much of what the suspension doesn’t soak up. Screw the wheel, and the XR6 responds fervently, the nose tucking into corners and the rear end staying planted. Safety still reigns: With the power turned on, the rear end barely twitches and the front rubber plows more readily when the corner speeds get warm. The mediocre 0.82-g skidpad run was performed with the front tires turned at agonizingly high angles. Serve it just medium spicy, and this bird tastes much better. Enquiring minds want to know why Ford thinks you’d rather drive a Taurus, especially now that American streets are prowled by Hemi-powered Chrysler 300Cs. Ford has an answer, mostly with front drive and all-wheel drive. It has the 2005 Five Hundred and then the Mazda 6–based sedan known until recently as the Futura (oddly, Pep Boys owns the rights to the former Ford name). The Falcon missed its window for the U.S. market years ago, the millions already spent by people paid to make other plans. Unless you plan a move to Australia, better just turn the page and forget everything you’ve seen here. Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan Price as tested: $38,850 (base price: $36,065) Engine type: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection Displacement: 243 cu in, 3983cc Power (SAE net): 322 bhp @ 5250 rpm Torque (SAE net): 332 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm Transmission: 5-speed manual Wheelbase: 111.4 in Length/width/height: 193.5/73.4/56.9 in Curb weight: 3849 lb Zero to 60 mph: 5.9 sec Zero to 100 mph: 15.1 sec Zero to 120 mph: 21.8 sec Street start, 5–60 mph: 7.2 sec Standing 1/4-mile: 14.3 sec @ 98 mph Top speed (governor limited): 143 mph Braking, 70–0 mph: 169 ft Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.82 g Fuel economy, city driving: 19 mpg C/D-observed fuel economy: 12 mpg *Base price includes all performance-enhancing options.