The Drive team finally gets behind the wheel of Ford’s new FG Falcon, the most important Falcon ever. Toby Hagon, drive.com.au April 10, 2008 Ford’s new Falcon is bigger and better than ever, but what’s it like to drive? The Drive team has driven all seven model variants and delivered its verdict. On the whole, Drive’s experts are very impressed with the improvements made to the new Falcon. Particularly impressive is the more spacious cabin, which feels more open and user-friendly, especially for larger people. The roofline has been pushed up and forward, so those in the front no longer feel as though they’re sitting too far up and forward. The new Falcon is also a lot quieter on the road. It does such a good job of suppressing wind noise around the mirrors and windows that the hushed cabin actually highlights other sounds. In some models, for example – mainly the sports variants, with their bigger tyres – there’s some noticeable tyre roar on coarse-chip bitumen surfaces at freeway speeds. The steering of the new Falcon is also more reassuring and engaging, aiding driver confidence and assurance, while not detracting from the around-town manoeuvrability. The turbocharged six-cylinder engine, too, is seriously impressive and capable of sprinting to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds, according to our tests. The regular six-cylinder is more muscular than ever, forming the basis for a surprising package on the entry-level Falcon XT. While the FG Falcon is not the giant leap the VE Commodore was over the VZ Commodore it replaced, it arguably didn’t need to be. Drive’s exclusive comparison test two years ago revealed that the driving experience of the outgoing BA/BF Falcon was good enough for the Falcon to hold its own in the driving department against the then-fresher VE Commodore. From the first time you slip behind the wheel of the new Falcon it feels like a more cohesive machine. In many ways, though, it’s the smaller things in the FG Falcon package which, combined, add volumes to the overall Falcon vehicle. The engine ignition system, for example, is more user-friendly. There’s no need to hold the key around to the ‘start’ position thanks to the one-touch start. A brief flick to the ‘start’ position is all that’s required for the engine to judge how much cranking is needed to start the car. The three-click indicators are ideal for changing lanes, while the interior plastics are a step above and more competitive with similarly priced vehicles. The lower part of the centre console, too, is more classy and useful, yet it still holds a packet of tissues. Of course, the new Falcon is not perfect. There’s some mild steering rack rattle when cornering over bumps and the V8 engine in the XR8 is thoroughly outclassed by the brilliant six-cylinder turbo that’s now in the Falcon XR6 Turbo and newly created Falcon G6E Turbo. Overall, though, the new FG Falcon is a substantial step forward for Ford, adding a modern take to an existing formula to better take the fight to Holden. First drive: Ford FG Falcon G6E Turbo - Sharing its turbocharged engine with the potent Falcon XR6 Turbo, the Falcon G6E Turbo also gets a load of luxury fruit. Toby Hagon, drive.com.au April 10, 2008 When it comes to performance in the FG Falcon range there’s little doubt Ford has turned its efforts to its hot-shot flagship, the turbocharged version of the six-cylinder engine. In the Falcon XR6 Turbo, the 4.0-litre inline six-cylinder is quicker than ever, capable of launching the sizeable sedan to 100km/h in a fraction over five seconds. In independent performance testing Drive managed a 0-100km/h sprint of 5.1 seconds. And the new-to-the-range G6E Turbo shares exactly the same drivetrain, consisting of the turbocharged version of the 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. As a sub-$60,000 large sedan that’s loaded with standard equipment – including a reversing camera, leather seats, and electric everything – it makes the Falcon G6E Turbo a tempting proposition against more fancied luxury opposition. The extra attention to detail in the cabin, too – from the better thought-out centre console to the more upmarket materials – also helps in establishing the Falcon G6E as an impressive bit of kit for the money. The G6E Turbo is also one of only two models in the seven-model FG Falcon range that comes standard with a full complement of airbags, including the side curtain airbags that add $300 to the price of a Falcon XT, G6, XR6, XR6 Turbo and XR8. The G6E Turbo package is an interesting mix. Its performance is identical to the XR6 Turbo, ensuring it’s a seriously impressive device. Its road manners, too, are similar to the XR6 Turbo – both share standard 18-inch wheels, for example – although the G6E Turbo gets a unique, slightly softer and more compliant suspension setting designed to improve the ride of a vehicle pitched at being comfortable and quick. First impressions are that the G6E Turbo is an impressively comfortable car, ably absorbing bumps and thumps to make for a secure yet confident car. The extra give in the suspension means the G6E Turbo takes a fraction longer to recover from big road imperfections than the XR models. But the combination of serene driving quarters in a brisk, confident package helps you appreciate why Ford thinks the G6E could be one of the quiet achievers – and image makers – in the FG Falcon range. After all, the XR6 Turbo started life in a similar way and has now established itself as a cult car that helped define the Falcon’s modern image. Inside, the FG Falcon G6E Turbo is loaded with equipment, making it a comfortable place to travel. Like all new Falcons, it benefits from the more thoughtful interior design and extra headroom liberated in the front. The shiny black centre console – designed to stand out from the regular Falcon crowd and bring an upmarket feel to an otherwise mass market car – is a mass of buttons, although the G6E and G6E Turbo get the full-colour screen and better sound system that are optional on other Falcons. In some ways, though, we’d prefer that the push up/down buttons for the temperature and fan speed were knobs, because they’d be easier and quicker to use. While it’s not cheap, there’s plenty of value to be seen in the new G6E Turbo, especially considering the V8-beating performance. First drive: Ford FG Falcon XR6 Turbo - The Falcon XR6 Turbo is the fastest Australian performance car. It’s also a great car to drive. Meet the fastest Ford Falcon ever built – yes, even faster than the famous Falcon GT HO. According to our satellite-assisted timing equipment, the XR6 Turbo can accelerate from rest to 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds and cover the quarter mile (or 400-metre sprint) in 13.4 seconds. To make sure it wasn’t an error, we repeated the test. Again. And again. And again. Hey, someone’s got to do it. For the record, the air-conditioning was on. There were no stunts, no tricks, we just squeezed the accelerator. It did it like it was brushing its teeth. This not only makes the latest Falcon XR6 Turbo the fastest Falcon to date, it also shoots it to the top of the leader board in Australian performance cars. It’s faster than both the Holden V8s and its own big brother, the Falcon XR8 (which stopped the clocks at a comparatively slow 6.3 seconds). Holden Special Vehicles claims its 6.0-litre V8 Clubsport can reach 100km/h in 4.96 seconds, but only HSV staffers have been able to repeat this figure. The best number any hacks like us have squeezed out of an HSV is 5.2 seconds. Perhaps that will change when the 6.2-litre Clubsport goes on sale in May 2008. Meanwhile, the XR6 Turbo is the new king of the hill. For now. Its faster cousin, the Ford Performance Vehicles F6 Typhoon is also a month away and Ford engineers privately let on this week that it will perform the 0-100km/h dash in less than five seconds. We can’t wait, but in the meantime there’s the Falcon XR6 Turbo. Previous Falcon XR6 Turbos stopped the clocks at about 5.9 seconds, so a 5.1 second 0-100km/h time is a phenomenal improvement. It’s largely the result of the massive changes Ford has made to the turbo, which is all new, and the larger intercooler, which is as big as the intercooler from the previous generation F6 Typhoon. The power delivery is so smooth that, initially, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re not in the turbo at all. Until, that is, the turbo gets on the boil and all hell breaks loose. As with the previous model, there is a subtle exhaust burble between gear changes and a deep roar as revs build. The six-speed auto is the pick of the bunch; while the manual has a launch control system, it also loses some turbo boost ever so slightly between gear changes. Police lucky enough to have an Falcon XR6 Turbo as a highway patrol car are going to love the new model. If anyone is still clinging to the fantasy of Ford’s V8 power, then this car surely should shake sense into them. As expected the Falcon XR6 Turbo is also good around corners, and Ford has again done an amazing job of blending handling ability and comfort. The steering is less nervous and more linear, but we did get some rack rattle in tight, bumpy turns. And the tyres can still be noisy at speed. The brakes, which are carried over from the previous model, stood up to the punishment well. But, then again, the Falcon’s weight has changed little from the old to the new model so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Those who want better stopping power can opt for the FPV Typhoon, which has four-piston Brembo brakes standard and six-piston brakes as an option. In summary, first impressions of the XR6 Turbo are overwhelmingly positive, but we’ll reserve final judgment until we test it extensively on more familiar roads. In the meantime, one final thought: the XR6 Turbo is reasonably well appointed but for one odd oversight. Curtain airbags aren’t standard on the quickest car in the range. What is Ford thinking? First drive: Ford FG Falcon XR8 - Now the only V8 remaining in a revised Falcon range, the new Falcon XR8 has a lot to live up to. It struggles against the impressive Falcon XR6 Turbo? Toby Hagon, drive.com.au April 10, 2008 For the FG Falcon the XR8 is now the only V8-powered Falcon in the line-up, giving the V8 faithful their all important image machine. In some ways it’s indicative of what Ford thinks of the V8 engine that’s been criticised for its thirst and relative lack of performance, at least compared with the turbocharged six-cylinder that also sits in the Ford stables. For the FG Falcon, however, Ford has adopted the 290kW version of the 5.4-litre V8, which was previously reserved for the Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) Falcon GT. That makes the XR8 the most powerful model in the regular FG Falcon range – at least until the FPV models arrive – by 20kW. But you’d hardly know it when you squeeze the throttle of the Falcon XR8. From a standstill the V8 is quick to respond, even chirping the wheels and kicking the electronic traction control system into life. But the shove-you-into-your-seat experience you experience in the Falcon XR6 Turbo and G6E Turbo is simply not there in the Falcon XR8. Instead, there’s a crescendo of noise as the engine builds speed. In some ways, though, Ford has done such a good job quietening the FG Falcon’s cabin that it’s watered down some of the V8 muscle previously evident in the XR8. Sure, it still sounds like a V8, but the beefy burble has been muted to the point where it seems to lack character. Ford has fitted what it calls a Semi-Active Muffler (SAM), designed to boost the good sounds of the V8. But it seems to work better for those outside the car – the XR8 sounds pretty good if you’re watching it blast away – rather than for those inside it. We reckon V8 fans will be expecting more when it comes to noise and V8 character. Thankfully the six-speed automatic does its best to extract performance from the V8, although it’s still not enough. While the auto does a reasonable job of selecting the right gear and holding gears during enthusiastic driving, it’s not delivered the oomph you expect from a V8 in 2008. During our performance testing, too, the auto was too eager to shift from first to second gear, missing out on the last burst of high-rev power in first gear. We experimented using the regular ‘Drive’ mode and the ‘Performance’ mode, and both did the same thing. Colleagues later told us it’s best to use the manual override to hold the transmission in first gear, at which point it will hit 100km/h in less than six seconds. But all our performance testing was done the way we think most owners will drive the automatic – with the lever in ‘D’ for Drive. For the record – and according to our satellite-based timing equipment – the Falcon XR8 accelerated to 100km/h from rest in 6.3 seconds (according to our satellite-based timing system), which is a full 1.2 seconds slower than we achieved in the Falcon XR6 Turbo. Through corners, the Falcon XR8 is confident and composed, using its firmer suspension to good effect. Despite Ford’s best efforts to reduce weight over the front-end of the car, however, it still feels slightly nose heavy. It’s more evident the harder you drive, leaning on its nose and pushing wide if pushed hard. As with other Falcons, there’s also some mild steering rack rattle when the car hits bumpers and jitters through corners. With large 18-inch wheels there’s ample cornering grip, although the tyres are prone to some roaring on coarse bitumen surfaces. The XR8’s brakes stood up to reasonable punishment during our first taste test, although there were some telltale odours after a downhill run. We’ll reserve final judgement on their effectiveness after a more thorough drive. After all, at around 1.8 tonnes the Falcon XR8 is not light. An impressive part of the Falcon XR8 package remains the bonnet bulge that’s easily visible from the driver’s seat. Necessary to fit the big engine under the Falcon XR8 bonnet, the now signature bonnet bulge is a constant reminder you’ve got something different at your disposal. However, some of the exclusivity previously reserved for the Falcon XR8 has been diluted because Ford has now specified the identically priced Falcon XR6 Turbo – in many ways a rival to the Falcon XR8 – to the same level of equipment. Still, there’s some colour in the seat trim and added splashes of chrome-look finish to liven the interior. But the basic monochrome display on top of the dash – it displays ventilation information, among others – isn’t quite in keeping with the more racy feel of the XR8. We’d pay the extra for the colour screen and updated sound system. We’d also pay the $300 for potentially life-saving curtain airbags. It would make the Falcon XR8 a more complete package. In the end, though, the Falcon XR8 is the least impressive – and least convincing – among the FG Falcon family. Sure, it’s an impressive family, but the V8-powered Falcon XR8 feels like it should deliver more. Really, though, at the end of the day there’s one big problem with the Falcon XR8. It’s called the Falcon XR6 Turbo. The difference is now more pronounced than ever.