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Road Test: BF Ford Falcon

By Feann Torr - 20/10/2005

BF Ford FalconI never thought the day would come when I'd seriously consider an automatic gearbox - one with a power-sapping torque converter, no less - over a traditional manual setup.

But it has.

Ford's new German-built ZF gearbox is arguably the biggest new feature in the BF Falcon range, and having played with it over about 800 kilometres of lovely New South Welsh central coast bitumen, I have to say I'm thoroughly impressed. The new Falcon may not look completely different to it's forebear, but as Ford is quick to point out, the big changes are under the skin.

According to Ford Australia's boss, Tom Gorman, all the changes made to the new BF Falcon were driven by customer feedback, including criterions such as fuel economy, power and refinement.

Holden will be launching it's all new VE Commodore in 2006, which will give the Ford decision makers something to think about, yet the new BF Falcon is a much more confident car than the BA it replaces, which says a lot. Sure, it may not look completely new, but it's more powerful, more refined, quieter and generally feels like a much more expensive car when driven on Australian roads.

Much of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the BF Falcon/SY Territory upgrade was funnelled into the powertrain department, and it's glaringly obvious the moment you turn the key and tickle the throttle - even the base model Falcon is fun to drive.

The new BF model carries on the legacy of the BA, which turned around Ford's large car fortunes after the AU Falcon gave the VT Commodore a clean run to the top of the sales charts in the late '90s. And this legacy, which has thoroughly improved Ford's standing in the eyes if Australian large car buyers, looks set to continue.

for detailed specs on the BF Falcon range .

Make: Ford
Model: BF Falcon + SY Territory
Price: From $34,880
Transmission: Various
Engine: Various
Seats: 5-7


BF Ford Falcon

BF Ford Falcon

The long wheelbase Fairlane G8 (top) combines
luxury and performance. The XT (above) is the
entry-level $34,880 model with optional alloys

Though it doesn't look particularly new, the BF Falcon feels new. In fact, it feels more like a prestige vehicle when you get to driving it, one that would be more at home in Germany or the Britain Isles.

For one, the BF Falcon is more refined in almost every respect, and the new 6-speed gearbox that everyone's talking about is real pearler - believe the hype.

Even with 'standard' 190kW 6-cylinder engines, which have been upgraded with new dual camshafts (capable of independent variable timing) and dual knock sensors, the new 6-speed gearbox delivers a sense of urgency that's right up there with a manual transmission.

I'm going to be talking about this gearbox a lot, because it dominated my thoughts of the car when driving it - and because it's an impressively useful piece of kit.

But before I get carried away with the oh-so-smooth ZF gearbox, I should talk about the new car as a whole, the new features and gizmos.

To start with, the BF Falcon range has been given a modest facelift. Headlight clusters remain unchanged, but the front aprons of all models have been tweaked, some more than others, and the mandatory new alloy wheels also feature.

XR models get the biggest changes, which are apparent in their front aprons, with new fog light surrounds and larger air dams to keep the engines air supply ample. XR Utes can even be ordered with new hard tonneau covers featuring a reverse power bulge of sorts.

All BF Falcon models get slightly new brake lights as well, with a jewelled appearance that lends the rear a more comptemporary effect.

The long wheelbase models (Fairlane) have been given a new exterior look as well, and beyond what are arguably some of the trickest looking alloy wheels this side of a Bentley, the front apron is again slightly changed to reflect the engineering advances under the sheet metal.

These visual changes are best described as subtle, as it's really only the new wheels and paint jobs that will differentiate the BA and BF Falcons. But as soon as you step inside the car, things are immediately different - and in a good way.

Ford says its engineers worked hard to improve refinement in the new Falcon, and this covers not only the engine and gearbox upgrades, but also the sound damping in the car. Ford isn't fibbing either, as the BF is a perceptibly quieter propostion than the BA, with reductions in both road and engine noise entering the cabin, and an improvement in the articulation index, which is Ford speak for being able to easily converse with passengers in the car.

Ford 'Barra 190' 4.0-litre L6

The fuel injected straight 6-cylinder engine has a 4.0-litre (3984cc) capacity where cylinder heads are aluminium and the engine block is cast-iron. Chain-driven double overhead camshafts actuate 4-valves per cylinder, complete with variable valve timing. A compression ratio of 10.3:1 allows 91 octane petrol to be used, which fills a 68 litre fuel tank.

Max Power: 190kW @ 5250rpm
Max Torque: 383Nm @ 2500rpm

Ford 'Barra 245T' 4.0-litre L6 Turbo

The fuel injected straight 6-cylinder engine has a 4.0-litre (3984cc) capacity where cylinder heads are aluminium and the engine block is cast-iron. Chain-driven double overhead camshafts actuate 4-valves per cylinder, complete with variable valve timing, while an intercooled turbo boosts power output. A compression ratio of 8.7:1 allows 91 octane petrol to be used, which fills a 68 litre fuel tank.

Max Power: 245kW @ 5250rpm
Max Torque: 480Nm @ 2000rpm

Ford 'Barra 230' 5.4-litre V8 (3-valve)

The fuel injected V8 engine has a 5.4-litre (5408cc) capacity where cylinder heads are aluminium and the engine block is cast-iron. Chain-driven single overhead camshafts per cylinder bank actuate 3-valves per cylinder, complete with and variable valve timing. A compression ratio of 9.7:1 allows 91 octane petrol to be used, which fills a 68 litre fuel tank.

Max Power: 230kW @ 5350rpm
Max Torque: 500Nm @ 3500rpm

Ford 'Boss 260' 5.4-litre V8 (4-valve)

The fuel injected V8 engine has a 5.4-litre (5408cc) capacity where cylinder heads are aluminium and the engine block is cast-iron. Chain-driven double overhead camshafts per cylinder bank actuate 4-valves per cylinder, complete with and variable valve timing. A compression ratio of 9.5:1 allows 91 octane petrol to be used, which fills a 68 litre fuel tank.

Max Power: 260kW @ 5250rpm
Max Torque: 500Nm @ 4000rpm

This reduction in sound intrusion gives the BF Falcon a much more presitgious feel, even in the entry-level XT we drove, and particularly so in the range-topping Fairlane models.

Driving the cars up the NSW central coast to Coffs Harbour gave use a good indication of what to expect when we get our hands on longer term road test material, and the good news is that the Falcon is still a very rewarding drive, maintaining the mantle of the best handling locally built large car.

The suspension has been left alone for the most part, which is no bad thing; the Blade independent rear suspension system does a great job of transferring power to the ground, even over rougher stuff, and I was suprised at how nimble the XR utes felt even with their live rear axles too.

A generally light feel to the power steering is welcome in the BF, particularly when charging down the road attempting to catch the new 6-speed automatic transmission off guard (virtually impossible) by rapidly changing directions.

Most models managed this quite well with enough feedback to ensure you know where the grip limit lies. The XR models in particular showed that cars that weigh around 1.8 tonnes can still offer highly rewarding drive characteristics.

The engines have also come in for a rework, not only to meet stricter Euro III emmissions standards that come into force on January 1st 2006, but also to increase power and fuel economy.

The entry-level 4.0-litre engine now generates 190kW of power and peak torque of 383Nm joins the party @ 2500rpm, able to motivate both Falcon and Territory with the utmost ease.

The highly lauded 6-cylinder turbo engine has also been boosted by a hefty 30Nm, and it's now a much more refined and indeed responsive beast, while the XR8's 260kW V8 figures remain unchanged. The 3-valve V8 however, gets a boost in torque, matching the XR8's 500Nm - see the grey breakout panels to the right for the full story on the engines.

And being a car enthusiast from the day I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I had always understood that a manual gearbox gives you the control and direct power to squeeze the most out of any given engine-chassis combination. But with the new BF Falcon this once-concrete viewpoint of mine has changed.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with either the retuned 4-speed auto or the Tremc 6-speed manual gearbox, I found myself eagerly awaiting the next session in the new ZF 6-speed auto.

The shifts are incredibly rapid - and smooth - for an auto, and it has no hesitation in kicking down multiple ratios when you put the boot in, with precious little lag. There's even a 'detent' at the end of the throttle pedal travel that when depressed ensures the gearbox drops a gear or two. Very nice.

Of all the cars we drove on the BF's launch, the car of choice was the XR6 Turbo with the 6-speed auto. Fast doesn't quite cut it here, as the upgraded L6 turbo engine (now with 245kW and 480Nm @ 2000rpm) combined with the ZF automatic gearbox feels quicker than the manual 6-speed.

Never thought I'd say that! I was quite literally blown away with the XR6T's ability to instantly pour on the power, yet just as effortlessly cruise placidly down the highway as we waved to the boys in the blue.

If a car's engine is its heart, then the gearbox could be seen as the vehicle's brain, and in this instance it's IQ is bordering on genius. With sensors constantly monitoring things such as the steering wheel angle, road speed and wheel rotations the transmission has a short term memory of sorts that will reconfigure itself to suit the conditions.

BF Ford Falcon

BF Ford Falcon

BF Ford Falcon

From top to bottom: The BF XR6 Turbo is officially
a force to be reckoned with, while the new XR8 is
no slow poke either, and the nat atmo XR6 with the
new 190kW engine is very pliable through bends

Give the engine a workout and the gearbox will adapt by not dropping gears when you ease up on the throttle, and holding gears right until the redline. It can also works out when you're towing, driving uphill, and hammering around corners.

Tim Postgate, the man behind the gearbox's Falcon implementation, explains it thusly: "The Driver Recognition features allow for a tailored driving experience, where the transmission rewards different styles of driving at both ends of the performance spectrum."

There's also the option of using the sportshift, or tiptronic shifting mode, which like the older 4-speed before it works very well in all models (pull back for upshift, push forward for downshift), but particularly with the XR6T and XR8 Falcons.

The new 6-speed auto gearbox brings with it a slew of technological advances, and together with DSC (dynamic stability control) offered on some models, it makes for a very reassuring drive. In addition, Ford has managed to integrate this astounding new gearbox into the BF Falcon with care, ensuring everything runs smoothly.

It feels as though the gearbox was made for the car, which is quite impressive for its first effort. Often new technology can take a few generations to really gel with its surroundings, but in this instance the Ford white coats have really earned their wages.

Jumping into the 4-speed auto after powering along with the ZF 6-speed and it feels a little slower in its shift speed and tends to clunk audibly as it downshifts, but taken on it's own (and not compared to what is a world-class 6-speed tranny) the Ion 4-speeder is a more refined gearbox this time out, as the BF models get a more refined, quicker shifting version of the BA's gearbox.

The BF range includes three gearbox options all up: a 4-speed auto, a 6-speed manual and now a 6-speed auto. And the latter of which proved to be more than up to the task of dealing with the big torque outputs of Ford's V8 powerplants.

We didn't get to use the fancy new ZF 6-speed gearbox at the racetrack, but suffice it to say it can deal with big amounts of torque with ease: the new XR8 model performed mid-gear roll ons at speed in what seemed like a scant few seconds. Quick shifts, rapid response, intelligent software? I think I'm in love...

We also tested an extensive range of utes, and even with the live rear axle, the utes are plenty agile, able to pour on the power mid-corner with nary a quiver from the rear end. I suppose traction control as standard on XR utes makes a big difference in the new BF range, but even on unsealed roads they perform remarkably well for big and heavy brutes.

Speaking of unsealed roads, the upgraded ABS systems proved themselves time and again on these dirt roads as I tried to pull away from the other cars, only to have to wash off speed quicksmart. It should also be noted that XR6T and XR8 models now come standard with a performance brake package, which makes a big (and much needed) difference to the way the performance models decelerate.

The new SY Territory has also been given a number of upgrades. Not that it needed it - Territory has dominated the SUV sales charts since it's launch, but features such as dynamic stability control on RWD models and a full colour reverse camera in the Ghia (and optional in other models) will certainly attract the attention of customers looking for a new SUV.

Conclusion

There will be some readers who may be thinking that the visual changes don't reflect the mechanical upgrades, and to a point they'd be right; it would have been nice to see more differentiation between the BA and BF, as evidenced in the new FPV range.

But at the end of the day, the proof's in the pudding - give the thing a drive and you'll care little for cosmetic discrepancies. The BF Falcon improves on the BA to the point where it may be time to be comparing more expensive European models with the trusty Falcon. Yeah, it's that good.

Now, where did I put the keys to that 2006 model 6-speed GT...

Pros:

Cons:


  • Smashing 6-speed auto
  • Smooth ride & handling
  • Good roadholding
  • Improved engines


  • Fuel efficiency
  • Exterior similar to BA
  • Interior similar to BA

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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