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Road Test: Ford FG Falcon XR6 Turbo

Review by Feann Torr - 3/July/2008

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo reviewIn six years the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo has done what most iconic performance cars take decades to do.

Ford's critically acclaimed turbocharged 6-cylinder sports sedan has developed a cult status like few other locally made cars, having won the respect of jaded journalists and Joe public alike.

Not surprisingly there's a lot riding on the new generation FG model Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo.

With a new look, new interior, new chassis, and a fettled engine with a lot more herbs than before, the XR6 Turbo looks pretty good on paper.

It's got an 'overboost' feature that momentarily delivers supercar levels of acceleration, tempered by an upgraded stability control system and a range of new safety features like a reinforced passenger safety cell.

But will this be enough to drag buyers away from the Holden Commodore and resurgent Toyota Aurion?

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Drive
Engine
Exterior
Interior

Make: Ford
Model: FG Falcon XR6 Turbo
Price: $46,990
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Engine: 4.0-litre, Inline 6-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: 4 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), front side (x2)), ABS, EBD, DSC
Car Supplier: Ford Australia

Drive: 4/5

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo is one of the best
Australian cars ever built, with refinement,
power and performance in equal measure

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Generating 270kW from its turbocharged I6
engine, the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo is ballistic

Engine: Ford 4.0-litre Inline 6-cylinder Turbo

The longitudinally mounted 3984cc inline 6-cylinder engine features aluminium alloy cylinder heads and a cast iron engine block. Chain driver dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) work with 24-valves (4-valves per cylinder) that feature variable valve timing. With a turbocharger and air-to-air intercooler the engine has a low 8.8:1 compression ratio.

The engine can take 91, 95 and 98 RON petrol, when filling its 68 litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption: 11.7L/100km
CO2 Emissions: N/A

Max Power: 270kW @ 5250rpm
Max Torque: 533Nm @ 2000rpm
0-100km/h: 5.6 seconds
Max Speed: 240km/h

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

The new FG Ford Falcon is smarter, more stylish
looking car than the BF Falcon model it replaces

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

The interior has truck loads of space and
the cabin has a high quality feel about it

Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo review

As a driver's car the rear-wheel drive Falcon XR6
Turbo is a little heavy, but remarkably involving

Ballistic performance and high levels of refinement? In an Aussie car??

Meet the all-new FG Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo, which defies expectations and builds on its iconic status as one of the best locally made cars on the market.

It's true that the new Falcon is not as dramatically different to look at as Holden's VE Commodore when that first bowed a couple of years ago, but if this is the Falcon's only failing then it's on the right track.

In terms of driver involvement, engineering sophistication and sheer driving pleasure, the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo is unmatched in this category.

While it's turbocharged 6-cylinder engine has been thoroughly upgraded to provide even more thrills, it feels as though the entire vehicle - including the engine - has spent the last four years training in Germany. 

There's a distinctly sophisticated, almost prestigious feel about this car that's discernible from the moment you shift it into gear and push the accelerator pedal.

First we conducted the 'daily grind' test and in commuter traffic the XR6 Turbo feels surprisingly refined. It rides smoothly over pronounced bumps and most pot holes thanks to new German-sourced shock absorbers from Sachs, and it's also quieter at cruising speeds than both its major rival and its predecessor.

Indeed, the new suspension array is one of the new Falcon's most impressive aspects, giving the car a very sophisticated and refined feel as it navigates suburban streets and highways alike. Together with a new steering system the big Ford drives more like a European import than a locally made automobile.

Everything about the new model is smoother, quieter, and more progressive and this results in a more satisfying drive, even mundane situations.

Doing the grocery shopping and driving to the markets on a Saturday morn then battling for a car park was far less stressful in this vehicle than a lot of others thanks to a best-in-class turning circle of 11 metres (and a reversing camera), but part of this also has to do it's rear-wheel drive nature.

It makes the car feel grounded and responsive and even at low speeds the car imparts a feeling of solidity and self-assuredness.

There are small touches that make it easier to drive too: the ergonomic cabin, the one-touch indicators, the updated and more precise cruise control and the high tech centre console with easy-to-use menu system.

Comfort levels are very good in the new Falcon and the XR6 Turbo's interior is fairly sporty which is just as well. Ford Australia's most talked-about car is also one of its most powerful.

At it's core is one of the most refined engines ever built in this country. The smooth 6-cylinder turbo engine has a level of cultivation that would have BMW engineers pointing and nodding.

This versatile sports sedan is more than happy to cruise around town at a relaxed pace or be an everyday transporter and will impress its passengers with a level of civility that will shock (and secretly please) the burnout brigade but will also completely blow your socks off when you head for the open road.

At low speeds it's quiet and refined and easily shifts the Ford Falcon's considerable bulk, but make no mistake, this car is velvet sledgehammer.

Put simply, this car feels like a jet fighter using its afterburners when the turbo works its mechanical magic. It can charge forward with such controlled fury it's making me grin just thinking about it.

Crack the throttle and the turbo spools up remarkably quickly - in about the time it takes to think of an offensive but apt curse word - and proceeds to vigorously compel more and more air and fuel into the engine's half dozen combustion chambers, which then fire up the rear wheels to impressive effect.

From standstill the car takes off with incredible force, yet it's all remarkably smooth.

The rear wheels often end up sparring with the traction and stability control systems, but because these driving aids have been upgraded and improved significantly over the previous BF Ford Falcon, their interruption is barely felt. 

All you feel is jet engine-like power that gently squeezes you into the sporty seat cushions during take-off. The 6-speed automatic transmission is sourced from ZF, a German gearbox company, and it deals with the XR6 Turbo's tyre shredding 533 Newton metres of torque with such ease and control that you rarely need to manually override the gearchanges.

Compared to the previous XR6 Turbo, the new FG model has a more powerful surge of acceleration, yet the power delivery is smoother and easier to control, which is reassuring when you find a winding stretch of road.

Adding to the FG Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo's civilised muscle is its new suspension system, which like most of the new Falcon's features is more involving than ever before.

The way the car corners is very confidence inspiring: the nose turns very positively with none of the understeer that affects front-wheel drive cars when driven hard.

The new virtual pivot front suspension, whose components are made from aluminium and are 22kg lighter than the previous XR6 Turbo's, goes a long way to giving the front end improved feel and turn-in, while the damping and spring rates are likewise impressive. The result is low levels of body roll and smooth lateral transitions as the car tips into corners and the suspension loads up.

Communication between car and driver is excellent, and is arguably one of the best improvements made to the new Falcon.

The sharp steering and well sorted suspension are followed up by the Ford Falcon's ability to hold its line and track keenly through a corner. The way the car's rear end feels planted when gunning out of corners is hugely satisfying, and though the XR6 Turbo could do with tyres wider than its 245/40 R18s for more rear grip, the dynamic stability control (DSC) does a good job of steadying the rear end under hard acceleration.

The steering rack rattle that occurs when the front wheels jolt over bumps and ruts mid-corner (we complained about it during our first drive while testing early production versions of the FG Falcon) is still there but seems to have been toned down somewhat.

Possessed of strong brakes - often one of the less impressive aspects of large Aussie sports cars - the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo has powerful and progressive deceleration which makes the vehicle feel a lot quicker into corners than its predecessor.

All told, the XR6 Turbo is hugely rewarding to drive, with precise steering, confidence inspiring suspension, much improved brakes and an engine that's refined, responsive, and delivers face-melting acceleration.

Never before has refinement and raw power been so perfectly balanced in an Australian car. The Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo is an impressive feat of local engineering; a marvel, a delight, a feast for the senses, and one of the most rewarding rear-wheel drive sports sedans on the road.

Engine: 4.5/5

Arguably the Falcon XR6 Turbo's most important aspect, and the key to its performance, is the turbo straight six engine that hums away underneath its sleek bonnet.

With 533Nm of torque on tap from 2000rpm all the way up to 4750rpm, the XR6 Turbo has huge reserves of torque across a wide range of engine speeds, which improves drivability and means that you've got easy access to super-nova power whenever you need it.

It will accelerate from zero to 100km/h in about 5.6 seconds, which is diabolically fast. From standstill and while moving the vehicle is dead set weapon, however it did irritate me that pushing the accelerator pedal right down past the detent forces a gear drop -- even in the tiptronic sportshif mode. When you want to wind out 2nd gear at full force and the car wants to drop to 1st gear it can be a bit annoying.

The engine sounds very purposeful as well, and though it's fairly quiet at low revs it still has a certain low frequency presence that reminds you that you are driving a high-tech sports car that knows no fear.

It's a very refined engine, easily one of the smoothest turbocharged engines on the market and is almost on even footing with BMW's twin turbo inline 6-cylinder engine. Yep, it's that good.

Like the previous engine, the 4.0-litre mill has 4-valves per cylinder but gets a new Garrett turbocharger developed specifically for this engine. The new turbine hikes boost pressure from 6 psi to 10 psi (0.4 to 0.7 bar), while a larger intercooler is also added to improve output. 

Like most modern turbo engines, the XR6 Turbo gets an overboost function that can increase turbo pressure "by up to 10 per cent for several seconds, increasing available engine torque for improved performance," says David Mitchell, the powertrain development manager at Ford Australia. Suffice it to say, overtaking is never a problem for this flying Falcon.

Some of the other changes to the engine include a new air induction system for better flow, a higher compression ratio of 8.8:1 and an improved variable camshaft system which increases fuel efficiency at lower revs.

The turbo Falcon gobbles up kilometres on the freeway without burning too much fuel, as consumption does drop fairly low during regulated cruising at 100km/h (the turbo isn't initiated at lower engine speeds).

Ford claims average consumption of 11.7 litres per 100km, which is probably what we would have achieved were it not for the hundreds of kilometres of winding alpine roads that beckoned us like moths to the flame. As such, we averaged 13.2L/100km average at the end of an 8 day test.

Exterior: 4/5

Ford has been accused of designing a car that appears too similar to its predecessor, and these accusations aren't entirely without merit. But that doesn't make the new Falcon an ugly car.

From where I stand, the XR6 Turbo is a good looking automobile. It's a modern take on the Falcon theme, with solid proportions and a smoother, slightly sleeker profile than the last Ford Falcon design. Drawing parallels with the way it drives, the new design communicates the idea of a more sophisticated large car.

The Falcon XR6 Turbo is 25mm longer than its predecessor measuring 4.97 metres from bumper to bumper, has more upright door windows than before and is slightly wider at 1.868 metres, all of which equates to more interior space.

Sitting on angular 18-inch alloy wheels or optional 19-inch rims, the XR6 Turbo gets the aggressive 'XR' body kit, comprising lowered body side skirts, front and rear aprons and a rear spoiler.

The front end features XR-specific 'double-drop' headlights with a slimmer design than the previous model XR6 Turbo, and new fog lights with chrome bezels look much better due to their reduced size. A larger lower air dam also contributes to the performance look.

While it does present a more conservative image than its main rivals, the SV6 and SS Holden Commodores, the European influences add to its character very nicely, particularly the brake light clusters and low lying character lines that adorn the cars flanks.

Interior: 4.5/5

Getting into an Aussie car after driving Asian and European imports is sort of like coming home. 

Spacious and comfortable is the order of the day and you've got plenty of room to move. Everything is where it should be, yet there is an unmistakable sense of newness about the car too.

Like almost everything else about the new FG Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo, the level of quality and sophistication in the interior has been lifted. From the centre console and high resolution 7-inch colour LCD screen, to the door handles and even the electric mirror adjusters, the new Falcon has a distinguished look and feel.

While there are a range of 'big' new features, such as the easy-to-use centre console and the new HMI or human machine interface, the improved head room, the bigger boot or the new LCD screen that augments the instrument panel with a digital speed readout, it is the smaller touches that take the FG Falcon to a new level.

It starts with things like the smooth feel of the handbrake as you wrench it northwards and the improved tactility of the various buttons, dials and switches. The quality of materials has improved and it gives the XR6 Turbo a more sophisticated feel. I know, I'm sounding like a broken record with the overuse of the word 'sophistication' but there's no better way to describe it.

As well as the usual MP3 player jack , there's also iPod integration where you can plug in your iPod and scroll through play lists with the steering wheel buttons which is very cool.

Seeing as the XR6 Turbo is a high performance model, the blue-lit instrument cluster is very fitting and looks sensational at night. Alloy pedals are a nice touch and intriguingly patterned cloth trim is likewise sporty and extends from the seats to the doors inserts.

Interior space is generous, with lots of front and rear seat room, and even for taller passengers rear seat leg room is never an issue. There's 535 litres of boot space, which is another best in class statistic for the Falcon and big enough to fit the weeks fruit and veg on top of several large outdoor plant pots.

Our XR6 Turbo press car was optioned with a reversing camera ($500) and reverse sensing system (also $500) that came in rather handy, but standard features like climate control, CD stereo, electric windows and mirrors, automatic headlights, floor carpets, and an electric drivers seat with lumbar adjust give it plenty of appeal.

While stability control, ABS and four front airbags are also standard, side curtain airbags that span the length of the car are optional. It probably should be a standard feature to have six airbags, but when you're spending close to $50,000, what's another $300 for extra curtain airbags?

Overall: 4.25/5

It's one of the most powerful sports saloons on the planet, yet you won't find it anywhere else in the world. This uniquely Australian sports car has come of age, with improvements in virtually every respect.

It's got thunderous power when you want it, yet still retains the FG Falcon's sophisticated manner and smooth ride. It involves the driver when piloted down twisting, turning, demanding roads and satisfies the soul like never before, yet doesn't feel out of its element in rush hour traffic either.

Ford has built a world-class in the new Falcon XR6 Turbo, and if only the Blue Oval could find an export program the rest of the world could see how good this product is.

Sadly the XR6 Turbo won't be around forever. In 2011 Ford will swap over to a smaller 3.5-litre V6 engine - yet another reason to get one of these iconic turbo Falcons.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Mad Turbo Performance
  • Handling & Suspension
  • Modern & Roomy Interior
  • Fuel Consumption
  • Weight
  • Space Saver Spare Wheel

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

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