First Drive: BA Ford Fairlane
By Feann Torr
In 1967 Ford launched the ZA Fairlane. It was longer than
the standard Falcon of the time, and is credited with pioneering
the locally-built long wheelbase (LWB) vehicle segment.
Despite the Fairlane's history, it is the Statesman - of
arch-nemesis car maker Holden - that sits atop the LWB prestige
car throne: Holden sells about 600 Staters per month, while
the AU model Fairlane averages 200.
While Ford is the first to admit that much of the local LWB
luxury car market has been poached by 4WDs - luxury or otherwise
- the Blue Oval aims to take back a significant share of the
prestige Aussie car market with a fresh new BA Fairlane range.
And, after punting the new Fairlane through the Barossa in
South Australia, it's clear that Ford is very serious about
its new-for-2003 LWB vehicle.
"The BA version represents nearly 40 years of improving
that [Fairlane] concept and is the finest example we have
yet produced," said Ford Australia President Geoff Polites
at the car's launch. "Building on the extensive values
we engineered into the Falcon range, the BA Fairlane range
redefines the term prestige car."
And Polites ain't half wrong either. Sure, the thing steers
well (more on that later) and has a supple ride, but Ford
has addressed customer concerns about the styling of the AU
Fairlane, spending roughly $35 million dollars on the new
Exterior design head-honcho Graham Wadsworth had plenty to
say about the look of the new Fairlane: "We listened
long and hard to customer concerns and worked extremely hard
to provide them with a car they would justifiably be proud
"We're confident the substantial design work we've performed
on the BA Fairlane has created a prestige car that clearly
defines it as a status symbol."
The new look is fairly subtle, though very agreeable to the
eye, with lots of new sheet metal adorning the rear end. One
of the less obvious, but more important aspects of the new
car's appearance is its lower stance. This gives it a more
purposeful look -- like that of a German luxo barge -- and
the wheels fill out the arches tastefully.
The convoy of Fairlane's
a few heads in and around Adelaide
"It's so important to get the car sitting right and
that's something I'm confident we've achieved. The BA Fairlane
hugs the road.
"You can't over emphasise that point. The relationship
between the rocker and the floor has to be absolutely as tight
as you can get it," enthused Wadsworth, who worked in
Germany for BMW before he moved to Ford Australia.
"We've made it a much more purposeful looking car. It
looks sportier, more powerful and much more athletic."
Speaking of athletic, the Fairlane range now stretches to
three: The Fairlane Ghia, LTD and the new G220, which has
more responsive handling and a sporty look, designed to appeal
to a younger demographic.
When questioned on the likelihood of an HSV-inspired Ford
Performance Vehicles LWB model (packing at least 260 if not
290 kilowatts of V8 'Boss' power), Ford Pres Geoff Polites
said such a vehicle isn't in the pipeline, but not completely
out of the question.
While the car's freshly dry-cleaned suit is somewhat restrained,
with the rear end getting most of the new-look treatment (albeit
with the Falcon's brake lights), differences to the BA Falcon
include a wider grille (with trademark horizontal bars), unique
wheels, new rear end and 3/4 panels, new deck lid and new
bumpers (aprons) fore and aft.
Vice president of product development at Ford, Trevor Worthington,
described it as a "look of craftsmanship," and we'd
have to agree. At the very least it's an improvement over
the outgoing AU-designated Fairlanes, and at best a civilised
and sophisticated-looking prestige car.
Step inside the new range of Fairlane's however, and that
sophistication takes another step up. "The Fairlane interior
generates a feel of precision, quality, comfort and driving
pleasure," said Ford Interior Design Manager Marcus Hotblack.
The Fairlane Ghia comes standard with a reverse sensing system,
premium audio with 6-disc in-dash CD, dual zone climate control,
supremely comfy leather seats and woodgrain trim.
There's also an intelligent safety system, including collapsible
pedals, ABS, passenger and driver airbags, side airbags, mobile
phone presenter (with wiring) and if you like you can even
ask for the fancy DVD system and Sat Nav to be installed (standard
There are worse places to
be than in a Fairlane
Next up, the G220 gets the same package as the Ghia, but
with 17-inch Elegance alloy wheels, ebony headlight bezels
with unique lens and redline leather seats with warm charcoal
perforated leather inserts among other things.
Lastly, the top-shelf LTD gets the same items as the Ghia,
but some seriously impressive rear seats, bolstered with leather
right to doors edge for an almost couch-style rear bench.
An electric sunroof also makes the cut, as do leather seats
with LTD emblems, 10-way adjustable driver and front passenger
seats, leather wrapped Sequential Sports Shift with LTD emblem
and electrochromic (auto dimming) rear view vision mirrors
to name just a few.
Electrically adjustable leather seats - that are suitably
plush, without being too suffocating - ensure the already
good driving position can be tailored for a myriad of body
sizes, and the positioning of the wheel and gear shifter (autos
only at this stage) makes for pleasantly relaxed ergonomics.
Oh, and there's absoutely acres of room, front and back,
The adjustable pedals (also on BA Falcon) proved a welcome
addition, and prodding the throttle on the Fairlane Ghia,
the entry-level model if you like, quickly transmits plenty
of torque (up to 380 Newtons) from the refined and smooth-revving
4.0-litre, 182kW straight six-cylinder engine.
Whether in auto mode or the fancy tip-tronic sports shift,
all three Fairlane models felt very spritely on the road,
and had no problems efficiently overtaking hay-loaded trucks
and meandering hatchbacks.
It was strange, because although I was acutely aware of driving
around a number of heavy LWB vehicles (ranging from 1770 to
1865kg) measuring almost two metres wide and more than five
metres in length, they certainly didn't feel that way.
This is testament to the excellent tuning job the Ford white-coats
have done with the suspension, which incorporates the tasty
Control Blade IRS (independent rear suspension), and the way
the new cars handle is in stark contrast to their massive
The Ghia and LTD models had great turn in, which allowed
you to approach corners at much higher speeds than you'd otherwise
think for a car of this size. They changed direction at speed
without exhibiting any laziness, which was unexpected, though
Ford's new Fairlane is now
a serious contender
While the BA Fairlane's ride lower than their AU brethren,
the general ride and road feel of all vehicles was impressive,
soaking up lumps and bumps with aplomb - just like a prestige
Of course, the longer wheelbase helps here, but it shows
that Ford has worked hard on getting the damping, rebound
and spring rates spot on. The interior is solidly damped against
outside noise too, making for a relaxed and easygoing journey.
For me, the pick of the bunch was easily the G220, which
packs Ford's 3-valve, 5.4-litre single overhead camshaft V8
mill. With some 470Nm on offer @ 3250rpm, sinking the boot
was an absolute joy, resulting in a smooth surge of acceleration
that tenderly pushes you into the cushy seat backs.
Coupled with a lovely automatic gearbox, the 220kW engine
(which also ships with the LTD model) had no problems hauling
the G220 about, and combined with a sportier suspension tune
than the other two Fairlane variants and larger 17-inch alloy
wheels, the G220 ate up the corners with glee, and wasn't
too fussed with the less-than-perfect blacktop of the Barossa
Valley (read: pot holes the size of Texas) either.
Weight transfer when quickly changing directions was commendable,
and really, if it's a drivers car you're after, then you can't
go wrong with the next generation of Fairlanes, and the G220
in particular. They really do offer a great sense of control
and won't protest one iota when pushed (relatively) hard.
It's interesting to note that Ford had essentially invented,
and then dominated the locally-built prestige LWB segment
for 30 years, but then lost the plot (to put it nicely), allowing
Holden to move in and dominate.
But with the arrival of the new BA Fairlane range, and the
exciting new G220 in particular, the Holden vs. Ford war is
going to be anything but civilised...
Ford is hoping to lower the average age of its Fairlane customers
from 56.9 years old to 52.7, and the G220 is the tool for
the job. Ford estimates that some 25 per cent of BA Fairlane's
sold will be of the G220 variety, though after driving it,
and judging by the booming XR range of Falcons, we reckon
it'll be an even higher percentage.
There are a few sour points to the new Fairlane range, most
of them based around interior materials used and the lack
of a techno-cool twin-screen DVD system (a la Caprice), but
if first impressions are anything to go by, Holden better
Fairlane Ghia: $54,950
Fairlane G220: $62,270