It's a new sort of Fairmont, the BA.
Not just because of its US-made, quad camshaft V8. You could never accuse the old 5.0-litre pushrod Ford V8 of being sluggish, but the DOHC unit brings a new crispness to Ford eight cylinder performance.
Nor is it because the new car has a much more European and understated ambience than the brash AU.
No it's because Ford has taken the W out of the Fairmont.
W? The W-word anyway. At least the W-word is what a Ford staffer responded with when I said I'd found the BA to be a new breed of Fairmont.
W-word? Wallow. That's the word the Ford staffer didn't want to say aloud.
Wallow was a Fairmont trait of old if you were pushing the car hard. The Fairmont has always been intended as the luxury Falcon, its suspension tuned for ride quality than handling agility.
Now that may not be a bad thing, depending on your point of view. If motorway cruising and comfort concern you more than the ability to sprint along a winding, rising and falling country road you might have been happy with older model Fairmonts.
But Ford has for long offered a Tickford suspension package to smarten-up the Fairmont's handling while retaining the luxury accoutrements that are absent from the comparatively-spartan XR8 sports sedan.
We once drove an AU Fairmont fitted with a body kit and Tickford suspension. And that's what it was like, an XR8 with a drawing room interior.
Its drawback was that it rode a little too harshly - not jarringly-hard, just a little too harshly.
Now what if you could have a Fairmont that offered first-rate handling without sacrificing the model's traditionally-good ride?
Well, you can. The BA offers both. Neither ride nor handling is traded off against the other, though the suspension is subjectively a little firmer than you might expect in a Fairmont. But there's none of the Tickford-equipped Fairmont harshness here.
And, also subjectively, the Ford is a little better balanced ride-wise than Holden's Calais equivalent.
We went straight from the Fairmont and into a Calais - albeit a supercharged V6 rather than a V8 - but the Holden's ride feels a little lumpier, a little less sophisticated than the Ford's.
We did a lot of kilometres in the Fairmont, using it to travel to Feilding.
Initially we were wondering whether we might have been better to hang on to the Commodore SS we'd been driving the previous week. The SS seemed just the horse for the course with its lovely V8 burble (Holden have re-tuned the exhaust to get more V8 sound), the motor's lusty performance, the good chassis, the supportive seats and the balanced trade-off between handling sharpness and ride comfort.
The Fairmont? Well it was a Fairmont and my view of the car was coloured by a brief drive of a V8 along a winding Northland road during the BA's press launch last year.
It had felt nose-heavy, a little lumbering, maybe wallowy. But I'd just stepped out of an XR6 and the XR6 BA is probably the sweetest-handling and best-balanced Australian sports sedan yet.
That my initial judgement was wide of the mark became apparent the longer I spent at the BA Fairmont's wheel on the dive to the Manawatu and back.
First things, first, though. Getting comfortable in the BA Fairmont is easy. The driving position is excellent and we could get as low as we like and get the steering wheel at just the right height. The power-adjustable seat helps here.
The steering wheel itself - with the obligatory luxury car touches of cruise control and sound system levers - is superb. It has a small diameter, a nicely-thick leather-wrapped rim and is excellent to use.
The seating position and the steering wheel make you feel instantly at home. As do the fine seats. They seem much-improved over the AU buckets and the test car's leather upholstery added grip to the lateral bolstering.
We think Australian Ford and Holden leather upholstery is the best of the mainstream car ranges, soft and supple and grippy where Japanese leather tends to be shiny and hard and slippy.
Front and rear seat passenger room is excellent - this is a Falcon after all.
Front and side airbags are standard and all five occupants get lap and sash seatbelts. Active safety includes ABS anti-skid brakes and traction control.
The 5.4-litre V8 develops 260kW at 5250mm and peak torque of 500Nm at 4250mm. That means there's plenty of grunt, though the chassis is well up to handling both outputs.
Acceleration is smooth and strong, even at light throttle openings. Hit the gas hard and the V8 breaks into a cammy shriek and the substantial car - kerb weight is around 1750kg - catapults forward with the urgency of a lightweight performance car. It will hit 100km/h from standstill in a shade over seven seconds.
So the performance available is substantial. And we didn't find the Fairmont Ghia unacceptably thirsty. On the brisk cruise south we achieved 24mpg. Pushing it harder on the way home that dropped to 20mpg. We've seen much worse from less powerful cars (fuel economy is not my usual long suit; maybe that's why I never get invited to take part in economy runs).
It was that run home that convinced me of the Ghia's merits. If the XR6 Turbo sets new standards for a big rear-drive Australian sports sedan, the Fairmont Ghia V8 does the same for Aussie luxury four-doors.
We didn't expect it to come anywhere near the XR6 but on the demanding twists and turns of the initial run north from Feilding the car was an absolute revelation.
Its sheer handling prowess belied its weight and its bulk - 4916mm long, 1864mm wide. It turned in crisply and instantly and even in the tightest hairpin corners there was never a hint of running wide at the exit. Nor was there any real oversteer, though the tail will move around a little before the traction control cuts in.
This is tight country where even in a car of this power it's difficult to exceed 100km/h; MX5 sort of country, yet this substantial V8 sedan handled like a 1000kg thoroughbred. And it did so without a harsh ride and without throwing its occupants around. The front seat passenger commented on how smooth the car felt when it was being pushed hard, and she rated the seats and their grippy leather very highly for the support they gave.
The all-round independent suspension - in a Sports state of tune for the Fairmont Ghia - and the wide low-profile tyres combined to provide unshakable roadholding. The tyres are quiet on all bar chip-sealed surfaces.
The four-speed automatic shifts smoothly left to its own devices and reacts instantly to manual commands in the sequential-style mode. A word about this, you shift the lever forward to go down a ratio, pull it back to go back up the gearbox.
The brakes proved excellent, the headlights strong, the windscreen wipers efficient.
The Fairmont was a perfect companion for a long road trip with superb road manners and a brilliant ride.
It was comfortable, quick and very satisfying to drive. Fairmont Ghias, by their very nature are plush - leather, premium sound (the system logical and easy to use even in the absence of a handbook, the latter a common fault in press vehicles), climate control air-conditioning, discreet woodgrain trim - but the BA version proves that plush need not be accompanied by wallowy road manners.
The $65,900 Fairmont Ghia V8 is the new benchmark for Australian luxury sedans and a worthy choice in any company.
Story and pictures by Mike Stock