Highly competent sports sedan
Ford’s sporting XR versions of the Falcon have been a huge New Zealand success story, and point to the clear differences between our market and Australia. Falcons, of course, have been longtime winners for the blue oval brand, and today more than half of Ford’s New Zealand model line-up comprises BF Falcons, Fairmonts and LTDs.
Eight of the 23 BF models on offer are XRs, and it’s these specialist versions that interest Kiwi buyers most. In Australia XR saloons have been gaining in popularity, rising from around 20 percent of all Falcon sales in 2002 to more than 27 percent. Yet this pales against the penetration of XR models in New Zealand. Last year 57 percent of all new Falcon sales were XRs and an even higher eight out of every 10 Falcon utility buyers chose XR models. In Australia, most Falcons are lower specification, mainstream versions, attracting huge volume in the fleet and family car sectors.
The performance orientation of the XR is an interesting slant on the biggest high-volume car sold in New Zealand. Last year the Falcon was New Zealand’s third best-selling model, scooping 32 percent of the large car class. Despite that, the Ford was outgunned by Holden Commodore that commanded a hefty 41 percent of the big car action. Still, Ford had every reason to be pleased with the 4547 new Falcons sold locally, a total that included a healthy 2597 XR sedans. In addition, of the 775 Falcon utes that found new homes, 613 were XRs.
The range received a boost in the closing stages of 2005 with the arrival of the BF series, the 22nd model designation for the Falcon in 45 years. The BF was a fine-tuning of the BA, with minimal changes, and to be strictly accurate about total model introductions, there have been seven generations of Falcon since the XK series in September 1960. Since then, well over three million of them have been made.
Initially New Zealand clung to the British-sourced Zephyr/Zodiac big car range, and the Falcon wasn’t imported here in any significant numbers until later in the 1960s. Curiously, the new Falcon introduced in 1966 was labelled the XR series, although this is not to be confused with the sports XR variants that came much later. Not surprisingly, most current demand is for the 4.0-litre Barra, double overhead cam straight six Falcon XR, with the XR6 accounting for more than all the other XR versions combined.
Last year, 1877 XR6s were sold here, but the XR6T turbo we’ve been evaluating also attracted 294 buyers. Sales of the beefy
5.4-litre V8-engined XR8 reached 426. The Barra 245T is an appealing alternative to the V8. The 480Nm of torque at a low 2000 revs is only slightly down on the XR8’s 500Nm at 4000rpm, and the on-road differences are negligible. When it comes to outright power, the turbo six produces 245kW at 5250rpm compared to 260kW at 5250rpm for the Boss 260 V8. A six percent power deficit for the XR6 turbo is neither here nor there when dealing with these high numbers.
According to official fuel figures, the V8 uses around 11 percent more petrol than the XR6T, but most XR buyers aren’t overly concerned about saving juice at the pumps. The temptation to use that delicious power inevitably comes at a cost. Variable camshaft timing and dual knock sensors have added further refinement to the turbo six, an engine that never seems to run out of energy. Not only is the power unit responsive from remarkably low revs, but also it really gets the Ford cracking right through the operating range.
Even better, the power unit has the new flexibility of the six-speed ZF auto transmission, although with so much power and torque, the four-speed auto found in lesser Falcons would hardly be a negative. The multi-speed transmission has a tendency to hunt up and down ratios, partly masking the outstanding smoothness of the overall operation. Off the line, this turbo Falcon reaches 100km/h 6.2 seconds. Mash the accelerator to the floor at 50km/h and the car reaches 100 in less than three seconds. At 100km/h in top, the XR6T is pulling little more than 1700 revs and literally raring to go.
BF improvements have endowed the XR6 with new-found refinement. Under full throttle, the car is six decibels quieter than its predecessor, and three decibels lower during part throttle. Better insulation makes the BF XR as quiet as a BA Fairmont Ghia. An absorptive headlining reduces reflected cabin noise while structural improvements diminish harshness, helping make this one quiet car. Braking is uprated on the XR and highly effective as befits a performance machine. Larger rear discs are fitted and all BF Falcons now haver cornering brake control.
Pedal pressures on the test car were over-sensitive and required a measure of caution. Traction control and dynamic stability control are exclusive to the XR6T and XR8 and the control blade independent rear suspension is specially set up for XR. DSC combines the upgraded ABS and traction control systems, and intervenes later on the XR6T and XR8. The car is quick, safe and predictable with progressive rear-drive characteristics that make it fun to drive.
Despite the size of the vehicle, the XR6T enjoys being thrown about and always rewards with its solid performance. Sure the test car had done the rounds and taken the pounds, but the intermittent creaking, clunking and groaning from the suspension and whooshing from the power steering was a touch worrying, as was the low ground clearance. Be wary of damaging the ground-hugging front bumper assembly and prominent driving lights that Kiwi drivers like to use, even in clear, daylight conditions.
The XR benefits from the positives of all Falcon BF models – like the quiet, easy door action, the cruise and audio controls on the leather-bound steering wheel and easy lift bonnet with twin gas struts. There is even a good view of the turbo engine, a rare treat these days. Good, supportive front seats, an adjustable rake and reach steering column and a fine driving position all contribute
to this competent package. Silver trim on the interior door pulls and centre console, suede trim on door linings and electric operation for the driver’s seat are standard.
At $57,990 for either the six-speed manual or auto, the XR6T presents an impressive, good value, high performance package. Yet if you don’t need all that performance, the more modest 190kW XR6 is $7000 cheaper and still has the snappy five-spoke alloy rims with 135/45R17 tyres. The Falcon experience comes from as little as $44,790 for the XT four-speed auto which, like the XR range, is a lot of metal for the money.