Almost from the first moment we drove it there was never any doubt about which would be our Star Car for 2002.
We'd been a little underwhelmed by the photographs of the BA Falcon, especially the XR high-performance models.
Gone was the spectacular quad headlight look of the AU. In its place was a much more conservative, much more discreet and conventional headlights set-up with the lights behind clear covers instead of in exposed, eye-lidded openings.
The look was much better in-the-metal. During the BA's media launch in Northland we were surprised at just how good the lower-riding XRs looked. In the rear view mirror there were satisfying echoes of Mustang about the front-end styling. And the car had real road presence.
Looks, though, are one thing; behaviour is another. It became clear from the first time I rode as passenger in a BA XR6 Turbo that this was a very special car indeed.
It had real performance, with a near seamless surge of power from low revs. Colin Smith was at the wheel on a section of winding road. It was tight going, the sort of road where the corners are all low-speed and where there are few straight on which you can hit 100km/h, even in a car as powerful as the XR6 Turbo. It wasn't a road on which you'd expect a turbocar to excel. Instead it was the sort of place where turbo lag would usually be a problem.
But with the light-pressure turbo and the Falcon's torquey twin cam six, turbo lag was never a problem.
And the handling appeared faultless, the car pulling high-Gs with ease.
I drove on familiar roads heading back to Auckland. The XR6 Turbo was scintillating, the power always there, the car never caught wanting. And the handling was stunning. The BA is still a big car, but it never feels as big as it is. It seems to shrink around you and - unusually for a 1600kg-plus car - becomes like an extension of the driver, seeming almost to react to your thought processes.
Those impressions were confirmed when we drove an XR6 Turbo on our regular test route.
On our favourite little sequence of tricky bends it was simply brilliant, feeling more like a well-sorted 2.0-litre sports sedan than the big saloon it is.
Steering response is better than the AU's (which wasn't bad anyway), is nicely-weighted and accurate; and the car provides the driver with excellent feel.
Best of all, Ford has achieved such fine handling while retaining a supple ride. The re-designed independent rear suspension helps provide unshakeable grip.
The manual gearbox version is our favoured option, the ratios well-chosen and the gearshift quality good.
Add in the usual Falcon attributes of excellent cabin and luggage space, good comfort levels, enough standard equipment and a competitive $56,400 sticker price and you have a very appealing package.
With the boosted six developing 240kW of maximum power and 450Nm of peak torque (available in a generous band between 2000 and 4500rpm), Ford has rewritten the definition of big six performance, carrying it into high-output V8 country.
Best of all, though is the way the turbomotor performs; and Ford's engineers have done the motor proud by building a vice-free chassis for it.
No other car we drove during 2002 impressed us as much as the BA Falcon XR6 Turbo. It's the best car the Blue Oval brand's Australian division has yet produced.
Now bring on the XR8.