The new FG Falcon showcases Australian car
manufacturing talent - in terms of its engineering and development, the Falcon
is the ‘most Australian’ of the cars built in this country. But unfortunately,
the FG Falcon also showcases why the Australian car industry is currently in so
With only one important exception, the design
priorities of Ford Australia are simply not those of the majority of buyers.
For this new model, Ford spent an enormous amount
of money developing a new front suspension. And the FG Falcon handles extremely
well - there’s bags of grip, and the electronic stability control is also very
But you have to ask - why did they bother?
The previous model Falcon already handled fine:
the current model’s improvements are completely wasted in 99.99 per cent of
driving. In fact, it’s fair to say that you’ll only find the handling
improvements when you’re pushing hard enough to be immediately booked by the
police for dangerous driving...
Ford Australia also spent an enormous amount
developing a newly styled interior. Unfortunately, it’s a design that breaks no
new ground – in fact, it is demonstrably well behind contemporary best practice.
There is nothing – absolutely nothing – in the
cabin that is outstanding design.
But it’s easy to find clear deficiencies: the
bottle holders integrated into the front door pockets are hopeless (and, believe
it or not, the rear doors don’t even have any pockets!); the fuel and coolant
gauges are tiny and are buried in the lower corners of the instrument panel
(people with poor close-up vision will barely be able to see these gauges); as
with the previous Falcon, the speedo and tacho use cluttered markings - the best
evidence of this is how the gauges are much easier to read at night when the
awkward colours and details are no longer visible; neither the glovebox nor the
centre console box are cooled by the air-conditioner – something now the case in
many much cheaper cars; and a decorative silver stripe across the dash badly
reflects sunshine into the front occupants’ eyes.
And perhaps it was because of the dark colours of
the interior trim in the test $39,990 XR6, but the cabin simply doesn’t feel
airy and spacious – instead it is enclosing.
It’s not just perception either - some dimensions
are actually quite tight. For example, across the driver’s knees, we measured a
width of just 55cm. That’s narrower than you’ll find in many cars with much
smaller external dimensions.
But the biggest indication of Ford’s wacky design
priorities can be seen in the car’s fuel consumption.
In a mix of urban and country kilometres we
measured 11.8 – 12.1 litres/100km. In pure city driving, the consumption was in
the 12.5 – 13.5 litres/100 range; on the highway we saw 10 litres/100km. (All
figures with the air con running.)
To put this a different way, in typical driving
conditions, just 440 kilometres shows on the trip meter before the low fuel
warning chimes and it’s time to again fill the 68 litre tank...
(Note also that the dashboard fuel economy display
of the test car was always optimistic.)
If performance was scintillating, there might be
some excuse for the thirst. But in response and acceleration, the Toyota Aurion
feels stronger. And of course that makes sense: the Aurion has more power than
the Falcon (200kW versus 195kW), weighs less (1590kg versus 1704kg) and has a
6-speed auto trans as standard versus the Falcon’s 5-speed auto (a 6-speed auto
is a $1500 option on the Falcon).
And in our testing, the Aurion also got clearly
better fuel economy than the Falcon – see
Toyota Aurion AT-X.
In fact, the only area that the priorities of Ford
and the public really seem to coincide is in safety. The FG Falcon has gained a
5-star crash test result and with that excellent standard stability control, is
also more likely to avoid crashes.
And it’s not just the interior design, thirst and
performance - the Falcon has still more negatives.
Firstly, the steering. The Falcon uses steering
that has a very slow ratio around centre. The ‘sneeze factor’ (you can sneeze,
yank on the steering wheel, and not go off the road) is large: drive along at
100 km/h and wriggle the wheel and nothing much happens. However, the corollary
of that is it’s hard to judge where you are when entering a country road bend,
especially one of gentle radius. You tend to turn-in with several bites of
steering, then adjust steering angle mid-corner.
This steering behaviour is much less noticeable in
city conditions – there the variable ratio and tight turning circle make the
car feel wieldy and responsive.
The air-conditioning in the test car was marginal.
In ambient temps of about 30 degrees C we had the air con working flat-out, and
often needed to set it to recirculate in order to pull the temp down
sufficiently. The fact that the air con turns off for 4-5 seconds when large
throttle angles are used doesn’t help things. (Unlike some cars, the switch-off
of the compressor is immediately noticeable.)
Finally on the list of negatives, build quality of
the test car was nothing special. The paint had clear ‘orange peel’, the margins
(gaps between adjoining panels) were not even, and the doors shut with a hollow
So apart from handling and crash safety, is there
nothing good about this car? Well, there are some unambiguous positives.
The LCD positioned in the centre of the instrument
panel is a model of clarity. It’s easy to read and can display a wide variety of
selected information, including a digital speedo. The range of data means that
almost anyone will be able to configure it to show something that is useful to
Another good feature is the facility that allows
user-adjustment of a variety of body computer functions (eg whether the horn
beeps when locking the car, when the interior lights switch off, etc).
The cruise control also works very effectively. It
digitally displays the selected speed and its ‘resume’ function is beautifully
smooth. The selected speed is also well maintained – to the extent that the
gearbox will down-change to provide engine braking when descending hills.
The seats are very comfortable. The backrests of
the front seats initially feel too firm (and the head restraints are very
firm!) but the seats maintain their comfort, even after hours in the saddle. The
rear seats are also very good, with a lot of under-thigh support. Rear foot- and
knee-room are both excellent, although tall people will find their heads very
close to the roof lining.
NVH – noise, vibration, harshness – are very well
suppressed. When hot, the engine starts with a loud, gruff noise, and on some
bitumen surfaces the large 245/45 tyres are noisy. However, in most driving, the
car’s refinement is exemplary.
Finally, the boot is large. Ford persists with a
design that has a deep depression in the middle - that is, the floor isn’t flat. This
approach suits suitcases of a specific size, and pretty well all soft bags. The
rear seat folds 60/40 but leaves a stepped floor.
With the exception of crash safety and the
electronic stability control system, the FG Falcon reflects the design
priorities of a different era. In short, Ford apparently believes
balls-to-the-wall handling to be more important than fuel economy, and in-cabin
styling to be more important than practicality. Simply, the money could have
been much better spent.
New engine options – including possibly a diesel – are apparently
coming, but as the car stands right now, it’s the epitome of a botched
Falcon XR6 was hired for this story.