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The Twenty Year Leap

The new Falcon gets three new sixes and two new V8s!

By Glenn Torrens

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With three new DOHC sixes - including a stunning ball-bearing turbo variant - two new V8s and a new interior, the BA Falcon has the potential to claw back some of its Australian market share. We take a look at what's under the bonnets - there are some real surprises.

The Sixes

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The rumours of a year or so ago were wrong. The Aussie Falcon doesn't score a new 'world' Ford Mondeo or Jaguar V6 of sub-4.0 litre capacity - instead it retains the Australian-designed in-line six that is unique in the Ford corporate cupboard.

The BA Falcon's new engine remains at 4 litres and uses an architecturally similar block, crank and intake manifold but the engines - at last! - embrace contemporary technology by adopting double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The block is also new (finally getting rid of its engine accessory shaft - basically a lobeless camshaft that is a legacy of this engine's pushrod and distributor heritage), weighs less and is stiffer. The oil pump is now driven from the crank. The bore, stroke and rod-length combo is as before.

Twin cams, four valves and VVT are a big step forward for the Falcon, but the technology tweaks will be familiar to anyone who's kept an eye on engine development over the past decade. But what is a stunning surprise is the use of infinitely variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams!

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The engine management system uses electronic controlled throttle (ECT) that is becoming industry standard for its symbiosis with features such as traction control, ABS and cruise. It also looks after idle speed control without the need for a dedicated idle speed bypass. A big plus is the ability to tune throttle response - this can make an especially big contribution to the response and driveability of a well-controlled turbo engine. The cam timing variation is quite substantial - both can advance up to 10 degrees and retard as much as 50 degrees. Having both cams infinitely timed certainly isn't industry standard and we reckon it will allow for greater scope for power development in the future - both as Ford updates during the engine's life and in the aftermarket.

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Ford describes the cam control on its engine as new-generation, with the phasers used on the cams sourced from Aisan in Japan. They are of the vane type - not the previous AU's optional helical type - and are employed for rapid response to cope in what is known as tip-in and tip-out (response at light applications of the throttle). It isn't a simple on-off system that 'kicks-in' a locked amount of change at a certain RPM like the previous Ford system (although the effective dual-resonance intake manifold remains and is switched at 3200rpm). Oil pressure is the VVT's control mechanism (there's an upgraded oil pump downstairs) with decisions made by the ECU.

With a need for new hardware to ride its double bump sticks, Ford selected the roller follower system (in fact the basic geometry of the whole intake system) from its Duratec engine. This was done for three reasons: it was the lowest friction system Ford could find and it offered outstanding durability and performance at high rpm. The fact it was already in Ford's parts supply catalogue is an obvious benefit, too. For Falcon, it was improved with the addition of a clip to hold the lash adjuster to the rocker.

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Ford made the point that the variable valve timing technology is employed in the Falcon engine to pack out the torque curve of the engine and decrease fuel consumption, rather than increase maximum power. (Although of course maintaining a high torque output at high revs will give lots of power - see the first breakout The New Six Against the Rest?.) The four-valve breathing and more stable combustion event thanks to a central spark plug and the extended rev range, not the adoption of VVT, are the keys to the engine's extra 25kW. The cams are forged rather than cast-iron, are hollow for reduced mass and are driven by a single-row timing chain, rather than the previous duplex.

Infinitely variably timed cams allow delayed overlap to offer what is called dynamic internal exhaust gas recirculation for fuel economy benefits and lower emissions. By delaying the exhaust cam's closing during cruise situations, there is some suck-back of exhaust gas during the intake stroke, reducing the volume of the intake charge required for less fuel consumption. Similarly, the 'tuning' of the intake cam to close the valves late reduces pumping losses that also impact on fuel economy.

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With a clean-sheet head design, Ford was able to engineer in a certain degree of swirl and tumble in the intake ports to give what it describes as a good level of turbulence for good driveability at lower engine speeds, something that is critical with its Falcon engine that will - in all seriousness - not very often see the high side of 3000rpm. Ford claims its intake flow characteristics compare with international standards and that a comparison with the 'best around' is very favourable.

Ford worked hard to develop uniform coolant flow around the cylinder head without hot spots. A feature of the water jackets is they run under the exhaust ports and around the spark plugs - in this way, Ford claims, it has achieved very uniform metal temperatures, something that is especially important in the new high-output turbo version. Differential temperatures lead to varied expansion rates that can take its toll on - especially - head gaskets. With attention to block deck stiffness and the new head casting (it is 50 percent stiffer than the previous SOHC head), clamping strength is more uniform and reliable, so the head gasket is a now a steel shim component. Several new manufacturing/machining steps have been implemented to produce the engine in Ford's existing manufacturing facility in Geelong, Victoria.

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Despite the use of double the number of camshafts and valves, the engine friction level is claimed to be no higher than the previous engine. Friction is a parasitic drag on engine; on a large capacity engine with ever-stricter emissions targets to meet, wasting fuel on friction is not particularly desirable. Ford claims the contribution of the engine - rather than the management system driving it, we guess - to economy for the city drive cycle is in the order of a 3.5 percent improvement. The engine meets Euro II emission standards.

Engine management is appropriately upgraded to control camshaft timing, electronic throttle control and fire the coil-on-plug ignition system. The engines use knock sensing, now activated across the entire engine rev range.

Thanks to the popularity of Liquefied Petroleum gas (LPG) in Australia (and some niche export markets) there's a dedicated LPG variant of the engine. It has different pistons and valve seats and runs an LPG-friendly 10.7:1 compression for 156kW at 4750rpm and 372Nm at 3000rpm. The LPG variant, although controlled electronically, does not adopt gaseous multipoint injection - delivery remains via the throttle body with a fumigated intake manifold.

The Turbo!

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The XR6 - until the XR8 arrives next year and maybe even then - is the stormer of the range. Turbocharged with a Garret ball-bearing GT40 and using a front-mount intercooler fitted off-line by Ford's special vehicles operations Tickford, it punches out 240kW at 5250rpm and a very strong 450Nm is held flat and fat between 2000 and 4500rpm. That should endow it with more than simply class-leading acceleration - with its capacity and turbo, it's really in a class of its own - and it should now compare favourably with plenty of performance playthings from around the planet! (See the second breakout The XR6 Turbo Engine - Now and Beyond...)

The wastegate is electronically controlled - most turbo cars are these days - and the system delivers 0.4bar (6psi) boost. The compression ratio has been dropped from 9.7:1 to 8.7:1via the fitment of new pistons, and exhaust valves more tolerant of higher temps are used. The turbo engine's VVT is mapped uniquely to the naturally-aspirated sixes for highlighted output in conjunction with the turbo.

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Happiest on Premium unleaded petrol (95RON or more), the XR6 engine is capable of drinking standard unleaded; however, the claimed power output is obtained on the good stuff. If the pricing is keen, and the marketing is right, we can see plenty of opportunity for conquest sales from other brands as well as to the Falcon faithful.

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We're yet to find out gear ratios, but the previous cars ran 3.23s in base-spec and 3.45 in performance spec. With more torque thanks to the VVT and tighter emissions specs just around the corner, we'd hazard a guess and say taller 3.23s will be fitted across the range. Either way, with relatively tall gearing to load up the turbo and bulk boosted torque, the XR6 should be one relaxed highway flier with massive acceleration just an ankle-flex away.

Ford's new V8s

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The BA has two - with a third to come later in the high output T4/GT series - new V8s. The 'base' V8 is an alloy-head, iron-block, single overhead cam, variable-timed three-valve unit of 5.4 litres that delivers a quoted 220kW at just 4750 rpm and 470Nm at 3250 - 4000rpm. It also uses ECT and will be optional across the range.

Acknowledging its US heritage and manufacture - it's a new three-valve unit that hasn't been released in the US yet - the uniquely-specified Australian version is built on the Essex low volume production line. With its fitment to the Falcon, this is the first use of this Ford V8 engine in a passenger car anywhere in the world. It will see the light of day in the US in 2003. The 4.6 Mustang engine was considered for Falcon, but its smaller capacity compared to its obvious foe, the Chev LS1, and its peaky torque delivery, made it unsuitable.

Only 220kW from a variable-timed three-valve 5.4-litre V8? It's an odd situation - the main opposition is a pushrod OHV engine claiming more power than the DOHC VVT engine of similar capacity! With the Chev/Holden non-VVT, pushrod OHV LS1 producing 225kW (for the VXII - a new model is due this week) from only 0.3-litres more and without the benefit of VVT cams, we can only guess that Ford, as with its six-cylinder engines, has once again gone torquin' and will 'sell' the car's low-speed throttle response, rather than its peak power specs. One of the criticisms of the LS1 in its Australian sedan fitment is the fact it feels 'flat' down low with doughy response thanks to a 'soft' OE tune and tall gearing. The new Ford's V8 roots in US trucks is no doubt a hint as to what we can expect from the new V8s - formidable low-speed, low-rev pull that should keep an LS1 honest to 100km/h.

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Plenty of torque should be just the beginning of the fun in the new XR8 performance variant, due early in 2003. To feature a DOHC, all-alloy V8 (without variable cam timing) the XR8 promises 260kW at 5250rpm and 500Nm at 4250rpm. Ford was very particular at the launch about its claimed power outputs being 'actual', rather than simply being marketer's preferred targets. That could be construed as a smart remark directed toward arch-rival Holden... At this stage, with plenty of good gear and just 260 quoted kW, the XR8 appears to be conservatively rated.

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The XR8's engine is specified and largely built in Australia and is unique in the Ford world; Ford Australia engineers dropped some big hints by saying it's not used in the US - yet. We may have the situation soon where the Australian team has developed a V8 that will be assembled in Australia and shipped back to the US for fitment to top-line Mustangs from next year.

With some large components sourced from the US and others - such as the intake manifold - manufactured in Australia, the engine is to be assembled on a dedicated production line that has recently been established at Ford's performance division Tickford, near Ford Australia's main production facility in suburban Melbourne. The intake is especially impressive, with a large plenum feeding individual runners that in fact requires a different bonnet pressing to allow the engine to be fitted within the car. Maybe, too, that will allow extra height to fit a supercharged version in for Ford's intended monster due next year.

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Even though most components are manufactured in the US before being shipped to Australia, Ford Australia had significant input with this engine at the development stage to make it suitable for its passenger car - and utility - fitment.

Collectively, the Ford's new range of sixes and V8s will be known as the Barra range. Evoking memories of the glorious muscle-car era of the 60s, the XR8's top-line 260kW engine will be known as The Boss. So it's the Boss Barra.

Sounds very Australian...

The transmissions

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The transmissions behind the new engines are a mixture of old and new. All automatic Falcons feature a heavily revised version of the Australian-made BTR Engineering electronic four-speed auto. In past models since its introduction more than a decade ago, this trans has been fitted with a two-mode Power/Economy switch controlling modified shift points.

For BA, every transmission features a 'transparent' - no driver operated switch - adaptive five-mode control strategy that is derived from previous Tickford performance models. New for the BA on all auto models, is the Sequential Sports Shift. A second gate to the left of the usual PRNDL slot delivers a Performance mode that locks out fourth gear and no doubt the torque converter clutch gear and raises shift speeds (also recommended by Ford for towing), or by moving the shift lever back and forth, full manual control. (A similar shift has been fitted to Sports model Magnas for years, and is now fitted across the board in the Adelaide-manufactured car.)

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Only four speeds? Ford is locked into a supply situation with Australian trans manufacturer BTR, which makes the trans almost exclusively for Ford. Ford will be first in line for the six-speeder that is currently under development. That will allow more scope for engine development, no doubt with an optimised bottom end under Ford's fresh new head.

The manual six-cylinder cars use an upgraded version of the Australian-made BTR Engineering T45 five-speed manual transmission while the new V8s use the US Mustang-spec Tremec-built five-speeder first seen in Australia behind the 250kW 5.6-litre Windsor V8 AUs. Depending on the torque delivery characteristics of its new V8s, hopefully, Ford will endow its V8s with taller gearing than the outgoing 250kW stroker Windsor AUs.

Cat Amongst the Pigeons

In short, with this range of engines Ford looks like doing more than just play catch-up with its major competitor. In its range of sixes it's leap-frogging the archaic Holden V6 engines to - at least on paper - stride ahead mightily. Double variable valve timing, variable intake manifold, ball-bearing turbo and intercooled - and it's all on a Falcon six!

Glenn Torrens flew to Melbourne courtesy of Ford.

The New Six Against the Rest?

With its double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and infinitely variable camshaft timing on each cam (something previously confined to just a tiny handful of exotic engines!) the new Falcon six cylinder finally has world-class technology at its disposal. So how does the naturally aspirated version stack up against some of the other six cylinder engines that are also sold in this market?

It's amongst the most powerful of sixes (in passenger cars at least), but is it getting that grunt because of its relatively huge size, or because it's smart as well as big?

One way to do a quick comparison is to look at the specific power and torque figures. That's the power and torque that the engine produces per litre of capacity. (A better approach is to look at the engine's Brake Mean Effective Pressure - BMEP - which takes into account other factors, but specific power and torque is a concept a lot easier to understand.)

Engine Power at rpm
Torque at rpm
Specific Power
Specific Torque
Falcon DOHC 4-litre in-line six 182 @ 5000 380 @ 3250 45.5 95.0
Holden 3.8-litre V6 152 @ 5200 305 @ 3600 40.0 80.2
Audi 3-litre V6 142 @ 6000 220 @ 6000 47.3 73.3
Honda 3.5-litre V6 147 @ 5200 284 @2800 42.0 81.1
Jaguar 3-litre V6 179 @ 6800 300 @ 4100 59.7 100.0
Mazda 3-litre V6 152 @ 6200 271 @ 3000 50.7 90.3
Mercedes Benz 3.2-litre V6 165 @ 5700 315 @ 3000-4500 51.6 98.4
Mitsubishi 3.5-litre V6 150 @ 5000 300 @ 4000 42.9 85.7
Renault 3-litre V6 152 @ 6000 285 @ 3750 50.7 95.0
Subaru 3-litre flat six 154 @ 6000 282 @ 4400 51.3 94.0
Volkswagen 2.8-litre V6 150 @ 6200 270 @ 3200 53.6 96.4

So, how does the new Falcon six-cylinder look? Well, it's a case of good and bad - good because its figures are respectable, and bad because we can't help but think with that fantastic cylinder head and valve gear specification, it should be a lot better at the top end. Let's look at some figures and you'll see what we mean.

The no-surprise is that with 45.5 kW/litre and 95 Nm/litre it's w-a-y better than the Holden 3.8-litre V6. The Holden engine has been off the pace for years - and now it'll be hanging on by the skin of its teeth until VY Series II comes along, complete with a brand new range of engines.

But what about comparing the Falc engine with others of similar sophistication? There is one standout engine on the list above - the Volkswagen narrow-angle 2.8 litre V6. (The Mercedes Benz and Jaguar engines are also very good, but their pricing is much higher.) If it were the same size as the Falcon six, the Volkswagen engine would be pushing out 214kW and have 386Nm of torque! And critically, if it kept its current characteristics, it would be making that torque peak right down at 3200 rpm - much the same revs as the Falcon.

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While Falcon engines have traditionally been engineered for mucho bottom-end grunt, as the table shows, there are plenty of other engines that develop their peak torque at similar revs - the Volkswagen, the Mazda, and the Mercedes-Benz, while the Honda actually develops its peak torque even lower in the rev range. However, in its combination of specific torque and the lowness of the revs at which it produces it, the Falc is extremely good. In other words, it breathes very well at low revs - its cylinder filling is excellent.

Now, if only it breathed at the top end like it should...

Since power is torque multiplied by rpm (plus a little bit of extra maths), if the new 4-litre Ford six-cylinder revved with strong torque to typical modern engine rpm like 6000 rpm, it'd be developing something like 215 - 220kW! (At the moment is makes 348Nm at 5000 rpm; if it held on to this much torque at 6000 rpm, the power output would be 20 per cent higher at 219kW.) With variable valve timing on both inlet and exhaust cams and those 24 valves, we're astounded that it can't breathe more freely at higher speeds.

In fact, the only in-line six-cylinder that we can think of off-hand that has valvegear this sophisticated is the 3.246-litre double-VANOS BMW M3. With its 252kW (77.6 kW/litre) and 343Nm (105 Nm/litre) the BMW engine shows the very select mechanical company that the Falcon engine is now in.

So yes, the new Falcon six cylinder engine is certainly very good in its specific outputs, but if it had the top-end grunt that you'd expect with this mechanical make-up, it could be quite mind-blowing! After all, it is literally amongst the most sophisticated naturally aspirated six cylinders in the world...

- Julian Edgar

The XR6 Turbo Engine - Now and Beyond...
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First and foremost, the new Ford Falcon XR6 stands as the most powerful turbo sedan ever marketed in Australia. Read that again - the most powerful turbo sedan ever marketed in Australia!

In addition, thanks largely to its 4-litre swept capacity, double variable valve timing and ball-bearing turbo, it's also likely to be one of the most driveable turbocars ever pedalled on our shores; from just 2000 rpm (3250 below maximum power rpm!) this monster will give you 100 percent of its available torque. And you can rest assured there'll be spritely response on offer, even from idle rpm...

In essence, the newly developed XR6 engine is likely to have the sort of drivability associated with 'low blow' turbo installations (such as the low boost 110kW Audi A3/A4 engine), except it rewrites the rulebook by providing an impressive top-end as well.

As a guide, most OE turbo installations result in about 30 percent more power than the naturally aspirated base engine - the ol' Holden VL Turbo, for example, picked up 33 percent. Ford's new XR6 engine meets this rough theory by offering 32 percent more peak power over the non-turbo variant - this in conjunction with a 21 percent peak torque hike. While these percentage gains appear pretty run-of-the-mill, the new turbo motor stomps out some very impressive absolute figures; if you thought the previous VCT XR6 engine was 'tough' with its 172kW and 374Nm, then the new turbo model's 240kW and 450Nm must be from outer space!

But how does this new donk compare to other hi-po engines on the market?

Well, there's no question it makes the 180kW/380Nm supercharged HSV XU-6 look like a children's playtime exercise and, perhaps more pressing, it should gladly wipe the floor with a base-spec Holden SS LS1 5.7-litre V8 (with only 225kW at 5000 rpm, but a slightly healthier 460Nm at 4400 rpm).

The thrust of it - if you want a full size Aussie sedan that's quicker than the new XR6, you'll likely need a 255-plus kilowatt LS1-powered HSV - not to mention 60 or more grand in loose change... (And even then, the Falc might still be in it - that peak torque spread is fantastic!)

From an aftermarket perspective, however, there's nothing to say the Ford turbo engine has to remain with 'just' its factory 240 kilowatts and 6 psi boost - f-a-r from it.

We guess that by improving the air intake and exhaust flow (the traditional place to start for cost-effective mods to turbocharged engines) you should see a power improvement of approximately 15 percent. In kilowatts, we're then talking a total of 276! The next step would be to upgrade intercooling - there should be plenty of room - and wind up the boost. With that turbo, 300kW should be dead-easy...

The only hurdle that might crop up is in relation to the Ford's engine management - the new system might incorporate stubborn fail-safes that detect mechanical changes and attempt to adjust timing/fuel/boost pressure to limit the potential power gains. In any case, a custom programmed chip will no doubt eventually spring onto the aftermarket alleviating the problem - and that always-working knock sensor will provide a safety buffer for tuners anyway.

Aftermarket tinkerers will also have to conquer and tap into the advantages of the motor's standard electronic throttle control and variable valve timing. But as we already know from the Mazda MX5 SP's locally developed turbo ECU, variable valve timing and turbo boost go together like torque and tyre smoke...

The potential for 'extreme tuning' the new Ford motor looks to be huge. The legendary VL Turbo has proven all that's needed for stupendous power - aside from a good, rigid engine design - is a fair number of cubes, a monster turbocharger and appropriate intercooling and fuel injection. The new Ford engine appears to be built plenty strong enough outa the factory, so all that'll hold its power output back is our imagination.

Let the homegrown power games begin!

- Michael Knowling

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