Ford BF Falcon XT Test

The best entry-level family car in Australia

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Our pick of the entry-level Australian family cars
  • Extremely refined and sophisticated
  • Cutting-edge engine technology
  • Spacious and practical
  • If only build quality was higher...

For years people have poked fun at Australian built cars for their lack of sophistication. But here is a car that must be taken very, very seriously – the BF Ford Falcon is the best Australian built family sedan and, even when compared to cars costing almost five times as much, in some aspects it can hold its own...

Such lofty levels of refinement and sophistication have never been so affordable.

The BF brings a number of changes to reduce NVH levels - and the on-road result is stunning. Over Sydney’s abysmal urban roads (surely the worst in Australia), the BF glides along with minimal vibration, minimal noise and a seeming disinterest in potholes and broken bitumen. Make no mistake, this is a very smooth and quiet car – in fact, over the same roads, we’d rate the BF ahead of the Volvo XC70 and mega-dollar Audi A8...

And the cabin is plenty comfortable as well. There’s truly huge space for front and rear passengers; the seats are very comfortable; the trim is (mostly) tasteful and everything operates logically. In base XT models you get front power windows, cruise control, auto headlights, powerful air conditioning, electric driver’s seat adjustment and a decent sounding single CD/tuner. Twin airbags also come standard. The BF cabin is differentiated from earlier models by its new soft-feel door grab handles with satin chrome inserts, new seat fabrics, a new finish on the interior command centre panel, centre console and rear vent surround. It’s all very upmarket in appearance and comfort – you’re never conscious you’re riding in a base model.

The Falcon is a big car but it doesn’t feel cumbersome, largely thanks to its steering. Like most family cars, there is a ‘sneeze factor’ in the steering at straight-ahead but off-centre response is crisp – a characteristic that can take some getting used to. The steering also has plenty of weight.

Under the bonnet you’ll find the same DOHC 4-litre six introduced in the BA series - but with some extra sophistication that brings it up to world standards. By adopting independently variable cam timing, revised cam profiles, twin knock sensors and a higher compression ratio (10.3:1) the Falcon six is damn-near as sophisticated as any other six-pot on the market. It’s smooth, effortlessly torquey and the electronic throttle control strategy gives smooth, gentle response.

One of the trumpeted breakthroughs in the BF range is the availability of a six-speed ZF automatic transmission. Unfortunately, you don’t get the six-speed in the XT Falcon but the carry-over four-speed transmission does have some upgrades and a remote transmission fluid cooler (which should extend the life of the transmission if you plan to tow a heavy load). The transmission is smooth, adaptive and well suited to the characteristics of the big six. There is also the sequential gear selection mode which gives full driver control.

With 190kW at 5250 rpm and 383Nm at 2500 rpm, the Falcon offers more than generous performance and Ford claims a 5.2 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the BA. We recorded in the low twelves (litres per 100km), though before being confronted with heavy traffic, the displayed trip average hovered in the low 11s. And, despite its newly increased compression ratio, the big six is happy to drink normal unleaded fuel without sign of detonation.

The XT gets its grunt to the road safely and without drama – there are no concerns handing over the keys to this 190kW rear-wheel-drive sedan. The double wishbone front and Control Blade IRS give good stability and a safe bias towards understeer. Power-on oversteer is eliminated by the effective traction control system – and, even when switched off, the Falcon has no problem with traction. The brakes feel relatively soft but offer good stopping power with the assurance of the latest Bosch 8.0 ABS and EBD.

Visually, the BF Falcon XT is almost identical to the previous model. There are subtle changes to the front bumper, taillights, new 16 inch wheel trims and some new colours - nothing adventurous here. Build quality - a gripe we’ve had with earlier models – seems improved judging by our test car. However, the boot floor is still poorly finished and the boot lid of our particular car was difficult to close.

Retailing for AUD$35,800, the Ford BF Falcon XT is not the cheapest in the segment (it’s dearer than the base Holden Commodore and Toyota Camry V6 but cheaper than the Mitsubishi 380) but its wonderful refinement, sophistication and practicality make this an exceptional vehicle.

Hands-down our pick of the base-model family cars.

Too Thirsty?

If you have reservations about buying a 1700-odd kilogram sedan powered by a large capacity petrol engine, you should take a close look at Ford’s E-Gas option. Although adding AUD$1400, reducing boot space and being less powerful than the petrol version, the LPG powered Falcon is claimed to save up to 47 percent in fuel costs.

A savings calculator can be found at http://www.ford.com.au/landing/egas/egascalculator.asp

The Falcon was hired for this test.

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