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New Car Test - Ford BA Fairmont 5.4-litre V8

True V8 grunt in a refined and affordable package...

By Michael Knowling

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Neck snapping throttle response, mountain-shifting torque all the way from idle and enough power to effortlessly launch a full-size luxury sedan w-a-y out in front of the traffic. If this sounds like real V8 motoring to you, the BA Ford Fairmont - with its optional 220kW 5.4-litre V8 - is the vehicle you've been waiting for!

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Before we talk about driving the new 'mont, though, let's first take a look at its standing in the Ford line-up. If you want true high-performance with a taught ride and low-profile rubber, the Fords you should have on your list are the awesome 240kW XR6 Turbo and 260kW XR8. So where does this leave the 220kW V8 optioned Fairmont? Well, despite its new 5.4-litre V8 offering somewhat similar outputs to the sporty XR6 Turbo, the Fairmont is best described as an entry-level luxury vehicle with a bundle of grunt for the occasional squirt.

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With this in mind, the Fairmont V8 offers a very soft ride. Large potholes are absorbed with only a distant 'thunk' from the double wishbone front and Control Blade independent rear suspension and there's absolutely no ride harshness over any surface. No question, the suspension performs exceptionally well - just so long as you drive fairly serenely... With a more aggressive driving style the Fairmont begins to fumble the ball- the undercarriage's plastic front lip (used to improve aerodynamics) scrapes on the ground over speed-humps due to massive suspension travel and the luxury-spec tyres squeal every time you make a brisk low-speed manoeuvre. The soft suspension also allows a huge amount of dynamic weight transfer, which can upset chassis balance and impair driving accuracy through corners; the big Ford always remains stable and safe, however.

Note that, if you're prepared to sacrifice some of the Fairmont's cushy ride for added handling prowess, a sports suspension pack can be optioned from the factory - or maybe you should be looking in the direction of the sportier Ford XR-series.

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The Fairmont's steering is nicely weighted and progressive, although - partly thanks to the relatively tall 215/60 16 Goodyear Eagle NCT5 rubbers - steering response is a little mushy.

The Fairmont V8's considerable 1745 kilogram mass is capably slowed by ventilated front discs with 2-pot calipers, and solid rear discs with a single-pot caliper. There's standard ABS control, of course, and the brake pedal is very sensitive - a mere brush of the pedal is all that's needed for adequate retardation in most instances. Unfortunately - in contrast to the XR models - a Premium brake upgrade is not available on the Fairmont. As we said, look toward the XR models for true performance.

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And now let's get excited over that 5.4-litre bent eight, which is well worth the extra $5000 over the Fairmont's usual 4.0-litre six. Based on the US-spec Mustang engine, the big 5.4 'modular' engine features relatively long skirt pistons (reputedly to minimise piston slap) plus 3-valve-per-cylinder (two inlet, one exhaust) alloy heads that incorporate VCT controlled single overhead camshafts. Cam timing is variable over a 60-degree range relative to the crankshaft. Ford lists the new 3-valve-per-cylinder V8 at 220kW at 4750 rpm and 470Nm between 3250 and 4000 rpm - 20kW down on the XR6 Turbo, but with 20Nm more peak torque.

The new donk feels at least ten years more advanced than the superseded Windsor V8 - and, in reality, it is. It's much more refined at idle, responsive, extremely flexible and, of course, powerful. Perhaps thanks to the fitment of standard electronic throttle control, the Ford V8 feels much stronger down low than the Holden 5.7 V8 and, although running out of puff at lower rpm (with the rev limit at around 5200), its effective rev range is actually quite similar. Those buyers disappointed by the 'flatness' of the Holden V8 at low revs will surely revel in the Ford product.

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And how does the big banger rate in fuel consumption? Surprisingly well - especially when compared to its thirsty 5.7-litre V8 Holden rival. We kept a very careful log of the Fairmont's consumption during our test and came away moderately impressed with it returning easy low 12-litres per 100km in country driving. Note that, with the trannie in overdrive, the engine is turning at slightly over 1800 rpm at an indicated 100 km/h. During normal urban driving, we recorded high 14-litres per 100 kilometre consumption - about 15 percent better than we've achieved under the same conditions with a 5.7-litre Holden V8 driving though a manual gearbox. Normal unleaded fuel is all that's required to satisfy the Ford's conservative 9.7:1 compression ratio.

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Being an entry-level luxury model the Fairmont comes with a standard 4-speed automatic transmission featuring sequential sports shift (which allows easy Tiptronic-style manual gearshifts). With the selector left in Drive the trans behaves very well, delivering smooth, gentle shifts under normal driving and snappier changes when you start exercising the engine. The manual sports shift system also works a treat in situations where you need to precisely control torque delivery (which is important when you want to keep a handle on the aforementioned weight transfer issue). Oh, but be careful if you're accustomed to the sequential shift found in a Mitsubishi Magna - the Ford selector needs to be pushed forward for downshifts while the Mitsubishi system needs to be pulled back... You only muck this up once!

With the engine partially stalled up and the transmission in Drive, the Fairmont can be launched consistently reeling off consecutive low/mid 7-second 0 - 100 km/h passes. Expect quarter mile performance in the low/mid 15s.

One disappointment of the Fairmont V8 is its lack of a limited slip differential - even as an option. Instead, the instant grunt of the 5.4 V8 squeals one of the rear tyres before a standard-fitment traction control system steps in and keeps things sociable. And, believe us, its all too easy to squeal those tyres when making a brisk U-turn or an eager traffic light getaway; you never stop hearing the rear tyres singing.

Furthermore, the extra traction provided by a rear LSD would qualify the Fairmont as a serious tow car - especially given the option of Ford's 2300kg heavy-duty tow pack. As it is, though - with drive effectively channelled through only one wheel - the Fairmont would struggle to lug a large cabin cruiser up a slimy boat ramp. A bit of a letdown.

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Inside, the Fairmont offers its fair share of luxury plus all the space you'd expect within a BA cabin. Occupant space is abundant - there's ample head, shoulder, elbow, knee and foot room in both the front and back seat. The biggest comfort issue is in regard to the driver's footrest - it's so tiny it might as well not be there.

So what extra gear do you score when you opt for a Fairmont over a Futura or Falcon XT? Most noticeably, there's up-spec knitted seat trim, a leather wrapped steering wheel and woodgrain inserts. Note that you don't get leather until you step up to the Ghia version of the Fairmont. Other standard Fairmont kit includes dual front and side airbags, dual zone climate control, 4-way electric driver's seat adjustment, 6-stack in-dash CD player, a 'Prestige' two-tone LCD interior command centre (incorporating an ambient temperature display, climate control/ventilation status, trip computer and audio status) and a good ol' fashioned analogue clock perched atop the centre of the dash.

All of this comes in addition to the more run-of-the-mill stuff - power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, steering wheel-mounted cruise control and audio buttons, an array of courtesy lights and automatic headlights. You know the story.

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Our test car also came with an optional reverse sensing system. The reverse sensing system comprises four proximity sensors built into the rear bumper and a beeper in the dash - the beeper gets faster the closer you get to objects that you might otherwise reverse into. The system works quite well since the trailing edge of the Fairmont's boot is below the driver's line of sight.

In raw option-free guise, the BA Fairmont is a very plain-wrapper looking vehicle. The only features that distinguish it from lesser models are some splashings of chrome and a bland looking set of 16 x 7-inch alloy wheels. A telltale sign of that those lurking 220kW is a small V8 badge on the front guards. For those that like their new pride and joy to stand out in the parking lot, however, buyers can go for an optional rear decklid spoiler or high arched spoiler. You can even opt for a complete body styling kit and a restyled set of 17-inch alloys. It depends 'who' you want to be.

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Build quality is an issue we raised in our recent test of the XR6 Turbo and, again, the Fairmont is less than perfect. Most noticeably, the boot is poorly finished with an undulating floor, unstitched carpet edging and nothing to prevent the carpet 'bunching up' when a heavy suitcase slides across it. Our test car also had a rattle from the driver's A-pillar, the push-to-release lid on a centre cup holder compartment jammed half way through its movement and a metallic sounding rattle (perhaps from a brake shield) came and went from the front left of the vehicle. Certainly there are still a few crinkles to iron out.

So do we give the BA Ford Fairmont V8 thumbs up or thumbs down? Thumbs up, for sure. As a fast accelerating entry-level luxury vehicle you're unlikely to find a better overall package. And that package looks even sweeter when you look at price - at a relatively modest $46,615, the Fairmont V8 compares well with Holden's $45,440 V8 Berlina and $52,850 V8 Calais. With a bit more attention to quality control - and the availability of a rear LSD - it'd have its market niche absolutely sewn up.

Why You Would...

  • Supremely responsive, flexible and smooth V8
  • Enough grunt to effortlessly haul its 1745kg mass to 100 km/h in low-to-mid 7s
  • Fuel consumption markedly better than Holden V8
  • Low-down torque markedly better than Holden V8
  • A lot of luxury, space and cubes for the money

Why You Wouldn't...

  • Poor finish inside the boot and a few other build quality issues
  • In outright terms, fuel consumption is still considerable
  • Could do with a LSD option - especially to aid towing

The Fairmont V8 was provided for this test by Ford Australia.

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