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New Car Test - Ford Falcon XR6

Not a firecracker like its turbocharged stablemate, but still an excellent all-round family sports sedan...

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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Think XR6 and you usually think tuned six-pot Falcons blowing the doors off Windsor V8s. The new BA Falcon XR6 (non turbo), however, is designed to appeal to a completely different buyer group. With the same 182kW output hereditary throughout the BA Falcon range, the base XR6 is no quicker than a Falcon XT or Futura - in a straight line at least...

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Upon release of the BA Falcon series, Ford Australia decided there was room in the marketplace for two different XR6 models - the atmo XR6 and the XR6 Turbo. Both the atmo and turbo variants are very similar in overall spec and feel, but - with a 58kW variation in power - they are distinctly separate. The Turbo is built to make the 235kW LS1 V8 hang its head(s) in shame, while the atmo XR6 is built to take on the VX Commodore S, including the supercharged version.

Pricing is critical in this 'entry level' family sports segment and there's little to separate the XR6 from the Commodore S. At $38,155 (for the manual) and $39,075 for the auto, Ford has slotted the XR6 in between the price of the atmo and supercharged Commodore S models. The atmo Commodore S - which is markedly slower than the Ford - kicks off at $37,050 and $37,820 for the auto, while the bidding on the supercharged Commodore S - available as an auto only - begins at $39,410. And the competition doesn't end there. If you don't mind front-wheel-drive vehicles you can take a sniff at the Toyota Camry V6 Sportivo and Mitsubishi Magna Sports, which start at $38,990 and $36,990 respectively.

There's certainly plenty to chose from if you're after a sporty family car and, given there's a relatively small price variation, it takes a very good car to stand out as the best value; can the XR6 pull it off?

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The Ford's dual VCT, DOHC, 24-valve, 4.0-litre straight six - by far the most sophisticated engine in its class - is a very responsive and flexible engine in absolutely all driving conditions. A lot has been said about the BA's 1700-plus kilogram kerb weight, but with an excellent spread of torque - and an electronically controlled throttle - it never remotely feels like you're at the helm of a lifeless lump. In fact, during our week with the test car we also had a HSV VX Clubsport auto and, amazingly, the big 5.7-litre monster felt less alive than the atmo XR6! All this from an engine rated at 'just' 182kW at 5000 rpm and 380Nm at 3250 rpm. From a standing start, the XR6 can power its way to 100 km/h in just over 8-seconds and hovers around 16-dead for the quarter mile; nowhere near as quick as the XR6 Turbo or XR8, but no slouch by any standards.

Certainly, the 4.0-litre's grunt can effectively shift the BA's hefty weight but there is certainly a penalty in terms of fuel consumption. Stuck in thick traffic for much of our test, the XR6 slurped down over 15-litres per 100km, but - as a better guide - we'd expect 12s in typical urban driving. Ford themselves claim figures of 11.5 and 7.4-litres per 100km in city and highway conditions respectively. One good thing is - using a 9.7:1 compression ratio - the engine can survive on cheap-o 91RON ULP rather than the higher-octane stuff.

The basic XR6 comes equipped with a 5-speed manual gearbox, but for an extra $920 Ford's sequential sport shift 4-speed auto can be optioned (as it was on our test car). Interestingly, the atmo XR6 uses all of the same driveline ratios as the turbo variant. The Turbo receives a standard LSD, however, while the atmo version can have one for an extra $360.

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Like the XR6 Turbo, the base XR6's double wishbone front suspension and Control Blade IRS provides an extremely comfortable ride - supple and compliant enough to almost be acceptable in the bread-and-butter Falcons. When pushed, though, its uprated spring and damper rates keep the XR feeling quite sharp on its toes. Although there is a slight tendency to understeer in some situations, the chassis is very neutral and stable - it's deceptively quick point-to-point. Disappointingly, though, the atmo XR6 has no option for traction control - something that's available on even XT and Futura base models. Granted, the XR6 gets its power down very well - perhaps largely thanks to its fairly sticky tyres - but traction control would certainty enhance safety; we wonder how slippery the chassis will become when the tread depth wears down.

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The XR6's brakes - 298mm ventilated discs on the front and 303mm solid discs on the rear - are capable of slowing the XR6 without drama. ABS and EBD control systems come as standard; the only option is whether or not to spend extra on the Premium brake upgrade. We've got to say, though, this is probably overkill on the atmo XR6.

The BA's power assisted rack and pinion steering is fairly typical of a car in this category. It's a bit lifeless at straight-ahead, but it's quite nicely weighted and accurate through turns. Still - given the XR's heightened driver appeal - it'd be nice to see the steering sharpened up a tad.

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The XR6 is another BA Falcon that's easy to jump into for the first time and feel completely at home. The driving position is excellent, the controls are well laid out and 360-degree visibility is quite good; the sheer bulk of the Falcon may take some getting used to though, depending what sort of vehicles you're accustomed to.

XR models come fitted with a patterned sports cloth trim, which ranges from the inoffensive "plexis grey and carbon in warm charcoal" scheme (seen here) to more eye catching, brighter coloured schemes. Leather is also available if you're prepared to lash out a bit more.

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Equipment levels are pretty well average for the class. Standard fruit includes the interior command centre (as found in the rest of the entry-level Falcon line up), a trip computer, adjustable lumbar support for both front seats, 4-way electric driver's seat, remote keyless entry, cruise control, XR brushed aluminium finish on the controls, a backlit XR logo within the speedo dial and a leather steering wheel. Oddly, there are no power rear windows - these are a $430 option.

The basic 100W audio set-up is quite competent with a digital sound processor and a single slot CD. Audiophiles can opt for the Premium sound system - providing a 150W amp, sub, colour screen and 6-disc in-dash stacker - at a further $900.

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In terms of safety the XR features an electronic advanced restraints module, which controls a pair of two-stage front airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and seatbelt retractors. Side airbags are offered as an option. Your 40-odd grand investment in a Ford vehicle is protected by a standard Smartshield immobiliser with an encoded key.

Given our previous test of the XR6 Turbo and Fairmont V8 our quality gripes will come as no surprise. The centre console cup holder feels a bit rough, the burn-your-finger adjustable map lights are a curious design stuff-up and the boot is poorly finished. That boot is still cavernous, though, offering 504 litres of useable space - even more when the 60/40 rear backrests are folded forward.

And now let's stand back and take in the view that is XR6...

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The body is generic BA Falcon, but it's nicely dressed with the XR body kit comprising rocker mouldings, front and rear bumper spoilers, fog lights and boot spoiler. The rims are the same that's fitted to the XR6 Turbo and XR8 - 5-spoke 17 x 8s clad in 235/45 Dunlop SP Sport 3000 tyres. As mentioned, the ride with the standard wheels and tyre package is great; if you opt for the larger 18 x 8 rim/245/40 package, it'd be a good idea to first sample on-road NVH.

As you probably already know, the XR6 is offered as a sedan only - pity there's no XR6 wagon like there was in the early '90s, eh?

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So is the XR6 the car to beat the Commodore S, Camry Sportivo and Magna Sport over the finish line?

We think it is. The BA is certainly the freshest design - in terms of chassis and engine - and it shows. Its positive attributes are numerous; plenty of room, excellent response and engine performance, excellent ride, good looks and a typical-for-class 3-year/100,000km warranty. If only it were a bit more economical and came with traction control (at least as an option) we'd be looking at an all-dominant category King.

Why You Would...

  • Most technically advanced engine in its class
  • Responsive and torquey at all revs
  • Very roomy and practical
  • Attractive, roomy interior with decent equipment level
  • Attractive exterior styling

Why You Wouldn't...

  • Rear power windows a $430 option
  • No option for traction control
  • Thirsty driving through heavy traffic
  • Poor finish inside the boot - like the rest of the BA sedans

The Falcon XR6 was provided for this test by Ford Australia.

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