Value for money and fun to boot – a winning combo
We who live in the land down under have it so good – automotively speaking, of course. If you’re talking bang-for-your-buck, then two Aussie icons are pretty hard to beat.
In the red corner sits the Holden Commodore SS. Using the bigger-is-better school of thought, there’s a whopping six-litres of bent-eight under the bonnet making around 260-270kW (depending on your transmission), with six-speeds, limited slip differential and rear-wheel drive. In the blue corner though, is the subject of this review: the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo. It uses forced induction and a four-litre, straight-six engine to make similar power (270kW), plus it also has the benefit of six-speed transmissions, LSD and rear-wheel-drive.
These are big cars, too. That means plenty of space for passengers and luggage. In fact, there’s nothing in this price range that has the space that a Falcon has, though the Commodore runs it close. The front seats are huge and soft – they’re like big lounge chairs – but despite this they hold you in place with good side bolstering. The textured seat base looks nothing like leather, though, and the bolsters were already showing signs of fatigue and stretch, despite the car covering only a few thousand kilometres.
The rear seat has heaps of legroom and there’s truckloads of width meaning big, boofy blokes can fit three-across. The boot is also huge, but the dipped carpet which follows the shape of the spare wheel collects small bits of rubbish, and makes it a pain to vacuum dirt out of.
Quality-wise, the XR6 Turbo is pretty good. The dashtop is made from a soft-touch plastic, and everything seems to be screwed together tightly – there were no rattles or creaks – however the padded cover for the passenger’s side airbag does look a little stuck on. Some hard, dark plastics also scuff pretty easy, most notably the strips which run up the side of the centre console.
There’s a big band of silver that runs across the dash fascia which breaks it up from being a mass of dark grey plastic, and with the centre stack treated with the same material it fits right into Ford’s family of interiors.
At the top of the centre stack sits a big full colour screen (it would be nice to have a touch screen given its size, a la Holden iQ) which displays climate control, radio, outside temperature and other preferences, and also doubles as your reversing camera display. Interesting to note that when reversing, the radio goes mute so as to minimise distractions – a safety feature that gets a big tick.
The climate control and settings menus take a little while to get used to – having the climate control above the stereo controls is a little different – but things like Bluetooth pairing is very straightforward once you work out the scrolling using the dial. When making phone calls, the radio will still remain active, all the way up until the person you call picks up.
Not so great is the trip meter menu. Rather than accessing everything from the one set of buttons, there are two sets on each side of the instrument binnacle, and some functions require both sets to be used, meaning both hands are in operation; you’ll have to pull over and stop to sort it out.
The instruments can also be a little hard to read during the daytime with their numbers set into the blue band, as well as an illegible font, but at night it’s a lot easier to see. At night you also realise that the Falcon’s high beams are one of the best around, projecting straight and long into the night darkness, though the low beams are a little weak for city driving.
The driver has at their disposal drilled aluminium pedals, with a huge brake pedal and decent sized footrest. The driving position is a little high set, though, with the steering wheel feeling like it’s sitting in your lap. More height adjustment would be appreciated, or lowering the front seats. At least the steering is quite satisfying.
There’s a good weight to it – some may say a little too heavy, compared with the Commodore – and excellent feedback; you’ll always know what the front tyres are doing and it never lightens off or loses feel closer to the lock stops. Turn in is pretty good for a big car, but it’s still easy to park as well.
What is amazing is that despite the weight of this big beasty (1704kg) it actually handles. Over the standard Falcon, it receives a lower ride height, stiffer springs and different shock absorbers. It also has better brakes. All of that means you can be confident throwing it into a corner, or tackling an ever-changing country road.
We took the XR6 Turbo on a country run from Perth to Moora, covering around 350km of crests, dips, windy roads, broken tarmac, smooth bitumen and plenty of trucks to overtake. The Falcon faithfully obeyed steering inputs, holding its line across some of the worst roads we’ve seen in a while, feeling completely planted.
While some cars would skip about, feeling nervous and twitchy, the XR6 Turbo’s suspension took it all in its stride, remaining supple, but enabling plenty of grip. On a country trip, though, the road noise can be quite wearing, with a constant roar over blue-metal. The XR6 Turbo’s ride is firm, but it never jolts or jars, even at speed. Around town it’s also absorbent enough to remain comfortable; an excellent balance.
It’s predictable, too. If you want to switch the ESC off and play drift hero, you can. But even in the wet, the ESC allows for a little play and then brings you sweetly back into line. It’s a whole heap of fun.
The turbocharged six comes into its own while on the move. If you plant your foot from a standstill, not much happens while the turbo is spooling. This is a safe way to set it up, as it’s not going to launch sideways from every set of traffic lights. But once’s it’s past the lag, there’s plenty of fuel and air being shoved in and the whooshing sound gets louder, and acceleration gets much more urgent.With 270kW and 533Nm on tap, the XR6 Turbo has got plenty enough grunt for the average punter.
The sprint from 0-100km/h takes around 5.6 seconds – not slow in anyone’s books. When overtaking, simply sink your right foot, and the XR6 Turbo goes into attack mode. The ZF gearbox drops down smoothly, the turbo whistles and the car rockets down the road, making passing road trains a snap.
However, quickly backing off partway through acceleration will induce a jolt from the driveline, like the gearbox has locked into gear and the boost hasn’t been let off smoothly. You soon learn to drive fluently you can’t just hop off the accelerator, you have to ease it off. Once you’ve achieved this, the whole driveline feels smooth and refined. In normal driving, the ZF adapts to your driving style and quietly slips between gears with a minimum of fuss. It’s still no match for the ZFs in BMWs and Jaguars in terms of response, but it matches well with the engine under the bonnet and shows off the straight-six’s greatest attribute – its lack of harshness.
It’s economical, too. We ended up with 12.0L/100km which is not far off Ford’s ADR figure of 11.7L/100km. Having a decent dollop of high speed country driving helped with this, but it still shows that the 4.0-litre six can be remarkably efficient. As with any turbo car, hot days will affect its performance, something we noticed in the 40 degree heat of the day as compared with mid 20s at night.
It’s also satisfying to know that the FG Falcon receives the highest safety rating from ANCAP – five stars.
All in all, the Falcon XR6 Turbo is great value for money. While the engine doesn’t bellow like Holden’s Commodore SS, there’s a certain placidness that will impress your passengers as it trundles down the road sounding like a regular Falcon. But stick the boot in and the car changes personality, bringing with it testosterone-satisfying grunt and handling to match.
When the XR6 Turbo was launched, it was praised as being one of the best bang-for-your-buck cars around. It’s good to see things haven’t changed.
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*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.