Ford Falcon XT Wagon Review & Road Test
Is this beast of burden a dying breed?
Power, Practicality, Payload, High Beam
Dated Looks, Handling, Four-Speed Auto
– by Matt Brogan
In what has essentially become a one horse race, Falcon is now the only remaining ‘big six’ rear-drive wagon available on the Australian market. Sure Holden has the sexy new Sportswagon, but with diminished cargo area and load capacity (due to its sedan origins) it’s better suited to family buyers leaving the heavy hauling, beast of burden, Falcon out on its lonesome.
This isn’t a bad thing, in fact for Ford it’s pretty much a coup d’état with fleet and business buyers now presented with very little choice in matching size, payload, price and running costs anywhere else in the market place.
Not yet updated to the ‘kinetic’ FG shape, this third series Falcon wagon is the final refinement of the BF model and as such has received only minor cosmetic and mechanical improvements over the predecessor which include ESP (available on petrol models only), Flip Key, Satin Alloy Accents on the front grille surround, ‘Warm Charcoal’ carpet, Goodyear Eagle Excellence tyres and Mk III badging.
Available in five-seat XT specification only, the wagon is offered exclusively with a 4.0-litre, six-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission combo, albeit in petrol or dedicated E-Gas (LPG) guise.
Delivering 190kW at 5250rpm and 383Nm from just 2500rpm (156kW/370Nm for E-Gas) the in-line 4.0-litre six certainly has the might to lug its fair share of kit and with an impressive 1254 litre cargo area (to window height – seats up) and a braked towing capacity of up to 2300kg when fitted with a transmission cooler, hauling your gear around couldn’t be easier.
To further improve its carrying capacity Falcon offers 60:40 flat fold rear seats, the option of Heavy Duty rear suspension to increase payload from 500 to 560kg and a Limited Slip Differential for better power delivery to the rear wheels, especially in wet weather and/or when towing.
The trusty old four-speed automatic is a bit of a dog by more modern standards and lacks the refinement of the FG’s standard five-speeder yet somehow still manages to get the job done. There’s quite a bit of drive line vibration under heavy acceleration (or when under load) and the gap from 3rd to 4th is a big one, especially on kick down. But despite these short comings semi-decent fuel economy can still be achieved through careful driving to be within spitting distance of the combined ADR claimed mark of 10.7 litres per 100km.
Handling is rather agricultural with a washy front end doing nothing to compliment the stiffly sprung leaf rear. Steering feel, whilst certainly present, becomes rather vague with any real weight on board, and overall isn’t what I’d call reassuring, especially with a rear full of snow boards and four blokes en route to Mt Buller. Perhaps the only up side is that so long as you don’t over do it cornering is at least capable, though a fast swerve to dodge a kangaroo lead me to wonder how the unprepared might fair. Lucky for them, ESP is now on board.
Inside things are much the same as they were in BFII, although the darker carpet seems to show dirt a little less. There’s plentiful rear leg space, adequate comfort levels and a durable feel to most surfaces meaning the utility of the vehicle’s application will certain not prove an issue come clean up time. That said I’m not a huge fan of the driving position which does feel a little cosy and the urethane steering wheel is unpleasant on hot days or long trips.
A little noise is evident from up back, as you’d expect from a large rear drive wagon, but considering the car’s open plan bulk, it’s really not too bad. Creature comforts are plain but practical and when you consider this is about as basic as the Falcon range gets, the list of included features is quite acceptable.
Trip computer, cruise control, power mirrors, air-conditioning, power steering, single CD tuner, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, remote central locking, auto headlamps (with possibly the best high beam lamps of any car – ever), power windows and a full size steel rim spare rounding out the deal.
One thing I did note is that the power window switches and steering wheel controls don’t illuminate at night, which is a little tricky at the booze bus. There’s a few odds and ends I’d really like to have seen included as standard too like Bluetooth, a cargo cover and roof rails but fortunately these are offered as an option for a bargain price.
Falcon XT shown in ‘Ego’ prestige (metallic) paint
Given the XT is essentially a work vehicle steel mesh or perspex type cargo barriers are available at an additional charge (approximately $400 and $600 respectively – dealer fit) meaning OH&S requirements can be met without stress. ABS, EBD, ESP and TCS are all included standard and along with dual front and (optional) side airbags, it’s not hard to see how this Falcon achieved a four star ANCAP rating.
With enough class and features that a family buyer needn’t feel hard done by, and with the E-Gas model offering better fuel economy dollar for dollar than a small petrol hatch, a big family no longer means a big fuel bill – well worth considering given the state of petrol prices.
So yes, it’s a basic unit and sure there are prettier cars out there for the same money, but when you consider the vehicle’s purpose and practicality, add up the running costs and consider just how much it takes to break one of these things, the Falcon wagon is pretty hard to look past.
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