Holden vs. Ford – The Base Model Challenge
Ford Falcon XT vs. Holden Commodore Omega
– Photos by Paul Maric.
It has to be one of Australia’s leading causes in bar fight rivalry or backyard brawls, and much like a political stance or religious view you’re either one way or the other – hell it could even break up a marriage.
Be you a ‘Blue Oval’ aficionado or a ‘Red Lion’ loyalist the argument from those of another denomination seems to remain the same – that the difference between the two cars is like splitting hairs. Blasphemy!
So in a bid to settle the score – or perhaps to open old wounds – we’ve decided to kick off the new year with a battle of the brands to see just how relevant the old argument is in 2009.
Holden’s “billion dollar baby” received high acclaim upon its release in July 2006 and though it remains a good car today, there are a few signs that the Commodore is starting to trail the opposition in a few key areas.
Sure the appearance is pretty benign and as looks are subjective, we’ll try to focus more intently of the car’s dynamic abilities to see if the Omega is still a relevant rival to the newer FG Falcon.
With a 3.6-litre, V6 engine powering the popular Commodore, Holden sought to gain more from less in an attempt to match Ford’s 4.0-litre in-line six for fuel economy and detuned the engine late last year (it gave the same treatment to Berlina models).
The idea was that better fuel economy and fewer harmful emissions would attract buyers to the marque but the trouble is that in real life, the figures don’t ring true.
A smaller engine with less power and torque simply cannot pull a similar size car at the same rate without the need to work harder, it’s only logical, and suffering under the control of an antiquated four-speed automatic it is exactly what the Commodore cannot afford – performance restriction.
The Falcon offers more power with an impressive 195kW on hand at 6000rpm. When you compare this to Commodore’s 175kW at 6500rpm, you can right away see that the two will not perform on a level footing.
Commodore also suffers from a lack of torque, which makes the performance aspect even more noticeable, especially off the line. The Ford trounces the Holden from the lights even managing to break traction in the dry which is no surprise given the extra 66Nm on offer (Commodore 325Nm versus Falcon 391Nm).
Perhaps surprisingly though the pair manage to almost match one another in terms of noxious emissions, surprising really with a single gram separating the pair (251g/km and 252g/km for Ford and Holden respectively).
I guess what all this equates to is that the Falcon will provide you with more performance for the same amount of fuel use, and before you start with the Speed Kills propoganda, let me put it to you this way.
Although nine times out of ten the base model – or sales rep – car will potentially only house one occupant it’s worth considering how well the car will perform on the open road with the kids, the dog and the bag on board (or even your luggage), because there’s little worse than having a sluggish car come holiday time, and if you’re buying this car for home and business, that’s one point well worth considering.
Secondly there’s towing. It’s a myth that you need an SUV to tow comfortably and with the power to do the job properly, and a 2300kg braked towing capacity (versus Omega’s 2100kgs), Falcon also wins this argument. Again something to keep in the back of your mind if you’re hitching the boat up or planning a spot of caravanning.
So power and torque aren’t your thing, but knowing you have that big car around you, five stars of ANCAP goodness, rear wheel drive and all the electronic nannies really makes you feel warm and gooey. Then perhaps one of the pair should stay in the garage when it’s raining for as it turns out the cars are chalk and cheese depending on the weather forecast and this may sway some buyers back to the ‘Red Lion’.
In the dry, the Falcon out handles the Commodore significantly. The car points more purposefully, offers truer steering feel and feedback (and a better turning circle – Commodore 11.4m/Falcon 11.0m), is better balanced front-to-rear and provides far less mid-corner fuss than the heavier Omega. The Falcon also has a better brake pedal feel than Omega, even if it does take fractionally longer to pull up.
Falcon’s grip levels are higher on the whole than Omega thanks to a more sorted suspension set up. The ESP too feels better calibrated to the car and body roll is far less intrusive on the XT’s overall dynamic abilities – that is until it starts to rain.
Now as both cars offer similar suspension arrangements, 16-inch alloys wheels, quality rubber (from Goodyear and Bridgestone), ESP, Traction Control, and ABS you could be forgiven or thinking there shouldn’t be a difference when things get slippery but as we soon found out, wet roads and a Falcon XT simply aren’t a match made in heaven.
Falcon is quite tail happy at the best of times, which is fun in some respects, but this trait is greatly amplified in the wet.
Throttle balance is the key to control but in the XT is a delicate operation between maintaining traction and becoming the drift king with even moderate pressure seeing the back step out and while the ESP will provide a helping hand towards bringing you back in line, the initial step out may see some drivers over react, and in the hands of the uninitiated, this could prove costly.
The less powerful Commodore drew no such criticism in the wet and in fact must deliberately be thrown off line to induce oversteer, so although it’s not as much fun for those of us who enjoy this type of thing, the sensible choice says the Omega is a safer bet in the wet.
Comfort & Practicality
When it comes to being at home behind the wheel Falcon has come a long way, in fact were this test have taken place between the previous BFII and VE models I’d have taken the Commodore home for sure, but with a revised driving position, more generously proportioned cabin space, smoother ride and more voluminous boot, the Falcon has the power and the padding to provide a far smoother ride.
Engine noise too is more noticeable in the Omega and is quite coarse in its intrusion in to the cabin space, something you simply won’t find a concern in the Falcon. Similarly wind and road noise are slightly more elevated in the Holden’s cabin meaning longer trips are more pleasant in the Falcon.
The ride on offer though is really quite similar between the two with near identical suspension set-up and wheelbase lengths. Falcon though feels more generous in terms of space, especially in rear leg room, and although the actual cushioning and support of the seats is almost identical between the pair – the lack of better adjustment in the Omega’s driver’s seat and steering column don’t offer quite as much flexibility.
The options list is relative considering the price, though I feel the Falcon offers just a little more. Of note though, Commodore does offer a more user friendly lay out to Ford with fewer small buttons and a better “fall to hand” position of auxiliary switch gear, except for the power window switches.
I’m also a great fan of the night mode of Omega’s instrumentation which dims all interior lights except those of the speedo and tacho.
On that note though, the Falcon seems to be more clear of detail at night with Commodore’s aging green back-lighting somewhat blurry by comparison. Layout though is near identical in both cars and is neither complicated or obstructive when viewed from the driver’s seat.
Menu functionality is similar, though Commodore’s is easier to access with Falcon’s menu buttons placed behind the steering wheel on each side of the instrument cluster.
Boot space is also going to see another tick for the ‘Blue Oval’ not only for greater capacity, but for better versatility thanks to Falcon’s 60:40 split fold rear seats – something not yet offered in any Commodore.
The Falcon offers almost 40-litres more space up back (Commodore 496 litres/Falcon 535 litres) and although both are equally easy to access and ergonomically designed, it is this greater capacity that is evidently more attractive to large sedan buyers.
Should the idea of a wagon appeal though then you’ve only one option with Falcon yet to deliver an FG series competitor to the Omega Sportwagon.
Conclusion & Ratings
So it’s quite close – one should hope so – but not so close as to call it a draw. There are a few small yet significant statistical facts that remain obvious between the pair despite the viewpoint that their different personalities may present a clearer choice for some buyers.
Sure, the feature list may be similar, the options are roughly tit-for-tat and but for one final glaring difference you could say it’s the Ford by a nose – but there’s just one more point that gives Falcon an added advantage – and that’s price.
The VE Commodore has been with us for a few years now and despite several small upgrades is noticeably more antiquated dynamically than the all-new FG Falcon, that’s to be expected, but what can be used to sway the argument towards the Red Lion is price, and GM Holden doesn’t appear to have made this connection.
Sure, it’s only $500 more for than the Falcon, but price is a psychological deal breaker for many buyers who don’t have a one-eyed view of either brand, and for this reason you would think the RRP list is back-to-front, but no such luck. Ford has this one in the bag.
Ratings, Specifications & Option Pricing
Ratings – Ford Falcon XT:
CarAdvice Overall Rating:
How does it Drive:
How does it Look:
How does it Go:
Ratings – Holden Commodore Omega:
CarAdvice Overall Rating:
How does it Drive:
How does it Look:
How does it Go:
Specs – Ford Falcon XT:
Specs – Holden Commodore Omega: