So here we are with the last ever launch review of the regular Ford Falcon, 54 years after the nameplate appeared in local showrooms and 42 years since it first appeared as a locally designed and developed vehicle.
Ford Australia had only a limited budget of $102 million to spend on the new Falcon FG X, and it decided to focus the majority of the investment on the area it believed would have the biggest influence on sales for the last two years of its lifespan: styling.
While the doors, roof, glasshouse and rear quarter panels have been carried over from the FG Falcon released in 2008, Ford’s designers have thoroughly overhauled the front and rear ends.
A prominent hexagonal (or trapezoidal in Ford-speak) grille teamed with slimmer headlights bring the Falcon into line with other modern Fords, such as the new Mondeo (due here in early 2015) and just-facelifted Focus small car (due mid 2015).
The grille is formed from chrome for the luxury-focused G6E and from densely dark plastic for the XR models. The twin-lamp headlights feature a single integrated daytime running light strip where the XR’s version features a double ‘hockey stick’ DRL arrangement.
There’s a nice detail on the G6E in the form of the G-shaped silver foglight surround.
A much-improved rear end design synchronizes with the front by employing narrower tail-lights, joined by a chrome strip across the bootlid. Compare it with the rear of a Jaguar XF and you could play a game of ‘Spot the Difference’.
You could do the same inside, though you’d equally struggle to circle 10 changes.
The interior of the new Ford FG X Falcon is barely changed from the cabin that appeared in the FG launched in 2008.
There are subtle tweaks such as an updated instrument cluster, the passenger-side central dash strip that is now formed from two rather than two pieces, trim insert updates and some additional stitching in selected places such as the steering wheel, gearlever gait and doors.
Otherwise the only significant update is the introduction of the Ford-Microsoft Sync 2 system.
Ignoring the fact this contemporary-looking touchscreen-based interface only serves to highlight the age of the cabin, Sync 2 elevates the Falcon’s infotainment/connectivity set-up.
The 8.0-inch homescreen is split into colour-coded quadrants, covering phone, navigation (not available on the base Falcon), music/radio, and climate.
Voice control expands with Sync 2, and includes the ability to choose a more advanced set-up that speeds up commands, for example, by cutting out requests to confirm various instructions.
A featured dubbed ‘One shot nav’ also allows a whole address to be spoken without having to go through the more laborious process of selecting a state, city/town and street.
A dual antenna has been introduced to improve radio reception, which can be had at its sharpest with the addition of digital radio for areas where the service is available.
Ford has also increased the Sync input options. The console bin now features two USB ports, an SD card slot, and there’s also a housing for a mobile phone.
The clarity of the screen’s presentation is excellent, while the interface is super-simple and important processes such as phone pairing are straightforward.
There’s improved resolution for the reverse-view camera, which is standard on all models and the display gains guiding lines for parking. Front and rear sensors are also included on all Falcons, from the entry-level $35,900 model – now just Falcon rather than XT – upwards.
We didn’t get the opportunity to drive the base Falcon, which gets the most notable changes underneath. It adopts the suspension set-up from the now-discontinued G6, with a front geometry tweak that caters for new 16-inch Michelin low-rolling-resistance tyres.
Together with streamlined underbody sections, the cheapest Falcon gains the biggest reduction in official fuel consumption – down 0.9 litres per 100km to 9.0L/100km.
Despite not sampling the base model, we were able to get behind the wheel of the G6E, XR6 and XR8 variants. (The hero V8 model deserves its own review right now, of course, and you can read our launch review here.)
Ford Australia couldn’t do anything to improve the Falcon’s driving position, though, due to the prohibitive cost that would have been involved for a key structural change. So you still sit higher than ideal.
It otherwise remains a thoroughly comfortable car, with the Falcon joining the Commodore as continuing proof that Ford and Holden engineers have world class ability at delivering expertly judged suspensions.
The Ford FG X Falcon is (appropriately) at its most relaxing in G6E guise, its underpinnings providing the most supple ride in the range as well as the quietest tyres.
There’s still the same sharp initial steering response that takes a little longer to adjust to than it would in a Commodore, but once you have it’s easy to accurately direct the Falcon’s front end exactly where you want it.
The XR6, on sports suspension and one-inch-bigger (19-inch) wheels, rides more firmly than the G6E but still keeps the worst bumps at bay while the damping is nicely controlled over country roads. Body control could be tighter still, though it’s still possible to enjoy a section of winding roads.
Keen drivers will still get the most out of a Falcon by going with an XR6 Turbo or XR8, but if commuting or covering long distances are the priorities then both the older inline 4.0-litre six-cylinder and new inline turbocharged four-cylinder engines remain highly effective.
The 4.0L remains enjoyably torquey – smoothly casual in its performance and still matching well to its transmission borrowed from the EcoBoost. The slightly lighter, more efficiency-focused ZF six-speeder is built in China compared with the German-made version designed to handle more torque and used in the XR6 Turbo and XR8.
Apart from the natural benefits of the reduced mass over the front end the turbo four brings, the EcoBoost engine feels a bit livelier to a press of the throttle pedal, has plenty of overtaking grunt, and still uses the least fuel of any Falcon (officially 8.0L/100km).
The six-cylinder remains the pick if towing is a key consideration, though.
Ford has also trimmed pricing by up to nearly $10,000 on some models, though RRPs have always been just a starting point for negotiations when it comes to the local large cars. And the revised pricing merely brings the Falcon into line with comparable Commodores rather than undercutting them.
The Falcon’s Sync 2 system also allows it to match Holden’s clever MyLink, though the Ford’s archrival remains a generation ahead on the technology front.
Semi-automatic parking, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and reverse traffic alert are among the features not available on any Falcon.
They will be on another Ford, however, which arrives early next year as the successor-in-waiting to the Falcon: the new Mondeo that is technically a medium car but physically isn’t much smaller.
The Ford Falcon carries the emotional and historical appeal, though, and it remains to be seen whether the latest Mondeo can be married as expertly to the unique demands of Australian roads.