Once upon a time, if you worked for a big company that gave you a fleet car, chances are it was one of this pair’s ancestors.
Entry versions of the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore — Forte and Executive anyone? — dominated the nation’s car parks and driveways, a source of national pride and limited choice in equal portions.
But a combination of factors including the rise of a ‘user chooser’ culture where companies began to increasingly offer staff a wider choice of cars, and the proliferation of smaller or higher-riding imported options, meant this colossal duo began to wane.
In fact — and we all know that Falcon and Commodore sales are a fraction of what they were in their pomp, so we won’t bore you — both Ford and Holden are increasingly re-aligning their big sedans (and wagon, in the case of the Holden) as sporty or luxurious offerings instead.
V8 versions of the Commodore make up a sizeable chunk of sales, as do luxury versions such as the Calais. Ford, meanwhile, has experienced sell-out success with the returned XR8 and markets its new FG X range as a sports sedan more than anything else.
So why test this entry pair, the Holden Commodore Evoke and Ford Falcon (the company has axed the XT badge) in slow-selling EcoBoost 2.0-litre turbo guise? (Note, we asked for a 4.0-litre I6, but Ford couldn’t get us one.)
Firstly, we suspect this pair of Aussie battlers still do some things better than most, and in their current — and final — iterations before the doors on the factories that make them close, offer significant value for money, if maximum space and performance is what you’re after.
We also know that while these exact fleet specials are rarely purchased by private buyers, their ‘limited edition’ spin-offs frequently are (though Holden has stuck to the formula more often, as Falcon Sapphire, Classic and SRs are a thing of the past while Commodore Equipe and International more frequently soldier on…).
So which is better? We have a sneaky suspicion that at this level, the Falcon might have its best crack at besting the Holden, given the Evoke with its smaller 3.0-litre V6 engine is probably the ‘weak’ point in a very, very strong Commodore range.
Let’s take a look first at what kind of value is on offer. Both of these models came in for price cuts at launch over their predecessors.
The Falcon retails before on-road costs for $35,900, which is $1335 cheaper than before. The Commodore Evoke sedan, meantime, costs $35,490, $4500 less than the VE-generation entry car that precedes it.
Both therefore cost just a smidgen more than entry-grade mid-sized cars such as the Mazda 6 Sport ($33,460) and Hyundai i40 Active $31,990, and about the same as top-end small cars such as the Volkswagen Golf 103TSI Highline ($32,290). It’s also mid-grade small SUV money.
What the local duo offers in exchange is more power and passenger space than any of these, albeit in a way that is progressively less fashionable to most modern consumers.
Size-wise it is hard to split the pair. The Commodore is 4.947 metres long, 1.898m wide and 1.471m high, while the Falcon is is 4.949m long, 1.868m wide and 1.494m tall. The biggest difference is in the wheelbase, respectively 2.915m and 2.838m.
Both offer vast levels of cabin space front and rear, as anyone who has sat in an Australian taxi is no doubt familiar, though there are discrepancies in the execution of the two cabins. It is the Holden that claims the honours here.
The cost savings for the Evoke over its Calais sibling are obvious in parts: it has an ignition barrel rather than a starter button and a cheap-feeling plastic steering wheel, and misses out on adjustable rear headrests (and a centre headrest altogether).
But it feels better screwed together than the Falcon, which is downright shabby in some areas, though both cars are guilty of using some hard scratchy plastics on areas surrounding the transmission, door handles and on top of the dash.
The Holden’s design and execution is pleasant to behold, with some welcome silver accents, as well as cloth or leather inserts with visible stitching, to break up the sea of greys and blacks. Both have tough-wearing but comfortable cloth seats, though the Commodore’s are the more supportive — just.
The Falcon’s general layout, bar its new touchscreen software (more on that shortly), is familiar, and while everything is simple to operate, it feels tired by comparison, and the fitment of some of the plastics — those employed on the inner door grips and centre console spring to mind — is fairly dire by modern standards.
Remember, Ford Australia had barely more than $100 million in funds (from company and government co-contribution) to develop the FG X, which isn’t much. And almost all of this went on the new front and rear styling changes rather than the cabin.
Yes, the number of Falcons out there with 500,000km-plus on them indicates that while it may feel a bit shabby in parts, it will probably hold together longer than it may initially appear, but you still want a ‘new’car to feel better than this.
Both have excellent, intuitive infotainment systems housed in 8.0-inch screens, called MyLink on the Holden and Sync 2 on the Ford. If anything, the Falcon’s system with its home screen made up of four colour-coded quadrants — phone, information, entertainment and climate — is the more user-friendly.
Both paired our phones like lightning, displayed full imagery to accompany streaming audio (album covers or podcast logos, for instance) and had responsive touchscreens. The Ford’s voice control is better, and up there with Apple’s Siri for its cleverness.
The Falcon is also the only one of this pair with DAB+ digital radio and the ability to act as a WiFi hotspot via tethering, though the Holden counters with embedded and integrated music streaming apps Pandora and Stitcher. The Ford also offers two USB points so you can charge two phones at once, whereas the Holden has one.
Above: Holden Commodore (top) and Ford Falcon (bottom).
Both models also come with excellent reversing cameras and front/rear sensors (the Holden’s units display a diagram on the screen unlike the Ford’s), though neither offer satellite navigation at this level. Only the Commodore includes dual-zone rather than the single-zone climate control of its rival.
The Commodore also wins out on cabin storage and overall ergonomics and packaging. It has decent cupholders in the front and a sunglasses-holder, unlike the Ford, much deeper and wider door pockets, an electric parking brake to save space and a better driving position.
An age-old issue with the Ford is the fact its steering column does not adjust for rake high enough, which is constricting and makes the dials hard to see. The Commodore loses points on visibility in a different way, given its tiny side mirrors and massive A-pillars, but it also gets automatic park assist unlike the Ford (which has hydraulic steering, so it can’t be applied even if Ford wanted to).
Above: Holden Commodore (top) and Ford Falcon (bottom).
Both get six airbags and five-star ANCAP ratings.
Passengers in the rear are also likely to prefer the Holden.
Both options come with rear vents (though the plastic surrounding the Falcon’s is flimsy), but the Holden is the only to offer door pockets and cup holders, albeit ones that require the exceedingly wide ski port to be flipped down. The Falcon, unlike the Holden, has 60/40 folding seats.
Above: Holden Commodore (top) and Ford Falcon (bottom).
The Holden’s rear bench is more supportive than the flat, wide lounge chair in the Ford. The Commodore’s wheelbase gives you marginally more knee room, though the Falcon wins on headroom, but it’s a close battle and both are vast. Neither have switchable rear map lights.
Both also have big boots hiding space-saver spare tyres rather than proper versions. The Falcon’s houses 535 litres, but expands greatly with the seats folded. It also has a nice deep recess for bags. The Commodore’s is 496L, but is a flat surface unlike the Falcon’s, and consistently deeper.
So on most metrics that’s a win for the Holden. But how about behind the wheel? Both of these cars are designed to eat up long distances and country miles, but both also feature the most efficient powertrains in their respective line-ups (LPG versions, perhaps, excluded on a cost basis).
The two companies certainly approach things differently. Ford may not sell many four-cylinder Falcons, but it really deserves to. The turbocharged 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine is a great little unit that more than makes up for its diminutive capacity.
It produces less power than the Holden —176kW at 5500rpm compared to the Commodore’s 3.0-litre SIDI V6 with 185kW at a high 6700rpm —but more torque, with 353Nm at a low 2000rpm compared with 290Nm at 2600rpm.
As the figures suggest, the Ford offers responsiveness at the lower end, with the Holden’s engine displaying a noticeable lack of torque below 2500rpm. That said, the V6 counters with a raucous and rev-happy nature, something its smarter six-speed auto exploits well.
Overall though, it’s the Ford’s engine that offers more guts where you most want it. The Holden’s auto works overtime to keep the engine in its sweet spot, meaning momentum is just as swift but overall refinement less so.
Surprisingly, we recorded very similar fuel consumption figures on our test loop, which featured extensive highway time, as well as backroads, gravel tracks and thorough inner-urban environs with stop-start traffic. We also spent some time giving both some real stick ... cos Straya.
The Falcon’s smaller force-fed engine used marginally less fuel, as you might expect, but the margin was slim. We managed 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres, which is respectable for a car of this size. But the 3.0-litre V6 in the Commodore surprised us by managing 9.6L/100km.
The official claims are 8.0L/100km and 8.3L/100km respectively, though traditionally the small-capacity engine in the VE struggled to come near to its claims due to weight and auto calibration issues – both addressed with VF.
The servicing intervals for both are 15,000km, though the Falcon can go 12 months between services while Holden recommends the Evoke be taken to the dealer at least every nine months.
Both cars are certified to tow a 1600kg load on a braked trailer if fitted with towing packs, and both are able to use cheaper E10 fuel (yes, the turbo Ford too). The Commodore’s 71L tank is marginally bigger than the Falcon’s 68L unit.
In terms of ride and handling, it’s a mixed bag. In most situations, the Commodore offers a marginally more compliant and comfortable ride, but it’s like comparing two brands of armchairs — both are exceedingly cushy over most surfaces.
Both sit on all-round independent suspension, and both use 16-inch tyres, Bridgestone Turanzas on the Commodore and Michelin Energy Savers on the Falcon. It’s the Holden that is moderately quieter over coarse chip surfaces, but again it’s a close call.
The Evoke sits on a Touring suspension tune that’s the softest in the VF range. But it’s not one to wallow; instead its damper rebound control is top-notch, meaning it dispatches Aussie B-road corrugations and re-settles faster than just about anything else at this price.
It also handles beautifully for such a big car, with a keen turn-in via the light electric-assisted steering which nevertheless is almost immediately responsive. This setup, along with the supple ride, insulates you from mid-corner bumps and rattles.
The chassis balance is also great, with plenty of adjustability mid-corner, and the stability control system lets you slip the tail out for some casual low-level hoonery.
The Falcon likewise rides beautifully courtesy of its Virtual Pivot Control Link front and Control Blade rear suspension, and the damping in fact feels more at home over rough corrugated gravel back roads than the Holden, though we honestly aren’t entirely sure why.
This variant gets more changes that other models as part of the FG X update, given it adopts the sportier suspension set-up from the now-discontinued G6.
Although it pretty much matches the Commodore for ride comfort, it feels smaller and more nimble on a winding road, and almost dances in your hands —forgive the wordplay. The lighter front end (there’s no big lump of Australian-made inline-six or V6 over the front axle) means the Falcon changes direction remarkably well.
The Commodore is excellent here too, but you never forget its weight and dimensions like you do with the Ford.
The Ford’s steering response is also outstanding. There are wonderful levels of feedback conveyed from the front tyres, though its hydraulic setup is a bit of a workout around town and during parking compared to most modern electric systems such as that in its rival.
So it might be fair to summarise the driving component thus: The Falcon has the better engine, and feels both moderately sharper on a twisting road and more composed on gravel. The Commodore rides better 90 per cent of the time, has lighter steering around town and a smarter transmission, not to mention a much, much more upmarket cabin.
It’s a close call, and each shines in this big open land of ours. But the choice for which is best became increasingly clear as our test developed, even though it’s ultimately a close call.
Realistically, the days of this pair being the de rigeur car — by choice or not — for a vast swathe of the populace are over. But each handles itself in a way that makes you a little bit proud anyway.
It should be clear by now that it’s the Holden that simply does more things better, and even though the Falcon FG X is ‘newer’, the sparseness evident in Ford’s shoestring update is there for all to see. That cabin design and quality is too dated, for starters, though we must say the Falcon remains more worthy than its dwindling sales merit if you chew up the miles.
The Commodore just feels that bit easier to live with, given it offers a more complete and modern package despite its decidedly less suave engine. Particularly in the Holden’s case, for space, comfort, and technology, today’s traditional big base model is absolutely at the top of its game, and worthy of consideration against mid-sizers and SUVs unless you’re the most fashion-conscious modern fleet or private buyer.
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