"The Falcon ... is simply too good a car to be wasted on taxi drivers," writes Wheels magazine when it reviewed the then-new BA Falcon in 2002.
When Ford launched the BA Falcon in 2002, it was a revelation. It was the car that brought Falcon out of the ’90s and into the 21st century, with technology such as drive-by-wire electronic throttle control, dual-zone climate control, and a heavily revised in-line six, dubbed 'Barra', now sprouting dual overhead cams and variable cam timing that resulted in a smoother, more responsive car than ever before.
The meatier steering, both in weight and in feel, is more communicative than before. Ergonomic improvements, such as power-adjustable pedal height and a steering wheel that's directly in line with the driver's seat, make this car a comfortable place to sit in.
The all-new cabin was brilliant for its time. Large buttons in the centre stack make for easy operation of the dual-zone climate control. It was, and still is, a very cohesive, inoffensive design, almost Germanic in appearance (albeit let down by material quality), and to my eyes at least, still stands the test of time today.
It’s one of the few cars that I immediately liked. I still remember the drip-feed release Ford ran at the time, teasing Falcon fans with minor details about the car (such as placing the windscreen washer jets under the trailing edge of the bonnet, and in-glass radio antenna to produce a smoother, cleaner look) leading up to its official launch.
But enough about the BA. This car is the BF Fairmont.
The BF was a mild facelift of the BA. Launched in 2005, it built on what was a brilliant car, and made it better. Cosmetically, the BF had new front bumpers, wheels, interior trim, tail-lights and door locks. Minor revisions to the Barra in-line six saw an increase in power and torque and a reduction in claimed fuel consumption. The big news was the German ZF six-speed automatic transmission, which was standard on the Fairmont Ghia, and optional on the XR6 Turbo and XR8. Disappointingly, the Fairmont missed out.
The Fairmont, being a higher-end model, features dual-zone climate control, six-stack CD player, power-adjustable pedal height, six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, side airbags, faux-woodgrain trim, (faux?) leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter, and velour seats.
This brings me to the dilemma that I am faced with in reviewing this car: do I write this review based on the state-of-the-art at the time of its launch, or today? If I am to assess it by today's standards, this car lacks Bluetooth, digital radio or any form of connectivity that we have come to expect in even the most basic of cars today. It also lacks a reverse camera, front parking sensors and more forward gears than four. I could go on.
But in 2002 when the BA was launched, it bettered its contemporary rivals, packing features that the others didn't, packaged in a large rear-drive sedan with a drivetrain that was state-of-the-art for an Australian designed and built car that could be had for a little over $40K. Sixteen years ago, this would have been an eight out of 10 car.
Out on the open road, the Fairmont is a delight to drive. The 4.0-litre in-line six barely raises a sweat as it cruises at 110km/h, and has more than enough oomph for when it's needed for overtaking.
If there are any downsides, it's that the ride is a bit floaty over bumps. The car can take a little while to settle after going over a bump, which can be a disconcerting experience for some.
Being a big, heavy car, with a big (both physically and in terms of displacement), powerful and heavy engine, it's no surprise that fuel consumption in city stop-start traffic is atrocious. I have routinely recorded roughly 13.5L/100km driving mainly in stop-start traffic. What is surprising, however, is that out on the open road, with the engine barely ticking over, this big, heavy cruiser suddenly becomes a fuel miser, recording in the vicinity of 7.5L/100km.
In the 12 years since I have owned it, however, it has not been without fault. Common issues in Falcons of that era include the rather fragile diff bushes, which have plagued this Fairmont for some time. Door lock actuators have been replaced countless times, and now one of the window regulators is on the blink. And rust is included at no extra cost.
But the other issues that I have had with this car in the time that I have owned it, such as the need for a replacement starter motor and planetary gearset, can be put down to wear and tear over time.
Despite its age, the Fairmont has done everything I've asked of it. It has started first time every time, and driven long distances with ease. It may now be 13 years old, but this car has many more years and many more road trips to come.