I see myself as a Holden fan, even with the brand in its current state. My daily is a VZ Calais and I love it. Yet when I sat behind the wheel of my mates Falcon and took it for a three hour spin around town and up the highway, I was impressed. I'm not saying the Falcon is a bad car, because it's not. I was impressed with just how nice it was compared to my Calais - a sports model versus a luxury model.
When Ford released the BA in 2002, it (and the new Territory in '04) arguably saved Ford Australia, at least for another decade. I say that because with the reception and sales drop from the AU Falcon, the BA and SX were saviours, as they both boosted sales for the Aussie arm of the American brand.
The BA Falcon has aged well compared to the AU. Actually, the BA XR range has aged well. It's the BF MkII range that has aged far better regardless of the model. Ford's contemporary yet sporty design of the XR range (in the case the XR6) has kept well over the years. The signature "teardrop" and blacked-out headlights tell road users you have bought the sports model, even if it isn’t the JDM rivaling turbo or the SS’ XR8 brethren. The front bumper, with its large bottom grille, makes for a sportier appearance over the base XT and Futura, with its flares to the sides of the bumper beneath the large (and bright) fog lamps. The (mostly) squared off design has helped the Falcon stay fresh-looking compared to rivals such as the VY Commodore S Pack and TJ Magna VR-X. The side profile of the Falcon was a carryover from the AU (no surprise there) with the only notable difference being the more aggressive side skirt with the signature “XR6” badging. Different door mirrors would have helped.
The Falcon rides on 17-inch alloy rims that have a curved design, which helps make the Falcon look that little bit sportier from the side. A colour-coded door trim is also standard, which again adds a bit more design appeal. The rear of the Falcon also looks as good as the front. The spoiler helps add to the sportier appeal and works nicely with the overall proportions. The rear bumper gets a similar treatment to the front with the side flares (lips or skirts) and a “splitter” design to the bottom-middle portion. The rear taillights have a chrome strip underneath, which makes for the only chroming apart from the badging on the Falcon XR range.
The interior has also aged pretty well. The straight lines and big infotainment screen also bring a more upmarket look to the Falcon. This XR6 has the optional Premium package which includes the larger infotainment screen and leather trim. Trim material is also pretty nice with a soft touch plastic dash which extends to the top of the front and rear door trims. Leather padding is added to the inner parts of the door trims, which feels okay but is better than the cloth that is standard. Cheaper, scratchy plastics can be found to the bottom of the dash and doors which is fine. The seats are leather wrapped and extremely comfortable both front and rear. Standard features in the interior include air conditioning, trip computer, cruise control, leather wrapped steering wheel, auto headlights, reading/map lights front and rear, lumbar support for both front seats with partial electric adjustment for the driver's seat and power windows/mirrors. The Falcon is safe by most modern standards coming with two airbags, traction control, ABS and a four star ANCAP safety rating.
Powering the Falcon is the famous 4.0-litre Barra i6 engine. The old but loved i6 makes 182kW and 380Nm of torque which are still impressive numbers to this day. Mated to a 5-speed manual going through the rear wheels, well, lets say it's sometimes too easy to be naughty.
Even with its large engine size and overall car weight, the Falcon's fuel economy is still within the normal numbers for a car of its type and age. Ford claims an average of 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres, but we averaged a whopping 11.3L/100km on a combined cycle getting us about 450km to a tank. Okay so that's pretty much what Ford says, but hey at least they aren’t wrong, right? It's the highway where cars like this come to life. The Falcon happily averages about 8.8L/100km which is decent and can get you over 700km to tank.
The ride and handling of the Falcon is just amazing even for the type of car it is. Road noise is a bit louder than what you’d like but turning up the radio helps make it less noticeable. The suspension soaks up the bumps on the highway very well and you almost don’t notice them. The sports tuning also garners enough confidence to take a corner at speed with minimal body roll. Just don’t be too cocky about it though. The seats are very comfortable to sit in for extended periods of time, providing enough support when just cruising on the highway or going around corners. The lumbar support (praise whoever invented it and the blokes who put them in our Aussie cars) works wonders, helping keep both the driver and front passenger comfortable.
It's the engine that also put the Falcon on the map for fun cars to drive, and the manual transmission just helps that claim. The Barra has plenty of torque low in the rev range which makes for highway pulls that are so much easier and exhilarating. Floor it in second gear and you’re pushed back into the seat as a smile begins to form on your face. The transmission shifts relatively smoothly though the clutch has a very high grabbing point. First time drivers will stall it if they don’t try to get to know the clutch.
So whats the overall verdict? Well it's safe to say that the Falcon is a bloody good car and it's no wonder why they’re still on the roads today. Despite some mechanical and quality issues that plagued the BA and BF, the fifth gen Falcon still proves itself to be a worthy contender on our roads and in our hearts.