The tale of Australian manufacturing is as well-documented as it is sad. Despite countless stays of execution, Ford had to allow the axe to fall. Changes in buyers’ tastes Down Under were crucially not reflected in the products being built here. Putting aside economic downturns, government funding and emotions, the bed was made long ago. Maybe the Ford heyday was too good for us to see the reality of its demise.
A car that helped the Blue Oval stay afloat in the noughties was the BA Falcon. One of the icons of the nameplate, it was built up from the diabolical design experiment that was the AU. In terms of turnarounds, the BA was somewhat of a miracle and elevated sales to in excess of 73,000 units for 2003. Those figures seem like a distant memory given Ford failed to find 10,000 driveways for its Falcon last year.
So while Holden was busy creating its billion-dollar baby, Ford was kicking goals with the BA, following up with the BF and FG. The post-AU era also brought an unpretentious hero – the XR6 Turbo. It was a car that my teenage self lusted after, not only for its unwavering bang-for-your-buck stance, but for the tuning potential.
Years later, and with a bank account that had progressed from Dollarmites, I was able to purchase a 2010 FG XR6 Turbo. It was optioned with Premium Audio and leather that resembles anything but lush cowhide. The previous owner had paid mid $50K for the car when new, but that figure had dropped significantly when I purchased it in 2012. Even left standard, the attractive silhouette has presence.
Of course, the inline six is one of the elements that transforms the XR6 into a sleeper. Geelong should be proud. Coupled with a Garrett turbocharger, the lazy 4.0-litre Barra heart is tickled to 270kW (5250rpm) and a V8-esque 533Nm (2000-4750rpm). The latter figure produces a muscular torque curve, resulting in effortless mid-range grunt. It punches hard, propelling you forwards at an alarmingly rapid rate. It’s certainly a match for a standard SS Commodore.
Despite showing an on-scale figure to warrant a call to Jenny Craig, the on-road dynamics are impressive. The balance between supple ride quality and agility is noteworthy as the rear-drive layout hunkers down with aplomb through flowing corners. The old-school hydraulic power steering is direct and offers the connection many electric systems are losing. Additionally, with a hint of induction noise and meaty exhaust acoustics, the soundtrack is just as addictive as the driving experience.
The XR6 Turbo is a car that needs to be tamed. However, that simply adds to the theatre and soul lacking in many offshore offerings. Cold mornings will bring out the worst in the agricultural Tremec six-speed manual’s shift, the clutch is heavy, you sit too high and you need to be aware of its size. For the pace on offer, it is hideously under-braked in standard trim and the pedal fades early. It’s also a case of when, not if, you’ll need to replace the diff bushes.
Over time the interior quality is not up to scratch. Admittedly a lack of soft-touch materials is the least of my worries. It’s more the creaks and rattles mixed in with a general lack of opulence and high-end tech. Ford dealerships also have a somewhat notorious reputation and servicing can be expensive if you don’t do it privately.
It’s still hard to fathom how Australia fell so out of love with big sedans like the FG XR6 Turbo. Yes, city consumption is abysmal with a heavy foot. However, a family won’t be left wanting for space or practicality, the boot is capacious and highway fuel economy is surprisingly frugal. Overall it is a cosseting way to crush miles.
The bonus is that the unrelenting performance can push you back in the seat when commanded and it will carve up corners like a car its size has no right to. And given the plummeting prices of the new FG X, the second-hand market is more affordable than ever. Ironically, it actually makes a convincingly pragmatic case. It is Aussie go-fast knowhow at its finest. Closing the doors at Broadmeadows is heartbreaking.
Ultimately, despite external financial pressures, the FG Falcon created part of its own perfect storm. It was linked to a stubborn, cash-strapped company unable to export a product that even its traditional Aussie demographic was deserting. Still, it’s nice to own a piece of local turbo-six history, a landmark signifying the best it ever got.