Let me just start out by saying that I’m not your stereotypical Falcon buyer. I don’t own any clothing with a V8 Supercars logo. I don’t go to Bali on holidays. I drink neither Jim Beam nor Jack Daniel’s. In fact, even my now ownership is sort of an accident, considering I was originally heading out to buy an F30 335i.
Anyway, the picture I’m trying to paint is that I’m not a one-eyed Ford fanatic, but just a car enthusiast who looks for value wherever it can be found. I should also clarify that I didn’t really need this car. It’s not something that I drive to work every day, and nor is it ever likely to be used to go shopping or ferry kids around the place. So, my review is best taken with a grain of salt if you’re looking to buy one of these as your primary transport.
Ordinarily through the week, my usual drive is a two-tonne dual-cab ute with barely enough power to keep up with a Camry at a hard take-off from the lights, and the sort of wallowing, uncontrolled ride that you might find on a water bed. This car is purely for my own selfish enjoyment on weekends.
Normally when people buy a weekend car, they don’t find themselves with any practicality limitations that their purchase must adhere to, but I do enjoy a round of golf, so any car I bought needed to be big enough to fit two sets of clubs, and also decently suited to long drives. Unfortunately, this quickly ruled out options like the 981.
Being a CarAdvice regular and a person who ‘thinks he knows’, I quickly settled on the 335i as my preferred choice and didn’t really bother examining the competition. However, curiosity got the better of me when I spotted this XR6T in extremely good nick. You know that meme with the guy turning around to look at the girl in red while the girl in blue looks on in disgust? Well, in this case the 335i is the girl in blue.
If you don’t already know why the FG XR6T is such a good car, the chances are that the first impression it makes on you will leave you in no hurry to find out. Visually, the exterior is sedate and underwhelming, bearing far too much similarity to the decade-old BA. It’s not an ugly car, but definitely a forgettable one.
The interior presentation is really not much better, and yes, it is more or less identical to the fare you’d find in a taxi. The FG is a mixed bag, ergonomically. The seats are comfortable and supportive, with good bolstering and all the adjustments you need to get settled, but as has long been reported with Falcons, it would be great if you could drop them down a little further.
Ford didn’t have money for attention to detail on the FG, and it shows. There are lots of little things that don’t seem like a big deal in isolation, but when combined together, really undermine the Falcon as a package. The steering wheel controls not being lit, the unnecessary DIN gap under the centre stack, and the gaping depression in the floor of the boot where the space-saver sits – just to name a few. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for a Ford salesman to persuade a neutral buyer after they’d looked at something like a Mazda 6 or even the VF Commodore.
But if you’ve come this far and you still want to drive the XR6T, the experience is well worth it. Beneath the flawed packaging and the budget interior job, the FG Falcon is a fundamentally good car that rides well, steers well, and offers one of the best six-cylinder turbocharged engines that the world ever saw. Yes, the world, and I don’t feel like that’s an exaggeration either.
What the XR6T offers is accessible, liveable and enjoyable performance. The Barra 270T is the centrepiece of this car, and even now 10 years old, the 270kW/533Nm outputs are seriously impressive for a $45,000 car. The first time I drove it 10 years ago, I was blown away by its output. Now, I’m only just starting to appreciate how smooth and linear it is as well. The 270T is a truly world-class engine, and it gives very little away in overall refinement to the N55 in the BMW.
In raw performance, the 270T has a definite edge, but the best quality of the engine is just how strongly it pulls from idle and low RPM. While the skinny rear tyres and lack of all-wheel drive may mean some of the $50K competition can keep pace on standing-start drags, the in-gear of the XR6T is staggering and seriously hard to match. Burying your foot will bring up all kinds of silly numbers on the speedometer far too quickly for you to take any time to enjoy what just happened. Team this engine with the svelte ZF automatic gearbox, and you have yourself a near-perfect combination.
The chassis of the car isn’t a standout like the engine, but it’s still a highlight and the perfect character complement to the drivetrain. Ford did an excellent job tuning the suspension just right for Australian roads, and the ride strikes the perfect balance of being controlled without being too firm. The cabin is also well insulated from noise and the ZF goes about its shifting business discretely, never being caught in the wrong gear and never disturbing the peace.
So, why did I buy it over the BMW? If this were a car that I’d be driving more than once or twice a week, it’s hard to deny that the BMW is the better option. The Falcon’s interior and technology shortcomings become very apparent when you’re not driving for fun, and the very heavy fuel consumption would mean trips to the servo are frequent.
But for raw, unadulterated fun, there’s very little in the way of four-door options on the market that put a bigger grin on your face than the XR6T, and to me it simply felt the better, if not as sharp, driving experience. The engine is seriously impressive, and the rush of adrenaline you get when unleashing its full potential is something that cannot be matched without spending significantly more. Or maybe buying a HSV.
The Falcon also maintained a significant cost advantage, being $20K cheaper when cross-compared to the F30 335i M Sport. It was also $2000 per annum less for me to insure, and with Falcons and Commodores fading away into the twilight, the future resale value is predicted to be much stronger.
I have absolutely no regrets as to my purchase, despite the many flaws of the Falcon. At its core, it is a car with a superb chassis matched to a wicked drivetrain – the perfect recipe for enjoyable driving. It’s tantalising to think of how much better the FG could have been had Ford been able to access the billion dollars in platform development that Holden received from GM. What Ford Australia accomplished with the limited resources it had is no mean feat.
I’m already planning to hold onto this car for a long time. Not because I want to reap the rewards of classic car appreciation, but because the XR6T is now something truly unique that will probably never be seen again.