The cat and mouse game between Ford and Holden just got interesting again.
Ford has come out punching with their new FG Falcon, after receiving a near two year beating in the sales arena at the hands of Holden's VE Commodore. And while this Falcon shares the core chassis with its predecessor (where the VE was all-new) very little has been left unfettled.
Any external change is hard to spot with the mildly face-lifted XT entry level, but moving up the range to the Luxury 'G' and the ever-popular XR sports variants the makeover becomes more apparent, with hints of Ford's kinetic design principals introduced with the latest Mondeo.
Falcon FG G6E TurboThe sedan's exterior dimensions have grown albeit slightly, it's 25mm longer, 4mm wider and 9mm taller. But smart interior packaging has ensured interior space has generously increased, the BF's much criticised ingress/egress issues have thankfully been remedied.
Jump inside and the efforts of Ford's interior designers are obvious, the dash fascias and materials are of a higher quality than any Falcon before it, and even the XT is dressed up with attractive matt silver accents similar to its sporty XR counterparts.
The G series receive stylish black onyx fascias, and plush leather upholstery.
On the face of things standard equipment impresses, all models receive steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, climate control, 4-way power adjustable driver's seat, Electronic Stability Control plus front and side airbags.
But disappointingly Ford has chosen not to incorporate curtain airbags across the range, which is a disadvantage over Falcon's direct competitors, instead making it a $400 cost option on the 5 models that lack the safety feature.
Ford should've learnt from Holden's mistake, the Commodore missed out on a 5 star NCAP crash rating due to a lack of curtain bags on the tested model and has since incorporated them on all sedan models. Hopefully Ford will reconsider and absorb the cost, in the meantime we recommend opting for the additional curtain airbags, they are proven life savers.
The more lavishly-equipped G6E and G6E Turbo feature all the fruit, including a full colour 7" multi-info command centre, 6-disc, 8 speaker audio system, dual zone climate A/C, 8-way power adjustable seating with memory, power adjustable pedal position, leather upholstery, full iPod integration and Bluetooth connectivity.
The later two features can also be added to the lesser models as a "technology pack" option.
A further "Luxury pack" option is available for the XR models and entry-level G series (G6), this adds leather trim, the premium audio and colour command centre and larger alloy wheels.
During our test of an entry-level XT model on New Zealand roads it rapidly became apparent - just when the Commodore had caught up - the FG has shifted the handling goalposts yet again.
The XT's twin tube shock absorbers are carry-over items from its predecessor and work well at keeping pitch and roll in check as well as refinement over the bumps, the more advanced single tube items on the rest of the range promise to be even more accomplished.
Also retained is the awesome rear control blade suspension, but with many enhancements. Add wider tracks front and rear and the FG feels very well planted.
That said however, it's not without its flaws.
To aid stability at highway speeds the steering rack has been moved forward of the front axle's centre line but the shift has introduced a wooden feel just off centre, and an annoying steering rattle when pushing hard
Unlike with its lion-badged rival, you don't have to wait and age for the ute or wagon versions to be introduced as the load-hauling FG's have been launched simultaneously. The FPV range, with over 300kW from either the turbocharged six-cylinder or the V8, will complete the FG line up later this month
After a launch drive in a selection of FG ute variants we we're pleased to note none exhibited the steering shortfalls of the XT sedan we trialled.
The engine line up is the same as the sedan range, starting with the XT G6 and XR6's tried and true 4.0 litre, straight six-cylinder that develops 195kW @ 6000 rpm and 391Nm of torque @ 3250 rpm.
The engine rev's freely and performance is crisp, especially if you make use of the standard five-speed auto's sequential sport shift.
A six-speed transmission is fitted to XR and above spec Falcons, no manual variants are available.
Output jumps to a massive 270kW @ 5250rpm and 533Nm @ 2000 rpm with the turbocharged versions, the V8 may appeal to purists but make no mistake, the turbo six is the real hero engine. The turbo comes to life at just above idle speed, so performance is blisteringly quick; luckily all utes are offered with a Limited slip differential to aid traction.
The ute tray has grown 25mm, this has also reduced the gap between the tray and cab. There's increased interior stowage also, but it's not as bigger leap forward as exhibited by the 'other' Aussie ute. Likewise the active safety features, all Falcon utes must make do with just the conventional traction control and none are offered with Electronic stability control. This comes as a great disappointment, especially considering the massive power and torque increases in the turbo versions.
Acknowledging more and more potential buyers are researching their next vehicle purchase online, Ford has done away with their former 'high price, high discount' pricing strategy to help entice buyers back into dealerships again.
As Ford New Zealand's Managing Director, Richard Matheson told us: "People aren't always comfortable challenging their car dealer over price, many want to fast forward this process and know what they can expect to pay straight away"
The new transparent pricing which starts at just $39,990 for the XT sedan will hopefully see Ford sell the Falcon on it its merits, rather than on what discount can be offered.
The Falcon has its work cut out if it's to knock the Commodore of its perch as Kiwi's favourite large car, but with an improved interior, better handling, awesome turbo-power, and its new pricing strategy, Ford has made a good fist of evening the odds again with the FG.