FORD has not spent a billion dollars on an all-new Falcon ... yet. But the BFII has finally arrived.
Neither has the Blue Oval torn apart its chassis and engines in pursuit of "newness" to combat Holden's VE and the soon-to-be-revealed Toyota Aurion.
That level of investment and development is still some way off, with the BF replacement not due for release until 2008.
What Ford has done with the BF MkII released this week is "freshen" the Falcon range where it needs it, leave it alone where it doesn't and sharpen pricing and fuel economy to keep its customers satisfied.
"Of course you always want to have the newest metal in town, but that is just not possible all the time," Ford Australia president Tom Gorman says.
"We are watching the others guys but we had a pretty good idea where we were going before they (Holden) made any moves and nothing has changed from that.
"We are doing anything but backing away ... we are engaging the opposition. I have great confidence in the future of the Australian car industry and even greater confidence that Ford will be part of it."
Styling changes across the range are noticeable but not extensive. All the cars, with the exception of the XR6 and XR8 models, get a new tapered bonnet, grille, front and rear bumper and headlight accent treatment.
The XR range gets a new cloth interior with customisation by model, and a satin alloy look for the instrument panel as well as a new instrument cluster design.
Engineering changes are minimal with most of the work concentrated on calibrating its automatics, including the the six-speed ZF, to produce a fuel economy improvement in the low single-digit percentage range.
Ford claims 10.2 litres per 100km for the new optional six-speed XT Falcon auto, a 6 per cent improvement, and an across-the-board improvement of 2 per cent to 10.7 on everything up to the Fairmont with the standard four-speed automatic.
Gorman says Ford has "repositioned" some of the more popular models, held prices on others and improved the value equation with a range of new option packs and features, such as Bluetooth capability.
"Recommended retail pricing of our premium (V8 and Turbo) Falcon XR models has been reduced by up to 12.4 per cent, while Fairmont Ghia has benefited from a reduction of 12.1 per cent," Gorman says.
Pricing for XR6 and Fairmont models will remain unchanged while XT and Futura prices rise by 0.3 per cent.
As a launch special Ford will offer a Euro Sports Package consisting of six-speed automatic transmission, dynamic stability control, sports control blade independent rear suspension and 17-inch alloys on the XT, Futura and Fairmont sedans at $250.
The XR6 buyers will be offered DSC and the six-speed auto at the same price. Gorman says the decision not to follow Holden's lead in offering stability control as standard across the model range was not taken lightly but, along with the decision not to put the six-speed auto across the range, the decision came down to cost.
"It has been a significant investment for us," he says. "You can make a lot of things standard and drive yourself out of business.
"I think we're striking the right balance."
On the road the BFII is remarkably similar to the original BF, which is no surprise given that the changes to the dynamics of the vast majority of the Falcon range are associated with options packs.
"It is fair to say that any major changes to engineering will be held back until the next full model change," Gorman said during the launch drive in Tasmania this week.
"Engineering is hugely expensive but this time it is as much a recognition of the work the guys got right when they did BA and BF originally."
The main engineering work on the BF II has been in calibrating the six-speed ZF automatic to make it accessible across the full range.
The slick self-shifter is offered as a $1500 stand-alone option but almost all buyers will take it as part of a special $250 launch pack consisting of the ZF box, a dynamic stability program and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The inclusion of the 17-inch alloys in the pack is actually a cost-saving for Ford, as the DSC has only been calibrated for cars running that size wheel, and the decision to bundle with DSC means wider availability of the option across models for greatly reduced engineering costs.
"It is a bit of look and see," Gorman says.
"It is a fact that calibration has only been done for models running a 17-inch rim but it will also give us the chance to see how the availability of the option plays with buyers."
Ford's huge engineering input into the BA and the refinements implemented in BF still stand the Falcon in good stead.
The control blade rear suspension and home-grown in-line six and V8 engines retain all their desirability and still stand up to comparison with the new opposition.
Where the Falcon has taken a step forward is at the bottom of the range with the sports pack on the XT. The six-speed box transforms the entry-level Falcon from a plugger to a player.
Where the old four-speed self-shifter struggled for kick when asked for a big effort, the new ZF quickly finds the fat of the torque curve to give a new confidence to XT.
None of the actual body dynamics have changed enough to be worth noting, but the confidence in knowing the gears will be ready to go when called on does allow for a little more enthusiasm — aided in no small part by the knowledge that the safety net of the DSC is waiting in the background.
BF Falcon MkII prices
XT sedan (manual): $34,990
XT sedan (auto): $35,990
XT wagon: $37,720
Futura sedan: $39,290
Futura wagon: $41,375
Fairmont Ghia sedan: (I6) $46,490
XR6 sedan: $39,710
XR6 Turbo (manual): $43,990
XR6 Turbo (auto): $45,490
XR8 sedan (manual): $44,990
XR8 sedan (auto): $46,490
XL Ute: C/C $27,450, SS $27,875
XLS Ute: C/C 29,145, SSB $29,795
RTV Ute: C/C $31,950, SSB $32,900
XR6 Ute: C/C $33,990, SSB $34,620
XR6 T Ute: $40,445, XR8 $41,595