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Ford Falcon BF MkII back in the fight

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A NOSE job and tidy-up should keep the ageing Falcon looking good.

A new nose, more gear and aggressive pricing are at the core of the Falcon fightback. Holden has just introduced its VE Commodore and Toyota rolls out its new Aurion late this month, but it will be 2008 before Ford debuts its all-new Falcon.

To see it through, Ford will introduce a freshened-up BF II late this month.

The upgrade includes a new look for many models, fresh equipment and price adjustments, including some serious reductions on premium models.

Ford will also introduce an optional Euro Sports pack on the base models. It includes electronic stability control, 17-inch wheels, sports suspension and the world-class six-speed automatic transmission for a launch price of just $250.

The ZF six-speed automatic, as used by Jaguar and BMW, is normally worth $1500 as a stand-alone option.

To help Ford models compete with the new Commodore range, the company has cut the prices of some premium models.

The Fairmont Ghia tumbles $6370 to $46,490, the V8 XR8 has shed $6340 to $44,990 and the XR6 Turbo slips $2415 to $43,990.

Some models stay the same and others, including the base XT and Futura, have increased by $100.

Some ute models have increased by $500. Others have stayed the same.

There has been some finetuning of the automatic transmission start-up that has seen a slight fuel saving on four-speed models, but the running gear is effectively unchanged.

The most noticeable change has been made to the front of the XT, Futura, Fairmont, Fairmont Ghia and base ute models, all with new bonnet, bumper and light assembly.

Most sedans also have a revised rear bumper and many models have fresh alloy wheels.

Ford designers left the exterior styling of XR models alone.

The XRs do pick up some minor interior improvements, including a new instrument cluster backing, brighter metallic touches and new interior trim.

There are also four new colours, including a new shade of orange.

The Fairmont Ghia will be the star of its BF II advertising campaign.

The prestige sedan picks up the nose and tail tweaks, and it will also run an XR-style bodykit, including side skirts and rear bumper.

Its interior has also been upgraded with a new-look steering wheel, shiny black centre trim, new instrument cluster, new front seat headrests and extra chrome touches.

A Bluetooth hands-free phone connection, which allows most mobile phones to connect to the car's sound system, will be available across the range as an option for $495.

The new Falcon weighs the same as the previous model, but uses slightly less fuel (0.2 litres every 100km). The base XT four-speed automatic now uses 10.7 litres for 100km of mixed driving when tested to the ADR 81/01 standard.

This figure is now 0.2 litres less than the base Commodore Omega, but a Falcon XT fitted with the ZF six-speed automatic transmission records an impressive fuel economy figure of 10.2 litres for 100km.

These consumption figures are 0.3 litres per 100km more than the front-wheel-drive Toyota Aurion.

ON THE ROAD

THE front end is only a small part of the BF II upgrade. The new nose has freshened the non-XR models and gives the cars a more modern look, which is important when it has to compete against an all-new Commodore.

But the most important part of the BF II upgrade is the price and specification levels.

The price cuts for the XR8, XR6 Turbo and Fairmont Ghia are welcome, but a customer buying a base Falcon is the real winner.

The new Euro Sports pack that includes live-saving electronic stability control, 17-inch alloy wheels and the six-speed automatic transmission for $250 transforms the XT and Futura into world-class cars at a bargain price.

An XT Falcon fitted with the pack costs $36,240 and a Futura with the pack costs $39,540. That is great value.

Anyone who has driven a high-end Falcon or Territory fitted with the six-speed automatic knows it's a good thing.

We drive a base XT model fitted with the six-speed automatic at the BF II launch in Tasmania and are instantly impressed.

The standard four-speed automatic does the job linked to the torquey in-line 4.0-litre engine, but the six-speed is a much better unit.

Its changes are smoother, quicker and less noticeable thanks to two extra gears with which to play.

The ZF six-speed unit is more likely to hold a gear rather than flick up and down hunting for the correct gear.

The premium transmission works well with the Falcon's six-cylinder 190kW engine, which was upgraded when the BF was introduced last year.

It's a punchy plant with great pulling power, and there is also the bonus of fuel savings that come with running the six-speed automatic. That's handy when fuel prices are so volatile.

We record a fuel economy average of 9.8 litres per 100km on an undulating road with a mixture of cruising and getting on the gas, which is very good.

The other changes that come with the BF II upgrade are less noticeable. The interiors of the base models are the same — old and plain. The changes to the interior of the XR models, apart from the new seat trim, are almost impossible to pick. It's a shame they didn't also get an exterior upgrade.

Ford spent most time and effort upgrading the Fairmont Ghia. The interior looks a lot better, with the use of shiny black dashboard sections and metallic highlights rather than woodgrain. The exterior is now much more masculine.

The driving experience hasn't changed, but that is a good thing.

A nice mix of performance and luxury, the Fairmont Ghia has a softer suspension set-up than its Holden Calais rival and that will be welcomed by many drivers.

The Ghia, along with all the other Falcon models, still handles very well with precise steering that is not too heavy, not too light and gives you just the right amount of feedback.

The BF II upgrades are minor compared with what Holden did with the all-new VE Commodore, but the Falcon was already a good car. It might not be totally new, but the exterior tweaks, the additions of stability control and brilliant six-speed automatic mean the Falcon is right back in the fight with its Commodore opponents.

INSIDE VIEW

FORD FALCON BF II XT with Euro Sports pack

ENGINE 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder

POWER 190kW at 5250 revs

TORQUE 383Nm at 2500 revs

TRANSMISSION Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive

FUEL CONSUMPTION 10.2 litres per 100km (ADR 81/01)

PRICE $36,240

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