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Since the AU Falcon's 1998 release, Ford has not received the widespread acceptance it enjoyed with its preceding models. It appears the Australian market was not ready for the car's rather radical styling, borrowed in part from America's Taurus. The obvious aim in introducing the year 2000 upgrade of the AU was to address many of the comments made in relation to its aesthetics and general operation in an attempt to regain some of the market share.
With some fierce competition in the way of aggressive advertising and promotions, the family sedan market leadership has seen some serious challenge over the past ten years and with Toyota constantly striving to reach the top position, further movement is inevitable.
The series II AU involves some much needed cosmetic changes to the exterior styling at the front and rear and some general mechanical upgrades to fine tune its on-road performance. The final result is a more balanced looking profile, most obvious in the bread and butter Forte model, plus improved safety and road manners.
The model line-up includes Forte, Futura and Fairmont sedans and wagons, while S, Fairmont Ghia and XR variants are in sedan format only. Prices start at $32,415 for the Forte and peak at $48,665 for the top of the line Fairmont Ghia. Our road test Futura in standard form includes ABS, airconditioning, dual airbags, cruise control, alloy wheels and rear spoiler, and is priced at $36,640. The Fairmont Ghia test car, priced at $51,190, was fitted with standard Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) and optional leather interior and rear spoiler.
The four litre, six-cylinder, in-line, overhead camshaft engine and four speed automatic transmission are unchanged in the Forte through to Fairmont models and the Ghia still uses the Tickford modified engine with Variable Valve Timing (VCT). A laminated steel and resin firewall has been used to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.
Larger pads, thicker rotors, revised front callipers and a higher capacity booster have been included to provide better brake performance and durability. Larger sixteen inch wheels and tyres not only improve the overall appearance of the AU II, but have combined with revised shock absorbers, ball joints and anti-roll bars to improve ride and handling characteristics.
The Fairmont Ghia and high performance XR6 and XR8 models are the only ones that now have IRS fitted as standard. All other models are fitted with the Watts Multilink suspension, with IRS available as an option on most other sedan models, but not available on any wagon or dedicated LPG powered variants.
Driver and front passenger airbags, now standard across the range, combine with pyrotechnic seat belt tensioners and improved front structural strength to increase the AU II's overall safety level. Security has also been upgraded by strengthening the steering column lock and using a high security locking system operated with a revised remote control that incorporates two stage unlocking and a panic alarm. A car alarm is available as a dealer option on all models and Satellite navigation will be a factory option in all Fairmont models from June 2000.
The front end of the Series II Forte and Futura have been given a new bonnet line and grille while the rear treatment includes a reshaped bumper, clear indicator lenses and revised badging. The Fairmont and Fairmont Ghia already had the high bonnet line and clear rear lenses. However, they have been given a new grille and rear chrome boot lid trim incorporating the Fairmont name and share the deeper and squarer shaped rear bumper. The wheel size has been increased to 16" across the range, wheel covers and alloy wheels have been redesigned and a factory fitted spoiler is optional for Forte, Fairmont, and Fairmont Ghia, but is standard on the Futura.
Overall noise and safety issues have been addressed, while new trim colours, fabrics and convenience items have been added.
As the basic body is unchanged, the Series II AU cars retain the same space and comfort advantages and disadvantages as experienced with the first AU. Front cabin space and comfort is generous with good leg, head and shoulder room. While the rear seat leg and shoulder room is excellent, the head room is reduced by the low sloping roofline, making rear seat entry difficult.
An overhead sunglasses compartment incorporating reading lamps has been added between the interior sun visors.
There is an abundance of cabin storage with large dash and console glove boxes, console compartments, pockets in the rear of front seats and pockets in two doors on the Futura and four doors in the Fairmont.
The luggage boot is quite large and although this is complemented by being able to split and fold the rear seat, it does not provide a flat floor space.
The centre dash panel in the Forte and Futura has been revised to incorporate a single CD, tape player and radio sound system, a digital clock and revamped airconditioner controls. Fairmont and Ghia models retain the woodgrain panel above the glovebox that extends into the centre section of the dash. This contains an analogue clock, trip computer and climate control airconditioner displays.
The Ghia is fitted with a premium sound system with a tape player, radio and an in-dash 6 disc CD with eleven speakers. Above the sound system is a row of switches that control the power antenna, central door lock, traction control and rear screen demister. All other controls are still convenient to reach and read, except for the digital display in the instrument cluster that has been changed from LED to liquid crystal.
Vision from the driver's position is clear in all directions, however some drivers claimed some forward obstruction caused by the internal rear view mirror, without realising it was height adjustable.
The four litre engine has ample power for all occasions including towing a large trailer. It provides a touring ability which enables long distances to be covered with ease and comfort, while returning acceptable city and highway fuel consumption. Although the Variable Cam Timing on the Ghia engine gives a claimed increase in power and torque, our performance tests did not reveal any real advantage and while the fuel consumption in the city was better than the standard engine, the highway consumption was higher.
The upgraded brake system offers confident feel and operation bringing the 1500 plus kg cars to a stop from 80 km/h in under 30 metres. The Fairmont Ghia brakes were a little more efficient with less heat build-up, probably because of better cooling with the more open alloy wheels.
The revised standard Multilink suspension and bigger wheels help smooth out the bumps and provide predictable handling characteristics. The optional independent rear suspension does not give a plush boulevard ride. However, when combined with the standard traction control and anti-lock brakes on the Fairmont Ghia, a handling package that has a discernible advantage over the base model Forte and Futura is created, particularly on wet or loose gravel surfaces. Road and wind noises are reduced, but have the potential to be reduced even further on the base models, although the Fairmont is marginally better.
One of Ford's main selling points for the AU II, adding to its current claim of low running costs, will no doubt be its hassle free servicing and emergency package. This consists of extended service intervals, built-in costing for the first four services and 24 hour roadside assistance for the term of the three year 100,000km warranty. All models from Fairmont upwards will receive a more comprehensive roadside assistance plan.
The series two AU Falcon has been subjected to aesthetic and operational upgrades that have the potential to lift it back onto a competitive level with the other Australian built family and fleet sedans. The Forte and Futura have benefited most as a result of the latest upgrade and while the changes to the upper level Fairmonts are minimal, the total package has improved the appearance and comfort of the complete Falcon range.
Its engine power, passenger comfort, safety features and storage make it a strong contender in its market segment. Although not outstanding in any one area, the AU II is functional and practical in all modes of operation.
Test vehicle supplied by the Ford Motor Company of Australia Limited.
|Model||Futura & Fairmont Ghia AU Series II|
Digital dash display
|Country of manufacture||Australia|
Forte sedan & wagon
$32,415 - Forte
|Number of cylinders||6|
|Engine size||4.0 L|
|Wheel size||16 "|
|Type||Goodyear Eagle / Goodyear Eagle NCT|
|Type||Power assisted rack and pinion|
|Turns to lock||3.2 m|
|Turning circle (measured)||11.2 / 11.1 m|
|Mass||1545 / 1560 kg|
|Width (including mirrors)||1870 mm|
|Fuel capacity||68 litres|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||2300 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
|Points on scale 0 - 120 (high score is best)||80|
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||3.5 / 3.9 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||5.8 / 5.7 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||6.2 / 6.5 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||9.1 / 9.1 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||10.8 / 12.2 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||13.2 / 12.8 L/100km|
|Average on test||11.6 / 12.4 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||29.1 / 27.9 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||63 / 62 dB(A)|