Ford BA Falcon XT v Holden VY Commodore Executive

words - John Carey
Ford Falcon XT v Holden Commodore Executive - In the battle of the big-selling base models, Ford wheels out a Barra full of challenges for Holden to struggle with. By John Carey

First base

Wheels Magazine
November, 2002

These are the two most important models in the Falcon and Commodore line-ups. There may be glamour and excitement in the sports versions and there's certainly profit and prestige in the luxury models, but it is volume that makes the worlds of Ford and Holden go around. And volume is what the modest XT and unassuming Executive deliver. Around 40 percent of Falcon sales will be the base model; with Commodore it's more like 35 percent.

Ford admits putting more effort into lifting the XT's appeal than any other model in the range. While the basic Falcon they've created is 2.4 percent more expensive than the equivalent AU III Forte, as well as $660 more than a VY Commodore Executive when similarly equipped with auto and air, the XT makes a persuasive case for spending the extra money. It's more generously equipped than the Executive, and Ford offers a better range of options, most of them affordable.

Here's an example: You cannot get power windows in an Executive, but the XT has front power windows standard and power rear windows are a $430 option.

There's more than equipment to the allure of the XT. While the Falcon's exterior redesign is a solid, conservative job, its all-new interior is a winner. Classy, crafted, and Euro-influenced, it's thoroughly impressive. There's a disciplined restraint to the overall effect, achieved by the simple curves and crisply radiused edges of dash and door trims, and calmly harmonious colour combos. Look closer and the degree of craftsmanship is apparent.

The predominant dash, console, and door-trim texture are quite subtle. Looks like a dog's nose, we reckon, but drier. Stop looking, start using, and you'll notice there's a consistent precision to the feel of minor controls that is evidence of painstaking attention to detail.

Even with the new VY dash and steering wheel, the Executive looks a bit cheesy and greasy in comparison. The dash doesn't quite meld with the carry-over door trims. And the 'technical' texture of the new four-spoke wheel doesn't appear to link with any other grain pattern in the car. Many of Holden's interior plastic parts have a slick sheen. Unlike in the Falcon, the Commodore's glossiness appears rather haphazard. While the ergonomics of Holden's centre- stack redesign are hard to fault, it lacks simplicity and elegance when viewed next to the Ford.

While such details create a positive first impression, the Falcon also addresses the large issues more successfully.

The Ford has both a better driving position and a better driver's seat. The BA program allowed Ford's engineers to take care of some long-standing shortcomings. Front seats, for instance, were moved inboard to put the driver's seat directly in line with the steering wheel for the first time in living memory. The Falcon also delivers a more usefully adjustable driving position. Tall drivers in particular will find it easier to get settled in the Ford's comfortable seat. Commodore's seat is almost as good, but its height adjustment won't go low enough. And with power-adjustable pedals an inexpensive option, the Falcon will also appeal to the very short.

Drivers of all sizes will notice the Ford's performance advantage. Although more than 100kg heavier than the Executive, Ford's rejuvenated 4.0-litre six endows the XT with a power-to-weight ratio that's markedly superior.

Hills the Falcon climbs without fuss have the Commodore first unlocking its torque converter clutch and then looking for a lower gear. And the Ford engine clearly has more to give when its new electronically controlled throttle valve is wide open. Falcon's in-line engine now sounds good and is much, much smoother than the inherently vibratory V6 of the Commodore. The Holden engine is okay wafting along on light throttle openings, but it turns coarse and uncouth when revved hard.

Ford's auto, too, is better. Its pseudo-manual mode is one of the best around, but even if the novelty of this feature wears off, the superior responsiveness and refinement of the Australian-assembled transmission remains.

Holden's US-manufactured Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed auto can't match it. With its extra weight and extra performance, the XT does use more fuel than the Executive. In mixed driving we achieved 11.1L/100km in the Holden, 11.9L/100km in the Falcon. It's not a praiseworthy achievement by the XT, but over the 15,000km annual average driven by Australians, and at current prices, this is a difference of little more than $2 a week in fuel costs.

And the Falcon is more than $2 a week better than the Commodore. As well as a drivetrain with superior performance and refinement, the Ford also drives better in other important ways. The XT's suspension calibration delivers a lush ride that is markedly better than the Executive's, especially at high speed. The Falcon also steers better than the Commodore.

Holden's VY steering changes have improved on-centre feel, but the decision to alter the system's hydraulic valving for reduced assistance has brought a treacly truculence at parking speeds.

Ford chose a more direct steering rack for BA, which means both cars now have the same turning circle and turns lock-to-lock. But the Falcon's steering is more evenly weighted, with superior feel.

Both Falcon and Commodore deliver confident and benign handling. Ultimate cornering speeds are similar. Similar, too, is the degree of initial understeer on turn-in, the solid mid-corner stability and relatively gentle transition into oversteer if provoked (traction control is an option in both cars). But Falcon is better for a couple of reasons. There's the steering, of course. And there's the suspension's ability to blot bumps that can disturb the Commodore.

For value, design, craftsmanship, performance, refinement, comfort, and handling, the Falcon XT is a better car than the Commodore Executive. The Holden's sole clear advantage is in fuel consumption.

Nowhere in the whole Falcon-versus-Commodore conflict is Ford's dominance more marked than at base level. The Falcon XT is simply too good a car to be wasted on taxi drivers.

Click here to read more on the Falcon v Commodore battle.




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Published : Friday, 1 November 2002
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