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Car reviews - FPV - GS - sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, chassis poise, handling finesse, understated styling, cabin comfort, usual Falcon sedan practicalities
Room for improvement
Limited availability, infuriating push button start, runaway cruise control, no steering wheel button illumination at night, some cheapie cabin detailing

8 Apr 2010

YOU cannot blame Ford Performance Vehicles for going down nostalgia lane with the FPV GS, released last year as 325 limited edition sedans and utes.

An unashamed throwback to the 1969 XW Falcon options pack of the same name, it reminds us of a time when the big Ford was on the ascent, eroding the then dominant Holden’s market share thanks to good looks, great value, competent dynamics, on-track success and visionary leadership.

Icons such as the Falcon GT, as well as the earliest Fairlane, Capri, Cortina and Escort were all pioneers from a period when Ford gambled on innovation and (by and large) was rewarded handsomely for it.

Furthermore, the late 1960s represents an era of redemption for the Falcon after a bumpy start with durability that literally almost ruined the car. But Australians forgave it, for the Falcon has held on through thick and thin since.

Right now times aren’t great for Ford or FPV. People have changed. Tastes have moved on. And the notion of a big V8 performance sedan seems … well, so Beach Boys generation. Fewer Falcons are sold now than ever before despite it – as well as the conceptually identical Holden Commodore – representing a unique Australian take on the family car.

Nostalgia lane, it appears, might be the last refuge for this seemingly dying breed.

Here’s the thing though: line up an FPV GS (basically a Falcon XR8) with the XW GS and only the circular motif, associated stripes, and ‘302’ badge connect the two – and the latter refers to kilowatt output rather than cubic inches. New has so completely moved on from old that today’s GS has evolved unrecognisably. It’s like comparing Barrie McKenzie with Baz Luhrmann to the world as a typical Aussie bloke.

This is because the FG Falcon’s sound underpinnings – wishbone front suspension, a multi-link rear end, rigid body engineering, rack and pinion steering, electronic driving and traction aids, and (optional) Brembo four-piston brakes – embrace the V8 powerplant with a togetherness that would bring tears to the Partridge Family matriarch Shirley Jones’ eyes.

A quick glance of the spec sheet reveals a variation of the same imported 5.4-litre DOHC 32-vavle V8 that Ford Australia has reworked and used in the Falcon since the 2002 BA (another series comeback kid). Not surprisingly it delivers 302kW of power, but retains its 315kW GT brother’s handy 551Nm torque top.

Using the GT’s twin throttle bodies and intake system, headers and dual exhaust system, as well as a recalibrated ECU unit, means that only back-to-back driving would reveal any performance shortfall. The GS would make a believer from the most anti-V8 person on the planet.

Turn the key and then push the console button (ridiculously necessitating two hands – not a good start), and the eight-cylinder symphony focuses your thoughts, serving as a reminder as to why Australians are so lucky. Gnarling quietly at idle, it roars as the revs soar before settling down to a golden baritone at cruising speeds. The sound alone is worth the V8 entry price.

Mind you, the brute force of acceleration too is extremely compelling, since it can catapult the Ford horizon-wards with terrific haste. A lofty red line (6500rpm) means the GS can take huge strides forward within any one of the six expertly spaced ratios, serenading you all the while. What a win-win situation. Even the 15.5 litres per 100km average is not as bad as we expected considering how much fun we were having.

Sadly this engine is Dead Man Sprinting – it’s about to be replaced by Ford’s new-gen US-sourced Coyote 5.0-litre unit, perhaps in supercharged form. But what a fitting epitaph the GS is for this exhilarating V8. Make no mistake though: behind the Aussie knowhow is real American beefcake muscle.

So why does the GS feel so European when the roads get twisty? Why does it bolt through bends with a confidence, poise and security never before seen in a locally made sedan? Lift off suddenly mid-corner or pound the go-pedal hard and the tail will unsettle momentarily but ESP and co. will neatly return you to regular programming, with minimal intrusiveness – if not exactly maximum smoothness.

Deliciously weighted and quick in response, the FPV’s steering is a joy to behold, blessing the GS with a truly satisfying degree of handling finesse. In this age of electric steering even long-time heroes such as the BMW 5 Series have relinquished some tactility feedback for civility and lower CO2s (hydraulics use more energy). But this Ford connects you to the road. Driver and car are in control. This hoon is unbelievably cultured.

Hoon? Oh yes. ESP on, and on a dry road, you do need a sizeable amount of pedal pressure to wag that tail ESP off though and ‘elevenses’ are yours for the marking. Throw in a wet road and you’re flailing around like a garden hose on full pressure.

Speaking of pressure, the (optional, remember) Brembo brakes did the business without fade, adding to the measured oneness of the whole GS package.

Furthermore, the ride quality might have erred on the firm side on rougher roads but comfort is not compromised thanks to soothing built-in suppleness. We often forget how accomplished our homegrown Fords and Holdens feel on our rough and ready roads that would have similarly sized imports pounding our posteriors and spines.

The GS driving experience isn’t all golden though. Road noise rumble is prevalent. That excellent ZF trannie cries out for a pair of paddle shifts (although there is nothing wrong with the floor mounted lever), and the turning circle betrays this car’s rather big footprint.

But the message here is, as with every FG Falcon, the trick is to spend time driving the GS in order to appreciate its unique strengths.

The cabin environment is somewhat less fabulous, for the Ford seems to have aged a little more quickly than its two years on the market suggests.

Basically the steering wheel needs more height adjustment for taller drivers, and some of the lower dash plastics seem a little second rate in a $55,000 car. Oh, and that starter button – located at the base of the centre console – is set within a low-rent surround that does nothing to lift the GS’ ambience.

On the other hand, the front seats are superb, enveloping you for proper corner-carving support yet large enough to not feel constraining. The rear bench, too, is set at a comfortable angle.

As with all current generation Falcon sedans entry and egress is a whole lot easier than it was in the AU/BA/BF years, so you don’t have to duck and strain. And once inside there is space aplenty for five adults to stretch and splay about.

The lack of wind noise, squeaks and rattles (this car rides on 19-inch alloys, remember) is commendable.

We are also fans of the blue/red instrument lighting, large digital speedometer readout, comprehensive trip computer functionality, lane-change indicators, steering wheel size and feel and able climate control system.

The boot floor is not flat due to the spare wheel lurking underneath, so it is a relief that the rear backrest split-folds for longer items to be stored inside. We feel that the general presentation of the GS’ boot – as with all FGs – is below par. It looks and feels unfinished.

Yet after our time with the FPV, the whole package is better than the sum of its quite impressive parts anyway, and more sophisticated than you might expect of an HSV competitor.

The GS is a throwback only in name in some ways it evolves the affordable Australian V8 sedan to new levels, proving that there really is still a big future for this sort of car.

And, by the way, it’s a far better overall experience than driving an XW GS pack. With or without the retro livery, this FPV GS is a modern-day classic.

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