Ford Falcon AU
Ford released the AU series Falcon in 1998 marking it the first totally new Falcon in over a decade, but the new styling of the vehicle didn’t capture the heart of the conservative Australian consumer.
Ford invested $700 million in the development of the AU range of vehicles starting with the Forte as the basic model to the XR8 at the high performance level.
The strong investment in the range proved unsuccessful as the AU series was heavily criticised for it styling particularly for the ‘new look’ front of the vehicle. Ford promoted the new exterior styling as the ‘New Edge’ and it was a style similar to the more successful Ford Focus.
The AU Falcon couldn’t make ground against the VT Commodore which was released earlier, and prompted Ford Australia to develop Series II and Series III of the AU model in the four years it was on the market.
In Series II, Ford had up-graded the suspension, and replaced, the much criticised, grille and the Fairmont’s bonnet. The second series also had an upgrade in safety with dual airbags standard.
The vehicles performed surprisingly well in crash tests and, despite the criticism of the look, the body held up well when tested.
Series III had further significant changes to the original AU model, but also struggled in the market. It was finally replaced by the BA series in 2002 which returned to a more conservative body styling.
However beyond the styling, interior design was also heavily criticised, the AU was a competitive vehicle in the market when delving under the bonnet.
The AU was the first major upgrade since the EA was launched in 1988 which had numerous problems when it hit the market.
Ford learnt from the mistake, and had undertaken millions of kilometres of testing and underwent a serious quality assurance program before launching the AU onto the market.
The AU was not released onto the market underdone.
It was the first family car in Australia to offer air conditioning and automatic transmission as standard across the range.
The vehicles also had significant power from its respected 4.0-litre straight-six or a 5-litre V8 and the drive was considered smooth by most critics at the time. It also boasted a sophisticated double wishbone independent rear suspension and variable cam timing on prestige models.
Power produced by the base engine was at 157 kW with other versions of the engine producing up to 172 kW. The V8 engine receives a very respectable 175 kW to 185 kW of power.
The fuel capacity was not spectacular at 14 litres per 100 kilometres, but it was a big car with plenty of grunt (in fact the AU was renowned for its towing capability).
Ford attempted to alleviate the fuel consumption of the model by offering a dual-fuel option running LPG.
Models available in the AU series were Forte (replacing the GLi as the base model) sedan and wagon, and the household models Futura sedan and wagon, Fairmont, Fairmont Ghia as well as the performance model XR6 (XR6 VCT) and XR8.