Ba Falcon - Suspension:

(Back to the BA Falcon Introduction.)

INDEX:

REAR SUSPENSION:

FALCON SEDAN:
 
History: From AU to BA
How do you make the best even better?  With the AU already drawing significant praise from journalists and public alike for it's IRS prowess, Ford had a significant task on it's hands if it was to beat it's own bench mark for Aussie built rear wheel drive sedans.  Already vastly superior to the primative swing arm system fitted to the VT & VX Commodore (with higher levels of grip and reduced tyre-wear) Ford's multi-link design wasn't as perfect as everybody would have hoped.  


Computer generated image of the BA's new IRS.  Click on image for a more in-detail view.

Not only was it heavier than it should have been, but it restricted factory options such as fitment of LPG and a Limited Slip Diff on some models.  If you wanted IRS on your AU Falcon you either had to pay for an up-market model or cough up the (significant) extra for fitment to your sedan.  

- And don't even think about fitting it to the wagon!  In many ways it's no wonder the public steered away from the AU in droves - with the Commodore sedan and wagon both receiving IRS as standard right across the range.

Improvements for BA:
Moving to cover all of it's bases for the new BA Falcon, about the only item left un-addressed was the IRS's fitment to the wagon - but more about that later.  Becoming much lighter (20kg lighter in fact) than the AU Falcon's magnificent but heavy multi-linked item, Independent Rear Suspension (IRS) was made standard right across the range for the BA (sedan only)  allowing Ford to finally out do GM in this critical area.  

Compact Dimensions:
- But reduced weight and greater value aren't the only benefits of the BA's re-engineered IRS - all new from the ground up, from what has been seen in Ford's press release pictures it's engineers have made the most of their time at the drawing board, allowing the springs to be moved much lower and hopefully delete the space-taking shocker towers completely from the boot.  

In theory this should allow greater un-interrupted cargo space and a wider entry via the 60/40 split fold rear seat when lowered - with the AU's relatively narrow access for a car it's size (though wide when compared to the VT / VX's 'ski port'), allowing much wider loads to be carried.  

Moving the springs lower should also allow the Falcon's C of G to be moved slightly lower as well helping increase it's handling capabilities.  As such it should also be much easier to retro fit to older models - great for the modified car scene with all of the introduced handling and safety benefits.


Click on image for a more in-detail view.

Portability & Increased Rigidity:
Mounting via a much lighter, pressed steel sub-frame only emphises those benefits with the spring mountings included as part of the package for the first time providing for a very rigid, portable set-up able to be used in many more applications than originally intended.  - About the only part mounted outside of the sub-frame is the forward mounts for the control blades themselves.  This steel sub-frame is bolted directly to the body (vs. the AU's rubber mountings) for added stiffness and accurate body control.


Click on the image for a more in-detail view.

Greater Flexibility:
Engineered from the start to be fitted to all Falcon sedan models (including those fitted with LPG) duel fuel and dedicated gas customers no longer will have to suffer the disadvantage of having to put up with a live rear axil.  

Ford has stated the new IRS will also be available with Limited Slip Diff and Traction Control, although the actual availabilities of these items right across the range remains to be seen.

Handling Benefits:
And regarding those handling capabilities - I'll let Ford BA Chassis Development Manager Alex de Vlugt take over for a minute - "In many suspension set-ups, there is an unnecessary compromise between ride and handling," Alex continues  "By decoupling the two we can provide guaranteed control over toe and camber without sacrificing ride comfort.  Handling has always been a hallmark of Falcon, but the new Control Blade IRS raises the bar to new heights.  The new Control Blade IRS is lighter than our much lauded Double Wishbone IRS, yet offers more control and is more flattering to the driver.  It also provides improved comfort for passengers."

Technology:
Taking technology first developed for the comprehensively awarded Ford Focus and later Jaguar X-type, the Falcon is the first application in a dedicated rear wheel drive platform bringing with it it's own challenges.  

With the harsh punishment dished out by the Australian Outback and the Falcon's powerful engine range, the BA's version of Ford's 'Control Blade' technology had to be engineered to cope with the worst Australian drivers would throw at it.


Ford BA Chassis Development Manager Alex de Vlugt talks Ford's new IRS...

Built Ford Tough:
The BA "Control Blade IRS was also specifically designed ... to be just as robust as the previous beam axle for trailer towing and outback use," Alex continues.  "The great benefit of Control Blade IRS is that it's been designed to separate suspension functions, allowing an optimal tune for varying conditions."  Unfortunately since nobody outside of Ford (that we can quote) has driven the Barra yet so we'll have to reserve our judgments on that.  Alex adds - "As a result of this approach, the (BA) Falcon's Control Blade IRS is compliant in vertical and longitudinal directions to isolate harshness, but at the same time provides precisely defined toe angles under lateral and longitudinal forces.  This ensures excellent handling, superior stability and high levels of driver control."


Click on the image for a more in-detail view.

Vastly superior to the more simple suspension systems fitted to Falcon's competitors (Commodore included), the Falcon's new IRS contains the longest possible lateral links with stiff connections to the body, enabling a very straight toe curve with a carefully tuned slope according to BA Chassis Development Manager Alex de Vlugt.  

All this, according to Ford, should translate into braking improvements as well - "The geometry of the Control Blade IRS provides significant 'anti-dive' under braking force, translating into very flat body control and greatly enhanced stability."

So what's the secret?
The new 'Control Blade' is the dominant feature of the new IRS - a longitudinal trailing arm with a large, 'plush' bush at one end.  It has the key function of promoting ride and reducing road noise transmission, while providing the freedom to let the lateral links define toe and camber by absorbing any rearward forces and allowing the rest of the suspension to do it's job un-interrupted.  - Effectively isolating the handling components of the new IRS from the road noise and impact harshness components of the suspension.

Positive Feedback:
Considering the praise given to the Ford Focus by the European press for it's handling prowess he may well be right.  Even the mighty VW Golf succumbed to it's charms - normally considered the car to beat in it's class for the European media.  

It finally seems Ford Australia could be on to something very, very special - all we can say is BRING IT ON!  The only things that remain unseen is what GM have done to improve the new Commodore.  Either way, the Australian motorist can only win.  GO FORD GO! 


Ford's new 'Control Blade' IRS in the flesh.  Click on the image for a more in-detail view.

Four Variants on a Theme:

Standard Suspension:
Standard IRS will be found on Forte, Futura and Fairmont, complete with newly specified 215/60 R16 
tyres of brand yet to be determined.  According to Ford, this setting will combine excellent ride performance without compromising handling and steering characteristics.

Heavy Duty Suspension:
Ford has announced a special 'Heavy Duty Suspension' option that will be available as a limited access option for Forte sedan buyers, meaning basically that Ford doesn't want it to tarnish the image of it's other more expensive Falcon variants.  Providing a higher ride height, stiffer springs and revised shock absorber settings this pack seems to be destined to feature highly on most Taxi-owners and Outback drivers shopping list - especially considering what appears to be an even further reduced approach angle due to the new, lower front bumper.  Careful ride tuning by Ford should allow excellent performance both on and off the bitumen, despite the increased ground clearance.

Sports Suspension:
A Sports version of Ford's new IRS is to be standard on BA Fairmont Ghia and available right across the range as an option for Forte, Futura and Fairmont sedan buyers.  Based on lower profile 225/50 R17 Dunlop tyres, according to Ford this set-up provides even higher levels of agility than the standard IRS and feedback via a slightly firmer ride, achieved through lowered ride height, revised shock-absorber settings, stiffer springs and fatter anti-roll bars.

Tickford Suspension:
Standard in all Tickford specified vehicles, Tickford IRS starts with ultra low profile 235/45 R17 Dunlop tyres. Standard on all XR sedans, the new Tickford IRS will not be available as an option on any other models.  No doubt many minor variations of this will be made to suit the more expensive T-series or Falcon GT range - which ever Ford chooses to release at the time (details not available at this time).

Modular Production:
Assembled in-house from externally sourced components for AU, the Barra (BA) rear suspension moves production and assembly of the completed item off-site next door to the new Supplier Park where Dana (renowned drive system specialist) builds the rear suspension 'modules' to order.  With such a large assembly, you could imagine how much space would be required to store / truck each to it's destination so being able to lob right next-door saves both money and time allowing Ford to save money and increase quality at the same time.  Considering there are 16 different variations of Ford's new IRS that's quite a saving!


New Falcon IRS units on the production line at Dana, Broadmeadows.

As each new Falcon that starts down the assembly line at Broadmeadows it passes a bar code scanner.  - Triggering an electronic data message to each on-site supplier, specifying the model, trim level and 
suspension requirements.

Just two-and-a-half hours after the build order is received at 
Dana, a newly assembled IRS unit is trucked directly to the plant.  Thirty minutes later it is bolted into the Falcon sedan that 
triggered the order.

Considering Ford makes roughly 400 Falcons a day (not all of them sedans admittedly) and the fact that it previously had to keep up to half a day's stock in storage just in case of problems - that's a pretty big storage area!  "Firstly, it was not physically possible to fit all parts by the side 
of the line. Sequencing provided inventory savings of about $500,000 - which translates directly into cash flow - and saved another $500,000 in operating expenses." says Ford Material Planning and Logistics Area Manager, Alison Scoullar.  "Sequencing also allows for future flexibility, allowing Ford the ability to manufacture any number of options without added cost.  This means our reaction to customer demand can be quicker than ever before."  It seems the future looks bright at Ford Australia - let's hope everything goes as well as it promises to do...  
 

FALCON WAGON:
Despite the deletion of the spring towers from the sedan (the last real hurdle to fitting Ford's IRS system to the wagon) Ford has chosen not to do the obvious and continues to offer leaf rear springs and a beam axil (abeat a very well behaved one) as standard equipment on it's wagon models.  Frustratingly this will mean no Fairmont Ghia or XR wagon - and will continue to compromise handling for the performance minded few amongst us.  Fortunately though for those of us who like to take a full load with us on our trips the Falcon's leaf springs do their job very well - providing an increadibly smooth ride without sacrificing load carrying cability - something simply not possible with a coil spring.

Thanks to a thorough re-engineering program for AU which saw the shock absorbers relocated to the outside of the leaves, the wagon handles far better than ought to be possible with this style of suspension - dating all the way back to the days of horses and carts.  With reliability and simplicity on it's side, this should not be a reason for holding off buying a Falcon wagon - although it will be a point of lament for some time to come.  Still, Ford says it has 'retuned' the wagon suspension for BA in an effort to "offer improved ride performance".  Not that the AU wagon was harsh - but interestingly the changes have lead to Ford to offer a heavy-duty suspension package as an option to wagon customers making us believe the changes may have reduced the wagon's load carrying ability.  I guess we'll have to wait and see...

No doubt some of Ford's decision not to include IRS with the Barra wagon must stem from the coming Cross-Over (E265 / Raptor / R7 - whatever you want to call it) which we predict will also be offered in 2wd format complete with IRS as Ford's new large people mover - helping to explain why this important feature is missing from the BA wagon.  What is not clear is whether it will eventually replace the Falcon wagon or be sold along side it - only time will tell.

FALCON UTILITY: 
Expected to retain Ford's proven leaf sprung rear axil, it is equally predicted that this will be slightly retuned to work with any front suspension changes introduced with the Barra front end update.  No disadvantage when it comes to load carrying, the Falcon's leaf sprung rear axil not only makes hauling easy but has commonly been acknowledged as being the better handler on smooth surfaces in tests featuring the VT/VX SS vs. AU 1, 2 or 3 XR8 utes.  Depending of course on what GM choose to do with their VY update, there is no reason why this advantage should not continue.  

The big news of course though with the BA Falcon ute is that it is to be released at the same time as the sedan and wagon versions - usually 6 to 12 months behind the passenger carrying versions.  - Ensuring the Falcon ute's dominance of both the sales and handling race.  Already showing it's ability to cope with outputs as high as 250 flywheel kW in the AU3 250 Pursuit Ute, it will be interesting to see how much power Ford allows below the bonnet of the BA XR8 ute and subsequent expected Tickford High Performance versions.

FRONT SUSPENSION:

The front suspension in all Barra Falcons is to be the highly praised short and long arm spindle 
system similar to that used in the AU Falcon.  However, substantial changes have been made to every component in the steering system to further improve Ford's legendary steering feel. 

"These changes have made the steering even more responsive, agile and communicative," de 
Vlugt says.  Combined with the new IRS available in Falcon, the BA should be a truly awesome drive - especially considering the Falcon's humble origins.

(Back to the BA Falcon Introduction.)

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Info By Doug Bevan, site by Anthony Robinson.
Copyright 2000 by Doug & Any . All rights reserved.
Revised: 19 Nov 2002 .