Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Return of The Esp's ?

Words - Joe Kenwright

Ford will offer a special ESP version of its Falcon to launch the BF Mark II update

Fast Falcon fans hearts are beating a little faster with the news the Broadmeadows boys are about to resurrect the ESP nameplate. Once ‘the’ Ford to be seen in, the ESP (European Sports Pack) variant will feature as a special-order base Falcon to herald the arrival of the BF MkII range next month.

Ironically, the new ESP won’t wear special badging and will therefore stop well short of replicating the Scheel sports-seated, striped and spoilered XD original (XE pictured). Nonetheless, the model variant will combine DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), higher-performance suspension and 17-inch wheels and Ford’s excellent six-speed auto box with some other in-car goodies.

The ESP recalls a difficult period for Ford. When it was forced to withdraw its iconic GT models in the face of punitive insurance premiums, they were first hidden behind the XC’s Fairmont GXL model in conjunction with a special 5.8-litre engine and equipment pack. For the XD and XE Falcon series, these special features were packaged under the European Sports Pack or ESP to reflect the flavour of the new models.

Ford is currently facing a different dilemma with its BF Mark II Falcon range. Holden has fitted its ESP (which today, stands for Electronic Stability Program) as standard across the whole VE Commodore range. Ford has only calibrated its DSC equivalent for a Falcon fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension and six-speed automatic. When there is an all new Falcon due in 2008, the huge cost of recalibrating the DSC system for every current Falcon combination of suspension, transmission and tyres does not add up.

It is far cheaper and better to trick its current DSC system into believing it’s fitted to a top shelf Fairmont Ghia, XR6 Turbo or XR8 with six-speed auto by replicating the critical components in a base Falcon XT. The big news for the BF Mark II facelift is the availability of Ford’s benchmark ZF six-speed auto at base level. It can be ordered on its own but if ordered with DSC, it must come with 17-inch alloys and sports suspension which adds much more than the cost of the automatic.

Currently, the similarly-equipped BF SR model with the cheaper four-speed auto, sports suspension and 17-inch alloys retails at $33,490 while the popular XR6 with these features and six-speed auto costs $40,960. Ford is under pressure to price and badge the new package at base level in such a way that it doesn’t undermine the XR6.

Thus buyers of a basic BF Mark II Falcon will soon be able to specify the six-speed auto, DSC, sports suspension and 17-inch alloys as the European Sports Pack at what Ford claims will be a very competitive price.

Sound good? We reckon it is on the way to being a worthy revival of the ESP name. That said we'd question that the mechanicals alone make it a true ESP resurrection. The fact there will be no variant-specific badging also takes away from the initiative.

When the BF Mark II Falcon 'ESP' will still have the “right stuff” long after the first buyer has finished with it, is Broadmeadows shortchanging the model and future owners over the longer term? If you were buying a BF Mark II Falcon and paid the extra for the ESP pack, would you want your car to carry special identification?

Let us know what you think and we’ll tell Ford…


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