Ford Australia’s Falcon broke a 36-year drought on Tuesday when the latest BA model was named the 2002 Wheels Car of the Year, Australian Associated Press (AAP) said.

The Wheels car magazine award is regarded as the most prestigious in Australia and the Falcon last won the world’s longest continuous motoring award with its essentially US-designed XR model in 1966.

Ford Australia launched its first Down-Under designed Falcon line in 1972.

According to AAP, Wheels magazine editor Ged Bulmer said the Falcon had rated superbly in four of the five criteria used to determine the award. He said a team of seven expert judges had spent a week testing the 23 finalists on their efficiency, function, safety, technology and value.

“It’s almost impossible to fault the car’s performance in the role for which it was designed,” Bulmer told AAP.

“It offers some terrific safety features – a standard Falcon, for instance, offers dual airbags and anti-lock brakes and, if you spend a little more money, side airbags as well.

“It’s got a terrific range of engines – in particular the locally built six-cylinder – a very sophisticated rear suspension, and it delivers great driving pleasure and dynamics.

“The big Australian sedans are pretty unique, big powerful engines, rear drive with a lot of space … you literally could not buy this car with this many features with that sort of performance anywhere else in the world.”

According to AAP, Ford Australia chief executive Geoff Polites said the award represented a major marketing boost for the BA Falcon.

“When we sat down three-and-a-half years ago now to plan this, we actually set ourselves an objective that we wanted to win Australia’s best cars and we really wanted to win the Wheels Car of the Year,” Polites said.

“I think it’s the longest, oldest one in the world, and it carries with it a tremendous degree of credibility just because of the testing that’s done.

“From a manufacturer’s point of view, this is a big deal.”

AAP said other finalists included the Holden Monaro, BMW 7 Series, Honda Jazz, Mazda 6, and Toyota Camry.

AAP said a controversial omission from the final list was Holden’s much-touted VY Commodore, the Falcon’s arch-rival and Australia’s top-selling car. Wheels decided the model, recently facelifted to counter the substantially redesigned Ford, had insufficient changes over last year’s model.

According to AAP, Wheels also named its cars of the decades, dubbing the Ford XR Falcon the car of the 60s, the Honda Accord the car of the 70s, the Mazda MX-5 the car of the 80s, and the Lexus LS400 the car of the 90s.