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Road Tests

Ford's storming XR8 unleashed

2003 Ford Falcon XR8 (260km speedo)

This XR8 is fitted with optional 18-inch alloys

A power buldge to end all buldge disputes

Ford has HSV firmly in its sights...

Power to cash ratio is impressive

Boss 260 powerplant: 500Nm @ 4250rpm

XR interior shown with optional leather

The 260kW/350bhp XR8

While the Holden executives at Fishermans Bend are far from shaking in their boots, the Blue Oval looks to be on the comeback path.

The new BA Falcon is a fine looking motor, with plenty of refined power, and many are comparing its solid onroad manner to those of Germanic cars.

But one of the most telling signs that Ford is doing something right are the booming sales of its XR models, the spiritual arch-nemeses of Holdens S and SS models.

Indeed, XR Falcon sales reached new heights in December 2002, smashing all previous records.

Ford big-wig Geoff Polites said there had been unprecedented interest in XR Falcon since the launch of the award-winning BA Falcon range.

"We sold 972 XR Falcons in December, compared with our best ever AU Falcon XR month of 507 units – and that’s without a BA XR8 in the mix.

"The December XR Falcon result was more than three times our monthly average for the first ten months of 2002."

With strong back orders for the Falcon XR8, Mr Polites is confident of achieving new sales records in the near future.

"Despite the lack of availability of test-drive vehicles in dealerships, we have had a number of customers place deposits on XR8s," he stated.

While the BA Falcon XR8 is here at last, it is in manual guise only. Testament to the power of the newly-developed 'Boss 260' mill is the fact that Ford needs more time to reinforce the auto transmission to cope with the copious amounts of power.

While no specific dates are set, Ford is indicating that the auto version will be on sale in Q2, which means anywhere between April and July.

Furthermore, an interesting scenario could develop: When Subaru released the Liberty B4, the 190+ kW couldn't be mated to an auto, and with more buyers wanting an auto, they simply reduced power by about 15kW. As such, it wouldn't come as a surprise if Ford released an automatic 250kW XR8.

But here and now, the manual is on offer, so let's take a gander at what you'll get for 50 large.

The XR8 gets 17-inch alloy wheel with shod with Dunlop SP3000 235/45 ZR17 tyres, while discerning buyers will want more to differentiate their vehicle from the XR6. As such, an optional 18-inch, five-spoke alloy with Dunlop SP9000 245/40 ZR18 tyres is also available for $1500, and to brutally frank, it's one of sexiest wheel designs Ford's ever produced.

The Falcon XR8 also features a number of standard safety features including traction control, ABS and limited slip differential. Side airbags are a $500 option, while a $2950 premium brake package is also available.

The premium brake package includes unique discs and callipers: The front discs are 325mm in diameter and 32mm thick, compared to 298mm and 28mm on the standard Falcon, while both front and rear discs are grooved to improve cooling.

One of the biggest talking points, however, is the new Falcon XR8's rather menacing power buldge, which - we discovered at the Sydney Motor Show in October - isn't just a cosmetic ploy.

The Falcon XR8 – like its GT sibling due later this year – boasts a specific Boss power bulge bonnet that is factory-styled, tooled and stamped as a single steel panel.

This ensures that the engine's position in the engine bay and vital performance equipment are not dictated by low bonnet height. It also helps generate the required ground clearance for the sump and allows additional airflow around the engine bay.

The Boss 260 engine is produced on the only V8 engine assembly line in Australia, developing a prodigious 260kW of power @ 5250rpm and 500Nm of torque @ 4250rpm.

And the fact of the matter is, these new V8 sedans and utes have slightly better power figures than most of HSV's range - though a bulky kerb weight will come back to haunt them when the lights go to green...

As David Flint, Ford Performance Vehicles head-honcho, explains, the new engine is quite an advancement for the Australian automotive industry. "The new engine is not only unique in the Ford world, but is built here in Australia – starting from just bare blocks and heads.

"We have maintained and built upon the standard previously set by Tickford to produce a premium performance engine that specifically meets Australian requirements." concluded Flint.

The all-new 5.4-litre V8 boasts quad camshafts (two per cylinder bank), four valves per cylinder, high flow cylinder heads and stainless steel extractors for better engine breathing and of course crisp eight-cylinder music.

The Boss 260 cylinder block is made from cast-iron for improved durability under high torque loading, able to maintain tolerances better than what would an aluminium block. Interestingly, the oil pump is driven directly by the crank, so the oil pump is working whenever the engine is running.

The aforementioned twin overhead camshafts per bank, together with four valves per cylinder, produce a deep breathing, high performance engine offering consistent power and torque delivery right up to the red line.

Although these heads add extra weight over a pushrod engine, this is more than offset by power and efficiency gains.

The cylinder heads are cast in aluminium alloy to minimize weight increase of larger heads and extra valves, plus they help the Boss 260 to reach operating temperature faster. The heads also take advantage of an improved Cobra R design with a better breathing, straighter inlet port, while hollow camshafts reduce weight and inertia while offering faster response.

Borrowing more parts from the race-bred Cobra, the Boss 260 gets a low restriction air-intake system developed and manufactured in Australia, but incorporating the high volume conical filter element from the Mustang Cobra.

Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) builds each Boss engine from bare blocks and heads, adding a wide range of local upgrades and internals on a new $1.5 million assembly track. Polites reckons the local assembly approach delivers unbeatable value in V8 motoring.

"To get a quad-cam V8 that delivers the level of power of the Boss 260, you'd be looking at a price tag well into six figures," Mr Polites said. The new V8 is mated to a Tremec T3650 five-speed manual gearbox designed to handle high torque applications, then linked to a 3.23 axle ratio.

The XR8 package also includes stiffer sports suspension, a fancy bodykit, fog lamps, dual horns and a unique chrome-tipped exhaust outlet. Inside, the Falcon XR8 comes complete with sports seats, a sports instrument cluster with blue backlighting and a leather steering wheel.

At the end of the day, the new V8 is likely to generate more sales for Ford, but many are still questioning whether the heavier XR8 will offer significantly improved performance over the impressive turbocharged XR6: Weighing in at 1795kg, this ain't no feater-weight.

Still, Ford reckons fuel consumption will be about 12.5 litres/100 km for city cycle and 9.2 litres/100 km for the highway, which is pretty good for a small block V8.

But regardless of whether of the XR8 is only two-tenths quicker down the quarter mile than the turbo six, there will always be demand for V8s in Australia, and seeing as this is now the most advanced Australian-built eight, it had a solid future ahead.


XR8 Sedan man: $50,130
XR8 Sedan auto: $51,050
XR8 Ute man: $40,925
XR8 Ute auto: $41,845

5.4-litre DOHC 32-valve V8
260 kW at 5250 rpm
500 Nm at 4250 rpm
Compression ratio:
90.2 mm
105.8 mm
Inlet valve:
37.0 mm
Exhaust valve:
30.0 mm
Valve lift:
10.0 mm
Kerb weight:
1795 kg
6.9 kg/kW
Specific power:
48.1 kW/litre
Tremec T3650 five-speed manual
1st 3.38
2nd 2.00
3rd 1.32
4th 1.00
5th 0.68
Rev 3.38
Final drive:
Front suspension:
Upper and lower control arm, coil springs, 24 mm anti-roll bar
Rear suspension:
Control Blade IRS, coil springs, 19 mm anti-roll bar
Spring rates: 70 N/mm (f); 38 N/mm (r)
17 x 8-inch alloy; Optional 18 x 8-inch
Dunlop SP Sport 3000 235/45; Optional Dunlop SP Sport 9000 235/40
7.6 degrees (f)
-0.45 degrees (f); -0.5 degrees (r)
-2 mm (f&r)
Twin-piston caliper, 298 x 28 mm vented discs (f); single-piston caliper, 303 x 16 mm solid disc (r). Optional premium package - twin-piston caliper, 325 x 32 mm grooved and vented discs (f); 303 x 16 mm grooved disc (r)
4920 mm
1864 mm
1435 mm
2829 mm
1560 mm (f); 1575 mm (r)
68 litres
Fuel consumption (AS2877):
City 12.5 litres/100 km; Highway 9.2 litres/100 km
$50,130 (sedan); $40,925 (ute)
18-inch wheel and tyre package -
Premium brake package -
Side airbags -
Premium sound system -
Leather seats -
Sunroof -
DVD Satellite Navigation -
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