Web Wombat - the original Australian search engine
 
You are here: Home / Motoring / News & Reports / Ford BF Falcon XR8 Ute
Motoring Menu
Business Links
Premium Links


Web Wombat Search
Advanced Search
Submit a Site
 
Search 30 million+ Australian web pages:
Try out our new Web Wombat advanced search (click here)
News
Reports
Links
Road Tests
MailBox

Road Test: Ford BF Falcon XR8 Ute

By Feann Torr - 22/12/05

Ford Falcon XR8 UteThough they may only seat two passengers in the cabin and look a little strange to foreigners, the Australian ute is a true thing of beauty to most locals, and accordingly they're highly popular too.

In the past decade these intriguing vehicles - often unfairly labelled as the hooligan's choice - have turned from purely utilitarian haulers into thoroughbred sports cars.

Instrumental in the Australian ute's evolution have been arch rivals Ford and GM Holden, who have consistently impressed customers and critics alike with their growing ranges of utilities, and in 2005/2006 Ford has revealed its latest challenger, the BF Falcon Ute.

As Ford's most powerful 2-seater, the XR8 ute is powered by a quad camshaft 5.4-litre V8 giving it plenty of power - not mention street cred - but its also been given a trump card in the form of a German 6-speed automatic gearbox, which costs just $1,250 over the standard 6-speed manual.

This makes for incredibly good value, and ensures that Holden's only auto offering - a 4-speeder for the V8 SS - looks dated.

And though not much has changed in terms of the XR8's appearance, it's the changes under the skin that have been given the most attention, and within this road test we'll dissect the XR8 utility fitted with the new 6-speed automatic transmission, to see what's good and what's bad:

for detailed specs on the XR8 ute.

Make: Ford
Model: Falcon XR8 Utility
Price: $42,845
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Engine: 5.4-litre, vee 8-cylinder, petrol
Seats: 2
Safety: Drivers airbag, ABS, traction control

Drive: 4/5

Ford Falcon XR8 Ute

Ford's flagship utility, the 260kW XR8, is
a real blast to drive, and quite capable too

Step into the cabin and the first things that beam their way to your eyes are the seats, which look fantastic if you opt for the leather upgrade, featuring dimpled suede ($1,495 option).

And the second thing you notice is the lovely slimline 6-speed automatic gearbstick. But more on that later...

The handling of the XR8 ute – essentially a performance model – is fairly linear, like it should be. It will hold its line through a corner quite doggedly for something so long and heavy (more than 1800kg and 5.0+ metres long).

The wheels did squeal a touch when put under pressure (as the sidewalls flex), but in general the big brute handled very nicely indeed, and will keep weekend warriors happily chasing hot hatches through the twisties - and torching them on the straights.

The light-ish steering suited my tastes perfectly. At times I thought feedback wasn't brilliant, yet the steering feels solid as the outside wheel does most of the work, ensuring the Ford tracks faithfully through the average corner.

You can point it in the direction you want to go and even with a bit of forcefulness it will still oblige. The rear suspension (live axle, leaf springs) is perhaps the only weak link in the chassis, but I think that calling it a weak link might be a bit strong.

The rear suspension only really makes its presence felt when changing directions at speed, where it sometimes wallows, and particularly under power. The spring rates are fairly stiff at the rear, so there are times during normal driving practices that you'll feel the rear end jiggle slightly over undulations and pock marks in the road (moreso than the XR sedans with their clever Control Blade IRS), but I must say the supple seats do a commendable job of deadening minor bumps that work their way through the suspension.

The XR8 sedan does have a more adaptable ride than the ute, with an ability to soak up many of the road's imperfections, and is clearly a better commuter, but on the flipside the ute looks tougher. And it costs about ten thousands bones less.

Wider rubber may have helped ever-so-slightly in the changing direction respect, but the 17-inch alloys shod with 235/45 R17 rubber provide a formidable amount of grip when cornering. And because they still have a decent sidewall, ride quality is quite pleasant for the most part.

Ford Falcon XR8 Ute

It may be long and heavy, but the XR8 ute is a
very capable performer, and mighty quick too

The rear wheel drive nature of the car means it turns in quite nicely as a corner approaches, though the heavy V8 lump hanging over the front axle makes it feel a little more ponderous when compared the 6-cylinder XR models in the BF range.

Bumps mid-corner can upset the car when the scenery around is but a mottled blur of greens and blues, but its surprisingly easy to dial in a little more steering lock, and nine times out of ten in this situation I found the burly ute's tyres simply bit hard, and followed orders. Sure, the hoops will protest at times, but squeeze the throttle right through its detent and enjoy the old-school power oversteer that sometimes ensues.

The brakes are very good too. XR8 and XR6T benefited from an upgraded braking system in BF model (298mm front and 303mm rear ventilated discs) and the stronger anchors make a big difference when the going gets tough.

As well as coming in handy when the tray is full of useless (and heavy) junk, such as your brother-in-laws 20-year-old fridge that should really be incinerated, the brakes also afford the driver more confidence when heading into a corner.

They have a nice progressive feel, starting off light and steadily building bite and pressure as you push harder on the wide pedal, and they seldom felt soggy and faded.

Even from very high speeds the brakes feel strong and sure. Furthermore, the muscular ute is quite aerodynamic: it doesn't shimmy across the road as you hit the anchors from speed as the weight shifts to the front axle. And I must say, it's a real sportscar; it's very capable.

Everyday city driving in the ute is quite relaxed with the 6-speed auto. But there are a couple of issues. The cosmetic options we had affixed to our test ute tended to make things more difficult than they otherwise may have been. For example, the tonneau cover is slightly raised, so that reduces rearward vision, and to that you can add the rear power bulge and the rear spoiler, both reducing the central mirror to about 60% efficiency. This makes headchecking a must, and if you're vertically challenged be prepared for some big blind spots.

When I head checked I had to make sure the rear head rest was low, because this impinged on rearward vision when looking at the traffic behind. Certain types of parking (vertical more than parallel) also caused me a bit of grief, but that could be due to my abilities rather than the ute's long body. Rear parking sensors would be a good investment I reckon.

But, while it's easy to whinge about the lack of rearward vision and odd proportions, the ute is a blast to drive, and quite friendly too. The new ZF gearbox, built in Germany no less, gives the vehicle a docile nature if need be. At the same time if you are one of these tyre-frying types who enjoys nothing more than laying a few black straps outside mums house after a Sunday feed, you'll also be pleasantly surprised with its manners while under duress. Or so I've heard...

Engine: 4/5

Engine: Ford Boss 260 5.4-litre V8

The longitudinally mounted 5408cc Boss 260 engine has a cast-iron block, aluminium alloy heads, 8-cylinders in a V-formation, 4-valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing.

Chain-driven dual overhead camshafts per cylinder bank (quad cams), variable valve timing, a 9.5:1 compression ratio and an 80 litre fuel tank (compared to the sedan's 68 litre tank). It will accept all types of petrol, from 91 to 95 and higher rated octane fuels.

Fuel consumption: 13.7L/100km (combined cycle)

Max Power: 260kW @ 5250rpm
Max Torque: 500Nm @ 4000rpm
0-100km/h: 6.2 seconds

Though it isn't quite as fiery as the core of the sun, Ford's big V8 belts out wonderfully fat chunks of torque, and one can only wonder at the gains that could be made with a few simple upgrades, such as an exhaust and engine ECU (chip).

I would have given the engine score a 4.5 were it not for fuel consumption issues, but I should say that the 6-speed gearbox has definitely reduced the 5.4-litre engine's thirst.

And what a gearbox! It is one of the best automatics I've had a the good fortune to operate. It's got six forward ratios, three modes and an electronic brain that would give your high school math's teacher something to mull over.

As Ford Australia's chief of product development, Trevor Worthington, said, "...the introduction of the ZF 6HP26 6-speed automatic is not just a case of taking an off-the-shelf transmission and putting it into Falcon and Territory."

Indeed, the Australian Blue Oval operation worked closely with with ZF Getriebe GmbH to ensure the transmission suits the BF Falcon's various engines - and also the Australian environment and climate - and it's interesting to note the 6-speed auto uses clutches to change gears rather bands, as some automatic gearboxes do.

The ZF transmission has a short-term memory and points system (that will adapt to specific driving styles on the run - slow, fast, on-off cornering etc.) and is always ready to react to input. It responds quickly to sharp inputs – and it's creamy smooth. The 'detent' at the at end of the throttle pedal's travel is also a nice touch, and depending on engine/road speed, it will either downshift one or two gear ratios, ensuring the 'pedal to the metal' exercise is never in vain.

The new ZF automatic will also be a godsend to those drivers who tow large trailers, carrying horses and boats and such, as the both normal and sportshift modes will hold gears indefinitely, making ascents a far less daunting task, where traditional slush boxes would be chopping and changing as they search for the the appropriate gear.

Ford Falcon XR8 Ute

The new look 6-speed gear stick is
smart, and deliberately easy to use

In our BF Falcon launch report you may have read about my love affair with the new transmission, but during this prolonged test I did find one aspect that wasn't quite as luminously impressive as the many others: downchanges.

When you've got your foot to the floor, upshifts occur with lightning speed (for an auto) and it's eternally inspiring. Downshifts didn't feel quite as snappy though. It tends to take a moment before dropping down a gear, even in tiptronic (sportshift) mode.

I'm talking mainly about downchanges from higher speeds, when you want some engine braking to slow the vehicle down in conjunction with the brakes (like in a manual).

The bonnet bulge is a constant reminder of the 260kW of thump under the bonnet, and the sonorous acoustics that rise in intensity as the engine is ordered to work harder never failed to make me smile. It doesn't really hit its aural peak until about 4000-4500rpm, but when it does, boy it sounds good. Soul stirring? Not quite, but certainly stirring nevertheless.

It gives you a good push in the back when you floor it - the levels of torque are immense - and with the new 6-speed gearbox it makes the most of this available power too. Though the engine output of the XR8's Boss 260 hasn't altered since the BA Falcon arrived in 2003, the 6-speed automatic ute is a much faster vehicle than the old 4-speeder, and more efficient too.

Peak power of 260kW occurs @ 5250rpm, yet the engine won't hit its rev limited until 6000rpm, and I would describe the power available to the ute as authoritative. Stick the boot in and hold on tight!

Exterior: 4/5

From afar, the XR8 ute looks tough. Up close? Tough. I think a lot of this has to do with the power bulge on the bonnet that symmetrically flows with the more conservative lines of the front end, giving it a real "go ahead punk, make my day" attitude. The vehicle we tested featured the hard tonneau cover and spoiler, which for BF models now features a strangely appealing reverse power bulge.

This extra costs $2,710, which may seem a little steep, but affords the tray a lockable hard cover, which may appeal to tradespeople with expensive tools necessitating secure stowage.

Ford Falcon XR8 Ute

The XR8 gets a new front apron with slightly
different fog light surrounds and an altered lower air
dam, while headlights and bonnet are unchanged

Ford Falcon XR8 Ute

The sports leather seats get fairly good
lateral bolstering, and feature lumbar
adjustment for both driver and passenger

The 5077mm long vehicle has a useful amount of space in the tray, and will take up 445kg of junk, which isn't too shabby from where I sit. From surfboards to tiles, lumber and even barbecue equipment, the Falcon Ute comes in very handy at the best of times, and you'll find yourself with a number of new 'chums' who would really appreciate the load lugging capacity of your new vehicle.

New design 17-inch wheels suit the XR8 ute's characters nicely (18s cost a bit more), with five fairly chunky spokes and a few technical-look indentations here and there.

Fog lights are also part of the XR package and, on the whole, I must admit that I really liked the look of the BF Falcon Ute, even if it's not dramatically different from its precursor. There is a new front apron with a somewhat different air dam, but only the Blue Oval fanatics will notice.

Interior: 3.5/5

After checking out the exterior of the XR8 ute, admiring the swanky new tonneau cover complete with reverse power bulge, the first thing that caught my eye inside the car were the new-look leather seats (a $1,495 option over the cloth pews).

The central cushions are finished in suede, featuring a very trendy-looking circular/dimple pattern that seems to grip your derriere quite well during high G manoeuvres. The nicely bolstered sides are finished in traditional leather, and keep your body from rolling about too much, and the overall effect is a sports-luxury cross that suits the car to a tee.

They help give a nice impression when you first step into the car, and help elevate its interior to above what it should be, to something one could almost term as 'suave'.

I liked the leather steering wheel ($695 option). The contours are pleasantly ergonomic and like all Falcons the wheel features unobtrusive audio and cruise control options on the face as well.

The 3D (mixed depth) dials with 260km/h readout are a nice touch and are much more appealing than standard flat dials found in some Aussie cars. They look much nicer than Holden gear, particularly with the XR logos taking pride of place, while the dash plastics are so-so.

Tell a lie; the dash plastics are actually not too offensive to the eye or the touch, making use of a soft-ish rubbery material. The interiors of locals cars have improved greatly compared to five years ago, but there are still one or two minor gripes, such as the faux silver door handle inserts. In our test ute they didn't seem to be flush fitting and even worked their way off at one stage.

Dual zone climate control is a nice touch if you can afford the extra cost, and for some reason I liked the analogue clock above the information readout. Techno-cool blue lit dials are gear, and the LCD display gives the vehicle a touch of sophistication, able to display radio stations, temperature, instant fuel consumption and other cogent information. If you don't opt for the prestige sound system or luxury pack, such telemetry is displayed below the tachometer in a small digital display.

Overall: 4.25/5

Though this vehicle is not without fault, I must admit I had a brilliant time driving the XR8 around. It's a lot of fun. It has that 'you-beaut Aussie ute' thing going for it, complemented by loads of power and a good deal of sophistication.

Quibbles that revolve around the rear suspension, rearward vision and gearbox downshifting can be overlooked in the bigger picture, as Ford has delivered a terrifically capable vehicle in this instance, and one that will give Holden's SS ute a good run for its money.

The humble Australian ute has come a long way in its more than 50-year lifespan, and Ford's latest effort with its thoroughly advanced powertrain is sure to strike a chord with many new car buyers, and particularly those who may be looking for a pure performance vehicle - albeit one with an acute difference. It also provides very good bang for your buck, being the cheapest way to get into a Boss 260 V8 engined 4-wheeler.

It's the kind of vehicle that for a number of reasons - most of them obvious, and some not - will please both sports car fans who yearn for a tidy handling package and also those with a mind towards more practical pursuits, while at the same time fulfilling outdoor lifestyle needs, such as dirt bike riding or surfing.

In Europe, something like the XR8 Falcon ute would be about as useful as a third nipple, but in Australia the XR8 not only makes sense, but seems to fit in very nicely. I may be a closet ute fan, but this mild bias can't disguise the fact that the new BF XR8 ute is versatile and rewarding vehicle to drive.

Pros:

Cons:


  • 6-speed auto gearbox
  • V8 engine
  • Handling
  • Exterior styling


  • Rear suspension
  • Rearward vision

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

< Back
Shopping for...
Visit The Mall

Latest Games

Home | About Us | Advertise | Submit Site | Contact Us | Privacy | Terms of Use | Hot Links | OnlineNewspapers | Add Search to Your Site

Copyright © 1995-2014 WebWombat Pty Ltd. All rights reserved