Road Test: Ford BF Falcon XR8 Ute
By Feann Torr - 22/12/05
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
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.
Model: Falcon XR8 Utility
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Engine: 5.4-litre, vee 8-cylinder, petrol
Safety: Drivers airbag, ABS, traction control
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
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
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.
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
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: Ford Boss 260 5.4-litre
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
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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