Sports car with a cargo tray
Does a ute have any business running an engine that develops 245kW of power and a stonking 480Nm of peak torque – the latter produced from as low in the rev range as 2000rpm? Ford certainly thinks so, for that’s what the XR6 Turbo version of its Falcon Ute delivers.
But is it manageable in the real world? Isn’t that power and torque a recipe for wild oversteer at the push of the throttle and chaotic, walking on eggshells wet road behaviour? No, not really. Falcon Utes are a fairly civilised breed these days, even high-performance versions like the XR6 Turbo. They haven’t really been mongrels since the 1990s when Ford had a brainstorm and created an XR6 version of the Longreach Ute, a vehicle whose origins could be traced back to the mid-1980s XF and beyond. That original XR6 Ute had power to burn for the day, and a chassis that inherited all of the XF’s tail-happy behaviour. The XF, especially the Ute and the Wagon, would snap into oversteer at a mash of the throttle, particularly if the road was wet. The XR6 Ute was even rather twitchy in the dry, and you were constantly reminded of rear-end movement and the possibility of rear-wheel breakaway when pushing hard. The effect was amplified by the tightened-up steering box which took a fair amount of getting used to, and the ultra-taut suspension. That old XR Ute would tramline if it encountered changes in road surface; but once you got used to it, you felt like you’d re ally mastered a mongrel. It was like an old-style muscle car and it fairly oozed character.
XR Utes began getting civilised after Ford grafted EF nose panels on to the XF floorpan and replaced the steering box with rack-and-pinion gear. By the time the AU came along, the XR6 Ute was very civilised, with excellent handling and roadholding, strong performance and a car-like cabin. We characterised it as a two-seat sports car with a load tray. And that’s true of the new BF version, though the twin cam turbocharged inline six-cylinder motor now has power and torque outputs that once would have done a supercar proud and far eclipse the AU’s.
Performance is excellent with vivid, though not violent, acceleration. The handling is extremely well-sorted, with crisp turn-in to corners and high levels of roadholding, even on wet roads. Floor the throttle out of a corner or away from the traffic lights, and all that torque passing through the rear wheels will cause the tyres to chirp and the tail to shimmy before the traction control takes charge. But the traction control is seldom intrusive, and aside from full throttle acceleration in lower gears, it intervened only once when we were pushing the car hard on a winding and bumpy road.The test car had the new six-speed automatic gearbox which allows the motor to really come to life. Acceleration is modest in sixth gear, but strong in the low ratios (six-second bracket to 100km/h), and the gearchanges are silky-smooth. The sequential manual override works beautifully, and the six-speed is a real advance over the old four-ratio unit. Ford offers mirror pricing on this and the six-speed manual: both XR6 Turbo variants retail for $50,490.
The six-speed auto and engine changes mean fuel efficiency is much better than on BA models. Motorway cruising at a constant 100km/h will yield economy in the seven to eight litres/100km range. You can achieve fuel use in the tens while still maintaining 90km/h averages on the open road. In the city expect somewhere around 17 litres/100km, though in a city-biased mixed run we saw 15.7 litres/100km, and could have improved that with less use of the throttle on the open road run. As we’ve said before, fuel economy in any car – but especially in big cars – is largely governed by your right foot: avoid hard braking and acceleration, and you’ll get the best results. Comfort is good, noise levels low, and the extra space behind the seats gives the Ford a practicality edge over the rival Holden Commodore Ute.
The acid question: would we own one? If we needed the occasional ability to carry a reasonable load and needed a vehicle that seated only two, the answer is an unqualified “yes.” There are quibbles about the lack of security for valuables and the fact that luggage would have to be carried in the wellside load area, making it vulnerable to theft if you don’t order a lockable hard-shell tonneau cover. But those are quibbles common to all single cab utes. To all intents and purposes, the XR6 Ute is just like a sports sedan to drive. It’s comfortable, responsive and not too tough on gas provided you keep your right foot under control. Its handling is secure and the vehicle is generally docile but can turn into a real hoon-mobile with a solid mash of the throttle pedal. After a week in its company we found little to complain about, and could cheerfully use it as day-to-day transport.