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Ford Falcon XR8 Pursuit Ute

 

There's no question: Ford's limited edition Falcon XR8 Pursuit ute looks brutal, especially in its gleaming black paint scheme.

It hunkers low on its big 17-inch alloy wheels with their 235/45 tyres, the ground-hugging stance accentuated by a body kit that Ford terms aggressive, an adjective that would certainly apply to the polished aluminium sports rollbar at the front of the tonneau-covered load tray.

A Pursuit badge adorns the side skirts.

The car looks like business. Its spec sheet reads the same way, and emphasises that here is a car with potentially brutal power.

The Pursuit, a limited edition model (only 25 came here earlier this year; 21 automatics - like the test car - and four manuals) offered the 200kW version of the 5.0-litre V8 found in the just-superseded XR8 sedan. That boosted the XR8 ute's power by 15kW. Ford has since made the 200kW unit standard in the XR8 ute and boosted the sedan's V8 to 220kW.

The Pursuit's 5.0 litre sequentially fuel-injected V8 produces its 200kW of power at 5000rpm and peak torque of 420Nm at 3750rpm.

So there's plenty of urge, both in horsepower and torque.

That kind of grunt in a utility truck (though Ford refers to the AU ute as a pick-up) with its relatively light tray might look to mean brutal power and a propensity to wild tail slides at the prod of the throttle.

But these days the Falcon ute is a civilised beast that offers secure, sure-footed handling and an ease of driving that will surprise many.

The ute rides on the same long 3095.8mm wheelbase as the wagon and it uses the Hotchkiss rear suspension developed for the wagon. Ford calls it Wide-Trac and it uses a live rear axle with relocated, angled shock absorbers.

Combined, they produce excellent handling and very strong rear end grip. In the dry you have to try very hard if you want to get the rear end to step out. With that much torque and power going through the rear wheels you need to be a little more circumspect on wet roads.

Turn-in to corners is very good, the double wishbone front suspension responding instantly to steering inputs. There's none of the understeer-biased feel or "pause" before the front end turns in that is common to some big cars.

It turns in like a thoroughbred. Initially you find yourself turning in too far and have to wind off lock.

The steering offers good feel through the leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel.

The Pursuit changes direction brilliantly and will scamper along a twisting country road with the aplomb of a much smaller car.

And that is one of the XR ute's great charms. It doesn't feel big (despite its 5077mm length), it doesn't feel heavy (though it weighs 1590kg). It just feels agile, alive and eager to respond. It is exceptionally easy and effortless to drive, whether in city traffic or on the tightest and most demanding of roads.

Ride is firm (our regular passenger found it too firm for her liking) but from the driver's perspective that's a small price to pay for the finely-tuned, forgiving, handling.

Cornering balance is generally near-neutral, though you can feel some movement from the rear as you accelerate hard out of tighter corners. It all feels very controlled though, merely a slight tightening of the line as the weight transfers to the outside rear wheel and you ease off the lock as the car brings itself on to the straight.

It feels wonderful, the sort of feeling you can only get from a well-sorted rear-wheel drive car.

Like all big, powerful cars the Pursuit likes a gentle touch and light inputs from the driver. Treat it with respect and it'll more than reward you.

The test car had the smooth-shifting Ford automatic gearbox which can be used effectively as a manual when you're enjoying the car's grip, agility and power on demanding roads.

It may have a ute tray behind the cockpit but the Pursuit's character is that of a two-seat sports car, and a fine one at that.

It's very fast - 0-100km/h in around seven seconds - but never feels unmanageable. It will light up the back wheels, but doing so takes a conscious decision by the driver. Its power won't spring any surprises - not on a dry road anyway.

The sports-shaped bucket seats - which provide excellent lateral support and grip your shoulders well during cornering - were upholstered in black cloth accented attractively by a pattern of blue dashes.

Pursuit creature comforts include air-conditioning, a Compact Disc sound system, power windows and exterior mirrors. The AU Falcon body introduced cabin storage space to the ute and there's ample room for soft luggage or the groceries behind the seats.

Ford now offers a real V8 sports car, in the American-built Mustang which is converted to right-hand drive by the Pursuit ute's parents, Tickford, in Melbourne. But the Stang costs close to $100,000, and for around half that - $49,500 - you could stay true to the blue oval (if such was your wish) and get a great deal of enjoyment out of this true blue Aussie ute which thinks - justifiably - it's a sports car.

AutoPoint road test team: words and pictures, Mike Stock.


Auto Trader New Zealand