Car reviews - Ford - Falcon Ute - XR6 VCT Pursuit utility
Tough styling, spacious cabin design, handling
Room for improvement
Interior fit and finish, vision from cabin
23 Jan 2002
UNTIL such a time as Ford comes up with a factory Falcon coupe - just as Holden has done with the Commodore-based Monaro - fans of the Blue Oval brand will have to make do with the XR ute models to satisfy their two-door sports car needs. And in a lot of respects that is exactly what the XR6 ute is.
The base XL ute has a payload capacity of 1100kg, but in the XR6 that has been reduced to just 530kg - mainly due to its sports suspension set-up - giving an indication of the XR's more specific focus on performance rather than traditional load carrying abilities.
It can still carry a reasonable load mind you, but overall it fits the mould of a sports utility more than a workhorse.
The XR6 Pursuit comes with Ford's top-line six-cylinder engine, the 172kW VCT unit, which also has a home under the bonnet of the XR6 sedan, Fairmont Ghia and Fairlane Ghia models - although in the latter two it develops 168kW due to a quieter, more restrictive exhaust system.
It has plenty of low-down torque with a peak of 374Nm arriving from just over 3000rpm, negating the need to push the engine all the way to redline, where it gets somewhat breathless and harsh.
The extra 8kW of power and 8Nm of torque that the VCT engine delivers over the previous HP powerplant are hard to pick on the road, as they are most likely offset by the added weight of the extra equipment that accompanied the engine upgrade.
The automatic transmission is a smoother unit than the ageing item found in the Commodore, although the first to second gear change is still reasonably harsh at high revs and there is a pronounced thump when manually changing from fourth to third on a trailing throttle.
Its adaptive traits can be hard to pick in everyday driving too, more so than many of the European offerings from BMW or Audi.
The sports suspension settings are relatively stiff and when combined with the XR ute's 17-inch wheels and tyres, means the Pursuit does crash its way across sharp road hazards. On the other hand, Ford has succeeded in endowing the ute's leaf sprung, live axle rear end with high grip levels and sure-footed handling.
The brakes have good initial bite but pedal feel is fairly wooden beyond that point, lacking progression and the ability to accurately modulate retardation.
The large 82-litre fuel tank is somewhat of a double-edged sword - its generous capacity allows you to travel longer distances between refills but when it comes time to visit the bowser, you can count on it being equally generous in lightening the wallet.
On the inside, the accommodation is a vast improvement over that offered by the XD-XH design's 20 years of solid service.
The seats in the Pursuit ute, like all Falcon models, are big and wide in the typical large Aussie-car tradition. They offer a full range of adjustment with four-way tilt for the seat base and lumbar adjustment on the backrest, so it is relatively easy to get comfortable.
The downside is they are a tad soft and lack the under-thigh support you need, particularly on long trips.
The storage space behind the seats is extremely useful and one of the best features of Ford's AU-generation ute range. It can take everything from soft bags to the weekly groceries and is great for those items that would otherwise be rolling around in the tray.
But while the Supercab design endows the two-door vehicle with a spacious interior, the small window behind the B-pillar is merely a token gesture as it does little to aid rear three-quarter vision.
The B and C-pillars merge to form a major obstruction when looking over the driver's right shoulder, although it does prove useful for the view across to the passenger's side, when the reduced angle allows the opening to break up a large blind spot.
Essentially it is a styling exercise to accentuate the extra space in the cabin, although it does allow extra light to filter in.
Interior fit and finish could be better, particularly around the handbrake. The installation in the XR6 Pursuit bordered on unacceptable as the lever was a long way from flush with the transmission tunnel and, being only clad on its outside face, left all the mechanicals bare and visible.
The carpet around the base was also badly fitted, allowing you to see right through to the metal floor.
Another major concern with the test car was the cacophony of squeaking, groaning, flexing noises coming from behind the driver's head, seemingly from where the cab and tray meet.
Rough roads would prompt the noises to both start and to cease. Further investigation revealed is was most likely a result of the mounting bushes between the tray and chassis being too hard, therefore initial movement would set the flexing off, but prolonged driving over rough surfaces would also cause the bushes to settle in.
In our experience, the problem is not indicative of Falcon utes in general.
The XR6 ute remains a relatively unique vehicle in the Australian marketplace, as a high performance six-cylinder ute that has no direct competitor.
Holden only offers the Commodore ute with a base V6 and not with the supercharged engine, so while the XR8 and SS, XLS and S, and XL and Ute match up, the XR6 stands alone.
That is no doubt part of the reason for its sales success, along with its combination of car-like manners and workhorse abilities, brought together in an attractive overall package.
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