Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - XR8 sedan
Effortless V8 grunt, muscular styling, sharp handling
Room for improvement
Huge thirst, clunky driveline
21 Feb 2001
FOR: Effortless V8 grunt, muscular styling, sharp handling AGAINST: Huge thirst, clunky driveline By GAUTAM SHARMA FORD'S AUII XR8 builds on what was already an accomplished driver's car.
The updated version retains the strengths of its immediate predecessor while addressing most of the old car's shortcomings.
Ford has opted to give the revised XR Falcon a harder look to create a more discernible visual link between it and its racing counterpart in the V8 Supercar championship.
More importantly, the car's aggressive stance is backed up by sufficient performance to please most musclecar enthusiasts.
For bar-room braggarts, the key statistics are as follows: the 5.0-litre V8 engine cranks out 200kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm at 3750rpm - compared with the outgoing XR8's outputs of 185kW at 5000rpm and 412Nm at 3500rpm.
The power increases are, no doubt, aimed at bringing the XR8's straight-line performance closer to that of the 5.7-litre Holden Commodore SS, which cranks out 220kW and 446Nm.
Although the Commodore's bigger engine ensures it still has the edge in terms of acceleration, the Falcon is arguably the more rewarding car to drive.
For starters, the XR8's twin tailpipes emit a deeper and more pleasing note than the 5.7-litre Commodore?s big-bore exhaust.
What is perhaps more surprising is that the Falcon also appears to have the edge in terms of low-down grunt, despite giving away 700cc to its rival.
Winding out the V8 yields satisfying performance, while the muted induction roar and baritone exhaust growl add to overall enjoyment levels.
Just how quick is the XR8? Well, don't expect to leave Subaru Impreza WRXs choking on your dust, but the XR8 has enough mumbo to put a broad smile on your face when tackling your favourite twisty roads.
Even in automatic form, the 1620kg sedan is capable of covering the standing 400m in the mid-15-second bracket, while the sprint to 100km/h takes under eight seconds.
The adaptive four-speed auto - offered as a no-cost option - does its job reasonably well, but it does take a slight toll on performance.
The transmission and differential produce their fair share of clunks and whining, but genuine performance enthusiasts are not likely to be too put off by this.
What is a little annoying though, is the relatively severe "thunk" as the transmission changes down to first when coasting to a halt.
Owning an XR8 will ensure you are on a first-name basis with your local service station attendant as frequent fuel stops are part of the deal. But this will be no surprise to anyone who has owned a pushrod V8.
A fade-prone braking system was one of the Achilles heels of the superseded XR8 and, thankfully, this has been addressed in the current model.
As with the rest of the Falcon range, the XR cars get upgraded brakes with bigger pads, thicker rotors and a higher capacity booster.
Ford says the revised braking system is more resistant to fade and less prone to fluid overheating. The XR cars also gain a firmer brake pedal to provide more feel.
On the road, this translates to secure stopping power that does not diminish rapidly after a few hard applications of the brake pedal.
But in case you find the standard anchors insufficient, you can specify an optional $3200 premium braking package sourced from Tickford's T Series cars.
While the previous XR8 rode on 16-inch rims, the current model benefits from a striking set of five-spoke, 17x8-inch alloys designed by Tickford.
Wrapped around the wheels is a set of 235/45ZR17 Dunlop SP Sport tyres that provide prodigious levels of grip.
Making the most of the available grip is facilitated by the sharp, communicative steering and well-balanced chassis.
The tried-and-proven formula of rear-wheel drive and powerful V8 engine is put to good use and the XR8's handling characteristics will please most musclecar traditionalists.
But inducing power-oversteer in the dry takes a bit of doing thanks to the massive footprint of the low-profile Dunlops.
The all-independent suspension has been carried over essentially unchanged from the previous model, but the rear rollbar is located 24mm lower.
Its sporty spring/damper settings ensure there is minimal body roll under hard cornering - yet ride quality is still reasonably compliant.
Noise suppression is also exemplary, no doubt aided and abetted by the laminated firewall introduced across the AUII range.
Tyre roar and wind noise are well controlled, allowing the driver to revel in the muted rumble of the V8.
The XR8's overall refinement levels make it a sound proposition as a daily driver, but it is not the car to own if you hope to retain some degree of anonymity.
The XR8 fairly shouts its potential, although it must be said the cosmetic add-ons are in good taste.
The AUII XR models now feature a more intricate, race-inspired front bumper and spoiler, while the grille now has two vanes instead of one.
Ford has also opted to shroud the inner headlights to mirror the outer ones.
The dual-wing rear spoiler found on the old XR8 has been ditched in favour of a squared-off, single-plane item. However, the bi-plane spoiler can still be ordered as an option.
A body kit that adds front and rear skirts and rocker panel mouldings is available as a $1700 option.
Inside, the XR models now feature a predominantly blue theme and our test car was equipped with a full leather interior that is offered as a $1900 option.
The dashboard is more or less identical to that found in the Forte, but the Tickford logos on the dials and four-spoke Momo steering wheel are welcome additions.
The shapely sports seats are comfortable and provide adequate lumbar and lateral support.
However, tall rear-seat passengers may find headroom at a premium as a result of the Falcon's heavily tapered roofline.
Luggage space is ample - and can be boosted further by the split/fold rear seat - but the boot aperture is rather narrow and shallow.
Equipment levels are generous, with air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, six-stack CD player, anti-lock brakes and dual airbags included as standard.
Build quality is generally good and the test car provided was free of squeaks and rattles.
The only blemish was a somewhat clunky driveline, which may have partly been a result of repeated canings by lead-footed motoring journalists.
Overall, though, the XR8 is a competent and well-sorted package that arguably offers a higher "fun factor" than the Commodore SS.
Just be prepared to pay dearly for the privilege at the fuel pump - and don't forget to factor in the extra cost of premium unleaded.
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