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Car reviews - FPV - F6 - Tornado utility

Our Opinion

We like
Monstrous power delivery, lack of turbo lag, more performance than V8 Pursuit, sedan-like handling in dry conditions, less nose-heavy than Pursuit, silky-smooth six-speed auto, distinction among FPV range, value
Room for improvement
Unlockable fuel cap, thirsty when driven hard, lacks the Pursuit's V8 rumble, not much else

21 Apr 2006

FORD Performance Vehicles’ F6 turbo-powered pair have come a long way since their May 2005 introduction.

The F6 Tornado ute and its Typhoon sedan sibling started a troublesome life with the much-publicised clutch problems that Ford would love to forget. After an embarrassing and costly recall of what turned out to be a few weak washers' worth pocket change, all that is fixed and is now history.

History aside though, nobody could argue with the performance credentials and value for money of the Tornado and Typhoon.

Based on the cult-bound Falcon XR6 Turbo’s intercooled 4.0-litre inline DOHC six-cylinder engine, the F6 duo receive a larger front-mounted intercooler, dual-entry ram airbox, an oil-cooler and a revised engine management calibration, giving the Garrett GT35/40 turbocharger a 50 per cent increase in boost pressure to 0.64bar.

The result is a massive 270kW at 5250rpm, with 550Nm of torque from 2000rpm – the highest torque output of any Australian production engine. By comparison, the XR6 Turbo sedan and ute develop 240kW and 450Nm.

Hit a tasty road in the Tornado and many things become apparent, but none more so than its sheer power. Respect thy Blue Oval, for this ute is fast.

Under full acceleration, occupants will need to develop strengthened neck muscles to resist the fighter-jet G-forces – think of your first aeroplane take-off experience. The Tornado and Typhoon aren’t called F6 for nothing (actually, it stands for force-fed six-cylinder).

Priced from $52,945, the Tornado will sprint to 0-100km in just under six seconds. To put this into perspective, the Pursuit V8 ute ($54,170) costs an additional $1225 and bears a front-end weight bias of two extra cylinders, making an overall weight difference of 45kg.

Where V8 fans get their kicks from the aural pleasures of growling V8 muscle, occupants of the F6 range simply enjoy a modern thrill ride.

Step right up and grow addicted to the turbo rush and the working sounds of air forced through the intercooler and spooling turbo (from about 3000rpm), while being drawn deeply into the well-supported sports seats.

This is followed by the sequential blow-off valve between gear changes, ready to do it all over again as you reach for the next gear.

Turbo lag? Perish the thought. Given its truck-like torque, the Tornado’s low-speed flexibility is excellent. With a manual transmission, the engine will happily push through without complaints when driven around in sixth, or happily skip gears during take-off.

In full-attack mode, the Tornado will spin its wheels at each of the first three gear changes. It’s a heart-pounding experience, especially when combining an unladen tray, a slippery road surface and – unlike the BA series – a traction control system to assist when things get hairy.

Much to our surprise, the Tornado handles, rides and steers like a sedan.

Driven through tight and twisty roads behind Melbourne’s Dandenong ranges - albeit on dry roads - the steering felt sharp and nimble, yet, for a high-powered ute, offered plenty of grip.

The Tornado’s suspension uses the independent double wishbone XR6 front-end set-up, while the rear gets stiffer springs. For a live rear axle ute able to carry a 543kg payload, the Tornado does not feel like the harsh-riding commercial workhorse you might expect.

Standard wheels and tyres combine 18-inch alloys with 245/40 Dunlop SP9000 tyres. Considering our test car had $2400 optional 19-inch five-spoke alloys fitted with 245/35 tyres, the ride could still be described as agile but composed.

Brake performance has been significantly upgraded too. BA series Tornado buyers who ticked the $5950 four-piston Brembo brake option box will be kicking themselves to learn they are now standard across the FPV range. During our big twisty drive, the Brembos consistently bit hard without any fade.

Meanwhile, the manual transmission - which sounds sexy in theory - may disappoint. It requires concentration or skill – or both - to extract the ute’s best.

Developed by FPV, the tried and true Tremec T56 close-ratio six-speed gearbox has double synchromesh on all forward gears and a 240mm AP Racing twin-plate clutch (shared with the US Ford GT) while connecting to a limited-slip differential. Sound tough? It probably is now, after the costly recall.

But on the road it is a clunky, Kenworth experience. Builder’s arms are required to change gears, while the clutch makes any driver look like a stalling learner. Daunting at first, especially on an incline, although nothing familiarity won’t fix.

As a $1250 option, the German-built ZF 6HP26 six-speed automatic is arguably the choice of transmissions.

Headlining the BF Falcon and SY Territory facelifts while taking the crown as Australia’s first six-speed automatic transmission, Ford’s new box is silky-smooth with intuitive and almost-undetectable gear changes.

It ought to be good, as it is used in many luxury marques including Jaguar, Land Rover and BMW.

For FPV applications, ZF has also fitted extra clutch plates to handle a maximum torque capacity of 600Nm compared to the regular BF Falcon’s 500Nm maximum.

As in many luxury marques, the new auto also has a manual shifting mode and "PEF" performance modes for more sports-oriented driving. But unlike many sequential-shifting automatics, the changes come rapidly and smoothly, rather than jolting the car in a delayed response.

Somehow, the Tornado in auto form feels safer and more comfortable than the manual when driven with enthusiasm - regardless of weather conditions.

And, unlike many automatic performance cars, the ZF does not numb the car’s performance on the road, or on paper. Power successfully gets to the ground, launching the ute off the line quickly and cleanly.

Also new to the BF series, revised engine specifications are the result of collaboration with FPV engineers and Prodrive, and introduce an on-board diagnostics system to comply with the Euro3 emission regulations effective January 1, 2006.

As emission regulations become tougher, the first casualty is typically a loss of power but, to FPV’s credit, the Tornado’s figures remain unchanged. Fuel economy is also said to have improved.

Officially, fuel consumption figures are 13.5L/100km for the manual and 13L/100km for the auto. In the latter, the best we averaged was 12.5L/100km during very conservative driving. Showing off to friends resulted in a costly 19.0L/100km.

During our visits to the bowser we learned that the fuel lid is not lockable, which could pose a potential security issue.

Some say to never judge a book by its cover. That certainly applied to the Tornado in its original BA guise, where a sharp mesh grille in front of the purposeful polished intercooler, angular side skirts, subtle badging and two-tone double-spoke 18-inch alloys with dark grey insets made up the overall picture. All very tasteful, all very subtle.

With the BF facelift,however, FPV exterior designers seem to have focussed their attention on the F6 front-nd to provide differentiation from the rest of the range.

The front-end now echoes Ford of North America’s recent Iosis concept, while Brembo brake callipers and a few new colours make up the majority of visual differences.

Further visual enhancements can be had by opting for the aforementioned 19-inch alloys and lockable hard tonneau cover which loses its low-rider-like flatness in favour of a bulge that mirrors the Boss V8 bonnet bulge.

It all seems to work well. Where the original BA series Tornado only caught the interest of onlookers in the know, passing otherwise as a mildly reworked XR6 Turbo ute, the BF Tornado turns a lot of heads.

Parked in front of a staff member’s house, the gleaming yellow test car saw local garbage collectors stopping work to pose, arms folded, while their co-workers took photos. This conveyed a clear message – Fords are cool, again.

Inside, very little has changed. The usual FPV signatures are there, including the twin-pod gauges displaying oil and boost pressure (even though there’s no numerical indication) mounted on top of the centre console, the engine starter button, sports seats with embroidered FPV logo and chunky steering wheel.

Apart from that, all the rest is standard XR Falcon. Meaning the Supercab Tornado comes well equipped and offers decent storage behind the seats for a quick shopping trip.

Standard equipment includes twin dual-stage front airbags, ABS brakes with EBD, cruise control, 100-watt six-disc in-dash CD sound system, power windows and mirrors, air-conditioning, leather-like Technik fabric trim with suede inserts, trip computer, cross-drilled aluminium pedals, alarm and immobiliser, DataDot theft-deterrent technology and the build number identification that is sure to arouse enthusiasts.

So the Tornado doesn’t have the V8 rumble of its Pursuit cousin.

But it’s cheaper, quicker, isn’t as nose-heavy, is arguably more fun to drive and, based on its 21st century engine, will attract more attention – especially with enthusiastic 21st century garbologists.

Who said there was no substitute for a V8?

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