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First drive: Ford in hot Pursuit

Made to order: The XR8 Pursuit 250 Ute will be built to order in numbers of up to 250.

The new power-packed Pursuit Ute is the prelude to a crucial mid-life makeover of the Falcon

20 Feb 2002

IT may be a long-winded name, but there's a lot riding on the XR8 Pursuit 250 Ute, Ford's most powerful Falcon utility ever.

Ford admits the 250kW Falcon Ute (of which up to just 250 will be produced, thus ensuring its exclusivity) is an image-building exercise for the Blue Oval brand in the lead-up to Falcon's crucial midlife makeover around September.

"The Falcon Ute is the best-selling ute in the country and provides the perfect base for the ultimate sports vehicle," said Ford Australia president Geoff Polites at the XR8 Pursuit ute launch.

"We're balancing a media campaign for, say, 250 vehicles versus a flow-on effect for the brand. The best place for us is on the road, not in showrooms.

"It's all about branding. Australia has an enormous ute tradition and I think everyone knows the coupe-utility concept was born and designed here by Ford Australia and has now become the world's biggest seller," said Mr Polites.

The XR8 Pursuit 250 Ute follows last year's 200kW XR8 Pursuit Ute and is a fitting swansong for the Blue Oval's venerable 5.0-litre Windsor V8, which will be replaced by an all-new 5.4-litre V8 when the facelifted "Barra" Falcon debuts around Sydney motor show time.

"We ordered the last of the V8s two years ago, so it shows good planning that we'll come within 100 or so units of exhausting our supply," said Mr Polites.

"There will be no more development of this engine as it has not been engineered into the new Falcon. From here we go somewhere else." Mr Polites indicated that, like the 250kW T-Series sedans, the 250kW ute would effectively be built to order in numbers of up to 250. He said there were plans to sell the remaining Windsor V8s, if any, via Tickford to aftermarket buyers in either 220kW or stroked 250kW guise.

For now, however, the hottest iteration of Ford's top-selling AU ute employs the same Tickford-developed, hand-built 5.6-litre V8 as used by the T3 range of T-Series cars since December.

To recap, the Windsor's stroke was increased by just 10.2mm to 86.4mm to achieve its 5605cc displacement, before the addition of lightweight pistons (after testing up to 14 different types), billet conrods, a larger 82mm progressive-cam throttle body, higher 9.6:1 compression ratio, a higher lift/longer duration Tickford-developed camshaft, ceramic coated exhaust manifolds, a new inlet manifold with optimised plenum chamber, a new exhaust and unique EEC-V software calibration.

Like the XR8 sedan's 220kW version of the 5.0-litre Windsor, the 250kW ute engine utilises Yella Terra-fettled cylinder heads complete with roller rockers and larger inlet valves. A crank bolt girdle is also fitted inside the sump to aid durability and, like all XRs, the Pursuit 250 gets an LSD.

The result of all this is impressive bottom to mid-range torque and a willingness to rev freely to 6000rpm. Peak torque of some 500Nm is available at 4250rpm, with 250kW of power at 5250rpm.

With a kerb weight of 1745kg (1750kg auto), Ford says the ultimate Falcon ute will accelerate to 100km/h in just 5.97 seconds (6.84 for the auto) and to the 400-metre mark in 14.3 seconds (14.9 auto).

As the first non-speed-limited AU Falcon ute, thanks to its two-piece driveshaft, the Pursuit 250 should blast to a top speed in excess of 250km/h.

To cope with the extra motivation, clutch capacity was boosted by 20 per cent and the current T5 five-speed manual transmission, which is not rated for more than around 470Nm of torque, replaced by a Mexico-sourced Tremec TR3650 (for 365ft-lb, or 500Nm) five-speed unit. For auto models, which are expected to comprise 40 per cent of Pursuit 250 sales, the BTR LE97 four-speed remains.

The 250 ute retains the XR's quad lights but adds a unique airdam, side skirts and rear bumper fascia. Five-spoke 18x8.0-inch alloys with Dunlop SP9000 tyres are fitted, while the XR ute suspension was lowered 15mm at the front and 30mm out back.

The options list includes a hard tonneau cover with high-rise rear wing ($2750), which reduces payload capacity from 400 to 360kg, plus massive 355 x 28mm front and 330 x 28mm rear cross-drilled rotors with four-piston Brembo brakes ($5350) to replace the standard twin-piston/grooved disc brake set-up.

Inside, Pursuit 250 buyers get twin airbags, warm charcoal leather seats, a 240kmh XR speedo with blue graphics, 100-watt prestige audio system, six-CD in-dash stacker, air-conditioning, power windows/mirrors, steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls and a Momo steering wheel and gearknob - but no fog lights.

Ford admits it will not make much profit on each Pursuit 250 ute it sells. With a retail price of $54,250 ($54,912 auto) - well above HSV's base Maloo ute but undercutting the R8 version by more than $1500 - it is obvious the usual profit margins have gone to Tickford for its substantial development and engineering work on the stroker engine.

So the winner here is the customer and, in the long term, maybe even Ford.


THE biggest surprise from Ford's first 250kW ute was not how unruly its back-end becomes once Tickford's masterpiece stroker V8 nears its 6000rpm redline.

Quite the contrary, in fact: the grip levels afforded by the AU trayback's Hotchkiss live axle, 18-inch tyres and Koni suspension is simply amazing.

Not even an engine the calibre of Tickford's 5.6-litre Windsor could shake the Pursuit 250's rump loose during second-gear switchbacks on the testing launch loop.

And what an engine it is. Plenty of gruff induction noise is a hint of things to come and there's enough off-idle urge to know instantly this is no garden variety Windsor V8.

The midrange is muscular and always ready for action, but it is the top-end that's most removed from the 5.0-litre we have come to know. There is no panting, no coarseness: just a willingness to rev well past the 250kW power peak generated at 5250rpm.

In four-speed BTR auto form the Pursuit 250 is a pleasure to drive, happy to lug along with next to no revs on board but adaptive enough to deliver on demand.

The Mexican-sourced Tremec five-speed manual transmission is an even better proposition, with a shift gate for regular T5 manual Falcon owners to die for. Slick shifting and with well spaced ratios, the imported transmission's only fault is a too-tall fifth gear that is at odds with the first four gears.

Tickford engineers say the preferred, shorter overdrive had to be ditched due to harmonic issues, but the up side is highway fuel economy. Which is not something we imagine the average 250kW ute customer values highly.

Tonneau hook holes plugged by ugly colour-coded caps when the optional hard tonneau cover is fitted was the single detraction from an otherwise tough looking bodykit.

Tickford's stroked Windsor V8 will be remembered as a fitting finale for Ford's long-serving V8, but under the bonnet of a ute it takes on a more special meaning.

First, a finely aligned and balanced two-piece driveshaft makes the Pursuit 250 Ute the first non speed-limited Falcon ute ever.

Second, the Windsor V8 has not been engineered into the new Falcon, which guarantees 250 Pursuite ute buyers exclusivity.

And finally, although it is badged an XR and not a T-Series, the Pursuit 250 Ute undercuts the FTE's entry level TE50 by $2000, meaning Pursuit 250 Ute buyers get all of Tickford's development, engineering and validation work for even less than the bargain paid by T3 owners.

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