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New models - Ford - Falcon Ute - ute

Versatile AU Falcon ute ready for action

Tray on display: The tray model of the AU Falcon range of utes.

Ford completes its AU Falcon range with a new ute and the introduction of a chassis cab model for the first time

30 Jun 1999

FORD has released the ute version of its AU Falcon with a number of interesting features and, for the first time, three body variants.

As well as the conventional integrated ute, the Falcon also comes as a chassis cab for the first time, allowing companies to tailor the AU for specific applications such as police and ambulance vehicles.

The third variant is a tray model, which is just the chassis cab with a $1300 aluminium drop-side tray fitted.

Although the standard (style side) ute is rated at 820kg, all three variants have an one-tonne payload capability, which Ford does not expect Holden will be able to match with its forthcoming VT Commodore ute.

Later this year an LPG-powered six-cylinder ute option will be offered and, although Ford executives will not comment, a four- wheel-drive is under development and will probably be released in 2001.

There are no plans for a panel van variant.

Based on the AU Falcon sedan, the ute has 36mm extra headroom - solving a problem which afflicted the previous range - and gains features such as driver's airbag and the Smartshield security system, as well as improvements in soundproofing.

But it is behind the passengers that Ford has invested most of the $45 million it cost to bring the ute to market.

Stretching the Falcon's wheelbase has enabled Ford to include a very handy 400mm storage area inside the car behind the front seats - big enough to take a couple of suitcases - without compromising the main load-carrying ability of the ute.

In fact, the tray area has been improved over the previous model by widening the rear track, providing a flat area between the wheelarches capable of accepting - for the first time in a ute - standard pallets and building material sheets, which are all 1.2 metres wide.

The tray features a removable bedliner made of recycled materials which can be replaced (at a cost of less than $750) when it becomes badly damaged. Ford believes this will help resale values considerably because repairing and repainting the main steel bed is much more expensive.

The moulded polyethylene bedliner is grooved so that building sheets can be slotted in vertically and the tailgate section has recesses for thermos flasks and cups.

The tailgate itself is also interesting in that it can hinge through 180 degrees, putting it out of the way for easier loading and unloading. This also provides for better access by a forklift.

The car-like qualities of the Falcon ute are enhanced by dual- rate springs in the wagon-based rear suspension and by a joint development with Dunlop and Goodyear which resulted in tyres based on sedan rather than light commercial tyres.

Fuel range has been extended by increasing the size of the tank from 68 litres to 82 litres. The tank is made from recycled plastic and is still mounted ahead of the rear axle.

There are three model levels, though the XRs (XR6 and XR8) only come as a conventional ute, described by Ford as a 'style side box', rather than the tray or chassis-cab.

The base XL - expected to account for 70 percent of sales - can be ordered with a surprisingly comfortable bench seat in conjunction with a column shift auto in order to accommodate three passengers.

This bench seat has separate adjustments for the driver and the back also folds down separately so the passengers do not need to get out in order to access the storage space behind the seats.

The XL and the more sporty XLS feature a new honeycomb grille while the Tickford-developed XR series models have the same quad- light front end styling of their sedan counterparts.

While the XL (identified by a grey grille) is the working ute, the XLS (which has a body-coloured grille) is targeted at recreational buyers and features a lower ride height, 16-inch wheels, sports suspension, power windows and cruise control.

All the vehicles have a strong car-like feel and are dynamically sound, with improvements in shift quality particularly noticeable with the four-speed automatic transmission.

However, the standard 4.0-litre six-cylinder engine feels a little harsh while the optional 5.0-litre V8 cannot compete with the new generation alloy unit that will power the VT Commodore ute.

While V8 models get a limited slip differential as standard, there is no traction control available, so it might be just as well that the V8 produces only 175kW of power and 395Nm of torque rather than the Holden's 220kW and 446Nm.

Performance is higher in the XR8 (185kW of power and 402Nm of torque), where traction is aided by its considerably bigger alloy wheels and tyres.

Prices for the Chassis cab models are $23,400 for the XL and $26,900 for the XLS while the style side (the normal ute) is $24,300 for the XL and $27,800 for the XLS.

The XR6 is priced at $32,300 and the XR8 is $37,300. While the XR6 is $1450 more than the previous model, the price of the XR8 is virtually unchanged despite the addition of ABS and cruise control on both.

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