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First drive: Ford’s tough Falcon RTV ute

Rugged Terrain Vehicle: Takes up where regular Falcon Utes leave off.

Ford produces a tough new Falcon Ute for the bush, complete with diff lock

Ford logo30 Sep 2003

By MARTON PETTENDY

EVER wished your beaut Aussie ute had just a little more ground clearance and traction?If you’re a tradesman who works on sticky worksites, a farmer who crosses creeks or simply a ute owner wanting to go further off-road with your dirtbike or surfboard, Ford says it has the answer - and it's on sale now.

Meet the Falcon RTV Ute, the Blue Oval’s response to what it calls unsatisfied demand for a passenger car-derived, Australian-built utility with high ground clearance and a rear differential lock.

Appearing in concept form at this year’s Melbourne motor show, "Rugged Terrain Vehicle" was the title selected by Ford in a naming contest launched at the same time.

RTV is the spiritual successor to popular previous Falcon ute derivatives such as Outback and Longreach, but is aimed in no uncertain terms at buyers of imported Japanese light trucks and goes a number of steps further.

Beginning life back in the BA Falcon Ute development stage and produced at a development cost of $2.5 million, RTV is available with standard six-cylinder, dedicated LPG or V8 engines, and can be specified as a five-speed manual, floor-shift four-speed sequential auto or column-shift auto.

In cab-chassis guise, RTV comes at a $4500 premium over its respective donor ute, while the Styleside Box RTV costs around another $5000 – a premium Ford expects some 2000 buyers a year to shell out for, with 40 per cent of those tipped to come from existing Falcon Ute customers and a similar number to come from local councils and other fleet purchasers.

So what do you get for the extra money, a premium that’s more than what Mitsubishi asks for a complete all-wheel drivetrain in its Magna/Verada AWD range?First, there’s a generous 80mm of extra rear ride height, plus 67.5mm more clearance up front, giving RTV an aggressive nose-down stance (the rear-end is 12.5mm higher), an impressive total of 215mm ground clearance (from the sump – at the diff it’s 190mm) and increased departure angles of 22.1 degrees front (up from 16.4 degrees on XL Ute) and 26.2 degrees rear (up from 20 degrees).

Ford says the standard one-tonne suspension will sit completely flat under a full load, but the other major suspension revision is a 30mm wider wheel track at each end, which required longer tie-rods.

Other improvements include flipped balljoints and the addition of “anti-tramp” rods to reduce the longer-travel suspension’s tendency to bounce during sudden launches.

The other part of RTV’s off-road package is a new locally developed Differential Locking System (DLS) that boasts a number of firsts. Adapted from Ford Courier models sold in other markets and supplied by Falcon IRS manufacturer Dana/Spicer, DLS employs a vacuum operated, in-diff yoke to lock both sides of the rear axle together, but it’s the first time this has been controlled (from an on-dash button) via the Powertrain Control Module.

It is also the first time DLS has been used in Falcon’s heavy-duty M86 diff, which is reserved for use with V8s only while Falcon sixes employ a regular M78 unit. Switchable via a dash-mounted button below 40km/h, DLS automatically unlocks at 70km/h and will automatically relock when speed drops back below 40km/h, unless DLS is cancelled. A green instrument warning light illuminates when the system is active.

As part of RTV’s development, which included 870,000km of real world testing (100,000km on unsealed roads) by the same small group of engineers who developed the AU ute, Ford spent much time reinforcing the Falcon Ute underbody.

The biggest new feature is a ribbed, 6mm-thick glass-fibre composite bash plate that extends from the front bumper to the rear of the transmission.

Unlike steel plate, the one-piece guard is said to pop back into place and underwent rigid off-road testing.

Further off-road durability comes from stronger graphite iron rear shock mounting plates, 2mm-thick welded steel stone shields for the rear shocks, front brake calliper stone deflectors and high density polyethylene sleeves for the brake lines.

A larger radiator is also fitted, along with taller, 215/65-section tyres, 16-inch one-tonne-rated alloys and flared wheelarches to complement the wider track. The only exception to RTV’s "form follows function" theme is a new grille and badging.

Standard on all RTVs is ABS with EBD, power windows and mirrors, a power driver’s seat (not with column shift auto), CD player, driver’s airbag and BA Falcon’s Interior Command Centre, but air-conditioning costs extra.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

FORD says RTV began life back in the BA Falcon Ute’s early development stage and is not a response to any all-wheel drive product from Holden.

But when you look at what RTV represents, it is amazing that nobody produced such a concept earlier.

Like other Falcon utes, RTV offers a number of real advantages over an imported light truck, such as passenger car-like comfort, equipment, ride, handling, performance and refinement.

But, in a first for an Aussie ute, RTV also matches the Japanese brigade’s tall ground clearance and underbody protection.

It might not be four-wheel drive, but as a solid day’s workout at the Army’s Monageeta proving ground in Victoria proved, RTV’s extra ride height and improved rear traction will see it easily lose sight of both a conventional ute and most light-duty off-roaders available today.

Ford’s new DLS system works well, with a green dash light illuminating when the system is on and flashing when it is "requested". DLS offers big advantages over any limited-slip diff in slippery conditions and, combined with RTV’s one-tonne suspension, offers unrivalled load-lugging ability in low-traction situations.

A leaf-sprung, live rear axle gives RTV a rugged, utilitarian off-road capability, despite meeting its match in a couple of deep bogholes at Monageeta, but the biggest surprise was how civilised RTV remains on the tarmac.

RTV program manager Mario Brandini said a great deal of time was spent tuning RTV’s suspension, with carefully calculated wheel track increases aiming to cancel out the taller suspension’s greater propensity for bodyroll via a larger tyre footprint.

Despite the obviously increased ride height, bodyroll is no more pronounced, while braking, straightline stability and grip levels remain largely unaffected, although V8 RTVs will easily spin their inside rear wheel at low speed on loose surfaces.

Given its retention of Falcon Ute’s best attributes, RTV’s much broader span of usage – plus what Ford expects to be a higher level of street credibility than that enjoyed by imported light trucks – makes it a sensible choice on boggy worksites and creek crossings alike.

But a pricey premium means RTV will need to play heavily on the patriotism of Aussie shearers, farmers and leisure-seekers alike if it is to succeed as a unique Falcon Ute variant.

RTV PRICING:

Cab-chassis, Barra 182 I6:
Manual $30,615
Floor-shift auto $31,535
Column auto $31,385Cab-chassis, E-Gas DLPG:
Manual $32,015
Floor-shift auto $32,935
Column auto $32,785Cab-chassis, Barra 220 V8:
Manual $35,615
Floor-shift auto $36,535Styleside Box, Barra 182 I6:
Manual $31,715
Floor-shift auto $32,635
Column auto $32,485Styleside Box, E-Gas DLPG:
Manual $33,115
Floor-shift auto $34,035
Column auto $33,885Styleside Box, Barra 220 V8:
Manual $36,715
Floor-shift auto $37,635RTV OPTIONS:
Air-conditioning $2250
Cruise control $595
Passenger airbag $495
Tonneau cover $255
Prestige paint $255

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