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New models - Ford - Falcon

First drive: Turbo Falcon hits the bullseye - fast!

Aggressive in a subtle way: The new XR6 does away with the old XR quad headlight signature.

Who needs a V8? Ford's new XR6 Turbo is a great sports sedan with two less cylinders

Ford logo27 Sep 2002

AUSSIE muscelcars are all about V8s, right? Bathurst brawling mo-fos boasting big capacities, big power, big torque and costing big bucks.

Well they were, are and always will be to some extent. But times are-a-changin'. There's a whole new generation embracing turbo fours like the Subaru Impreza WRX and its brethren.

For them forced induction is the mantra, the turbo is the way to go forward. Quickly.

Enter the new BA Falcon range and specifically the XR6 Turbo. It's a car that offers a middle ground between the traditional V8 and the four-cylinder turbos, and arguably provides for the first time in a locally-built six-cylinder sports sedan true, scintillating performance.

How scintillating? Based on the vastly uprated Barra 182 inline six-cylinder 4.0-litre engine, the T-model engine pumps out 240kW at 5250rpm and 450Nm of torque that fries tyres evenly between 2000rpm and 4500rpm.

In the right conditions, sub-six second 0-100km/h dashes and 13-point-something quarter miles must surely be in reach. And thanks to the new two-piece propshaft, the car is speed limited to 230km/h (a speed way beyond the old XR6). Just in case you're off to the Northern Territory, of course.

How the XR6T achieves that stellar performance we'll come back to in a second, but first why do it? The fundamental reason is the new double overhead camshaft, dual VCT Barra 182 4.0-litre which is the baseline engine for the entire BA range, and more powerful and torquey than any engine previously offered in an XR6.

"If we wanted to have a reasonable performance increase over the 182 engine we weren't going to get it by conventional means," said Ford Australia SVO programs manager Gordon Barfield, the man who dreamt up the XR6T concept.

"The only way we were ever going to improve this engine in a fairly quantum fashion was to go to forced induction." Supercharging was rejected as being too expensive and anyway Mr Barfield's belief was that turbocharging more aptly fitted the marketing design brief.

"Turbocharging I think - and the market seems to be backing me up in that - is seen as the more modern method of improving the performance," Mr Barfield said.

"It's very much in keeping with a lot of the young guys and what they are doing with their cars." Guys who he believes will be attracted to this car while never considering the XR8 or its ilk.

"The six-cylinder market is still emerging and the industry still hasn't given it something to crow about," said Mr Barfield.

"I think there is still a lot more to be had out of that market by virtue of providing something that is an alternative for those who don't want to own a V8." So that's the why, now the how. Take the Barra 182, add a Garrett GT40 water-cooled ball-bearing turbo with a maximum of just 6psi or 0.4bar boost, air-to-air intercooler, lower 8.7:1 compression, Inconel exhaust valves, a stainless steel exhaust manifold, dished piston, higher fuel pressure and different Dual VCT calibration. And voila! But it's not all new, as connecting rods and bearings and crankshaft are all carried over from the standard engine. And just be aware you backyard tuners, Ford has also paid attention to anti-tampering devices to prevent modification of the turbo.

The XR6 Turbo slots into the XR6 range above the Barra 182-engined XR6 and below the yet to be released XR8, which we know gets a 260kW four-valve version of the new 5.4-litre modular V8 called the Boss.

Apart from engines, the XR6 and XR6T share a very similar level of mechanical specification - identical sports-tuned versions of the new Control Blade rear suspension and the carry-over double wishbone front suspension fine-tuned by Ford Performance Vehicle-contracted V8Supercar ace John Bowe, new steering gear, new brakes, new 17-inch wheels and new low-profile 70 per cent Silica tyres.

In addition the Turbo gets a limited slip differential and recalibrated traction control, which means its ABS anti-lock braking system is also upgraded from three channels to four channels.

Externally the cars are hard to separate as well. They get the same body-kitted version of BA styling, complete with cut-aways under the front headlights - eschewing the quad headlight XR signature - body coloured side protection mouldings and mirrors, foglights, a deck lid spoiler and a single oval exhaust outlet with chrome tip. A subtle but important difference is the "Turbo" badge on the boot.

Inside the two cars again share plenty, including the XR's heavily bolstered cloth sports seats, sports instrument cluster with a watch-like dial surround, cruise control and leather steering wheel. On top of that the Turbo adds rear power windows.

Underpinning all that is a bevy of equipment which has swum upstream from the base model XT - air-conditioning, single-CD audio system, the entry level Interior Command Centre with mono screen, trip computer, dual airbags and the option of side airbags for the first time.

What does it all cost? The manual Turbo with its carry-over five-speed manual gearbox will set you back $43,965, while you can add $920 for the BTR four-speed auto complete with new sports sequential shift.

That's thousands of dollars more expensive than either Holden Commodore S in either normally aspirated or supercharged iterations, as well as the new entry level V8 model, the SV8. However, none of the S-packs can get anywhere near the Turbo for performance and it wallops the V8 for standard equipment.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

WE'RE already on record about the significance of the BA Falcon. "Bloody Awesome" we said. A benchmark car for the Australian car industry let alone Ford, we added.

And the XR6 Turbo is a star among stars. Take a bow Mr Barfield and your team. Objective achieved. Never again will six-cylinder sports sedan lovers have rubber shredded in their faces by V8 fans. Not while this car is around.

This is King of BA Hill until the XR8 lobs, and even then it is difficult to imagine the V8 is going to be able to seriously shade this quite awesome performance car.

The key is the turbo 6's ability to deliver all that torque over such a wide range. Sure 240kW reads nicely on the spec's chart, but it is the torque that will deliver the thrills on a winding road.

Just stick it in third gear and hold on for the ride. Even coming out of tight corners still lugging third gear, the acceleration is like being fired out of Big Bertha. Turbo lag? Get outta here! But it's not raucous or rough-edged. The T idles like a dream, runs along at 1500rpm in fifth gear without hesitation and then accelerates with nary a hint of driveline snatch in the manual we drove.

As the revs build up there's no real vibration, just a growing turbocharger whine that gets appropriately intrusive and exciting.

Ford has moved the gearbox and driver closer together and used a shorter shifter, which means the BTR T5 feels that quicker shifting.

It's a neat trick but it is an illusion - you can still beat the gearbox in a change and the feel is still familiarly two-stage and a bit gravely. We also could not detect any improvement in the change from cable to hydraulic clutch actuation.

But the engine's a star and the XR6's sports suspension a champ. Firm, compliant yet in no way uncomfortable for the daily commuting grind. The steering is the only question mark we had. It's very direct, very tactile but also felt a tad light. More driving time will help us sort that out.

If you do manage to overwhelm the 17-inch rear tyres with grunt, there's a retuned traction control system to bring things under control, but only after it has granted a little slippage time.

It's a good, tactile system and certainly better than the one employed in the Commodore.

In fact we'll go as far as say that any sports Holden - be it a V6 or V8 - would struggle to stay with the XR6T on a challenging piece of road, and we don't mean just a dragstrip either because the quality of the chassis means this is much more than a straightline missile.

The bottomline is that many Aussie musclecars of the past have been more than a bit daunting to drive at or near the limit. The XR6T doesn't feel that way. Sure, it's challenging, no car with this much performance ability couldn't be. But it also feels like it's working with you, that all the mechanical components have been meshed together expertly.

Thankfully Ford has finished the package neatly with a subtly aggressive exterior and a bespoke interior that never lets you forget you are in an XR - just check out the instrument cluster or the headrests of the front seats and you'll see what we mean.

But the final word to Gordon Barfield. He deserves it.

"We wanted to provide the XR owner with a performance engine that represented the pinnacle of all the good stuff that we were doing on the base engine," he said.

"We really wanted to make this thing the star engine of the six-cylinder range." Bullseye Gordon. Bullseye.

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