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First drive: XR8 now shares the throne

Amazing grace: The XR8 is now smooth and creamy. It's still got pace but there's now grace where there was previously graunch.

Ford's V8 king is faster but delivers no knock-out blows

27 Jan 2003

THE King is dead, long live the Kings!That's right, you can no longer regard the Falcon XR8 as the unquestionable leader of the Falcon performance pack, instead it must share that role with the XR6 Turbo.

Ford V8 fans may howl but it is a fact even Ford Australia concedes. Sure the new BA version of the XR8 produces more power and torque than the six-cylinder, but it is also heavier and more expensive.

The net result is a level of performance that Ford expects to be equivalent to the XR6T - a six-second 0-100km/h and 14-second quarter mile dash.

And while that's pretty impressive, in the real world XR6T has shown it is the rough equivalent to Holden's 235kW VY SS Commodore.

The obvious conclusion is that XR8 will be in a tight tussle for sprinting honours with the Holden as well, despite being ahead by 25kW and 35Nm courtesy of its Aussie-developed and Aussie-assembled quad camshaft 5.4-litre V8 engine, which produces 260kW at 5250rpm and 500Nm at 4250rpm.

Why is this so? Fundamentally, it comes down to weight. The XR8 continues the BA Falcon trend of being rather porcine, weighing in at 1795kg. By comparison, the Commodore is 1590kg, the old AUIII XR8 was 1660kg, the limited edition Tickford T3 TS50 1730kg and the XR6 Turbo is 1732kg.

Most of XR8's increase in weight compared to XR6T comes from the engine - called a Boss 260 by Ford - and the Tremec T3650 five-speed manual gearbox (the turbo uses a BTR five-speed manual) which was previously seen here in T3 and the Mustang Cobra.

Otherwise, apart from the power bulge in the bonnet to accommodate the V8, there is very little to distinguish V8 from six-cylinder in terms of appearance or mechanical specification.

The suspension set-up is exactly the same despite all that extra weight over the front wheels, it gets the same brakes and 17-inch wheels and tyres, the same wings and things outside and the same interior presentation complete with XR logos on the seats and the dash.

It doesn't even get any extra luxury features over the turbo.

So the $50,130 you pay for your XR8 sedan - or $51,050 when the BTR four-speed auto with sequential shift turns up in the second quarter of 2003 - represents a premium of more than $6000 over the turbo and basically you are paying for the V8 powertrain.

The engine is a conglomeration of parts located or designed by Ford Australia and Ford Performance Vehicle engineers, and then developed into a package unique to the Ford world, which is not only employed in XR8 but also the forthcoming 290kW/520NM FPV family.

The bottom-end is familiar stuff including much from the Barra 220 three-valve 5.4-litre modular V8 already on sale here.

But the 32-valve top-end takes inspiration from a variety of sources including the Mustang Cobra R and the four-valve version of the 4.6-litre modular V8 seen in the Lincoln Aviator SUV. The power bulge is a necessity because of the work done locally by FPV to develop a straighter inlet manifold.

There's also 9.5:1 compression, an electronic throttle body borrowed from the Boss 220, stainless steel exhaust extractors, coil-on-plug ignition and the Cobra's inlet cams.

Like the Barra 220, Boss 260 will run on standard unleaded fuel. Wider and taller than the Barra 220, the Boss produces no less than 400Nm of torque from 2000rpm.

The uniqueness of the engine and the small number Ford Australia wanted meant the US was not interested in building them, so the final part of the puzzle was installing an assembly line at FPV in Melbourne to put them together.

Final cost of the engine program was $3 million, with the assembly line an extra $1.5 million.

In total, Ford is hoping to double XR8 sales from around 100 per month with AU to 200 per month with BA, with the auto accounting for a 60 per cent split. That's not beyond the realms of possibility considering XR sales have exploded with the introduction of BA.

In December, Ford sold a record 972 XRs, compared to its best ever AU month of 507.

Ford Falcon XR8 $50,130
Ford Falcon XR8 auto $51,050
Ford Falcon XR8 utility $40,925
Ford Falcon XR8 utility auto $41,845OPTIONS:
18-inch wheel and tyre package: $1500
Premium brake package: $2950
Side airbags: $500 (sedan only)
Premium sound system: $900
Leather seats: $1980
Sunroof: $2090
DVD satellite navigation: $3600


BEING a V8 touring car (Supercar for you youngies) fan from way back, the old AU XR8 and its ilk had a real resonance for me.

A bit rough, a bit tough. Clunks and clonks from the drivetrain. Baulky gearchange. Raspy and straining engines. Tough and sometimes crunching ride. There was a connection to the race cars, even if it was only in my fantasies.

But no longer. The XR8 is now smooth and creamy. It's still got pace but there's now grace where there was previously graunch.

There is a bunch of reasons for that. The engine is not being stretched to the limit of its capabilities to deliver high levels of performance, the body is immensely stiffer in BA form, the new Control Blade rear suspension is very capable and the Tremec gearbox is a significantly smoother step forward from the old BTR unit.

But then there's the weight. Hate to harp on about it, but the fact is it takes the raw edge off the car as much as anything else. The feeling of explosiveness is just not there - except when the instant fuel consumption readout heads for the sky when you tromp the throttle.

But there are rewards when you get up and rolling - acres of power and a vibrant V8 bellow that changes and swells through the rev range to the 6050rpm cut-off. You get there quickly too, the tacho needle sweeping around the dial unhesitatingly.

The XR8 is smoother riding than it has a right to be as well. On the optional 18-inch wheels it did not jar, shudder or shock. Progress was truly comfortable.

It sits flat and true as the speeds rise with awesome stability, but on the downside the car has lost some of the tight cornering accuracy of its predecessor, a result of both the increased weight and the lighter steering feel.

All this means the XR8 is more of a grand tourer than a sports sedan. It is capable of immense but relaxed performance, can cover long distances in a single bound and do it with great comfort and control.

And you can understand that when you consider the XR8 is now a $50,000-plus proposition in sedan form, which means it is targeting an audience that has learned to not only appreciate pace, but poise as well.

We fancy, ironically enough, that despite the name the forthcoming GT will be the true V8 sports sedan of the extended Falcon family, with more power and torque and more focus than the XR8.

If that was the plan all along that's fine, but it means the XR8 leaves the door ajar for the rougher, gruffer Commodore SS. In fact, it is debatable whether XR8's a better point-to-point car than the XR6T. Right now, we're backing the turbo.

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