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New Car Test - Ford Falcon XR8 Pursuit 250 Ute

It has a big tray but can't carry much weight. It's a performance car but doesn't handle very well. So what do we make of Ford's limited edition 250kW load warrior?

By Glenn Torrens, lead pic by Ford Australia

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The Ford Falcon XR8 Pursuit 250 ute is about bragging rights. It's about big, basic, beefy grunt. It's about bulk torque and having an engine bay full of special bits that few others have. It's about sitting in the pub with that smug knowledge that parked out the back is a big blue oval bitch that just about every bloke walking in will take a look at. He'll wish he knew who the owner was, so he could plant his butt in the passenger's - or driver's - seat and take it for a 'spin around the block'. Even if he's just parked his Holden.

The fact of the matter is, you don't buy a Falcon like this to haul loads. Haul roads? That's more like it - but if you seriously want to do that, you wouldn't buy a truck with a live rear axle and leaf springs. No, you buy a Ford Falcon XR8 Pursuit 250 ute just because you can and you want to. And reading a road test report such as this may not instill the passion required in you to go out and buy one. That takes years..

Vying for similarly passionate hearts, minds and wallets to the Pursuit 250 is the HSV Maloo ute. The Maloo is the HSV-tweaked version of the Holden SS ute. It uses a 255kW version of the alloy LS1 V8 and HSV-specific suspension and interior components. It's based on the Commodore wagon and uses that car's independent coil-sprung trailing arm suspension system; in fact most components and dimensions under the Holden are the same as the remainder of the range, including the Monaro. The Falcon ute is best described as a semi-monocoque; it employs a half-chassis and leaf springs behind the sedan's B pillar. This design allows the Ford ute to be a better truck - for instance, by removing the factory tray it can be equipped with any type of rear body - but the Holden/HSV is definitely the better car. And Holden is actively investigating a half-chassis, leaf-sprung Commodore truck...

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Under the bonnet is the extensively - and expensively - re-engineered Windsor V8. Being kind, it's best described as a legendary muscle car motor. Being truthful, it's better described as a lumpy, noisy, thrashy, hoary old engine that time and technology have left far behind. Criticism? Not necessarily. Some of us enjoy character with our cars.

With 250kW and a tractor-like 500Nm, the engine is the heart and soul of the ute. It's easily the most powerful production engine ever assembled in Australia. The now-superseded Australian cast-iron HSV/Holden 5.7-litre V8 came close - it had around 230kW in its most powerful form just before it was replaced by the US-sourced Chev LS1 in 1999. Since then, all HSV and Holden V8s have been brought by boat to Oz from the US. Interestingly, the equivalent XR8 sedan isn't available with the 'big' engine; to get four doors and 250kW means looking up the ladder to the upper-spec Tickford T series - the Pursuit 250 ute is a stand-alone model.

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From the first turn of the key the big-inch Windsor brought a smile to my face. I have to admit that. But don't go looking for smoothness or refinement or 8 litres per hundred with this engine because you won't get it; that's not what this thing is about. What you get is a 'traditional' (old-style) rumpy pumpy idle, a bewdiful sounding exhaust (well, I think it is - others might find it a bit, well, simple) and plenty of grunt just about everywhere. Doesn't mind a drink, this truck - after 296km of what I regard as ordinary enthusiasts' driving (a few blast from the lights, but plenty of fourth and fifth gear 60-to-110km/h cruising with no peak-hour idling), I tipped 72 litres of premium unleaded into its side. That, folks, is in excess of 24 litres per 100km. And that didn't include the performance testing. Okay, so I enjoyed my week behind the wheel, but fact of the matter is that fuel efficiency of an iron-headed 'old school' performance engine such as this is woeful.

Thanks to its capacity, it's a lugger, this Windsor. But it also has a fat midrange. I won't say the engine is happy to spin to its redline - it's past its best by then - but it will if you keep your foot into it. On the way up there, there's all sorts of harmonics and buzzes and noises as somewhat heavy mechanical bits of the engine momentarily vibrate in resonance with other bits of the drivetrain and body. It sends a tingle through the laminated (for noise reduction) firewall and steering wheel that some of us find appealing and others may find rude. But, those people that would find it rude won't be looking to buy one of these. They'll be in Nissan or BMW or Lexus showrooms.

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Despite the ute's not inconsiderable weight - both Holden and Ford utes have almost identical masses to their sedan brothers - performance is strong. As it should be from close to six litres of V8... On a dirty bit of slightly uphill highway, with a full tank of (cool - just bought) Premium, a passenger and without too much mucking around with launch revs, I clocked 0-100km/h in the 7.2 - 7.3 range using AutoSpeed's AC22 performance meter. My one attempt at a full quarter netted a 15 flat according to the AC22. As with any standing start acceleration run, getting out of the hole has a big effect on the elapsed time and a cleaner road would have helped. Sorry, didn't get a terminal speed.

My first attempt at an accel run resulted in the ute going nowhere except sideways towards the safety rail by the edge of the road. Sheez. Back off. On the other half dozen or so full-flog launches I gave the car during the test week, it axle tramped only once, and I reckon this was more due to the limited slip diff action than the wheels and suspension pattering. The rear axle doesn't dance, but it doesn't seem to want to plant the power properly. Ease the ute to a jogger's pace and tromp the throttle to the floor and it's easy to get the tyres fryin'.

First gear runs out real fast and it's a several car lengths into second gear before the actual road speed catches up with the dials. At first I thought it may have been clutch slip but a slight dip of the the revs and speedo and a quiet shudder from the body as the rear wheels eventually found traction told me it wasn't. Lairy, but hardly sophisticated. But, I find myself thinking, imagine how it must have felt to be Tickford suspension engineer and being handed the keys to a ute and a brief to 'sort it out'. For a leaf-sprung truck, they've done well.

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The 250kW manual Falcons use an imported Mustang-spec Tremec five speeder for its extra torque capacity compared to the Borg Warner/Tremec Aussie-made T5 used in other manual Falcons. The gearing although no doubt responsible for the class-leading throttle response in the 5.0-litre 220kW Falcon XR8 sedans and utes, is too low for the torque of the larger-capacity 250kW torquers.

First through fourth gears are packed quite closely. If the car was a six-speeder, you wouldn't argue with the choice. However, there's a big gap between fourth and fifth gears - consider the gearbox a six-speeder without a fifth gear - and combined with the 3.45 diff gears it makes the Pursuit a little frustrating to drive on fast, flowing, drivers' roads. Fourth gear feels too busy and fifth gear is just a little too tall for corner-to-corner snap, despite the engine's massive torque.

First gear runs to an indicated 60 km/h at 5500rpm - base-model six-cylinder auto Falcons can run close to 85 in first, if you hold 'em flat - and second runs to an indicated 95 at 5500. No doubt that extra gear change into third would hurt its 0-100 km/h time. Demonstrating the hole between fourth and fifth is the fact that fourth gear, 70 km/h is 2000 rpm and the same revs in fifth is 110 km/h. All up, having played with diff ratios in my own cars in the past, I reckon the Pursuit would be happier all-round beast with a set of taller 3.08s in the diff - even considering the fact it might have to carry a load of jet skis or motorbikes every now and again.

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Handling. I knew you'd ask that one... Falcon sedans - of any equipment level, but especially the independent-rear Tickfords - have the best handling and steering of the Aussie domestics, with their upper and lower A-arm front ends, but chop one in half and slot in a railway-track chassis bumbling along on leaf springs and you're asking for trouble. Well, not trouble, but let's just say that Ford uses a leaf-sprung rear end for its load capacity, not its handling prowess.

There's an interesting blend of understeer on the way in and oversteer on the way out, with the hammer down, anyway. That's on smooth roads. On rougher roads, everything gets very busy. Mid-corner bumps throw the tail around a bit, knocking it off line - the saving grace being the Falcon's excellent steering feel allows the driver to gauge most of what is going on. A characteristic of all AU Falcons I've spent time in is noisy front suspension operation - why is it so?

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The brakes are astonishing. For some stupid reason, it's only in the past few years that Aussie cars have been allowed to evolve the brakes they deserve to keep pace with the brawn they have had for eons and the loads (utes, and caravans) they are regularly asked to carry. Aided by ABS, the test car was fitted with the optional cross-drilled Brembo four-piston big bugger package that washed off speed real quick. One minor niggle was the test car's propensity to have a slightly longer pedal after spirited driving on rough roads - as if the pads had shuffled away from the rotors (No, it wasn't fade). Spend the money. They're awesome. Look porn, too.

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These AU (and the next BA) Ford utes employ a plastic tray supported by steel frame, and that frame has what amounts to a mini tubbing job done on the rear wheel wells to fit the monstrous 18x8 inch wheels, requiring a specially-produced tray with extra width in - or narrowness between - the rear wheel arches. Same for the spare wheel - to get the spare full-size 18-inch rim and rubber high enough off the ground in a ute that sits a couple of inches lower over its suspension, the spare wheel carrier is relocated higher in the body. It's all hidden, but none-the-less is smart thinking and indicative of the effort Ford and Tickford has gone to, to create the Pursuit. The body kit prevents the tailgate from being dropped down completely as on other Falcon utes. And the very smooth quality lockable smooth tray - complete with rear wing - doesn't allow anything tall to be carried. Yes, two people can remove it, but it's heavy.

Inside, it's all Falcon. Soon to be superseded Falcon. Thank goodness for that - I lost count of the times that my left Doc caught on the edge of the centre console side panel adjacent to the left foot rest. It's a design problem that is endemic across the Falcon range - the flimsy panel simply flops against the carpet, allowing it to be snagged by the edge of your shoe every time you use the clutch. The equipment level is good - cruise, single-slot CD plus that terrific Momo wheel and knob - but there isn't the satisfying tactility or smoothness of feel in the controls evident in, say, a Holden Commodore. Everything from the glove box door to the indicator stalk seems to clunk rather than clink.

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The ovoid AU-based styling is now (in)famous, but opinion aside, the details aren't particularly well executed. There's a few rough moulding lines in the plastics - around the centre console especially - and the screw heads visible in the door trims, and locating the instrument cluster (covered by plastic buttons), are almost amateur. And it's almost impossible to reach the seat adjusting wheel without opening the door thanks to tight spacing. I hope the boys at Ford Australia have done something wholesale in the all-new next generation Falcon due in a few weeks.

Big gold star to Ford for the extra room behind the (flip forward - and leather on the test car) seats compared to say, the Holden ute, and the netting 'file' on the rear wall that allows small bits and bobs to be stored without. But surely the jack and its handle could have a cubby hole somewhere under the rear tray, rather than taking up cabin space?

So, the verdict? The Falcon 250 ute is thirsty, it has corrugated handling dynamics on anything but smooth roads. It also looks sharp - for those that like their Aussie Fords - and has plenty of brutal charisma. It's lacking in smoothness and refinement and might get its doors sucked off by something with half the capacity. But despite - or because of - these traits, I reckon there are very few hard-core Aussie Ford fans in the country that would say no to one of these...

The Best Windsor Ever?
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It's somewhat ironic that arguably - no, easily - the best version of the classic US Ford 'Windsor' V8 is built on the other side of the world. Sure, the engines may have been delivered to Australia having been first assembled and hot-run tested in Ford's engine plant, but truth of the matter is, for the 250 version anyway, these engines are little more than raw material; head and block castings and a pile of other spare parts. Ford Australia's high-po partner, Tickford, pulls each US-built engine apart and throws almost everything away. Each engine is then reassembled with Australian-made cams, rods, stroker crank, remanufactured heads, pistons and intake manifold. If that sounds like a patriotic parts list, so be it. That's how Tickford wanted it.

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The intake manifold is especially interesting from a technical point of view. The highly-regarded Sprint, Explorer and GT40 manifolds - all of which have been used in various Australian Falcon models since Ford Australia adopted the Mustang EFI 5.0 in 1991 - were found to be below the performance standard required by Tickford for its 5.6-litre engine. So Tickford built its own. Its large plenum design houses eight tuned-length bell mouths on individual intake runners. It's all fed by a huge 82mm throttle body, an ex-Mustang MAF meter and conical high-flow air cleaner drawing cold air from under the nearside mudguard. Australian regulations don't require EGR and the intake is not ambidextrous (able to face either way) like other Ford and aftermarket 5.0 manifolds.

Why you would:

  • The biggest, toughest, baddest Falcon ute ever
  • Hand-built engine with more torque than a game show
  • You're a blue-blooded Ford fan

Why you wouldn't:

  • Loves drinking Premium fuel
  • Handling is lumpy
  • Load capacity minimal
  • Engine is not officially accredited by Ford to tow anything... seriously
  • You're a red-blooded Holden fan

The Pursuit 250 was made available to AutoSpeed by Ford Australia

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