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The Blue Oval’s local manufacturing operation intends to go out with the biggest of bangs for your buck with the Ford Falcon XR8.
Visually, while there may be no doubt that the first XR8 since 2010 looks like a member of the new FG X Falcon family, underneath sit the mechanicals of the GT R Spec that cost $76,990 plus on-road costs before it disappeared earlier this year, along with the Ford Performance Vehicles brand that made it.
The Ford Falcon XR8 costs $24,500 less, starting at $52,490.
Those with good memories will recall the 2010 XR8 cost only $45,490, but the latest – and last – V8 Falcon serves up so much more.
It’s effectively an FPV without the lairy paint job or look-at-me wing (and all the better for it). Only that pumped-up bonnet prevents it from looking more like a muscularly understated Audi RS sedan than the usual steroidal bodywork excess of the highest-performing Aussie four-doors.
And where the previous XR8 had a normally aspirated 290kW/520Nm 5.4-litre V8 under the bonnet, the new hero car features a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 with 335kW and 570Nm.
Elements of the R Spec that helped transform the handling of the GT also carry across – notably the wider, 9.0-inch rear tyres, uprated suspension, and the front, four-pot Brembo brakes.
The result is an XR8 that at last does complete justice to a badge introduced back in 1991 on the EB Falcon but that disappointed somewhat in BA and FG form not only against V8 Commodores but also its in-house sibling, the XR6 Turbo.
It’s a V8-powered Falcon that encourages drivers to search for rather than hide from corners – one that can be pushed harder than before without encountering premature understeer or a pogo-like front end.
The Ford Falcon XR8 still feels more nose-heavy than an XR6 Turbo, but it turns in directly, the steering prone to some rack rattle but delivering welcome heft and precision.
There’s no wayward body roll but instead a large sedan that feels confidently balanced and grippy – dare we say even agile – on winding roads whether the surface is dry or damp.
With the R Spec’s significantly stiffened suspension mounts and bushes, firmer monotube dampers, thicker rear sway bar – and especially those fatter rear tyres Ford engineers said created more set-up options – the XR8 impresses with its ability to get its fair-sized dollop of power down to ground even through corrugated corners.
That back end will only be too happy to swing out if you get over-enthusiastic with your right foot, though measuring out the amount of power you want to apply in a corner is made easier by the responsive and linear nature of the supercharged V8.
Between corners you can also accelerate to enjoy the V8’s forceful pull from low revs that quickly morphs into an unrelenting surge towards the 6000rpm redline – the supercharger whine adding to, not subtracting from, the experience.
When you want to achieve the opposite of going flat-out, the front Brembo and rear Ford ‘Performance’ brakes are great at reducing speed with assuring conviction and consistency.
The six-speed manual’s clutch travel is a bit on the long side and the vague biting point makes getting into second gear almost a relief. Shift quality is relatively good compared with some of the baulky transmissions experienced over the years in muscle sedans, though gear changes shouldn’t be rushed.
A ZF six-speed auto adds $2200 to the XR8’s price if you want the car to take care of those. There’s still a pseudo-manual option via the push-pull gearlever, though this is a car begging for paddleshift levers.
The bulging bonnet is prominent in forward vision, and more so because of the Falcon’s notoriously high seating position. It doesn’t matter how many times I jump into the big Ford, every time I find myself instinctively reaching for the seat height adjustment only to find it’s already at the lowest setting.
It doesn’t spoil the comfort of the XR8’s sports seats themselves, which also grip front occupants sufficiently in corners.
If you plan on long trips in your XR8, just a warning that the firm ride can become tiring on the freeway. The R Spec suspension has unquestionably compromised comfort compared with previous XR8s, though Ford says its customer feedback suggests owners are happy to accept this in return for the improved handling.
The XR8’s biggest drawback, however, is the same as every other new FG X Falcon: an ageing cabin.
Already six years old, Ford Australia spent the majority of its budget on the tooling and stamping for the significantly revised front and rear ends (the roof, doors, glasshouse and rear quarter panels carry over from FG).
Some subtle trim additions such as extra contrast stitching here and there, and some carbonfibre-imitating inserts aren’t enough to lift the overall perception that the materials and design is very much of a car from the previous decade.
Still, the tweaked instrument cluster looks sufficiently modern, and the darkened pillars and rooflining of the XR and ergonomically excellent sculpted, perforated-leather steering wheel contribute to a sense of sportiness.
And the new Sync 2 infotainment system from the Ford-Microsoft joint venture raises the Falcon’s connectivity game.
It makes an immediate positive impression with the prominent, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen. The presentation is sharp while using the system couldn’t be simpler.
From the homescreen, the four key function areas of phone/navigation/entertainment/climate are divided into colour-coded quadrants. Just press on one of these ‘smart corners’, as Ford calls them, and you’re taken to the respective selection display.
Voice-activated commands are nothing new for Fords, but Sync 2 expands the number of functions that can be controlled simply by pressing the relevant steering wheel button and speaking an instruction.
The default voice command will request confirmations for many instructions; if that becomes annoying, there’s a more advanced setting that can accelerate the process.
That applies to the navigation system, too, which allows a full address to be spoken in one go rather than having to go step by step through city/town and street.
Digital radio is brought into the mix, and Ford has also increased the Sync input options. The console bin now features two USB ports, and an SD card slot, and there’s also a housing for a mobile phone.
Notable standard equipment includes the aforementioned sat-nav, front and rear sensors, sports seats with perforated-leather trim, alloy scuff plates, rain sensor and a reverse-view camera. Extras above an XR6 Turbo are dual-zone climate control, side mirrors with integrated indicator lenses and a premium audio system.
The true value of the XR8, however, comes from what lies beneath: that powerful supercharged V8 and expertly honed chassis that create a genuine rival not only for a Commodore SS but also an HSV Clubsport.
If you’re a Ford V8 diehard and the Mustang coming in late 2015 isn’t your thing, it’s time to act.