Maintaining its role as the Falcon's flagship performance two-door, the latest Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute is entertaining but far from sharp...
The arrival of the new FG X Ford Falcon brings with it the triumphant return of the mighty XR8 sedan. For fans of the iconic Falcon utility, however, the flagship performance two-door remains the XR6 Turbo.
Australian-made utes have long been a staple for hard-working Aussie builders, carpenters, and the like. And for Blue Oval backers keen on more bang for their buck, the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute – first launched in BA guise in 2002 – combines genuine load-carrying practicality with serious oomph.
Sadly though, over recent years, Falcon ute sales have plummeted.
Back in 2010, Ford shifted 9099 Falcon Utes (for 15.4 per cent of the 4x2 pick-up market). By the end of the year just gone, that figure had dropped to 2785 units (for 6.7 per cent market share) – that’s a 70 per cent sales drop and a 56 per cent fall in market share.
On December 1, 2014, the final ever iteration of the Ford Falcon, the FG X, officially went on sale.
Starting at $37,610 (before on-road costs) when teamed with a six-speed manual, our Victory Gold six-speed automatic XR6 Turbo ute is priced from $39,810 – its metallic paint adding another $385.
A $1380 price cut from its now superseded FG equivalent, the FG X Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute takes a leaf out of the sedan’s book, featuring fresh styling and technology, inside and out.
Key exterior changes include a new trapezoidal honeycomb mesh grille, slimmer headlights with W-shaped LED daytime running lights, new fog lights, and one-inch larger 19-inch alloy wheels. The model’s badges have also been reworked, with a somewhat contentious rear ‘Turbo’ stamp now sitting solo on the driver’s side of the tailgate.
Spec sheet differences between the two seventh-generation-based models are harder to spot. New additions are predominantly reserved for satellite navigation, rain sensing wipers, a driver fatigue warning, and Ford’s latest Sync 2 infotainment system with DAB+ digital radio and emergency assistance – the unit controlled via a revised eight-inch central touchscreen.
Despite these inclusions – as well as mild updates to the instrument cluster graphics and the odd piece of door or dash trim – the 2015 Ford Falcon ute falls behind its nearest rival, the VF Holden Ute, not least in terms of technology and interior refinement.
The XR6 Turbo ute misses out on the lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and forward collision alert that all come standard on the $48,990 top-spec SS V Redline ute. It also fails to match the entry-level Holden product, which is kitted out as standard with dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, automatic park assist, hill-start assist and trailer sway control.
Even simpler additions you would have expected the latest Ford product to have are amiss. Astonishingly, this list includes auto up and auto down power windows and steering wheel-mounted buttons and door-mounted power window and mirror switches that light up at night – it is 2015, right?
Once rolling in the only FG X ute not available with Ford’s EcoLPi gas option, things feel, to say the least, ‘familiar’. If you’ve ever owned or driven an FG Falcon, in the FG X, everything is where you remember it to be.
Fitted with the XR6 Turbo’s $1600 Luxury Pack, our test car sees partial leather XR-stamped sport seats join dual-zone climate control and a 112-watt, eight-speaker premium audio system.
Though not heavily bucketed, once nestled into the wide but supremely comfortable seats, you can understand why hard-working tradies would love sliding into their Falcon at the end of the day.
Shame then you still have to steer from your lap as you did in the FG, as the seat – once again – cannot be adjusted low enough while the wheel – yet again – cannot be brought up high enough.
As adept at producing big smiles as big skids, the engine is the heart of this particular Aussie workhorse.
As before, the turbocharged 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder Barra engine spits out 270kW at 5250rpm and 533Nm between 2000-4750rpm. Feeling slightly down on grunt – and with audibly less spool noise – compared with the FG XR6 Turbo sedan we drove back in October last year, the engine in the XR6 Turbo ute still provides stacks of usable, lazy, low-end torque.
And we do mean low, with solid pickup from 1500rpm followed by a massive wall of torque from around 3500rpm. The decent shove then continues all the way to the 270T’s rev limit at just over 6000rpm.
Apart from making the XR6 Turbo ute ideal for towing heavy loads – 2300kg braked with Ford’s $1870 heavy duty tow pack fitted or 1600kg with the regular $570 tow pack – the force-fed engine also has more than enough go to ensure genuine pace can be built at practically any time.
And if you decide you want to get in touch with your inner bogan, it doesn’t take much encouragement to provoke the last-gen-feeling single-mode traction control system to cut in.
Mixing highway driving with stop-start inner-urban travels – with a few enthusiastic back road blasts thrown in – we average 13.7 litres per 100km. A respectable result, it’s not far off the petrol ute’s unchanged 12.4L/100km claim.
Doing a solid job supporting the XR6’s big turbo engine is the smooth-shifting ZF-built six-speed automatic transmission.
Still teaming gear changes with the occasional drivetrain thump – a familiar FG issue related to free play in the limited-slip rear differential’s spider gears – the auto trans again offers a tiptronic-style ‘sports shift’ but lacks the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters now standard on all automatic SS V Redline Holdens.
Despite its ‘sports tuned’ suspension often feeling busy and skittish on all but the smoothest of roads, the Falcon’s ride maintains reasonable levels of occupant comfort.
Clearly more muscle car than ‘sports’ car, the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute rolls into corners, struggles to confidently wash off speed and rarely feels secure or gripped up at the rear.
And while the standard 35-profile Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres do their best with their 245mm footprint, the biggest restriction on dynamics is Ford’s continued employment of a leaf-sprung rear end.
Providing a maximum towing capacity 700kg higher than independent rear suspension-equipped Holden utilities, the Falcon’s simplistic rear-end design falls more than 190kg short of its rival when it comes to maximum payloads – 453kg vs up to 646kg.
Not only making the Falcon’s back end feel lively, and at times loose, the leaf set-up means the XR6 Turbo is also susceptible to axle tramping, where the rear of the ute skips and hops under either power or harder braking. Ruts, corrugations and other poor quality road surfaces further accentuating the issue.
Front-end turn-in is a bit of a shining light, and while the steering is a little light and disconnected in terms of weighting and feedback, the hydraulic power-assisted system remains accurate.
Living with a ute though, even one intended to be somewhat sporting, is about more than just dynamics. And a big win here goes to the new Sync 2 system.
Along with a clearer and easy to navigate display, the updated Microsoft technology is also the first system in recent memory to allow your phone’s text message notification noise to be heard from the phone – even once synced and while not listening to ‘media’ from the device. Great for average punters, it’s a feature workman and tradies would surely find particularly helpful.
Cabin headroom is another big plus, with plenty of additional room available behind the seats. Accessible via ‘quick-tilt’ tabs, unfortunately the mechanism doesn’t slide the seat forward on its rails such as is common in three-door hatchbacks.
Vision from the Falcon’s cabin is another sore point, with thick B-pillars impeding over-shoulder vision.
Traditionally not a strong suit of utes anyway, the wing mirrors, rear vision mirror and rear window do combine to do an adequate job of shedding some light on your surroundings. Add in the Falcon Ute’s lack of parking sensors or a reversing camera, though, and you can feel like you’re all but flying blind – particularly when parking.
For 2015, the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute is still as comfortable and entertaining as ever. Soft and doughy rather than taught and strapped down, apart from feeling old hat, the Victorian-built utility is also behind its key rivals in terms of refinement, road manners and dynamics.
A muscle car first and foremost, the Turbo’s potent engine can’t singlehandedly justify the current model’s price tag or overall packaging. And with that in mind, it makes nabbing an outgoing FG equivalent – currently going from as low as around $35,000 driveaway – more tempting than ever…
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.
And click here to read our full Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo Ute v Holden Ute SS V Redline comparison test.