Ford and Holden. Good start.
The only thing that would make this Straya Day – ahem, Australia Day! – showdown even more true blue would be John Williamson chortling dandy sing-alongs in the tray of one while slurping on a steamy, sloppy meat pie, while Midnight Oil was pumping from the cabin of the other ute and Daryl Kerrigan was demanding something be done about housing affordability.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t organise any of that. Nor could we get Tony Abbott to show up in is infamous budgie smugglers. But we didn’t complain about that.
So, what have we got here? In short, these are two fast utes that are the last of their kind, and within a couple of years they will be no more due to the imminent demise of the local manufacturing industry.
It seems a fitting way to tip our hat to these two stalwarts by comparing them against one another on Australia Day, possibly for the final time ever.
Firstly – there’s no such thing as an XR8 Falcon Ute anymore, so we couldn’t go the full V8 hay-hauler extravaganza. We did ask Ford’s public relations if they could work something out for us (and the buying public!), again to no avail…
That means we’ve got the Ford FG X XR6 Turbo Ute with a six-speed automatic transmission, which has a list price of $39,810 plus on-road costs (you can get a six-speed manual for an even more affordable $37,610), which will hardly leave you feeling short-changed when it comes to bang for your buck.
The 4.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine offers enough poke to make diehard V8 fans blush, churning out 270kW of power and 533Nm of torque and sending it to the rear wheels.
That positions the Ford in a marginally better position in terms of power output, with the 6.0-litre V8-powered Holden VF SS V Redline Ute pumping out 270kW and 530Nm in six-speed manual guise.
It’s the manual model tested here (with a list price of $48,990 plus on-road costs), and there’s a six-speed auto version available, but it has less power (260kW/517Nm).
That seems like a big price disparity, and it is – at nearly 30 per cent between the Redline and XR6 Turbo – but there are numerous SS models for buyers to choose from including the more closely priced SS (from $39,490 manual) and SS V (from $42,990 manual). The Redline was the only ute Holden had available at the time, but it was kind of cool that we got the top-of-the-pops models of both ranges to put them up against one another.
Neither Ford nor Holden claims 0-100km/h performance times for the current crop, with authorities apparently frowning upon company’s spruiking that their car is faster than a competitor.
Needless to say, we conducted our own performance testing to see which was faster in a straight line.
Unsurprisingly, the turbocharged Ford was faster from standstill to triple figures, exhibiting a thump of mid-range torque that its naturally aspirated V8 rival couldn’t match.
Our best 0-100km/h time for the XR6 Turbo was 5.7 seconds – and that felt slower than we remember the forced-induction 4.0-litre unit being in the past. The SS V Redline could only manage a 6.1sec sprint, with more linear power delivery and a less instant launch due in part to the manual gearbox (and maybe the driver).
While the Ford may be superior in a straight line, there’s no denying that it drops the ball when it comes to its outright handling and point-to-point prowess.
The Falcon’s live axle rear-end with leaf spring suspension means it simply cannot match the cornering performance and stability on offer in the Holden, which runs an independent rear suspension setup more similar to what you’ll find in a car.
That’s the exact way it feels in terms of ride comfort, too – truck versus car.
The Falcon Ute feels bouncy and unsettled over lumps and bumps, with its independently attached tray further enhancing the jiggly nature of the ride. With an empty tray the rear-end will buck, despite the front-end feeling quite well settled.
The Commodore, on the other hand, displays excellent body control, dispensing with bumps with more alacrity and composure, despite having a firm ride quality due to the FE3 Ultra sports-tuned springs and dampers fitted to Redline models. There are more affordable SS variants with softer suspension, and for those who spend a lot of time in town, they may be the better bet.
The Holden also offers more stability through corners, with a more planted and secure feel to it than the Ford, which we noted could shimmy and feel unbalanced.
Both utes steer quite well. The Holden’s electric steering unit offers a little more involvement for the driver through corners, no doubt due to its more driver-focused chassis. However, it can feel a little vague on the straight-ahead, where the Ford’s hydraulic steering setup is nicely weighted for both urban and highway driving.
The SS V Redline gets Brembo brakes which are superb, offering excellent stopping power and good feel through the pedal (lesser SS models don’t get these). The Ford’s brakes are soft and don’t inspire nearly as much confidence, and during our test run the pedal felt as though it was getting longer with every minute of hard driving that we put it through.
Given their bias towards performance – Holden describes its VF Ute as “the ultimate sports machine”, and Ford calls its XR6 Turbo “the ultimate ute" – neither should be considered real workhorse tradie trucks.
Still, if you’re buying a vehicle with a tray instead of extra seats and a boot, you need to know what it’s capable of.
Ford claims the Falcon has just 453 kilograms of tray payload capacity, and while Holden doesn’t specifically quote a payload capacity, if both front occupants weigh 75 kilograms, it should have a permissible load capacity of 527kg.
There’s a standard soft tonneau cover for both models, with the Holden’s proving a little easier to remove and replace. It has a simple click and latch front beam and magnetized top section, while the Ford is a bit fiddlier in its fitment, requiring you to fit the front side of the tonneau over the lip of the tray. We tried and failed.
Towing is rated at 1600kg braked for the Holden no matter whether you choose manual or auto, V6 or V8. With or without turbo, the Ford is capable of 1200kg towing in manual guise and 2300kg with the automatic gearbox. Both have limited-slip differentials.
For the tech-heads out there, the Holden garners another tick over the Ford, coming with items such as a reverse-view camera, parking sensors, semi-automated parking, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert (which are available on the cheaper models) while the Redline also gets a forward collision warning system and a lane departure warning.
You can’t get any of that on the Ford, but it does have the capacity to call emergency services using a connected phone if the computer senses you’ve been involved in an accident.
Both vehicles have airbag protection for both occupants, including dual front and combined side/curtain bags.
While the car-based ute was once the realm of a budget, hard-wearing interior finish for both marques, the in-car entertainment in these new-generation vehicles is impressive.
Ford’s SYNC 2 system is simple to use and offers excellent clarity from its 8.0-inch touchscreen display unit. The screen is separated into four distinct zones (phone, nav, climate and entertainment/music) meaning it is simple to spot what you need quickly and tap that part of the screen.
Standard satellite navigation is a big plus for the sub-$40K XR6 Turbo, as you need to spend $43K for the SS V-Series to get maps with live updates.
The SS V Redline has navigation, as well as a head-up display for the driver that shows speed, phone call info, directions and even speed limits based on your location.
However, the Holden MyLink 8.0-inch media system appears a little dated in comparison to the Ford, and can take some learning in terms of the menu systems.
Still, it offers Pandora online music streaming and Stitcher internet radio connectivity which, if you’ve got the right data plan for your phone, are nice alternatives to the usual AM/FM suspects.
The Ford has digital radio reception, as well as a WiFi hotspot (again, you’ll need a decent mobile plan for whichever phone is connected via Bluetooth and feeding the hotspot).
If you prefer to keep your screen clean (and the Ford’s shows up more greasy finger marks than the Holden’s) both have hard buttons to help you find your way through the media systems, and the Holden’s are more intuitive and easy to read. Failing that, both have voice control technology.
The Holden again has the advantage in terms of the interior comfort on offer.
There are comfortable sports seats with good adjustment, where the Ford retains its awkward seating position that makes you feel as though the steering wheel is too low and the seat base too high.
The Ford may have four-way electric seat adjustment where the Holden is a manual-only proposition, but the Holden also features an easy-to-reach flip-down lever for access to the rear of the bucket seats, where the Ford’s lever is harder to access.
The suede strip across the dashboard of the Holden could get gross if you’re using it for work purposes, but otherwise it looks pretty neat – particularly the SS V embossing. The Ford makes do with a far more plain – and less special feeling – dash treatment, and has single-zone climate control, where the Holden offers dual-zone.
Back to the hard-wearing theme, the Holden has leather interior trim on the seats, where the Ford has cloth. But in a tick to the latter, it has rain-sensing wipers, where you need to spend up for the Redline model in the Holden ranks.
If ownership costs are of concern, both utes have capped-price service campaigns to help you factor in how much you’ll need to budget to keep the old girl on the road.
For Ford, the program requires maintenance every 15,000 kilometres or 12 months, with the average annual cost working out at $418.33 over six years (though it extends up to nine years or 135,000km). It has a three-year, 100,000km warranty.
Holden has more affordable $185 capped-price servicing, but you only get four bites of the cherry. Those who travel fewer than 15,000km in a year will need to maintain their car every nine months, according to Holden. It also comes with the standard three-year, 100,000km warranty.
On the topic of fuel costs, our test showed up the Ford as being more affordable to run, using an average of 12.1 litres per 100km – better than its claimed average of 12.4L/100km.
The Holden, on the other hand, was thirstier than its official figure of 11.8L/100km, measuring 15.4L/100km.
But despite its thirst, the Holden Ute can’t be anything but the winner here.
As fellow tester Paul Maric pointed out during our drive loop, it’s sad to see the Falcon ute going out on something of a whimper rather than with a bang. There are persistent rumours of a more powerful XR6 Turbo Ute – mirroring the FPV F6 Typhoon – as a final edition version, but nothing has been officially announced.
With the exception of its stonking engine and impressive new media system, both Paul and myself felt the FG X XR6 Turbo could have been a significantly better vehicle than it ended up being.
The Holden Ute, on the other hand, is waving goodbye at the peak of its game.
There has never been a better Commodore-based commercial vehicle, particularly in SS V Redline guise – but even in the more affordable SS models you get significantly more kit and a notably better drive experience.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Tom Fraser.