Friday 17 August 2001
MATE, IT'S A GREAT 8
NUMBERS are everything when it comes to cars. At the baby end of the market, the number everyone wants to know about is the price.
But when it comes to muscle cars, the numbers that count are power and performance.
That's why Ford is putting the 220kW V8 -- built exclusively for its FTe range -- into its XR8.
The move equalises the power game between the XR and Holden's 225kW Commodore SS.
But it is just the beginning of a major shift in high-performance cars from the blue oval.
While the XR will still attract most sales, Ford plans to inject
a serious dose of adrenalin into
the FTe Falcons this year with a stroked 5.7-litre version of the ageing Windsor V8.
Ford didn't think playing the power game against Holden was necessary when the General slipped its US-sourced Gen III V8 into the Commodore clan.
Ford believed the XR, despite its power deficiency, was a better product.
But sales have told a different story, with Holden surging ahead to an unprecedented level of domination in the past three years.
Holden has had three-month waiting lists for the S and the SS Commodores.
To take the battle up to Holden, Ford is also focusing on a greater show of strength in the V8 Supercar championship.
Part of that push has included pulling triple Shell Series champion Craig Lowndes over to its side of the fence with the new-look Gibson Motorsport crew.
The new XR engine is handbuilt by Tickford.
The extra 20kW of power over the standard engine is achieved by modifications to the cylinder head, the addition of a larger throttle body with a matched ported inlet manifold and revised camshaft.
Each engine has a unique plaque on the side of the rocker cover, which has the specific engine builder's signature on it.
The XR8 comes standard with Ford's independent rear suspension and a limited slip diff.
On the outside, there are classy-looking 17-inch alloy wheels and an aggressive body kit.
Apart from the unique four-headlight nose, there is a rear spoiler, a deeper rear bumper, side skirts and body-coloured mirrors.
The cabin is just as sporty, with better-bolstered front seats, a leather- covered steering wheel and gearshift, and a 100-watt stereo system with in- dash CD player.
But the best thing about Ford's more powerful XR8 is that it doesn't cost any more, with the entry price for the five-speed manual remaining at $45,828.
On the roadYOU'LL be stuck between a rock and a hard place driving the more powerful Falcon XR8.
You know it's got more power under the bonnet, and the temptation to feel the rush and hear the crescendo from the grumbly V8 is hard to resist.
There's no doubt about it, the XR8 is fast, and everyone in a Commodore will want to know how much faster it is.
After a weekend avoiding green-light grand prix starts, you realise you have to consciously hold back.
The handbuilt Tickford engine is a welcome addition to the XR8.
Apart from the extra power and slightly more torque, the engine feels as though it breathes a lot easier and is not as coarse at the top end of the rev range.
Though it still uses old technology, nothing comes close to the sound of a big-bore V8.
And the 5.0-litre bent eight still sends a rumble through the buttocks at idle and a shiver up the spine when things get serious.
Fuel economy is definitely not its best aspect, though highway cruising returns respectable figures because the engine has plenty of low-down torque, allowing it to run below 2000 revs at 100km/h.
The five-speed manual gearbox is a big let-down. The shift action between gears in too long and clumsy and, though the clutch is well weighted for a big car, it can be cumbersome in stop-start traffic.
The bigger Tickford brake package is sensational, with plenty of bite and good pedal feel, and the suspension gives top-class handling.
The double-wishbone set-up makes twisty roads a lot of fun, though the car can be unsettled by stomping hard on the load pedal.
If it gets into a sideways slide, the weight can make the back-end swing like a pendulum.
There's plenty of room for five adults and the front seats are supportive in the right places.
The squares and round holes in the dash look awkward, but the six-disc CD stereo system is damn good.
FORD FALCON XR8 Price as tested: $45,828 next week Subaru Impreza RV
_ ENGINE 5.0-litre V8 with pushrods and fuel injection
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