They’ve given it more brains and made it Australia’s biggest home-produced bruiser. The Falcon XR8 is going out guns blazing … is this enough to make you want to take a ride?
Pros: Sheer stonk from a characterful powertrain, excellent chassis and steering, last of its kind, cut-price HSV trouncer.
Cons: Time-worn design, thirst, so-so refinement, uncertain investment value.
Our road test rating: 3.5/5
Here it is, the last blast Falcon – and what a blast! Ford sees great opportunity for a final XR8 from slotting a Ford Performance Vehicles’ powertrain into a most cost considerate presentation. How does it shape up?
Design and engineering:
The FG to FG X metamorphosis hasn’t altered Falcon much, but no surprise about that: After all, the BA to BF to 2008’s FG were all transitions tied by familiarity. Now Falcon is just 18 months from its funeral and, while Ford hasn’t given up on it, it’s widely understood the X’s development budget wasn’t huge.
Nonetheless, it would be churlish not to point out that this XR8 is nothing like its predecessor. You’re basically buying into a Ford Performance Vehicles’ GT R-spec without the lairy wing, badges and stickers or the hefty price – the XR8’s $69,990 sticker is hardly budget, but it is around $30k cheaper than that sign-off FPV effort.
XR8 has inherited everything but R-spec’s seats, silly not-so-remote push button starter and stickers: Staggered 275-profile 19-inch wheels (eight inches wide at the front, nine inches at the rear) with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber, four-piston front Brembo brakes and a single-piston non-Brembo rear, stiffer springs, retuned dampers, thicker rear sway bar, stiffer bushes and revised front upper-spring mounts.
Even though it doesn’t look particularly ferocious - because reshaped front wings, an XR8-specific raised bonnet (to fit the engine) and a reconfigured boot shape are the extent of metalwork alterations (and the adoption of new front and rear lights, a thinner grille and reshaped bumpers to adhere to latest One Ford styling is overall half-hearted) – it really is.
Powertrain and performance:
What you’re foremost buying into is the FPV-developed 5.0-litre supercharged V8 producing 335kW and 570Nm, a big step up from the old normally-aspirated 5.4 290kW/520Nm.
Teamed with either a six-speed manual or, in our case, a six speed automatic, that’s a heap of grunt; enough to warrant on-paper comparison with highly-credentially European streetware and certainly enough to kick the Commodore SS and its 270kW (260kW auto) in a very painful place. All the moreso since Ford’s mill momentarily generates 375kW when the supercharger optimises into transient overboost.
Yes, it’s crude, yet the oomph out of this engine is simply awesome. The massiveness of the shove almost overloads in real-life, everyday situations: I was stunned when, in response to a snap decision overtake on admittedly slightly wet tarmac on what I’d swear was a light throttle, the car not only went warp speed in a flash but also kicked out the tail mid-manoeuvre before the traction control enacted. A tacit lesson there and then how much prudence is required. When it speaks, you need to listen. Carefully.
Daunting and delightful. What makes that big stonk experience worth trying is that the chassis still dances. I’ve long been a fan of the Falcon’s chassis and steering; the delicacy and deftness is delicious. One decent road showed this old fellow has kept fit. The Beech Forest-Mount Sabine Rd at the bottom of Victoria, Australia, is a teensy squiggle on any map, but if you are in Apollo Bay and want to experience (as you should) the Otway Fly, a progressively dizzying treetop-level steep canopy walkway, then it’s the one to take, and the XR8 felt great on it, though it also highlighted that the gearbox would do better with paddles rather than the pseudo-manual option via the push-pull gearlever.
That sledgehammer load of torque avails straight from idle, but the main thrust occurs from 2200rpm to 5500pm, when it’s not only felt but heard: The soundtrack breaks from a deep-hearted baritone into an increasingly shrieky, whirring hoarseness that adds to the chest-thumping experience. It is every bit as fast and ferocious as the packaging says, but lairy too.
Ride, refinement and quality:
Take the XR8 away from race tracks and racer roads and it becomes a bit of an old grump, unfortunately. Stuck on an 80kmh section of highway with no opportunity to break out of a snail train of camervans – oh, you’ve been on the Great Ocean Road too? – the car felt poor. Here the ride was too rigid and fidgety, the auto lost its smoothness and the pace inconsistency brought the highest fuel burn we saw from this engine: 14.8 litres per 100km. Mind you, even when it’s good, this engine is quite bad. True, it’s a big engine so it has a big thirst. Yet there aren’t many that are worse. The best average, 11.2L/100km on the Princes Highway, is nothing to crow about. For the record, I refuelled in Torquay (52.8 litres, 336.8kms clocked), Apollo Bay (24.8, 643.2km) and Port Fairy (47 litres, 917km) for a 1280kms total distance journey.
Practicality and packaging:
Look within and, aside from the new centre console touch screen required for Sync2, there’s more old than new, and some of the old is old indeed.
Standard to XR8 is leather, parking sensors, rear camera, automatic headlights and rain sensing wipers. Sync2 is the draw, with decent sat nav and smart touches of voice control, access to digital radio and ability to make the car a WiFi hotspot in tandem with a smartphone. Well, that’s the theory. In a car lacking a handbook the complexity of actual activation – even after watching an online video - defeated me, and also the Ford dealer I sought assistance from. Touchscreens are good and bad; even though you can still, on bumpy roads, easily hit the wrong function and the screen ends up being coated in finger smudges, I liked this one, including the voice command setup that is more attuned to the Kiwi/Aussie twang that previous setups.
Those cross-shopping with Commodore will see Ford hasn’t found a way to implement Holden’s head-up display, blind spot warning, electric steering, self-parking or shift paddles; but on the other hand, GM doesn’t have anything like Sync. Nor is the Commodore quite as perceptively roomy as the Falcon.
Still, it just has an old car look and ambience.
How it compares:
Not well, I’m afraid. The Chrysler 300 SRT and Holden Commodore SS-V Redline are obvious alternate choices that aren’t easily dismissed. Particularly that Holden; it’s a classy car.
Being the end of the line and the most powerful XR8 ever are powerful inducements. Yet, away from the grunt and the useful Synch2 technology update, the car struggles to present with credibility. The design is dated, painfully so in some respects, and I’d hope rattles weren’t a signal the assembly workers are starting to lose faith.
If you can’t see beyond the Blue Oval, then buy into the new V8 Mustang (manual coupe please).