Holden, Ford and Toyota will stop making cars here very soon. In a few years, auto manufacturing will be just a distant memory after the anti-manufacturing federal government killed off the subsidies last year. It was an odd move considering the tens of billions Australia spends subsidising the mining and fossil fuel industries, but clearly manufacturing wasn’t a priority.
The previous Falcon wasn’t a bad drive, but it was dreary and it sounded like a 20 year old taxi regardless of the engine you chose. It looked even worse when Holden smartened up their Commodore, because side-by-side, Falcon looked even daggier and more ancient.
In response Ford had a face/palm moment and scrambled to make the flagging Falcon sales look a bit less awful. They pushed the boat out on the makeover, at least on the outside. They gave falcon’s tired old face a lift that would make Cher proud. It is gorgeous, there is just no other word for it. It’s sharp and cutting-edge, and considering it’s just been glued onto the existing body, looks like it has always meant to be there.
The front end has the new-look corporate Ford Grille of a squashed hexagon with large intake underneath. That alone made the front end look centuries younger, but it’s topped off with sharp headlights and Audi-esque daytime running lights in the shape of 2 flattened J’s. XR8 used to mean a V8 with a modest output in the top half of the 200’s. Ford’s FPV division went all quiet so the 335kw/570Nm supercharged V8, Brembo brakes and FPV GT-R-spec suspension have been thrown in to the humble 52 grand XR8. If you pay a few K more you can have the 6 speed auto but let me tell you the 6 speed manual is an absolute delight. Remember, the equivalent Holden is at least $20,000 more.
Because the supercharger operates from down low in the rev range, you have most of the power and torque available most of the time. It’s a glorious sound too. The harder you push the more rewarding the noise. Before you ask, yes it passes the “tunnel test”.
The front and rear ends look bespoke and expensive. Even the profile of the muscular exterior has an elegant butchness to it. The 19” wheels and quad exhausts, along the with power bulge bonnet, can only be found on the XR8. The rear lights look a little like Jaguars if you hold your head just right, and they too have been given the full LED treatment.
It looks luxurious and classy, but from the time I went for the door handle the cracks started to show. Let me explain: I’d just spent a week in Mondeo. It is cutting edge inside and out. It fairly bristles with the very latest in mind-twisting auto-tech. There’s active lane departure control, Smart entry/start, power seats with easy access, adjustable suspension, blind spot detection, inflatable rear seat belts, fully automatic headlights, enhanced automated parking, active city-stop, pre-collision and pedestrian detect to name but a few. On the other hand, Falcon has Sync II with reverse camera, auto headlights, and enough safety gear to get 5 stars. It all feels a bit basic and shabby.
The leather appointed cabin feels nice enough unless you’re looking at the dashboard. The plastics are a little cheap looking and the centre console looks years out of date, and the driver’s seat position is a trifle high. The steering wheel hasn’t got enough adjustment and feels a little too low and it takes an age to feel comfy. You can’t get it quite right so have to get used to it. You shouldn’t have to get used to it. Why not just allow a wider range of movement in both the seat and the steering wheel?
We drove both an auto and a manual, but it was the auto we took to Canberra, road-trip-style. There was 4 in comfort and 5 on the way back. The cabin still felt roomy and spacious which is something you cannot say for sporty hatches. They feel full to the brim with 4 blokes on board, and 5 is out of the question unless the trip is short and the fellas exceedingly friendly.
Here is where things get interesting. We always go on about value vs performance, and for very good reason. How much money do you have to spend to get a stonking V8, then how much do you have to add to get 335KW. The answer is: A lot. This is easily the cheapest 335kw V8 on the market, who cares if the interior is from a 20 year old taxi? It still gets a 5 star safety rating and has a panty-wettingly handsome face.
The drive is still pretty good. Remember this thing costs a smidge over 50 grand but has a 0-100 of around 5 seconds to the chorus of the pipes from hell. It isn’t quite as nimble as a little hot hatch, no, it is more of a grand tourer but tight bends can still be dispatched with great aplomb. Remember, it was made for the track.
The whole country is your oyster. It gobbles up kilometres at about 10 litres an hour (or less if you’re on a 110KPH freeway) on a road trip which sounds like a lot. But, consider this, it is a super charged 5 litre V8. Once upon a time the figures for a road trip in a car like this would have drained the UAE dry in 5 seconds flat.
It is fun to drive, especially the manual. The clutch is a bit on the heavy side but still easy to use. The changes are smooth and because of the power, you’re never in the wrong gear even if you get things a bit wrong. Being in too tall a gear makes the engine sound fabulously loud, and too low a gear makes it chug in a low throbbing sexy kind of way. You’d have to be completely ham-fisted to get it to stall because of the huge torque.
It is a beast. However, as beautiful as it is, it commands respect and if you forget yourself for even a second it will try to kill you. You’ll be taken by the scruff of the neck, and you won’t like it. The rear end will try to come round and belt you in the head but the electronics get the untidiness back under control. In amateur hands it’s more of a lethal weapon than a Sunday drive.
The thing about Australian cars is the people who make them assume a certain amount of driving talent. They ignore the fact that the people who buy these cars might be yobbos and bogans. Ford assumes you won’t stick your boot to the floor mid corner, then back off when you shouldn’t. If they did, they wouldn’t allow the stability control so much leeway. You’ll find yourself in all sorts of bother before the system cuts in, and while you may survive, you’ll never walk the same way again. It is a thrill for sure but you might need to pack extra undies.
The most surprising thing is the compliant feel of the ride. Suspension in the super-sports of the past was so hard it made dentures rattle loose. While that was great for a day at the track it made shopping at the local Woollies a bit if a trial. The XR8 feels scrumptious and limo-like. You know a car is doing well when people ask to ride in it. The trip from Canberra is 3 and a half hours and there were far more volunteers than seats. Make of that what you will. The occasion was the marriage of a couple of friends. The chaps scored a ceremony down at the home of the British High Commissioner in Canberra. This is also the home of Australia’s parliament. It is the very place which banned gay marriage and continues to stand in its way to this very day. Leave it to the queens to organize something really fancy which also slaps the face of a Prime Minster so out of touch. It had a touch of “protest” about it. I have no doubt Mr. Abbott was not pleased and we couldn’t be happier.
Imagine how posh you would feel when you sidle up the gate with huge stone pillars and buzz the intercom. Well, that’s nothing compared to how you feel when the gate to the estate swings open and you drive up the hill to the house at the top. If it helps, the butler looked very impressed. He distinctly nodded through his stiff upper lip, I swear.
A few last things: This large Australian saloon is one of the few vehicles capable of comfortably transporting 5 adults. It sits as easily next to a Jag as it does next to a Hyundai. It is beautiful to look at and comfortable to sit in. Yes it uses a lot of fuel but if you want economy and are looking at a V8, you are delusional.
The XR8 is a beast of a thing, a beast I tell you. Buy it if you want fun because even a trip to Coles is an event. The sound is fabulously deep and the fact that you know how much power is under your right foot is enough to give you a sense of superiority.
There is a certain visceral thrill to throwing caution to the wind. I should hate this car because of its slightly low-rent dashboard, and almost complete lack of cabin tech, but I don’t. I love it. The manual is a thing of beauty. It turns all of us into V8 racing champions whether we like it or not. Secretly, anyone who buys an XR8 fancies themselves on a podium. And, that isn’t a bad place to finish.
Would I buy one? Yes, that is all.
- Price From $52,490
- Thirst 13.7L/100km, 324g/km CO2 Tank 68L
- Warranty 3yr/100,000km
- Engine 5.0-litre 8-cyl supercharged petrol, 335kW/570Nm
- Transmission 6-spd manual; RWD
- Spare full-size alloy