Ford Falcon XR8

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

Lurid slides at a stab of the throttle, especially in the wet. Major wheelspin guaranteed as you accelerated away from standstill.

In short, plenty of excitement generated by the throttle pedal if not a lot of grip from the rear wheels.

That was all in the once-upon-a-time, though there are still cars around that will deliver oversteer in armfuls.

But the modern big V8 sports sedan – particularly if it’s built in Australia by Holden and Ford – has become a very sophisticated fast car, delivering refined road manners with no loss of the raw power and stump-pulling torque a high-performance bent eight can deliver.

We regard Holden Special Vehicles’ current Clubsport (VX I) as one of the best saloons we’ve ever driven. It has an outstanding blend of handling, power and chassis suppleness.

Holden has held the V8 performance crown ever since it switched to the 5.7-litre Chevrolet GEN III V8.

Its in-house hot rod, the SS sports sedan, is powered by a 225kW/460Nm V8. And despite that amount of raw power the SS is a docile city commuter, yet can tear up the tarmac on demand. And the well-sorted chassis never lets the power run away with the car.

Till the middle of this year, Ford’s interpretation of the V8 sports sedan, the Falcon XR8, had to make do with a “mere” 200kW.

But in July, Ford upped its V8’s power to 220kW – just 5kW less than the bigger capacity Holden – and bumped its torque output to 435Nm. The latter figure is still well short of Holden’s, but in real world use it’s difficult to feel short-changed by the XR8’s motor.

We love V8 sports sedans and the XR8 has always been at or near the top of our wish list.

The newest iteration of the breed just reinforces that view. The V8 now sounds a little more aggressive and it offers instant, impressively-crisp power delivery.

Prod the throttle and the car leaps forward with a real sense of urgency. There’s plenty of power to push you and your passengers back into the well-shaped seats as the car accelerates.

Just a word on those seats. I find Ford’s otherwise highly-supportive sports-style buckets to be just a little aggressively shaped in the lower back region. It’s one clear area in which I find Holden’s seats have an edge – at least as far as my comfort is concerned. Taller, longer-legged drivers may have a different view of seat comfort.

The test car ran Ford’s automatic gearbox which was a smooth and responsive as ever. At light throttle the gearshifts are barely perceptible. Kickdown is instant and pleasingly jerk-free.

But the gearbox’s ace card as far as I am concerned is its ability to be shifted manually. It can be changed as quickly and more smoothly as a manual gearbox. The manual shift-ability is a vital component in the car’s sporting character.

For this is a car with real sporting class. It will commute without fuss, cruise motorways serenely and silently. But it’s at its best when you ask the big questions on demanding roads.

It responds willingly with a sprightliness that belies its very real bulk. It will tackle a winding, twisting, climbing and falling road with a nimbleness and precision that would do a hot hatch proud. And it has what most hot hatches – aside maybe from BMW’s Compact – don’t have: the crisp steering feel, chassis poise and sheer driving satisfaction that only a good rear-wheel drive car can deliver.

The XR8 – with independent suspension all-round – has excellent grip and very good steering feel. The chassis keeps you well informed about what’s going on.

One of the Falcon’s great attributes is its instant turn-in to corners. Turn the wheel and it dives into the corner with impressive keenness. It contrasts sharply with the feeling of initial understeer – almost stodginess – of non-HSV Commodore VTs and VX Is (the VX II adopts an HSV-inspired suspension set-up which sharpens turn-in and improves chassis feel).

The Ford feels light and responsive, despite that big lump of engine amid the front wheels.

A limited slip diff is standard, and enhances the chassis’ grip.

It takes a conscious effort to get this car to step-out its tail on a dry road. When it does step out it can be controlled quickly and smoothly with a dab of opposite lock.

In a sequence of tight corners the XR8 changes direction quickly and smoothly and with the feel of a small, well-sorted rear-wheel drive sedan. Applying power smoothly on the way out of a corner, you get a real sense of satisfaction as the rear wheels bite and the car hunkers down before hurtling forward.

It’s real driving pleasure.

Of course, the new XR8 has all the usual Falcon attributes of excellent cabin space and plenty of luggage room.

XR8 standard equipment includes a limited slip differential, body-coloured rear spoiler, power windows, cruise control, air-conditioning and a 100-watt sound system with an in-dash, six-stack Compact Disc player.

Options include leather seats, a Momo steering wheel and gearshift knob, an aggressive body styling kit, a 250 watt premium sound system and a premium brake package which includes larger diameter front discs and callipers. The 220kW XR8 retail price remains unchanged from the previous 200kW model, with both manuals and automatics retailing for $59,990.

The 220kW engine eases the Falcon closer to the Commodore in the horsepower race and offers superbly-crisp performance.

And Ford’s beautifully-tuned chassis means the power is well harnessed and can be used.

The XR8 has always been one of our favourites: the 220kW version only serves to underline our belief that this is a world class sports sedan.

The 220kW V8
The V8 produces 220kW of power at 5250rpm and 435Nm of torque at 4000rpm. The additional 20kW come from modifications to the cylinder head, a larger throttle body, matched ported inlet manifold and a revised camshaft.

Each of the Tickford-built 220kW 5.0-litre V8 motors is signed by the engine builder.

Once the V8 is delivered to Tickford from the Ford factory, it’s stripped down to a short block (block, pistons, rods and crankshaft).

The engine is then fitted with a Tickford-designed camshaft that has more aggressive timing.

The heads incorporate new, larger stainless steel valves and springs, and the ports are opened up to accommodate the new larger valves.

The combustion chamber is also modified to improve the airflow around the valves. The heads are shaved to get the compression ratio down to 9.4:1. It has new, low-friction roller rockers which allow the engine to rev higher and deliver more consistent valve operation.

The lower intake manifold is modified to match the re-sized cylinder head ports. The injectors and wiring are then re-attached to the lower intake manifold.

The upper intake manifold is also opened up to enable the installation of a Tickford designed 70mm throttle-body.