Life Auto Ford Falcon XR8 review: the muscle car returns

Ford Falcon XR8 review: the muscle car returns

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It’s been a long time coming for Ford Fans, but the XR8 is back. The supercharged muscle car returns to head up the FG X Falcon range – the last generation of Ford’s longest-running model. From flag bearer to pall bearer.

Essentially, the born-again XR8 is a rebodied, FG X version of the discontinued Ford Performance Vehicle’s GT RSPEC. It’s a positive and muscular step-change from the model it belatedly replaces.

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That means, for a start, it employs the same chassis as the RSPEC and the now defunct Ford performance arm’s swan song GT F 351 limited-edition, including upgraded suspension, high-performance Brembo brakes and wider rear wheels. The result is less body roll, crisper turn-in and dramatically more rear-end traction than the rest of the new FG X Falcon range.

That’s a relief, because the new XR8 needs every bit of rear grip it can get. Simply, the locally-developed 5.0-litre supercharged V8 is a masterpiece. It sounds glorious even at idle and matches the aural delights of even the finest German V8 in the mid-range. At full noise has a unique, menacing, almost NASCAR-like bark.

A unique, menacing, almost NASCAR-like bark.
The born-again XR8 has a NASCAR-like bark.

Its output figures are impressive: 335kW and 570Nm. That’s even more than Holden Special Vehicles’ upgraded and much more expensive R8 ClubSport.

More importantly, it makes its direct competitor look silly, easily eclipsing the outputs of the 6.0-litre V8 Holden’s SS range, the performance of which has remained unchanged since the 2006 at 270kW/530Nm (manual) and 260kW/517Nm (auto).

The XR8’s acceleration is brutal off the line, in both notchy, short-throw six-speed manual form and with the slick-shifting ZF six-speed auto. The only thing missing in the latter is the fitment, or even availability, of steering wheel paddle shifters, which can now be had across the entire sports Commodore range.

There's instant thrust everywhere.
There’s instant thrust everywhere.

Thanks to the supercharger there’s instant thrust everywhere and enough mid-range might to get the traction control light flickering even in third gear on some surfaces.

In the real world, the XR8’s advantage over other Aussie V8s is manifest. The blown V8 actually delivers more than like 375kW (or about 500hp) thanks to a “transient overboost” mode. Here the engine management system allows extra boost to maximise performance – it’s the same sort of technology Porsche uses its highest performance turbo cars.

Underlining its bang for your bucks, the $52,490 XR8 is the same price as Holden’s top-shelf Commodore SS V Redline. It also almost $10,000 cheaper than HSV ClubSport (from $61,990), more than $25K less than the discontinued FPV GT F ($77,990), and nearly $45K under HSV’s GTS kingpin ($96,990).

The stability control system gets a thorough workout.
The stability control system gets a thorough workout.

Thankfully the XR8’s RSPEC chassis is equally polished. Most certainly, the stability control system gets a thorough workout but the extra rear-end grip is what performance Falcons have always needed and allows you to drive the XR8 ‘on the throttle’ like no Australian Ford before it.

There’s a degree of initial body roll on turn-in but then the suspension firms, settles and delivers reassuring body control and progressive, confidence-inspiring handling that encourages you to explore the engine’s undeniable talents.

Combined with hydraulic steering that’s sharper on centre and always more communicative than the SS Commodore’s electric set-up, the XR8 is an agile and rewarding super-sports sedan.

The XR8 is an agile and rewarding super-sports sedan.
The XR8 is an agile and rewarding super-sports sedan.

The downside is jiggly ride quality and road noise from the 19-inch tyres, and a body that shows its age with more squeaks and creaks than the Commodore SS, which is markedly quieter and more compliant.

Like all FG X Falcons, the technology highlight is Ford’s new SYNC2 infotainment system, which allows intuitive voice, touch and push-button control of music, climate and phone functions, and in the XR8’s case satellite navigation with Traffic Message Channel. Other functions include automatic Emergency Assistance, digital radio and WiFi hotspot.

The new 8.0-inch colour touch-screen is the most obvious change to the cabin but there’s also new perforated leather trim with grey inserts, a contrasting Shadow headlining and upper cabin colour and alloy scuff plates.

In line with its more upmarket position, the XR8 also comes standard with dual-zone climate-control and XR-specific sports seats, steering wheel, instrument cluster, gear shifter and pedals — although there’s the same old seat/wheel relationship that can never get comfortable with.

The car's biggest boon is value.
The car’s biggest boon is value.

This is in addition to new FG X features like rain-sensing wipers, front (and rear) parking sensors and a reversing camera with active guidelines, but for $9500 less ($42,990) the Commodore SS comes with blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert. And the SS V Redline adds even more advanced driver aids like forward collision alert, lane departure warning and a head-up display.

Setting the top-shelf XR8 apart from its restyled FG X brethren are distinctive new daytime running lights, a bulging bonnet, quad exhaust outlets, side mirror indicator repeaters, unique shadow-line five-spoke 19-inch alloys, more aggressive front and rear bumpers, a decklid wing and redesigned XR badge with a red ‘8’.

Perhaps XR8’s biggest boon, however, is value. Although it breaks Falcon ranks by being pricier than the model it replaces and lacks the refinement and technology of its direct Holden competitor, the XR8 delivers FPV and HSV performance for the same price as Holden’s top-shelf Commodore SS.

Ford delivers.
Ford delivers.

It’s a shame there’s no XR8 Ute, let alone a V8-engined Territory, and that all of this Blue Oval performance will be killed off in just two years. But for now the XR8 sets a new value benchmark for performance cars as a whole.

It will bow out as the finest Aussie mass market muscle car ever, and the best Aussie sports sedan this side of the near-six-figure GTS.

2014 Ford Falcon XR8

Price: $52,490 manual, $54,690 auto (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8
Output: 335kW at 5750rpm, 570Nm at 2200rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual and automatic
Fuel: 13.6L/100km, 13.7L/100km auto (ADR combined)
CO2: 324g/km, 325g/km auto (ADR combined)
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP

What we liked

>> Epic torque and glorious engine note
>> Improved chassis grip and focus
>> Better design, technology and outstanding value

Not so much

>> No paddle shifters or advanced safety aids
>> Awkward seating position, jiggly ride and cabin creaks
>> Ford stops building it in just two years

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