Ford Falcon XR8 AU

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Description: Bang for your buck, Ford’s force-fed V8 sedan is hard to beat, but how does it stack up as a driving machine on twisty Tassie tarmac? You can’t have a competition called Australia’s Best Driver’s

Bang for your buck, Ford’s force-fed V8 sedan is hard to beat, but how does it stack up as a driving machine on twisty Tassie tarmac?

You can’t have a competition called Australia’s Best Driver’s Car (ABDC) without two of the hottest homegrown sedans available Down Under. One for the Blue Bloods, the Falcon XR8 lacks the refinement and dynamics of more fancied Euro contenders, but makes up for it with the type of thrills only a 335kW/530Nm supercharged 5.0-litre V8 outputting through the rear tyres can deliver. But could it be tamed on Tassie’s serpentine roads?

It’s day three of’s inaugural Australia’s Best Driver’s Car (ABDC) awards and a disturbing, screeching sound is coming from somewhere inside the Ford Falcon XR8, not long after passing through the tiny town of Bothwell in central Tasmania.

Pulling over, we pop the bonnet to locate the source of the problem. What sounds like a box of nails rattling inside the 5.0-litre Miami V8 engine, turns out later to be the effects of a broken supercharger.

Not long after the XR8 is unceremoniously loaded on to the back of a flatbed and the job of operating on the big, wounded bird goes to a local Ford dealer.

It’s game over for the Blue Oval bruiser, and we’re now down to just one homegrown muscle car (the HSV GTS) in this now 14-car battle of sporty steerers.

Until this point, the brutal, if somewhat agricultural, rear-drive Falcon had provided at very least a refreshing contrast to the European and Asian front and all-wheel drive hot hatches and coupes, budget and not so budget sports cars and odd, all-paw pseudo rally car that made up the rest of the ABDC field.

So would the fast, four-door sedan have been a genuine contender if it had got to the finish? Probably not, going by judges’ comments and ratings after the first two days on road and track (it ranked last). If there had been a category called ‘old school muscle car thrills’ then it might have been a different story…

One glaring flaw is that, in contrast to many of the others, the Falcon doesn’t leave a good first, behind-the-wheel impression. While boasting the requisite figure-hugging sports seats, getting that all-important, low-set, relaxed driving position proved impossible for all drivers, tall or short.

It’s a common criticism of any sporty Falcon, and in stark contrast to the superb driver set-ups in the BMW M4 or Lexus RCF, for example.

“Bloody seat too high, steering wheel too low,” was the terse summation of one frustrated judge, while another bluntly concluded, “driver ergonomics is a killer for me”.

Awkward seating position aside, there’s little argument about the intoxicating, shove-in-the-back rush delivered by the 335kW/530Nm supercharged 5.0-litre V8, delivered through the rev range and accompanied by ever-present V8 soundtrack.

However, one judge wasn’t entirely convinced: “Engine sounds great but would expect more pulling power lower in the rev range.”

Another was in two minds about the incessant, high-pitched supercharger whine. But it’s hard to argue against the description it’s a “noisy beast”.

While it could be argued any proper muscle car should be a bit rough around the edges, in the company of more polished performers it was just another reason to mark the XR8 down as ‘old school’.

Debate also raged about the six-speed manual transmission, with opinions ranging from “bloody heavy old school” to “works better as a manual (as the) throttle can be metered out more effectively”, from some-one who’d previously driven the auto XR8 (sans paddle shifters).

Either way, like the GTS the biggest challenge was feeding the copious power and torque through the rear tyres, and dealing with the almost two tonne bulk of the car through mostly wet, slippery corners encountered in Tasmania.

It might have been a different story in the dry, where the car’s otherwise impressive chassis grip, stiff suspension set-up, strong brakes and wider tyres at least give it a fighting chance. But on damp roads it wasn’t hard to overwhelm the “loose” rear end, and bring into play the stability control system.

If it was all about entertainment, the XR8’s appeal was perhaps best appreciated power sliding around Baskerville race circuit rather than finding its limits on serpentine, often treacherous blacktop encountered in Tasmania’s wild west, with the constant threat of black ice and little margin for error.

While undoubtedly one of the best sorted Falcons of all time, the fast four-door felt clumsier and less polished alongside more agile, purpose-built contenders like the Toyota 86. The jiggly ride also disappointed in comparison to the smoother GTS.

With a previously recorded five second 0-100km/h time, it probably would have been among the top-five fastest in performance testing. But ultimately, the constant changes in surface grip, elevation, and direction on the Tassie tarmac were the big Falcon’s undoing.

As one judge surmised: “Push harder and it falls away; it’s a GT rather than a sports car.” While doing “everything you would need from a road car on the road at Aussie speed limits,” that wasn’t going to cut it in this company.

But perhaps most damning was this finding: “It’s distinctly hard to really connect with the car.” In a field where even a humble $25,000 hot hatch impressed with its ability to communicate with and regularly reward the driver, that’s hard to forgive.

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