Australia doesn’t build a V-8 muscle coupe now that the Holden Monaro (sold in the U.S. as the Pontiac GTO) is dead. We don't import the Ford Mustang or the Dodge Challenger, either, but that’s because we don’t need them.
Why? Because Australia already makes some of the meanest rear-wheel-drive two-door performance cars out there. Not only are they affordable, they can carry a shed-load.
The car-based pickup might have died out in the U.S. in the 80s, but it never stopped selling in Australia. And it's getting faster, too.
Holden set a new benchmark last year with its 362-horsepower VE SS Ute, which will cross the Pacific next year as a yet-unnamed Pontiac model (El Camino was a much-mentioned possibility, but it's not looking like that will transfer to reality). Its great rival Ford, however, was not about to lie down without a fight.
Ford hit back with the new FG Falcon lineup, which includes a 362-hp, turbo inline six-cylinder engine and a new 389-hp Boss V-8. The folks at Dunlop better start working overtime.
Ford says there’s no plan to bring the Falcon to the U.S. anytime soon, but you can bet it will think again if the Holden Ute sells strongly as a Pontiac.
With both the Ford and Holden car-based pickups costing between $4,700 and $6,600 less than their sedan counterparts, these light haulers are especially popular with young blokes who can’t quite afford a sedan and don’t need more than two seats.
Both the Ford and Holden utes are identical to their sedan siblings from the A-pillar forward. They also feel much like the sedans from inside the cabin, apart from there being a bit more road noise.
There’s only room for two people, but there’s a reasonable amount of space behind the seats. Thanks to an in-depth test, PickupTrucks.com can confirm that this is more than enough room for a slab of 24 stubbies (beer bottles) behind each seat. Depending on where you position your seat, you can fit several slabs of lager in the cabin’s storage area. You can also fit a couple of overnight bags or several bags of groceries -- or so we’re told.
Following the FG Falcon sedan, the Ute version has been given a major upgrade. It has a leaf-spring rear suspension, as opposed to the Holden Ute, which has a fully independent coil-sprung setup.
Ford stuck with the leaf springs because its ute is more of a workhorse than the Holden. Its base model can carry 2,734 pounds, which is 983 pounds more than the Holden, and can tow 5,071 pounds, which is 1,984 pounds more than its rival.
The tables are turned when it comes to the sporty models, though. Thanks to its big wheels and sport suspension setting, the Falcon XR8 Ute can only carry 1,190 pounds in the tray, compared to the 1,316 pounds that the Holden SS can haul. Towing is still in the Falcon's favor. The XR8 can pull 5,071 pounds (same as the base Falcon) while the SS is limited to 3,527 pounds.
Up front, the FG Falcon has a new double-wishbone suspension setup with two lower ball joints, which Ford calls Virtual Pivot Control Link. It uses a mixture of aluminum and high-strength steel, which saves 48.5 pounds.
The FG Utes now run ZF Sachs monotube shock absorbers front and rear, which is an Aussie first. The Holden Ute uses a MacPherson strut front suspension setup and twin-tube shock absorbers, but it’s fully independent, and its coil-sprung rear end is a definite advantage. Both utes comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, while 19-inch rims are optional.
Both the Holden SS and the Ford XR8 are longer than the sedans on which they’re based, which opens up more room in the tray. The XR8’s wheelbase also grew 0.35 inches compared to the previous model, now standing at 122 inches overall, while the tracks edge outward by 1.19 inches and 1.38 inches, front and rear, with both measuring 62.3 inches. In comparison, the SS has a wheelbase of 118.5 inches and front and rear tracks of 62.7 inches and 63.3 inches, respectively.
The tray dimensions are similar, with the Holden’s being ever so slightly larger. It measures 72.56 inches long and 46.2 inches across the axle between the wheel arches. The Falcon Ute’s tray is 1.19 inches shorter and 1.3 inches narrower between the wheel arches.
If you have to haul really big stuff, though, the Falcon can be ordered as a cab-chassis version, which can be fitted with a flat “tinny” tray for wide loads. Most customers take the standard Styleside Box steel tub. The Holden Ute used to be offered as a cab-chassis and even as a four-door crew cab, but those models didn’t sell strongly and thus were both dropped for the VE program.
Both the Holden and Ford utes can be fitted with a soft tonneau cover that uses a snap-lock sealing system. If you’re worried about having your tools stolen when you nick into the pub, both Holden and Ford offer hard, lockable tonneau covers.