Falcons fitted with the turbo inline-six are faster than the V-8s, but a lot of people won’t drive a ute unless there’s a big bent-eight under the bonnet. To them, driving a boosted six-cylinder is like owning an electric chainsaw: It might do the job, but it’s just not right.
The XR8’s V-8 engine, which earns the Boss tag, is a one-of-a-kind mutant. Ford Australia’s tuning arm, Ford Performance Vehicles, raided the Ford U.S. parts bin, then threw in some parts of its own to make something that could match the General’s 6.0-liter V-8 that's in the Holden’s engine bay.
FPV takes the cast-iron Triton V-8 block and 32-valve cylinder head components used for the Mustang Cobra R, plus Ford U.S. crankshaft, rods and flywheel, then sources its own camshafts, valves, pistons, extractors and manifold. The result is a hand-built power plant that pumps out 389 hp at 5,750 rpm and 384 pounds-feet of torque at 4,750 rpm.
Holden's Ute is available with a V-6 and a V-8. The base engine is a 241-hp, 3.6-liter Alloytec V-6, which is a GM design but is produced in Australia. When it comes to the V-8 engine, Holden pretty much takes the Gen 4 V-8 straight out of the crate from GM Mexico and drops it in.
The 6.0-liter V-8 is a 90-degree unit that delivers its 362 hp at 5,700 rpm and 391 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. It has an aluminum block, but doesn’t bother with any of those fancy overhead camshafts, getting along just fine with pushrods.
The SS Ute runs an Aisin six-speed manual standard, while a GM-sourced six-speed automatic is available. A new six-speed Tremec gearbox is standard for the XR8 Ute, while a ZF six-speed automatic transmission is optional. The German-sourced ZF is a top transmission that’s used in some high-end machines, including top-dollar BMWs, Maseratis, Land Rovers and Jaguars – not bad for a humble ute.
The Falcon XR8 Ute with the ZF auto costs $37,617 ($39,490 in Australia), while the SS Ute with the six-speed auto is $39,999 ($41,990). The Holden Ute comes standard with electronic stability control, whereas the Ford has to make do with traction control. It will get a stability system by the end of the year, at which point the price is expected to rise slightly.
In many ways, comparing Ford and Holden utes is irrelevant. For many, it doesn’t matter how good the different models are, they’re either a Ford or a Holden buyer, which largely depends on what their Dad drove. In Australia, changing between brands is about as common as changing your gender. Neither happens very much.
V-8 utes are almost predominantly the domain of men, but their customers do display the rather feminine trait of worrying a lot about the color of their vehicles.
The utes loaned to us certainly challenged the eyeballs, with colors so bright they’d be at home in a Skittles commercial. We don’t even know how to describe the color of the Holden SS Ute, and its official name -- Crunch -- is no help whatsoever. Let’s call it a bright metallic mustard.
The XR8 hue is easier to describe: it’s bright green. It’s called Dash, but it should really be known as Kermit.
We took our loud and proud V-8 utes for a comprehensive run through Victoria (down the bottom of Australia), including some mongrel country roads, creek crossings, dirt tracks and a run to Calder Park Raceway for a bit of quarter-mile thunder.
It wasn’t exactly a direct comparison, as Ford threw a few extras on its XR8 Ute; it included the 19-inch rims, a hard tonneau cover, leather seats and a more potent sound system.
A good sound system is great for helping pass time on long road trips, but around town the Boss V-8 gives you a great deal of aural pleasure. There’s a lot of exhaust noise at idle, which is followed by an awesome howl as the throttle opens and the revs build.
The Ford V-8 seems to take a bit longer to get going than the Holden engine, but it revs more smoothly and sweetly up at the top end. It spins quickly, and you have to be careful not to be caught by the 6,000 rpm redline. The ZF automatic is a treat, shifting quickly and crisply. It’s a very intuitive transmission that avoids any unnecessary changes.