The SS Ute doesn’t sound anywhere as good at idle. In fact, you might struggle to pick it as a V-8 before you hit the accelerator – at which point there’s no doubt whatsoever. It sounds more brutish than the Ford V-8, delivering a gruff exhaust note that’s closer to NASCAR than a street car.
It might not be as technically advanced as the Boss, but the blunt, torquey Gen 4 is an effective instrument. The six-speed automatic isn’t as fast as the Ford, nor as smooth. The XR8 Ute takes the points when it comes to cabin quality.
It looks more like a European prestige car than an Aussie hauler, with its top-quality plastic surfaces and a stylish dashboard layout. The leather seats look good and are comfortable. The “carbon fiber” dash and door inserts might be fake, but they look convincing. The centrally mounted 7-inch information screen and high-resolution graphics could have come straight out of a BMW.
Given Ford’s traditional colors, it’s only natural that the instrument cluster and central buttons glow blue at night. In the Holden, the interior glows red. Everything is laid out well, and the controls are easy to use, but everything looks a bit plain. The plastics all look cheaper than the Ford’s, and there’s no big, color central info screen.
Occupants have to get by with a narrow display that uses a chunky font that has a retro Atari feel about it. Of course, while the Holden’s interior does look less refined than the Falcon’s, it’s also quieter. There’s less road noise and less engine noise at low speeds.
The SS is also a far more comfortable car on a country drive. This is partly due to its independent rear suspension and the fact that it runs smaller wheels with higher-profile tires than the Falcon. Having driven FG Falcon Utes with smaller wheels, which were far more comfortable, it’s clear that the optional 19-inch rims are what cause the kidney-rattling ride in that car.
The leaf-sprung rear does a pretty good job in most conditions, with smaller wheels and higher-profile rubber, but it was completely thrown out by the big wheels on our test ute. It was very hard to get the rear to settle and get the power down on bumpy roads.
The SS Ute, running on 18-inchers, still doesn’t feel as well-tied-down as a sedan, but it is considerably better than the XR8. It’s a shame, really, because the Ford handles well on smooth roads, and its steering is more accurate, giving more feedback than the Holden.
One thing XR8 owners will appreciate is its ability to drift. The leaf-springs and their contribution to a low level of grip make this a perfect drift master. On dirt or tarmac (allegedly), it will hold a smooth sideways slide, and there’s more than enough power to go around. With 389 hp and this suspension setup, the XR8 Ute likes doughnuts more than your local cops do.
The SS is no slouch, either, but it’s harder to get sideways. After some fun on dirt roads, it was time to head back into town, on a track that included a creek crossing. The utes don’t sit much higher than sedans, but it would have been a long way around, so we pressed on through the water. Both Utes made it through without a fuss.
The next stop was Calder Park, a local drag strip that runs off-street drags under lights each Friday, just outside Melbourne. The new XR8 caused quite a fuss with its testosterone-fueled styling.
Its most prominent feature is the big "power bulge" on the bonnet that’s unique to V-8 Falcons. This is the automotive equivalent of pec implants.
Ford insists the bulge is not just for looks, saying the Boss V-8 just doesn’t fit beneath a regular bonnet. The rest of the Falcon’s design is not that dissimilar to the previous model, with some smooth edges and some nice sporty details.
The SS Ute has a simpler, less fussy design; it looks more like a sports car. Its pumped-out wheel arches, square edges and sloping B-pillar mean it looks like it’s going fast even when it’s sitting still.
The XR8 Ute was first up on Calder's two-lane blacktop. The Christmas tree lit up and it disappeared in a cloud of Dunlop-scented smoke. With all that grunt under the bonnet, the Ford struggled to get its power down and took 2.7 seconds to sprint 60 feet. At the 660 foot mark the time was a flat 10 seconds and the speed registered at 70.6 mph. It sounded great as it ran up the strip, but only recorded a 15-second 400 meter run (14 feet short of a quarter mile) with a top speed of 99.5 mph.
The Holden was up next. I went a bit easier on the go-pedal the second time around, and the SS dug in with great traction, taking just 2.3 seconds for the first 60 feet. It continued to surge forward at an impressive pace, right up until I missed the change point and hit the rev-limiter. The mistake resulted in a time of 15.15 seconds, much to the disgust of other competitors.
A feather foot throttle application meant a better get away in the Falcon Ute the second time around, but there was still some wheelspin. The 30 foot time was down to 2.4 seconds and the Ford did the first 660 feet in 9.75 seconds at 77.1 mph. The Boss was singing, though, and the XR8 surged across the line for a time of 14.69 and a top speed of 99.4 mph, which wasn’t too bad for an automatic.
One last run in the Holden beckoned. Again it took off without wheelspin, but the first 60 foot time was slower, this time coming in at 2.6 seconds. The big V-8 was breathing hard and having left the gearbox in 'performance mode' there was no problem with shifts. Its 660 foot time was 9.76 seconds at 79.8 mph. It was neck and neck, but the SS still had something left and crossed the line with a time of 14.57 seconds and a top speed of 100.66 mph.
So the Holden won the drag, but not by much. There’s probably some time to be made up if you could get the XR8’s power down better, which would come with practice, but it's a trickier car to race.
The Ford has a classier interior, sounds great, has a sweeter revving engine and is easier to get sideways than the Holden. But the XR8’s big 19-inch rims, combined with its leaf-springs, spoil the drive. We’d be happy to park either in the driveway, as long as the Falcon was not fitted with 19-inchers, but the SS is the better-handling hauler, which gives it a narrow win.
Now, where’s that slab gone?