PickupTrucks.com Exclusive Sh-Ute-Out! Photos and Words By: James Stanford Posted: 05-20-08 00:00 PT © 2008 PickupTrucks.com Following up on his first drive of the Holden VE Ute and first look at the Ford Falcon FG Ute, we asked our go-to Australian correspondent James Stanford to put both vehicles head-to-head at the earliest possible opportunity. He's come through big time! We hope you enjoy this exclusive comparison of these all new utes! 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. When you enter a pub, the first question you’ll likely be asked is, "What’s under the bonnet?" In the case of the Falcon Ute, the base models have a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder. This engine, which is unique to Australia, will go away in 2010 when Ford sources a Duratec V-6 from the U.S. The inline-six has a cast-iron block and a twin-cam head, and it generates a respectable 262 hp. Ford also offers a turbocharged version of this engine that pumps out 362 hp and 393 pounds-feet of torque from just 2,000 rpm all the way up to 4,750 rpm. 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. 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?