Monday, March 9, 2009

First Look: 2008 Ford FG Falcon Ute

By: James Stanford

Ford has revealed its most powerful ute yet in Melbourne, Australia.

The FG Falcon Ute will be available with four different engines including a 388-hp quad-cam Boss V8 and fast-spinning turbo in-line six-cylinder pumping out 362-hp.

Ford's new model takes on Holden's VE Ute, which is expected to go on sale in the US soon as the Pontiac G8 ST.

Unfortunately for Blue Oval fans in the US, Ford Australia insiders have told that Ford US has no plan to take the FG Ute at this stage. While the FG was initially designed with an export deal in mind, it would still take substantial engineering work to enable the car to pass US regulations.

The Falcon Ute's six-cylinder engine would need to be re-engineered for the US, which is unlikely seeing that Ford Australia will replace that engine with a US-sourced V6 in 2010.

Success of the Holden-sourced Pontiac Ute could change things, but developing a left-hand-drive version of the Falcon hauler would also take at least two years.

Ford's FG Ute competes with the Holden VE Ute in many ways, but they are quite different vehicles.

While the VE has an independent rear suspension set-up for sportier driving, the Falcon Ute uses leaf-springs for greater load capacity. The FG Falcon Ute can haul between 1,264-lbs and 2,733-lbs depending on the model, while the VE manages between 1,120-lbs and 1,706-lbs.

The new Ford can tow up to 5,070-lbs, while the Holden's towing limit is 3,527-lbs.

Ford's FG Ute is available with a 'style-side' tub or as a cab-chassis with a flat load tray.

The base engine is a 4.0-liter in-line six-cylinder with dual-overhead camshafts generating 261-hp and 288 lb-ft. Available with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, the I6 powers the base Ute, the R6 and XR6 models.

A dedicated LPG version, called E-Gas, can be optioned.

In 2004, Ford Australia decided to strap a turbo on top of the smooth petrol engine and came up with a true cult motor.

For the FG XR6 Turbo Ute, it has been substantially upgraded with new turbo, intercooler and cylinder head, while the boost has been wound up from 0.4 bar to 0.7 bar (6-psi to 10-psi).

It manages a respectable 362-hp, but the real story is the torque total of 393 lb-ft which is available from as low as 2,000-rpm all the way through to 4,750-rpm. With a torque curve as flat as a pool table, the turbo six FG Utes are expected to be quicker than the more powerful V8 models, although no sprint times have been released yet.

Ford has also engineered a clever anti-lag launch feature for manual turbo Utes. When a vehicle is stationary, the clutch is fully disengaged and throttle is applied engine speed is limited to 3500-rpm by cutting fuel.

After a short delay, the turbo spools up with 80% cool air which is pumped by the cylinders that have been de-activated. When the clutch is released all cylinders are reactivated and the car launches on boost, enabling quicker starts.

It also means turbo six drivers don't have to burn-out clutches attempting to slip them in order to spool up the turbo off the line.

The XR8 Ute runs a Boss 290 V8, with the 290 standing for the kW produced (389-hp). It's hand-assembled by Ford Performance Vehicles in Melbourne, using Cobra R cast aluminum heads, forged steel crankshafts, high lift inlet camshafts and a 75-mm throttle body with drive-by-wire linkage. Peak torque is 384 lb-ft and comes in at 4,750-rpm.

Both the Boss V8 and turbo six engines are available with either a six-speed manual or ZF six-speed automatic, which is also used by Bentley, BMW and Maserati.

Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) will release even more potent versions of the FG Ute around the middle of the year. FPV won't discuss power outputs, but they are tipped to rise to around 428-hp for a V8 version and about 389-hp for the turbo.

Ford has announced the FPV models will come standard with electronic stability control, but the potentially life saving feature won't be available for the rest of the Ford Ute models at launch because Bosch is still calibrating the systems.

It is not yet clear whether electronic stability control (ESC) will be standard across the range, as it is with the VE Ute. Bosch is in the final stages of developing it and it should be added soon after the launch. The FPV (higher-performance versions) utes will have ESC as standard when they launch in a few months.

Driver and passenger front airbags are standard, but just like the VE, no side airbags are available. Head-protecting side airbags will be optional for all FG Falcon Utes.

The FG Falcon Ute sits on a longer wheelbase than its sedan sibling, which allows for a good tray length of between 72.5-inches (flat load tray) and 87-inches (styleside) and also helps with towing stability.

Its leaf-springs might be a blast from the past, but the front suspension is a new double wishbone design with two lower ball-joints. It's the same setup found on the Australian Territory SUV, which has set new standards for handling in its class.

Wheels for the entry level Ute, simply called Falcon Ute, are 16-inches and made of steel, while the rest are alloys, ranging in size from 17-inch to optional 19s.

The FG Ute also has an all-new interior which features a new 7-inch information display in the centre of the dashboard.

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