Ford BA Falcon cab chassis Ute

words - Glenn Butler
Ford's popular cab chassis ute gets BA engine and styling improvements to enhance its appeal with the working class. Glenn Butler reports

A while ago we tested Ford's new BA Futura sedan; this time it's the ute's turn. And not just any ute, but a V8-engined cab chassis version. Those two factors - V8 and cab-chassis - are usually a sign that traction has left the building. This time, Ford engineers have put some late nights into the ute's leaf-sprung rear end to make sure it has as much traction as they can give it.

A quick lesson in leaf springs. Remember watching those John Wayne westerns set in the 1800s as pioneers migrated west fighting Indians and hoping to find the promised land? Remember their rickety wooden wagons? Yep, you guessed it, semi-elliptical leaf springs.

OK, so the technology's not new. Traditionally utes in general, and cab chassis ones in particular, have had some serious problems getting power to the ground. Most utes are built to carry 750kg on the tray, some more than a tonne. And this kind of weight forces the suspension engineers into some rather fundamental compromises that mean you end up with a bucking bronco when the tray's empty (which is more often than not) - and especially if Mother Nature recently dumped a load on the bitumen.

Ford's BA Falcon ute is certainly not cured; the rear end is still prone to swinging from the hip if the throttle is abused. The BA ute is, however, the most tractable, forgiving Aussie ute we've driven in a long while - loaded or not.

The model we tested here is the Falcon V8 XLS with four-speed automatic transmission. This model, fitted with sports suspension and 215/55R16 Dunlop Sport tyres, is only rated to carry 0.5 tonne in the back. It is, however, rated to tow a trailer or boat up to 1600kg on the standard tow bar, which it does with relative ease. Opt for the heavy-duty kit from your Ford dealer and 2300kg is the new limit.

The XLS model comes standard with cloth bucket seats, cruise control, prestige 100W four-speaker sound system, electric windows, mirrors and remote central locking. A driver's and passenger's airbag was fitted to our test vehicle, and the more common options available with this model include air-conditioning, CD player and a bench seat.

Ford's new 5.4-litre, quad cam, three-valve V8 engine is a ripper. It's got 220kW of power and a rather sizeable 470Nm from 3250rpm. Without a load in or on the back, it'll light the rear wheels up every time you goose the throttle. Wind back on the hoon factor a little and it's surprisingly easy to drive the V8 quickly away from standstill without attracting attention.

Tighter corners will still elicit a chirp from the rears as they fight the various inertial forces for traction, but again they show a little composure and everything stays above the law. Be warned, however, if you like feeling that V8 rush, and you love hearing that V8 howl, then be prepared to pay for your V8 at the pump. We could only manage a best fuel figure of 15.1 litres/100km in our week with the ute, and it sometimes rose into the high 17s.

When you're carrying a heavy load or towing, Ford recommends sliding the automatic gearshifter to the left - into adaptive mode. This mode holds gears longer, which is great for smooth accelerating without jerking the trailer, and it also changes down earlier - good for getting the engine to help in the braking effort.

So, do we like it? Sure do. The aluminium tray's a bit on the shallow side (it's roughly 10in deep), and there's not a lot of room in the cabin behind the seats. Then there's the fuel bill, the possible speeding tickets, and the fact you can only carry two people. But it's a ute after all, and a bloody good one at that.




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Published : Sunday, 1 December 2002
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