Those purists whose Ford-badge-blue blood was chilled when they heard the updated XR range would be fitted with a gearbox disturbingly similar to the one found in the hated Holden camp would do well to remember their history.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s December 2004 issue
For the non-aligned, those of us who just love the XR6 Turbo and want it to have a suitable six-speeder, the greater worry is not that the new ’box has any relation to the General, it’s the specific fear that it’s the same Tremec T56 that has, in the past, done such a sterling job of spoiling the V8 Commodore.
Mention this to the Ford folk and they give you a look of abject horror, before giving you a spluttering spiel about how entirely different their T56 is.
According to Gordon Barfield, Ford’s Performance Vehicles Planning Manager, the previous T5 gearbox was all torqued out and the development of the twist-king Typhoon (see story, page 58) meant a new six-speeder was needed, pronto. But not only did it need to be available immediately, it had to fit the Falcon floorpan and offer the ratios they were looking for.
Tremec offered them a “basic” ’box, but Barfield was unhappy with the shift precision and described the shift efforts as “too heavy and too severe”. Yep, sounds like a Commodore gearbox to us.
So, Ford made various stern suggestions, like double synchros on all the forward gears, and got its very own version of the T56.
Barfield says the new gearbox closes up the ratios by 9 percent over the old unit, as well as adding another gear. The most important ratio change was extending second gear so it can reach 100km/h. Ford expects MOTOR’s performance testing to prove it has slashed another 0.1 to 0.2 seconds off the XR6T’s already impressive 5.91 second dash. Not too shabby, eh?
Besides the gearbox, changes to the turbo tearaway are few – auto headlights are now standard, there are new 17-inch alloys, alloy pedal covers and new colours, including: Velocity (metallic blue), Rapid (yellow), Blaze (gold) and Shockwave (another blue).
Apparently the BA MkII midlife massage is mild across the range because Ford buyers are a bit like Australian voters – ask them what they’d like to change about the BA and they’ll say “Bugger All”.
The first new example we drove was not confidence inspiring, with a gear shift that required a Schwarzenegger-like left arm and, preferably, no hearing in your left ear so you couldn’t hear it crunching and grinding. Not such a good start.
MOTOR feature: Barra tuning guide
Fortunately, the next XR6T we stepped into was roughly 800 percent better. Chunky rather than clunky, this ’box still had a reasonably long throw, but at least it was smooth and sure.
A muscular, muscle car gear action suits the car anyway – and it is an undeniable step ahead of the Commodore unit – but every now and then, when pedalling hard, the downchange from third to second is a chore. The whole six, five, four area can be a little vague too. The difference in the two XR6 gearboxes suggests that Tremec might give new meaning to the term “constantly variable transmissions”.
New ’box aside, the XR6 Turbo is still a big, ball-tearing machine, with so much torque you can do away with changing gears if you feel like it, wicked, whooshing acceleration, brilliant brakes and the ability to eat up freeway miles with ease.
At $46,350, it’s a great big bang for your bucks bargain.
Gone but not forgotten on classic MOTOR
Engine: 4.0-litre inline six, DOHC 24-valve turbo intercooled,