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2004 Holden SS ute vs Ford Falcon XR6 and XR8 ute comparison review: classic MOTOR

By Digger Grimshaw (farmer/grazier) | Photos: Thomas Wielecki, 20 Aug 2018 Car Comparisons

2004 Holden SS ute Ford Falcon XR6 XR8 ute comparison

Australia’s best two-door sports cars met our old bushie mate Digger Grimshaw. They’re fast, but are utes tough enough?

Had me cousin on the blower the other day. Figured that, bein’ a farmer/grazier, I’d have me head ’round utes. And bein’ a bit of a hoon in me yoof, I’d have me head around big-motored V8 utes.

This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s March 2004 issue

He’s on the money, too. V8 utes are a sprog rocket, mainly, and me and me mates outgrew ’em yonks ago. Out here, proper utes are Cruisers and Patrols and HiLuxes and stuff – it’s muddy when it rains, bulldust when it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong – a V8 ute’s a hoot around a B&S recovery session, but I don’t go to B&Ss much any more. Missus’d go crook at me.

He’s a disappointment to the family, really, that cousin of mine. The rest of his mob are proper farmer/graziers like m’self, builders, doctors and the like. Not him, always flittin’ about in flash cars and bludging off the world. But he used to have some idea before the city turned him into a poof, and he reckons that utes aren’t real any more. He wants me to sniff around, seeing as how I know utes and all.

MOTOR Comparison: 2015 XR6 ute v SS ute comparison

He reckons on ’em going all soft, so to speak. Reckons they aren’t for shootin’ or fishin’ any more. Reckons – get this – they’re not even built to carry gear in the back much! Only part time! Rough-and-tumble barstard’s sports car, he says. Goose.

So he’s sent three of these things out for a bloke to check up on for him. A Holden SS and two Falcons – an XR6 Turbo and an XR8. And, because I’m just a slow-talkin’, simple cove, he’s made sure they’re autos. He tells me the auto’s the best ’box in the Fords, especially the six, but it doesn’t much matter which of the ’boxes you stick behind the Commodore motor, it’s still gunna feel ordinary. Struth!

Worse still, he’s sent ’em out with two of the most laughably pointless, no-hoper city slickers you’ve ever seen. The one they call Dean’d be the only seven-foot, 100kg-plus boofhead you could call a sheila and still expect to win the stoush, and I dunno where to start on the little fella. How he sees over the dash has got me buggered.

And I’ll bung on a t-shirt and a proper shirt when she’s a bit brisk, but, fair dinkum, I know which order they’re s’posed to go in! Coupla bum nuts shy of an omelette, I tell ya.

The cousin justifies having a pair of café crawlers wasting my time by telling me Dean’ll be handy because he knows all the tech stuff about these cars and steers all right. Fair enough, I s’pose. Then he reckons Marcus will be useful because he lives in five-star hotels and speaks fluent German – which is dead handy here. When he translates For The Fallen at 9pm at the RSL, it goes over like a greenie in an abattoir.

Still, it’s all a far cry from me old WB, I tell ya. Used to reckon that was sharp, but even the slowest of these things rattles its dags hard. Wasn’t that long ago you killed plenty of clutches not getting to a 14.9sec quarter. Now it’s the slowest ute here – and it’s automatic, so all you do is stand on ’er and go!

Makes no sense that it’s the slowest, either, because the XR8 sounds like a ball tearer when you’re sinking the Blunnie into her. From halfway through its rev range, she swings into it like buggery, howlin’ and snortin’ and singin’ like Dad after his 50th birthday morning glory. Except it’s in tune, and it’s a more pleasant thing to remember during those long, lonely nights on the harvester.

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It doesn’t shudder or pick up any vibrations while it’s ripping into it, either, and that seems pretty impressive from a big 5.4-litre V8 that does all of its work in the stroke. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh here, but the XR8 somehow doesn’t feel that quick. What would I know – I wouldn’t have 260kW if I added up everything in me shed – but she feels like she’s making no more than a good, solid 220kW to me.

Maybe it’s just gettin’ into it after driving the SS – ’cause that thing goes like a blue heeler after a Mormon. And Holden reckons it’s got 15kW less grunt than the XR8!

Trouble is, it feels like it should live up in me workshed. I’ve got 15-year-old chainsaws that are more appealing to the ear when you’re getting them stroppy. And from outside it sounds like it’s dropped a cylinder whenever somebody feeds her the berries.

Deano tells me it’s the new exhaust system they bunged underneath it to get it to 245kW (s’pose he’d know), but me old 4.2 shat on it for engine noise – and so does that bent eight Falcon. 

Then there’s the XR6 Turbo. When I was a young bludger playing footy, the whole team used to reckon that only pansies or tradies (sometimes both at the same time, if you know what I mean) drove six-pot utes. Gotta tell ya, I don’t reckon that any more.

This thing’s a poofteenth quicker than the Holden to 100 kays, a beezy faster to 400 metres, sounds heaps better, runs smoother. Geez, that’s some good donking, Ford. Doesn’t matter if you’re goin’ berko or bein’ lazy, it’s a bottler. It’s not as in-ya-face as the others, but it’s sort of subtle and menacing and gets on with it. Could be louder, though.

You’d never know she was a turbo, though. My missus couldn’t drive a nail through balsa wood, but you could fire her off to the Chin Waggers Association in it and she’d never be scared. And I’d never be scared to know she’s driving it, because it’s so friendly that it keeps you out of strife.

I only drove a couple of older-style turbos, and by cripes they frightened some fearfully blue language out of me. If you were unlucky, all their power arrived at the wrong time, just when you were halfway out of the corner.

Old turbos drank heaps of juice and you’d get pickpocketed by those insurance bastards as well. Old turbos were all nothing, then they’d whack you in the back of the head. These days, that’s more the Commodore’s go, I reckon, not the XR6 Turbo’s. If you ask it to go, she just goes, doesn’t matter where it is in the rev range.

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Doesn’t hurt that Ford actually gave it a gearbox, not that cacophony of clunks Holden stuck in the ute. Dean reckons Holden also sticks it in the export Caprice, which is a bit of a surprise. The camel jockeys (alright, the Chinese and Indians, too) shepherded the intellectual achievements of the entire species during the Dark Ages, so I can’t believe they’re happy about being lumped with this thing. I can understand the Seppos not knowing any better, though…

Not only is it crook, but I don’t reckon the ratios do it any favours – not with the way the V8 delivers its urge, anyway. For all of its other cog-swapping faults (and Dean tells me to calm down; it’s all been said before), second gear feels bloody tall, or the torque is less than you reckon it should be. Or both at the same time.

That makes it doughy out of low-speed corners, then the bastard kicks down into first, just when you’re feeling like you need a bit of care. And when it kicks down, it upsets your world more than seeing the Pope in a condom factory.

It gets unsettled and the weight transfers all over the joint. If you wanna get all Friday-night troppo, it’s best to hold it in gear, because at least that way you’re in charge of the looniness. Otherwise, it can happen involuntarily, and through no fault of its suspension set-up.

Part of the XR6 Turbo’s charm is that, with so much torque at low revs, the gearbox isn’t inclined to hunt. Doesn’t need to. That single fact helps instill the calming feeling that the car’s doin’ it easy, no matter how hard you’re beltin’ it. The ’box does whine a bit, but the shifts are definitely smoother when it kicks down, and they’re slicker on the way up the cogs as well.

Theoretically, that’s gunna be the same in the V8 Falcon. And it sort of is, sort of isn’t. It is, because it’s got the same smooth shifts. It isn’t, because the V8’s got bugger all worth wondering about under 3500rpm, and that makes the ’box hunt more behind this engine than it does behind the other one.

In spite of its bunkum ’box, the SS is the quickest thing out here between the corners, through the corners and out of ’em again. It’s just got more grip. It feels nailed down, it won’t buck the line in bumpy corners and it is, if anything, more neutral mid-corner than the sedan. At least, it is on bitumen. It’s less inclined to rub its snout across the road, but she’s definitely a bloke’s truck.

The steering weight and pedal feel are both fairly hefty and meaty and, it should be said, a bit spongy with it. The trade-off for bein’ quick is that the ride feels like havin’ a bouncer drag you down the pub stairs on your freckle – or what I imagine that might feel like.

If you’re taking the missus on a long haul, get her to put one of those fancy sports bras on first – you know, the kind the Williams sisters probably should start wearing.

The six-pot is heaps softer, especially in the way it deals with low-amplitude bumps. It’s got more initial compliance and feels to have more travel, too, especially in the front end. It takes a bit of familiarity to get the best out of, which may or may not explain why it spent most of the week sideways out here. Prob’ly not, actually.

The steering is very, very quick, but you’ve got to be inch perfect and careful, because it’s also lighter than a Bob Carr promise and you can easily give it inputs you didn’t intend. The tail hops and skips a bit over bumps, which is to be expected given that it runs a proper ute (read: solid beam) axle, but that can make the steering feel even flightier.

Like little Marcus, the back end’s all talk and no action. It wiggles a bit, but that’s it. Also like Marcus, you can generally ignore what it’s doing and carry on with your business, and it can still be driven with a fair degree of accuracy.

This leaves the V8 Ford a bit out of sorts again. Not only is it slower than the others in a straight line, but its chassis feels the least sorted of them, too. It doesn’t feel awful, to be honest, but it sits in the shade of its little brother, and it’s just skippier than the six, for reasons related to the different spring rates it needs to counteract the weight over the nose. She feels oddly floatier and heavier up front and the back never feels quite as in harmony with the world as it does in the six.

A look around the ins and outs shows that the cousin may be onto somethin’ after all. The XR6’s cabin is the drummiest of the three and its seats and doors are covered in what Ford calls “Purple Riverweed”. No, fair dinkum. I looked it up. Bodgy bamboo, I call it, but you can’t hose it out, so it’s not aimed at the bush.

The XR8 stumps are even better than the six’s (yay, the XR8 wins something!), but there’s not much different between the two other than that. And both the Fords have sunvisors full of mirrors. Mirrors! Lah-de-bloody-dah! Wouldn’t be so bad if it was all flash, but there’s a fair bit of agriculture around the Fords if you look close enough.

Geez, the first time you fill ’er up, the spell gets broken. They’re just dodgy – you can see right through the hole to the ground and the neck’s just wobblin’ in the breeze. While we’re at it, it’s bloody messy around the rear wheel arches, too, with a view through to the chassis and all of the pipes and lines and stuff they strap onto it. And the footrest? Am I supposed to knock one up and bolt it on m’self?

At least the Falcon’s tailgate panel is neat, which is more than you can say about the Holden, with its arse sittin’ up high, spot welds in the tin exposed willy-nilly and looking for all the world like somebody at the design shop forgot something. Doesn’t help, apparently, that the tailgate’s rising 14 years old now. How can a tailgate design last longer than a kelpie?

The six-pot Falcon’s the best of all of them, by some considerable margin, I’d reckon. Fair enough, the Holden’s gunna blow it away through the twisty country, but you can put a proper load in the “little” Falcon, you’ll have just as much fun in it and it’s got the best of all three engine/gearbox combinations. And it’s got the nicest balance.

There are a lot of reasons to like the SS, too. Opinions about looks are bodgy at the best of times, but the old blokes outside the Vic Hotel like the Holden. So do the flatbellies at cricket and the gals at Ruth’s Hair Emporium. And it’s bloody fast. Buggered if I know what the XR8’s all about, but I guess some blokes like Fords and V8s and they want what they want.

It’s not crook; the other two are just better. I’d pension it off, m’self, but Dean reckons other coves can get more grunt out of it. Why wouldn’t Ford just do it in the first place, but? Pains me to say it, but me cousin’s right. These things aren’t bush bashers any more. But he’s also wrong.

They’re better for it and if you don’t have billy lids or bludging mates, they’re still all the car anybody’s going to need. Bushie or slicker.

Old is gold on classic MOTOR

Fast Facts

  Holden Commodore SS ute Ford Falcon XR6 ute Ford Falcon XR8 ute
Body two-door ute two-door style-side ute
Drive rear-wheel
Engine 5.7-litre pushrod 16-valve V8  4.0-litre DOHC 24-valve inline six, turbo  5.4-litre DOHC 32-valve V8
Compression 10.1:1 8.7:1  9.5:1 
Bore x Stroke 99.0mm x 92.0mm 92.3mm x 99.3mm   90.2mm x 105.8mm
Power 245kW @ 5600rpm 240kW @ 5250rpm    260kW @ 5250rpm
Torque 465Nm @ 4000rpm  450Nm @ 2000-4500rpm  500Nm @ 4250rpm
Weight 1618kg 1755kg  1750kg  
Power to weight 151kW/tonne  137kW/tonne  149kW/tonne
Transmission four-speed auto
Suspension (f) MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Suspension (r) Semi-trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar live axle, leaf springs, anti-roll bar
L/W/h 5049/1845/1484mm  5077/1870/1479mm  5077/1871/1479mm
Wheelbase 2939mm 3096mm
Track 1569mm (f); 1587mm (r) 1566mm (f); 1547mm (r)
Brakes (f) 296mm ventilated discs, two-piston calipers 325mm ventilated and grooved discs, two-piston calipers  325mm ventilated discs, two-piston calipers 
Brakes (r) 286mm solid discs, single-piston calipers  303mm solid grooved discs, single-piston calipers  303mm solid discs, single-piston calipers  
Wheels 17 x 8.0-inch (f & r), alloy 18 x 8.0-inch (f & r), alloy 
Tyres Bridgestone Potenza, 235/45 VR17 (f & r) Dunlop SP Sport 9000, 245/40 ZR18 (f & r) Dunlop SP Sport 9000, 235/40 ZR18 (f & r) 
Fuel 70 litres, ULP 80 litres, PULP
Price $41,140 $40,595 $41,845

Five SSomebody stop me!
- Proper coupe ute (Fords are actually tray backs)  
- Once again, the quickest on test, even in auto
- Why does a two-seat ute need four drink holders? 
- Because, with this gearshift, you could easily spill that many!
- Not offered with official factory gun rack

Fast Figures 

  Holden Commodore SS ute  Ford Falcon XR6 ute Ford Falcon XR8 ute
0-50km/h 2.88sec 2.84sec 2.98sec
0-100km/h 6.76sec 6.53sec 7.05sec
0-130km/h 9.78sec 9.82sec 10.25sec
0-400m 14.70sec @
160.5km/h
14.62sec @
161.6km/h
14.93sec @
160.5km/h

Five Ticks on the Turbo list
- XR6T is a hotbed of aftermarket tuning action
- Expect FPV to have a go. F6 Typhoon will be 280kW
- It’s actually got real torque from just off idle, where the V8s struggle down low... 
- ...but auto box isn’t standing up to aftermarket urge...
- ...neither’s the manual, though it’s just getting noisy

Inner Sanctum

If me old man saw me in one of these things, he’d laugh, I tell ya. I mean, we had to get the homestead revalued when we got the new radio (so we could hear Tim Lane and Stackie), and now you get radio buttons on the steering wheel and right flash chilled air blasting out at yer face!

The only leather seat I’ve ever perched on is a saddle, so I couldn’t believe me eyes at the XR8 and SS stumps. They’re a damned sight more comfortable and all, I can tell you.

Don’t mind the Fords, and the little piano keys for the radio are prob’ly easier to use, but I’d have to give the cabin prize to the Holden – but if you need to bung some gear behind the seats, then you’ll have to take one of the Fords.

Ford’s stuck with the old finger-twistin’ tonneau tie-downs. Fair enough, because it’s reliable, but the Holden system is easier, neater, looks like a pearler and you can rip it up quicker than the temper on a cross-bred ram.

Five Pieces of XR Eight
- The smoothest V8 motor you can buy in an Aussie car
- But hardly a thrill a minute under 3500rpm 
- Plenty of blokes have ways to fix that for you, though 
- Including FPV. The Pursuit is the quickest stock ute in the land, with 6.02 to 100 kays...
- ...Which knocks off Maloo (6.37) and CSV Bullet (6.68)

Racing relations

To the cultured V8 Supercar fan, V8 Brutes racing is a bit, well, brutal. No panel is spared, no pass completed without significant paint exchanges, tempers are more frayed than hemlines at a hippy commune. And all of this seems to go on with the consent of CAMS – yep, the same CAMS that won’t let you walk trackside to offer somebody a friendly wave after they’ve turned you into the wall.

AVESCO tried to ban Procar from using the ‘V8’ term to promote the Brutes, claiming it had the Australian rights to the term. Yeah, right, which is roughly what the judge said, too.

It’s been dominated recently by Wazza Luff, who’s been promoted to A grade with DJR. Brutes ain’t as easy as being quick and talented, though. The top 10 grid spots come out of a barrel draw. It means you can be among the rats and mice lickety split, and that gets very ugly.