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Ford RTV V8 Road Test

The jacked up Ford Falcon one-tonner.

By Michael Knowling

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Ford utes have a tremendous reputation for strength, reliability and value. The new RTV (Rugged Terrain Vehicle) carries over those same traditions and introduces the ability to venture off the bitumen. No, it's not a four-wheel-drive (as its looks suggest) but it does offer extra ground clearance and greater traction - it's just the thing for driving onto worksites and getting away for a weekend outdoors.

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The RTV is not intended as a high-performance ute (you can buy a XR6 Turbo or XR8 ute for those thrills) but the optional V8 fitted to our test car sure gave impressive performance along with a glorious sound. We've praised the SOHC 5.4 V8 in our road test of the BA Fairmont V8
(see New Car Test - Ford BA Fairmont 5.4-litre V8) and all the same applies in the body of the RTV - good throttle response, strong torque from idle and better fuel economy than the Holden V8 rival. The V8 option gives 220kW of power at 4750 rpm and a massive 470Nm of torque between 3250 and 4000 rpm. The engine is fitted with variable cam timing, three valves per cylinder, 9.7:1 compression ratio and electronic throttle control. The SOHC 5.4 doesn't rev out as cleanly as the DOHC XR8 version, but then top-end performance isn't what the RTV is about. Interestingly, we did notice that performance depends largely on ambient temperature and underbonnet heat soak: some sparkle disappears after you've been sitting in traffic for a while.

Our V8 RTV test car came with the basic 5-speed manual, which isn't the sweetest gearbox on the planet but it does need to be chunky enough to handle the 5.4's torque. For the same reason the clutch feels comparatively heavy. A sequential sports-shift 4-speed auto is available at extra cost.

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But the most intriguing part of the RTV's driveline is its electronic lockable DANA/Spicer rear diff. In normal conditions the diff allows the left and right axles to rotate independently of each other. But push the in-cabin diff lock button and a pair of dog gears mesh inside the diff to lock the left and right axles together. This means wheelspin will occur only when both rear wheels have inadequate traction. Note that diff lock is actuated only at speeds below 40 km/h and it automatically disengages at a speed greater than 70 km/h. Ford says it's unlikely a locked rear axle is required at speeds above 40 km/h.

We tested the electronic diff lock on loose dirt and can vouch that it certainly aids traction.

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Weighing more than 1700kg, the RTV moves surprisingly swiftly. Stopwatch timing reveals the RTV is capable of sprinting to 100 km/h in the 7-second range, given cool conditions. The rate of fuel consumption is also quite acceptable given the RTV's weight and engine capacity. We averaged high 15-litres of unleaded per 100km in mainly urban driving. Note that top-gear cruising is very economical (relatively speaking). Very tall gearing helps the fuel economy cause and the engine certainly produces the low-down torque to handle it.

The RTV - despite wearing truck-like Goodyear Cargo tyres - steers nicely with good weighting and feel. The ventilated front discs with twin-pot calipers and solid rear discs with single-pot calipers performed well during our test. ABS and EBD (which is very important in a load carrying vehicle) come standard.

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Under the skin, the RTV rides on double front wishbones and dual-rate rear leaf springs equipped with anti-tramp rods. In comparison to a normal Falcon ute, the RTV is perched 67.5mm higher at the front and 80mm higher at the rear. This gives an impressive 215mm ground clearance along with improved approach and departure angles. The RTV's track is also 30mm wider than a conventional Falcon ute. With the expectation that the RTV will be used off the bitumen, Ford has also fitted a one-piece composite material sump and transmission guard, brake stone deflector, rear damper protection sleeve plus brake, fuel and vacuum hose armour.

The ride is generally fine but the rear-end is much firmer than the front - this is most obvious when the cargo area is empty. Handling is reasonably balanced and predictable on dry roads, but wet roads might cause some concern. Traction control is not fitted - not even as an option.

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The RTV is easy to drive - with a few exceptions. The engine is very easy to stall when manoeuvring and the high-sided tray impairs visibility for reverse parking. The exterior mirrors (which, curiously, employ curved lenses on both sides of the vehicle) should also be larger - in keeping with the light-truck theme.

Onboard, the RTV is surprisingly comfortable and refined. The two bucket seats are deep and supportive, you enjoy a commanding ride height and there's ample sprawling room. There's also a decent amount of in-cabin stowage behind the seats - enough to chuck in a couple of soft sports bags with ease.

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Interior appointments are the same as you'll find in any other Falcon. Standard features include carpet, power steering, windows and mirrors, trip computer, adjustable height seatbelts, electric adjustment of the driver's seat base, remote central locking and a single CD/tuner. The sound system offers good bass and treble and the small internal volume of the ute cabin maximises SPLs. Interestingly, the RTV comes with only a driver's airbag as standard. A front passenger airbag, air conditioning and cruise control are extra cost options.

In the rear, the RTV offers a cargo bed more than 181cm in length that is protected by a standard bed-liner. The RTV's suspension allows it to carry more than a one-tonne payload safely. Our only criticism in this area is a high lift-over edge - it's a struggle to lift heavy objects up and over the side and rear panels. You really need to lower the tailgate to load heavy items. A full size spare wheel is mounted beneath the cargo floor and is accessible from under the vehicle.

If you're likely to tow a heavy trailer, it'd be wise to chose a RTV V8 with an automatic transmission - the auto version can be fitted with an optional tow pack rated up to 2300kg, while the manual is available with a tow pack good for only 1200kg.

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The RTV offers a muscular appearance despite sometimes appearing as if the body leapt off the wheels in fright... Towering above a normal Falcon ute, the RTV scores extra points with wheel arch flares, a unique grille (styled along the same lines as F-series) and 16 x 7 alloy wheels that are rated for heavy-duty use.

As seen, our test RTV had been optioned with a sports bar and tonneau cover. Note that an alloy tray can also be specified instead of the conventional ute body.

Now let's talk price.

The 5.4-litre 5-speed RTV starts at $36,715 without air-con or any of the extras mentioned on our test car. Be aware that air-conditioning alone adds $2250 to the tally... Still - even when you add the cost of these optional extras - the RTV stacks up as very good value when compared to a Holden one-tonner V8. And, don't forget, the Holden one-tonner comes only as a tray top and doesn't offer the RTV's rugged terrain potential.

The more you compare, the more you realise the RTV is a bargain.

Why You Would...

  • Good carrying capacity
  • Durable construction and a history of reliability
  • Ability to negotiate creek crossings, work sites and farm lands with ease
  • Diff lock really does make a difference in slippery conditions
  • Optional V8 gives good performance and flexibility with better fuel consumption than Holden V8
  • Comfortable
  • Impressive value

Why You Wouldn't

  • High lift-over edge
  • Air conditioning and passenger airbag are extra cost options
  • It only looks like a 4WD...

The RTV V8 was provided for this test by Ford Australia.

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