Falcon R5 Ute - Wishful Thinking...

First released at the 2000 Sydney Motor Show, like the XR8 Sony Explod it got a new lease on life with new features for the Melbourne International Motor Show.  Where - together they stole the show from Holden's offerings to the point that journalists and the public alike confirmed the R5 as "king of the show".  However, that is where the similarities end.  Where the Sony XR8 was built to inspire, the R5 was built as a pure 'testing of the water' masterpiece - one we will look back upon no doubt and say "I can see a little bit of that model here and a bit more over there..." regarding future Falcons.

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The biggest change of all was perhaps the most predictable - with 4wd being added to it's long equipment list (the Sydney version was only 2wd).  And it's no wonder that Ford Australia wants a slice of the pie when it comes to SUV territory - this is the segment that grew a whopping 72% over the last two years while most others - including the large car segment in which the Falcon competed - actually shrank!

With more ground clearance than the average cross-over it is a surprise to learn that it comes without a low range gearbox to really make use of those long legs while outback.  With the Falcon's long frontal overhang - it's not like you're going to be climbing too steep a hill anyway - and if the experience of most 4wd owners is anything to count on - Ford shouldn't really be worrying too much anyway.  Leaning underneath, there is no doubt that half shafts were visible leading into the back of the Falcon's front spindles, but Ford had conveniently hidden the rest with a rather large bash plate - making us wonder whether the 4wd system was there at all.  Ford claims the R5 now has "adaptive full-time 4WD" - something that'd be ultra nice extended to a powered up XR8 too (how about it Ford?).  Imagine that - a V8 WRX!  Oh yeah...

But the thing that has most people talking is not the 4wd or the new looks - or even that paint job!  No - it's the possibility of having a factory Falcon dual cab - with room to house the kiddies while hauling the hay for the horses.  As tradies pay big dollars for custom body builders to modify Commodore Utes to give them an extra set of doors the move makes sense too.  But as usual for Ford - the amazement is really at why on earth it took them so long!  Still, to their credit they have beaten Holden to the crunch which has left Holden extremely envious (just ask the Holden reps caught grabbing an eyeful of the R5 prior to opening time at the Melbourne Motor Show).  I've lost count of the number of people who have said to me now "if only Ford made a dual cab Falcon Ute".  Seems that just like the decision to make the AU a dedicated cab-chassis model, Ford could be on a good thing here - which they desperately need considering the sales of the AU Falcon on which it is based.

 

More doors...

Borrowing from technology already implemented and proven in Ford's F-series range, the 3 door concept is not new.  - All of which probably explains why the right hand doors open on the R5 rather than the left side - the more obvious choice in terms of safety for the Aussie market.  What remains to be seen is how much strengthening the Falcon body will need to take advantage of this system in a true outback driving situation - as the F-150 takes advantage of being built on a separate chassis rather than the monocoque style used in the Falcon.

Not that the American connection is a bad thing - in a country where you can be sued for sneezing in the wrong direction, you at least know the doors on your car aren't about to fly open of their own accord or in an accident.  Aussies are already prepared to pay big bucks for the currently privately imported American pick ups (soon to be imported by Ford and sold by Ford dealers) - so any association can only work in the Falcon's favour.  Despite the shortness of that rear door the lack of a centre pillar makes for an extremely easy entry & exit - even if you've then got to crawl right over to the other side.

One suspects cost would be the only reason a four door version does not exist.  The rear doors open "suicide style" - i.e. - hinged from the rear, a style not seen since the Lincolns of the 60's.  While this may seem alarming - with the wind able to catch any door left ajar - Ford (at least on the F150 anyway) have overcome this by only allowing the rear door to open if the front door is open first.  This not only solves the safety issue but ensures ease of entry or exit - killing two birds with one stone.

The Concept.

According to Ford the R5 is a concept car well within the realms of possibility.  The R5 is a five seat recreational utility aimed squarely at the 'let's do it' market, equally at ease in the inner city, the beach or under the starlit sky of the Australian outback (hey - ain't that most of us?).  Now with the addition of a four-wheel-drive powertrain its new catch cry is 'let's do even more'.

"The basic brief for the R5 was very simple," says Ford Australia President, Geoff Polites.  "We wanted to create a vehicle that built upon the recreational features of the highly successful AU Falcon Ute.  The ability to carry five people with a host of gear would create all sorts of travel and activity options for our customers.  Our designers have taken the Falcon Ute to another level."

"The R5 concept was a huge hit last year," Geoff continues - "Even as a concept car the R5's good looks, five seat capacity and range of applications meant we had customers wanting to know when they could get one.  This new four-wheel drive concept will only add to that interest level."

Colours, colours, colours...

Originally finished in subtle but smooth looking Ghost Gum Silver paintwork the R5 has received a new lease on life with it's new 'Uluru Sunset' paintwork that colour shifts from yellow to purple given the right light and conditions.  Unfortunately, the photos fail to capture this.  Not satisfied with the new colour alone, subtle graphics have been added to the side featuring a cracked earth effect and more prominent 'R5' decals than version one.  With impressive ground clearance (an extra 70mm for Melbourne) and large wheels and tyres, it looks ready for adventure.

Passenger space:

Based upon a standard Falcon Ute 'supercab', the cabin has been stretched backward from the B-pillar with a shortened style side bed mounted behind.  Although including more rear seat passenger space than most Japanese equivalents, unfortunately - for this version anyway - there isn't nearly as much leg room as in the sedan or wagon 2wd Falcons.  - Something a more upright seating position could fix, making possible use of the wagon's higher roof line.  The rear doors include Ford's currently standard adjustable height retractable seat belts for the front seat passengers.

The five-seats in the cabin are trimmed in contrasting Eucalypt suede with charcoal suede inserts giving that real 'sit in me' feeling.  The charcoal coloured head rests feature similarly coloured nylon mesh inserts to give a sporting flavour.  From there, the same material & colour theme is extended to the door trims with handles that remind me distinctly of some of those used on current model Audi's.  Not that that's a bad thing - in fact if any of this is representative of the new Falcon (due late 2002) then we're in for a real treat!

The same goes for the dash - which features a combination of brushed and billet aluminium highlights surrounding the dash vents, sound system control knobs, light switch, gear lever and even the spokes on the Mondeo sourced steering wheel.  Even the speakers in the doors get the treatment!  Elsewhere, two tone grey (with a third colour for the centre consol) works exceptionally well together to create a ultra modern, stylish experience of the senses.

The central display unit (CDU) houses controls for the myriad of in-car electronics which include telematics, a prestige sound system, automatic climate control, satellite navigation and mobile communications equipment such as phone, fax and e-mail access.  Of concern to the serious sound junkie however is the difficulty it will make in being able to update to their latest power house - something Ford hopes you will not need to do.  The 'Lava Orange' instrumentation and gauge accents continue a Falcon tradition while managing to jump out and smack you in the face at the same time.

The rear seat keeps Ford's 60/40 split with access to the load area (a feature not usually included in utes) - to create external load access for long items such as water skis or surfboards - which you'll need due to the shortened tray.

Exterior - with loads of style:

Giving the R5 it's own unique look is a totally restyled front bumper featuring integrated 5" Hella 'Comet' FF2200 driving lights, large air intake and hidden 1-tonne electric winch.  Almost un-noticeable side skirts extend the sills out to meet the custom lower door panels and help protect the bodywork from any unwanted dints and scratches.  One feature that definitely will not make it on to the production version is the dual side exiting exhausts - if only by the fact that they are illegal!  Wheel arch flares and a unique black mesh grill complete the picture beautifully - while the bumper mounted driving lights score protection strips for R5 version 2.

The modified front guards lead into the R5's fantastic looking headlights - which feature a reverse order mounted pair of XR round lamps with billet look surrounds - all framed in that sculptured black background.  Surprisingly, this is a result that could quite easily be duplicated on any AU Falcon - so who's gunna be the first?  Also added to the R5 for Melbourne was the reinforced polymer front protection bar - certainly there more for looks than outright usefulness.

Load space:

The shortened style side bed comes with an integrated "sports bar" which is now fitted (v2) with several Hella 'Comet FF100' high output lights mounted on top acting as capable Koala & Roo spotters.  The bed features a suitably shortened bed liner and machined aluminium tarp tie down hooks on the side (don't count on this feature making production either!)  A canopy, lockable tonneau cover or integrated bike racks could be easily added and would add to the overall appeal of this type of vehicle.

The rear bumper features a neat and useful step, with a 240V power outlet and 50 litre fresh water reservoir built in exiting through the bumper itself.  Handy reversing flood lights also grace each side, allowing you to see any hidden obstacles while reversing at night.

Wheels & Tyres:

While version 1 was shod with hand finished 245/50R18 'crossover' tyres (featuring a unique 'reptile' tread pattern), v2 made it's way back to a more realistic 235/65R17 F1 Wrangler pattern.  The original 18" six spoke alloy wheels are also replaced with a more practical 17x8" five spoke design although not quite as aggressive looking (unfortunately).

Unlike the original version - which could not be driven due to interference between the wheels and inner guards, the new wheel and tyre combination allows for great escapes like never before.  Whether anybody will be given a test drive at this early stage remains to be seen...

4wd system - Four Times The Fun:

The R5's adaptive four wheel drive system was developed specifically for the show car.  And although according to Geoff Polites it was quickly "cobbled together", the 4wd system powers all wheels on a full-time basis.  An electronic management system distributes power to each of the four wheels as required.  In normal conditions the power is allegedly split 60/40 between the rear and front wheels respectively.

 

Taking the concept presented in the new Ford Escape 4wd, keeping the system light weight essentially adds to the economy of the vehicle while being able to match most people's driving expectations.

Making it GO!:

Powered by the TE50's magnificent 220kW 5.0 litre alloy headed V8 mated to a 5-speed manual (the way all cars should be made!)  See TE50 specs for the full details on this exciting engine.  Featuring a Limited Slip Differentials and Traction Control just to be sure in those ultra slippery situations...

Brakes:

If there's one thing most four wheel drive's do exceptionally poorly it's stop.  Making sure the R5 can never be accused of that are four large Harrop Engineering 14-inch ventilated discs with 4 piston callipers in conjunction with Anti-lock Brakes (ABS).  Although extremely desirable on such a high powered vehicle, unfortunately it is unlikely that this feature (large brakes) will make it onto the production version.

Conclusion:

Almost 70 years ago a letter from a farmer's wife prompted the imagination of a young Ford engineer, Lew Bandt.  The result was the world's first coupe utility, designed to 'drive to church on Sunday and take the pigs to market on Monday'.  The R5 takes the original Ute concept to a new level.  In it's current spec - it almost could be a new 4wd T-series!  A T4wd50 anyone?

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