The sporty XR models have been a raging success for Ford since they were first introduced with the EB Falcon over a decade ago, but the surprise story in that success was the six-cylinder XR6. The sporty XR models have been a raging success for Ford since they were first introduced with the EB Falcon over a decade ago, but the surprise story in that success was the six-cylinder XR6. For the first time there was a local muscle car that didn’t have a V8 rumbling under the bonnet.

In the years that have elapsed since the XR6 first debuted it has become even more popular, to the extent that it can now be considered an icon of local performance.

The BA brought more refinements for the XR6, a logical extension of the six-cylinder sports sedan theme, but it also brought a new dimension in the form of the XR6 Turbo. If there was ever any lingering doubts about the XR6 as a muscle car they were blown away by the sizzling hot turbocharged model.

Model watch

In a country conditioned to believe that performance was only possible with a V8 under the bonnet the XR6 was a bold move by Ford and its performance partner Tickford Vehicle Engineering.

When Ford was the leader of the go-fast pack it’s hottest cars had big and brawny V8s, and the company was being run by men from Dearborn where the V8 was king. Today, Ford is run by meeker men, from other parts of the world where power doesn’t necessarily come from the barrels of a big bent eight.

They’ve been brought up on a more subtle diet of overhead camshafts, fuel-injection, and latterly turbochargers.

That’s the reigning philosophy at Ford today where the XR6 and XR6T are the tearaway kings.

In the BA range the XR6 builds on the XT Falcon base model. It has the same 182 kW 4.0-litre straight six engine with double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It also boasts variable camshaft timing that not only gives it a powerful punch at the top end, but it also gives a smooth purposeful flow of torque across the rev range.

Performance peaks are put at 182 kW at 5000 revs and 380 Nm at 3250 revs.

The XR6 also has the same transmission choices as the XT, a five-speed manual ’box or a four-speed sports shift auto.

The essential differences that mark the XR6 out from the base model are in the fine tuning and the appearance.

Underneath it boasted sports tuned independent rear suspension.

Inside it had sports seats with sporty XR trim, a sports instrument cluster with XR graphics, and there was a nice leather wrapped steering wheel.

Outside there was a sporty body kit with unique front-end styling, a boot lid spoiler, body coloured mirrors and side protection mouldings, a single chromed exhaust tip, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

There was no doubt the XR6 was a nicely balanced sports drive with enough street cred to be respected on the road.

For more mongrel bite there was the new XR6T, which took the six cylinder sports sedan to a whole new level. With the blown motor under the bonnet the XR6 became a new car, even though it had much in common with its normally-aspirated cousin.

The XR6T had everything the XR6 had, but in addition it came with the turbocharged engine, a limited-slip diff, plus power rear windows, rear grab handles, and traction control as standard.

The Barra 240T version of the 4.0-litre DOHC six has a Garrett GT40 turbocharger with an air-to-air intercooler to increase the charge density and thus maintain boost pressure for maximum power and torque.

Inside the engine there are new pistons and rings, with a lower compression ratio of 8.7 to 1, down from the standard engine’s 9.7 to 1, and high temp exhaust valves.

The result is a massive 240 kW surge at 5250 revs, with 450 Nm of torque on tap between 2000 and 4500 revs.

In the shop

Before buying an XR6, even more so an XR6T, check with other owners because they do have a few problems worth knowing about.

Some owners are reporting an overboost problem with the turbo engine, which feels like the engine is surging almost out of control.

The diffs are noisy and it’s not uncommon for low mileage cars to be on their second or third diff.

The other problem is brake wear and shudder. Some owners report that brakes are needing attention, rotor machining etc., at every service.

Both problems are possibly the result of hard driving, although some owners deny they drive their cars hard, so if you’re intent on an XR6T look for one that hasn’t been thrashed.

Be aware that BA Falcon brakes hoses fail, said to be because they were too short and fail after being stretched and restretched in use. Replace the hoses, front and rear, as a matter of caution as the service replacements are about 2 cm longer and don’t have the problem. The failure seems to occur around the 75,000 km mark.

They go hard which means that they’ll be driven hard by enthusiast owners. It’s almost impossible to drive an XR6T slowly, they want to go.

In a crash

BA Falcon was too new to make the recent real world used car safety survey, but increased body stiffness and dual airbags should mean state-of-the-art crash performance.

Sports suspension tuning, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control add up to an impressive primary safety package.

Owners say

Chris Elliott is a dedicated Ford fan who reckons his 2003 XR6T is fantastic, a joy to drive despite a couple of problems. He bought it with 15,000 km on it knowing the previous owner had a noisy diff replaced at 14,000 km, and now at 32,000 km is facing the same problem. It has also suffered severe brake shudder at around 28,000 km, which he says was fixed. Other than those the biggest other fault has been the stitching in the rear seat squad has come undone. Against that he was pleasantly surprised by the low service cost, and the fuel consumption, which averages 15.2 L/100 km around town and 10 on a trip.

Andrew Kiejda owns a 2004 BA Falcon XR6, which has already done 25,000 km. He chose the XR6 for its superior suspension, seats and resale value. The car has handled its duties quite well with no rattles or squeaks despite occasional dirt road use and the traction control works extremely well. Only problem has been the loss of cruise control and sequential function of the auto trans due to a wiring loom fault at 18,000 km.

Look for

• sporty styling

• great handling from sports tuned suspension

• smooth powerful engine

• relatively high fuel consumption

• sizzling performance of turbo engine

• good resale value

• noisy diffs

• brake noise and shudder

• brake hose failure

The bottom line

Great high performance sports sedans, but avoid cars that have been given a hard time.