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XR6 Turbo Guide - Part One

The evolution of the Ford XR6 Turbo and its FPV stablemates

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • First of four-part series
  • Details of the Ford XR6T evolution
  • FPV variants
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The Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo stands out like a beacon on the Australian used car market. As second-hand XR6T prices tumble to around AUD$25,000, it’s never been cheaper and easier to achieve truly supercar performance in a full-size vehicle that offers all the practically, comfort and handling you’re likely to need.

In this four-part series we’ll look at the evolution of the XR6 Turbo, examine what goes wrong and investigate its immense tuning potential. If you’re thinking about purchasing a pre-owned XR6T, this is your one-stop resource!

XR6 Turbo Models

The XR6 Turbo was introduced with the rest of the BA Falcon series in late 2002.

In these early-spec cars, the base 4-litre six produces a considerable 182kW and 380Nm while the turbocharged version adds a whopping 32 percent extra power and 18 percent extra torque – 240kW at 5250 rpm and 450Nm spread between 2000 and 4000 rpm. To put that into context, the previous generation ‘high performance’ AUIII XR6 VCT makes just 172kW/374Nm while the supercharged Holden 3.8-litre V6 engine develops just 171kW/375Nm...

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The BA Falcon engine has similar architecture to the previous generation 4-litre six but the biggest improvement is the switch to a DOHC, 24 valve head offering infinitely variable cam timing over a 60 degree range. There’s also a dual-stage intake manifold, electronic throttle, a massively improved engine management system with knock sensing, coil-on-plug ignition and sequential fuel delivery.

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The XR6 Turbo engine varies from its atmo cousin by employing revised pistons (dropping the static compression ratio from 9.7 to 8.7:1), slightly modified conrods and Inconel exhaust valves. The turbo system comprises a stainless steel exhaust manifold with a Garrett GT40 ball-bearing turbocharger, a high-flow cat converter and exhaust, front-mount air-to-air intercooler, Bosch blow-off valve and electronic wastegate control allowing up to 6 psi boost. Fuel pressure is also raised to 4 Bar and 95 RON premium unleaded fuel is necessary to achieve the quoted 240kW output.

There can be very little criticism of the XR6 Turbo engine but the driveline is a different story – in early models, at least...

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Until late ‘04, the manual version of the XR6T was built with a BTR Engineering T5. This is a relatively old gearbox design which is noisy and unrefined – completely at odds with the sophisticated feel of the engine. Fortunately, the T5 ‘box was replaced with a slicker shifting six-speed when the Mark II XR6T was introduced – but we’ll come to that.

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Auto versions of the XR6T kicked off using a heavily revised BTR Engineering four-speed. Its electronic control system uses a five-mode control strategy and there’s a sequential gearshift function for sportier driving. This is quite an intelligent transmission but it can give trouble when engine output is increased over standard. In recent months – with the introduction of the BF-series XR6T – the four-speed transmission has been replaced with a ZF six-speed auto. The new auto continues to receive plaudits.

The suspension in the XR6 Turbo sedan – with double wishbones at the front and a Control Blade IRS – offers an excellent compromise between ride and handling. The XR6 Turbo employs firmer settings than the base Falcon but it still rides comfortably and it’s swift and controllable through corners. There’s also plenty of grip from the standard 235/45 Dunlop SP Sport 3000s worn on 17 inch alloys. All XR6 Turbo models, regardless of transmission choice, come with a LSD to get the grunt to the bitumen and switchable traction control comes standard in the sedan.

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Interestingly, the XR6T comes standard with the same ABS-controlled four-wheel-disc brakes fitted to the base BA. These brakes are pushed to their limit with the extra performance of the turbo engine but, fortunately, Ford offered a Premium Brake option for new car buyers. The Premium Brakes bring 325 x 225mm grooved front discs and twin-pot calipers to provide a substantial improvement in stopping power. It’s just a shame more new buyers didn’t tick the option box... The XR6T’s power-assisted rack and pinion steering is well suited to a full-size, performance sedan but we would like slightly more on-centre response and feel.

The XR6 Turbo is available in two body styles - sedan and ute. The sedan tips the scales at approximately 1730kg while the load-lugging ute adds about 20kg. The ute also employs a live rear axle and, until recently, missed out on traction control. It’s a popular choice for petrol-head tradespeople who must have a ute.

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The XR6T sedan offers typical Falcon levels of passenger accommodation and cargo space. In Turbo guise you also receive sports trim, blue lit instruments, a leather wheel, dual airbags, cruise and four power windows. Standard audio is a 100W single CD unit with a mono-tone LCD screen but many new buyers splurged extra for the Premium six-stack CD package with a colour screen, high-power amplifier, sub-woofer and expended trip computer functions. A luxury interior package comprising leather trim and Fairmont Ghia bits was also available as an option from early ’04.

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The base BA is handsome if not adventurously styled car. In XR6 guise it’s a little more eye-catching thanks to the quad headlight treatment, body kit, full colour-coding and five-spoke 17 inch wheels. But you need to look closely to pick the naturally aspirated XR6 from the Turbo version – the only obvious give-aways are the TURBO lettering on the boot-lid and the front-mount intercooler.

One of the biggest criticisms of the BA Falcon is its weight – at almost 1800kg, the XR6T needs all the kilowatts and Newton Metres it can muster. Fortunately, the XR6 Turbo has plenty of both and the sedan version can easily sprint to 100 km/h in the low six-second range - and it’s possible to crack fives in ideal conditions. The auto version is a few tenths of a second slower.

BA Mark II and BF Updates

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In late 2004, the BA Falcon range received the Mark II update.

The biggest news is the existing T5 five-speed manual gearbox is replaced with a Tremec T56 six-speed with double synchros on all forward gears and much improved shift feel. Gear ratios are selected specifically for the turbo engine and the final drive ratio is also shortened from 3.46 to 3.73:1. The BA Mark II XR6T also brings new 17 inch wheels, some extra interior features, Mark II badges and a selection of new paint colours. It’s a subtle but worthwhile update.

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Next, in late 2005, Ford introduced the updated BF Falcon range. The BF upgrade brings revised taillights, a new front bumper, new wheels, minor interior trim changes, improved quietness, new colours and an optional ZF six-speed auto replaces the old four-speed.

Perhaps most importantly, the BF XR6T’s 4-litre turbo six is enhanced with the introduction of independently variable cam timing, revised cam profiles and dual knock sensors. These upgrades improve fuel consumption and emissions as well as elevating output to 245kW and 480Nm (gains of 5kW and 30Nm). Ford has also introduced stability control to the sedan while the ute gets its long-awaited traction control.

The new ZF transmission is rated for use with high torque engines and – compared to the previous four-speed – its configured with a lower first gear, higher top gear and smaller increments between each ratio. A remote mounted heat exchanger also ensures stable operating temperature.

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A new Performance Brakes combo also becomes standard in the BF XR6T – Ford claims “the larger diameter brakes are based on the specifications used for the higher braking demands of the Territory”. From what we can determine, that means the new XR6T shares certain parts of the Ford Territory braking system. Front discs are now 322 x 28mm (up 24mm over the standard discs) and the rears are upsized to 328 x 26mm (up 25mm over the standard discs). The latest ABS system is also employed.

Weight remains similar to the early BA XR6 Turbo but with an extra 5kW and substantially greater torque, it’s reasonable to expect a measurable performance improvement in the latest model. The manual BF XR6 Turbo should be more easily capable of sub six second 0 – 100 km/h and the auto should trail by a reduced margin.

FPV F6 Typhoon/Tornado

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In October 2004 (during the BA Mark II era), FPV stepped in and unleashed the F6 Typhoon – essentially a tweaked version of the XR6 Turbo.

The FPV Typhoon scores a larger air-to-air intercooler, dual entry airbox and revised engine management allowing up to 9.4 psi boost (about 50 percent more than the XR6T). The engine internals are also beefed up using heavy-duty conrods, high-strength valve springs and an oil cooler.

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The FPV version of the Ford 4-litre turbo kicks out a massive 270kW at 5250 rpm and 550Nm of torque from 2000 – 4000 rpm – not surprisingly, it’s the highest torque output of any production-based Australian high-performance engine. The Typhoon channels its immense grunt through a T56 six-speed manual teamed with an AP Racing twin-plate clutch which measures 240mmm diameter (more on this item later in the series).

Add 18 inch alloys, twin-grooved 325mm front brakes (or optional Brembos), some eye-catching body changes, sportier interior trim (including on-dash gauges for boost and oil pressure) and you’ve got a very worthwhile improvement on the already impressive vehicle.

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In early ’05, the FPV Typhoon was joined by the Tornado – the ute alternative. The Tornado uses the same engine, driveline, brake, body and interior enhancements as the Typhoon. However, at 1827kg, the FPV Tornado is around 50 kilograms heavier than the Typhoon sedan and there’s a small variation in performance – the Typhoon typically accelerates to 100 km/h in the high fives while the Tornado does it in around six seconds flat.

From late ’05 (corresponding with the BF release), new buyers have the option of a six-speed ZF auto trans. The engine is also updated to include the BF series’ twin knock sensors, independently variable cam timing and new cam profiles. Big Brembo brakes come standard and even bigger Brembo brakes are available as an option.

So that’s the evolution of XR6 Turbo to date – in the next instalment of this series we’ll look at second-hand pricing and reveal the problems buyers should be aware of.

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