Review: Holden SS-V vs Ford XR6 Turbo (Single page version – large!)

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The Decision

We all know about the typical Aussie Holden V8’s: loud, primitive, rough, low revving and wheezy at higher revs, chassis not capable of handling the power; a real handful on the edge.

That was then. This is now. With the introduction of the VE series SS and SS-V, Holden have raised their own bar, finally. A chassis with the modern day design features found in the competing Ford BA XR6T and XR8 series for the last few years – and a few new improvements over the BA to boot.

This is a story of a hard core Ford XR6T owner – two T’s in four years – and his quest to find an alternative to getting a 3rd XR6T: something not attractive due to the lack of changes – particularly no decent power increase – since the first T I purchased back in 2002.

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My second XR6 Turbo.

240kW, 450Nm@2000rpm. (322hp/332lb-ft).

Let’s look at my situation to put things in perspective: my cars have to be standard, and selected form the normal Ford or Holden range. No HSV’s or FPV’s. If the car I get is standard I get endless fuel and tyres factored in to my deal regardless of how much I use (costs me the same). Modify the car and I lose that and have to pay for what I use. For a guy who gets over 20L/100km of premium in the city, and for whom rear tyres last less than 10,000km, that’s a big incentive to stay with standard cars. So standard cars it is.

So that narrows the choice – the next car is to be a standard Ford or Holden.

First thought: Ford XR8

Option one – before the introduction of the VE Commodore – was the XR8. Not for any other reason than I knew the chassis was good (being the same as my T) and it would give me a different experience other than the XR6T’s which I was used to.

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The XR8 may look similar to the XR6 Turbo but they are two very different cars to drive.

260kW, 500Nm@4000rpm.(348hp/369lb-ft) but you wouldnt know it from driving one.

A test-drive quickly killed that idea – while the XR8 sounded fantastic, it appeared to make a lot of noise and not really go anywhere – at least not quickly. The lack of low down torque was very un-V8 like. It left you with a usable but very narrow power-band – not what a large capacity V8 is supposed to be about.

The bonnet bulge made me constantly aware I wasn’t in a T anymore; but perhaps the most worrying thing was the handling. It drove like a bus. Massively front heavy, you really did feel like you were driving the local school bus, only one that sounds pretty damn tough. Handling was not its forte.

XR8 feels a little like driving a bus compared to the well-balanced XR6T.

Ok, so this bus isnt front heavy, but likely still shares some handling characteristics with an XR8

Nor was accelerating quickly. If the drive in the Xr8 didn’t convince me, I certainly was convinced 20 seconds after getting back to the dealer and jumping back in my T and flooring it in 1st – awesome power (450Nm/332 lb-ft) from just 2000 revs until I hit the rev limiter at a bit over 6000 revs.

The idea of the XR8 as a refreshing change from my T was dead. Permanently.


Second thought: A third T?

So the idea of a 3rd T was an option. But not one I wanted to use. Just not enough power boost over the T’s I have driven since 2002. The handling is great and predictable. The braking is very good for an Aussie car not running Brembo’s. Plenty of torque, a bullet proof engine you can bounce off the rev limiter 20 times a day – every day – and have no signs of any engine issues at all. A solid 6 speed manual gearbox that – unlike the initial 5 speed- feels like it will last for years – although it’s a bit slow and clunky when trying for rapid changes. A fine car. A driver’s car. Thrash it and it will always come back for more. Get it airborne at 140kmh and aside from the suspension on all four corners bottoming out when you land , it just kept on revving and dares you to do it again. Ask me how I know!

It’s hard to turn your back on a car like that. But after two near identical cars in 4 years – a change really was needed. Might have been a different story if the latest T was putting out figures nearer to the Typhoon by now. But it’s not. A lousy 5kw and 30Nm increase over 4 years since release, as of when I wrote this. Pretty poor really. A good example of a manufacturer resting on their laurels. (Actually, being fair its more related to Ford not having enough budget to make bigger changes).

Time for a change

Then along came the VE Commodore. Of particular interest to me was the SS and the up-specced SS-V. Being a good boy, I read all the usual Motor and Wheels magazine reviews. Clearly the VE was a big improvement on past models. Great chassis. Great engine. But I must admit I did take the reviews with a grain of salt because they always support the local car makers when they release a major upgrade, before sinking the boot in 6 months later with articles talking about all these flaws since day one – funny how their original articles never mention those flaws..oh well, the power of advertising dollars I guess.

One disturbing report did give me some cause to pause – a comparison of a new VE SS vs XR6Turbo and the Turbo still held its own, with numerous judges saying they preferred the 6T. That was a worry – the VE was a whole new late 2006 model, and the 6T was effectively a 2002 model with a new haircut. How could the T be better according to some of the judges? Surely the SS was streets ahead? Maybe Holden’s Billion Dollar Baby was just a Billion Dollar catch-up to Ford’s 2002 BA as some people said.

So, after reading more reviews, and with Ford offering nothing enticing enough for me, I crossed my fingers and placed an order for an SS-V.

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First Impressions

Picking my SS-V up from the dealer was a little more pleasant than the Ford pickups I have done as I had a particularly nice guy I dealt with – but the Holden dealership has big boots to fill if its servicing standards are to be equal or better than those I have experienced from Ford over the last 4 years.

So, my lesson in how the car works was over. It’s just me sitting in the driver’s seat in the car in the driveway of the dealership. Alone. Just me and nearly 6000cc’s of anti-tree-hugging, no – tree destroying V8.

6 litre Holden SS-V engine

Holden’s answer to the Toyota Prius: The 6 litre V8.

Lets take a moment and briefly compare the power and performance with a competitor to the SS-V: The Toyota Prius.

The Prius is powered by not one, but four powercells, as pictured below:

Prius Power

Despite four power cells compared to just one power unit in the SS-V, here is a brief summary of the benefits the SS-V offers over a Prius:

– 4.7 times the power

– 4.6 times the torque,

– 5.5 times the fuel consumption

– 4 times the cubic capacity

– 0-100 in less than half the time

– The driver maintains his masculinity

So, seat and mirrors adjusted. Gear stick into neutral. Key in the ignition, turn it – and nothing. Oh, it requires the clutch to be pressed to start the engine. A ‘safety feature’. Riiight. Good one. It will let me start – even with the car in gear, so long as the clutch is pressed in. That’s not good design. If safety is their concern, simply don’t let the car start when it’s in gear, or force the brake to be depressed – or both. And the car should be able to be started in neutral without the clutch pedal. Unlikely someone would bump a started car into gear.

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The perfect gear ratio: 6 gears for forward burnouts, 1 gear for backwards burnouts.

This safety feature is not so good when you want to start the car in the drive on a cold morning while you bring the bins in to let it idle for 30 secs to warm up a little. Let’s face it – there are lots of scenarios like that where you may put the car into neutral with the park break on and want to start the car. ..even if the safety police do think doing so is a crime and will kill all the kids in the local pre-school.

So, turn the key again – and a big engine roars to life – arrggghhh, a dashboard alarm is going off. I am doing something wrong, again! I have only done two things, and both are wrong!

Holden SS-V Drivers Position

I thought this was a photo of the drivers area, but its actually a photo of the Driver Safety Monitoring Systems.

Ping. Ping. Ping. What?

Oh, it’s in time with a flashing seatbelt sign. So let me get this right, rather than the seat belt alarm either waiting 5 seconds before sounding or waiting until you take the handbrake off, or waiting until the car moves, it sounds the moment you start the car. Now I don’t know about you, but like most normal people, I start the car and then put my seatbelt on…and to enjoy a new VE Holden I am now expected to change 15 years of driving habit in relation to my seatbelt – despite being a habitual seat-belt user who would never drive without one. And I get reminded of this need to change my habit each and every time I start the car now. Amazing.

So, finally (and a lot safer apparently) off I go, out of the XR6T world and into the world of VE SS-V driver.

First observations? Very fast response to the accelerator regardless of engine speed. Great sound – very tough. People are looking at me in it, and I have to double check that my Seatbelt Protection Alarm Safety System Operation (which I affectionately call SPASSO) isn’t flashing some external message like a Taxi in distress – Driver Didn’t Have Seatbelt on When Car Started! for all to see and render appropriate assistance. (Which in Victoria would be in the form of a fine, no doubt).

The clutch lacks some feel, and is so light that you better not drop a piece of A4 paper while you are driving or it might land on the clutch pedal and depress it. Ah, this might explain having to start the car with the clutch in. If you had the car in neutral, started the car, and dropped a piece of A4 paper into the drivers foot-well while little Johnny in his child restraint seat did a seated roundhouse kick and hit the gear stick; as soon as you pull the paper off the clutch pedal you would then be in 1st gear and taking off.

Holden SS-V Pedals

The pedals are well placed for heel-toeing.

I get it. Those safety police are actually pretty smart. But at least when you hit the neighbour’s fence at walking speed your seatbelt would be on. Because you would have been forced to change a lifetime of driving experience just to avoid the annoying, invasive seat belt alarm. It’s all really very logical when I think about it now.

So let’s talk about the most significant feature of the internal driver’s cockpit. Clearly the most important information display, because it’s ultra bright red, in the centre of the dash where not only you, but the people 30 kilometres behind you at night can see too.

In the middle of the dash, above the colour multi-function larger screen, is a flashback to 1980’s Atari days. Big, blocky graphics that you swear will change over at any time and start playing Pong to keep the kids busy. Except this time in bright red. I have no idea who designed this, but I can only say it must have been someone on drugs, or a typical meddling mid-management person at Holden who put it there to reduce cost by 30c per car over what the interior designers originally placed there.

So, this important display – what does it show? Well, two critical pieces of information without which you can not drive, of course. Battery Volts, and Oil Pressure.

Holden SS-V Red Dash

The sunglasses holder makes even more sense: you need sun glasses to cope with the bright red central gauges.

Holden SS-V Bright Red Dash

Thankfully, my Battery volts are up near the 14 volt mark, which I hope is good but have no idea as the gauge gives no indication of what is good and what is not.

And talking of the oil pressure display, well it seems to be random information. It changes up and down depending on what the engine is doing, but not with a clear correlation such as engine under high load = high pressure, engine under low load = low pressure. So as a result it see-saws from low to high constantly, the main problem being that the driver has no idea what is good and what is not. Is high good? Is low good? Something in between? Is it like my mobile phone and if my oil pressure display has 3 bars, I get better reception? Frankly I don’t need to know about oil pressure until a check-engine light comes on near the speedo, as with most cars.

Astounding that on a car model the manufacturer thinks competes (groan…) with modern BMW and Mercedes vehicles that they engage in pre-Nintendo 64 gauge design, in a lovely bright monochrome red. When will they learn?

A concept they should explore is for the designer of that gauge setup to talk to the guy at HSV who came up with the idea of a sticker stuck on the top centre of HSV engines with a fake standard dyno printout on it, and then both should commit ritual suicide together. Preferably in a way that is slow and drawn out. And in front of the Australian driving community.

The car’s design is mildly aggressive without being too over the top, and it is possible to see BMW-esque design traits, particularly the understated aggression of the M3.

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Is that a bulge in your wheel-well or are you just happy to see me?


Driving Overview

To more accurately describe the SS-V I have reviewed how it performs in two distinct scenarios: typical inner city driving, and windy, hilly bendy driving, as found in many country areas.

City Driving

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People think Nurburgring is a complex track: Melbourne Race Circuit beats it hands down.

Around the city the SS-V is deceptively fast, and it’s even easier to speed given the speedo is busy and hard to read at a glance. As a result, turning on the digital speedo is a license-saver. It’s common to fang it up to 60 and look down and realise you are doing 80+.

XX-V Driver Dash SS-V tacho SS-V Speedo

The car has enough power for spirited city driving, and is very quick to respond to the throttle at any revs meaning those small gaps you may go for are all the easier to do with a larger margin left over just in case. No worries about a half second of turbo lag here.

For those interested in more detailed engine and performance descriptions, lots is on the way in the next part of the review including detailed thoughts on an engine performance comparison with my XR6T.

Interior Engine Noise

The noise is somewhat muted. Inside the car, by far the majority of the noise hits the driver coming from the engine via the firewall. It sounds very good. Whilst it does sound slightly agricultural and nowhere near high tech like the XR6 Turbo, it sounds like you should not mess with it as it is a serious engine. While driving, the exhaust sound you hear coming from outside is minimal.

At certain revs after taking your foot off the accelerator and letting the engine coast down there are nice deep pops and burbles not unlike the last Monaro, but much, much quieter. Overall the exhaust noise is quieter than it should be given the type of person who drives this car. An exhaust upgrade is warranted, not only to liberate extra power, but also to raise the sounds to more reasonable levels.

City Braking and Handling

Some driving surfaces result in a little jarring of the people within the car, more than likely due to the low profile tyres. It is not a common occurrence, and generally is the result of a very bad patch of road such as a deep pothole. Braking is a bit of a concern. A typical scenario such as realising a little late that the car ahead has stopped in traffic a bit sooner than expected can result in what feels like the ABS kicking in when it really shouldn’t as the braking force and road condition doesn’t justify it. Its unusual, and will be explained in more detail below. SS-V 19″ Wheel

Unlike the SS, the SS-V comes standard with 19″ mags, shod with Bridgestone RE050A’s in 245/40 R19 94W . Not cheap to replace!

The middle pedal does not inspire as much confidence as the XR6T’s premium brake setup does. There is a fair bit of pedal travel, and while there is reasonable braking, if I were to rate the XR6T’s premium brakes a 10, the SS-V’s would be a 7.5 to 8 in city driving.

Strange Braking Problem

What’s absolutely amazing, is when you start to apply the brake (and not yet very hard), you may sometimes feel a couple of bumps from the front wheels (which feels like mild ABS-type bumps), then braking occurs as expected. It is – and I can’t believe it – apparently front wheel axle tramp which can occur under initial braking. It feels like it would have to be caused by a design flaw in the suspension or chassis.

From what I hear, it is found in every model from the Omega up to the HSV R8. I just cannot believe such a fundamental and obvious flaw was not eliminated prior to release of a car supposedly at Euro levels of quality. I would not release a new model car with this issue. It makes me think they either discovered it late or, more likely, the cost to fix it quickly was too high: for example a full geometry re-do of the suspension or change to the standard chassis.

But to be fair, this issue does not appear to slow down braking action, although there must be a ¼ second or so where braking is non existent while the wheels are going through this motion. I am a bit concerned what impact this issue may have in certain unusual situations such as when in a near-aquaplane situation or when seriously at the limits of adhesion. But the braking is not all bad – more on that in the Country Driving section.

Country Driving

To test the car out on some of my favourite roads, I selected a day that was sunny and with low temperatures. I fired up the car, drove to Warburton, then up Mt Donna Buang. Beauuuuutiful 5 degree Celsius (41 F) intake temps.

The SS-V ran very well, showing it had excellent levels of grip. As the road has a 100kmh limit but many corners are only safely taken at waaaay less than that, you can drive the road hard and not really break any laws (well, not too many!).The road was reasonably wet in many places, and as the temperature was not that far above zero I had to take it easy on some corners as there could be black ice. What a hoot.

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Then I drove on a road I thought was Acherton’s Way but in fact I was lost (and happy for it – turns out Acherton’s way is gravel.). I managed to stumble on an awesome road that led to Marysville which is where I was trying to get to anyway.

That road was mostly dry and half the length was empty – then I came across some motorcyclists who slowed me down. I managed to get past them a bit later, and fanged it the rest of the way – a tight road with trees right on the roadside. No room for error!

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I finally made it to Marysville, then straight out onto the Black Spur, heading for Healesville. I hit it pretty hard and had a few slow-downs from traffic ahead but thankfully both got out of my way when the opportunity arose (about 5k later – grrrr!). The rest of the way was 90% dry with 10% dampness now and then. Low intake temps (9-13 degrees) so the car was really loving it. I got to reeeeealy run the car in. If it wasn’t broken in fully that morning (with just 1000km on it), it was now!

A-Pillar on Steroids

The thick A pillar on the right hand side is bad for any very tight right hand corners marked 25-45kmh (although admittedly while doing them at 60-90). You seriously can’t see the other lane at all. While going around a corner of that type, you can’t see the centre line just in front of the car – nor to your right much either. You have to lean into the centre of the car to see around it!

It would be very easy to clip an oncoming car or truck on that sort of corner and not even know it was there until you hit. So you have to be reasonably careful on those specific corner types. Right hand corners marked at higher speeds and left hand corners at any speed are not an issue.
Country Braking

The brakes. Well I’ll be damned if my opinion of them hasn’t changed. Perhaps more accurately; I understand their varying characteristics now. The brakes are excellent on the twisties. They work very well. They stop the car quickly (once you adjust to the pedal travel but you really don’t notice the travel on the twisties as you are on and off the brakes so much).

I am starting to think it’s at low speeds when you stop fast that they arent as good – pehaps due to low temperature. In those instances the axle tramp is noticable and also now and then the ABS kicks in a bit early and that takes away stopping power in the last few metres which is great for Average Joe but not so good for people who know how to drive on the limit. But on the twisties, even hitting it at silly speeds at low temps in the wet, the ABS only came on once and it was only 2 throbs of the pedal and in a situation where it was justified.

I also did not notice any axle tramp. Stability control kicked in only twice (new tyres helped!) and that was when flooring it out of a corner in 1st or 2nd in the wet, with bark and other crap on the road. Not a hint of brake fade even after 4 lots of 60 minute continual hard drives on the day.

Late Braking Conclusion

My overall conclusion of the brakes is this: In the city they aren’t as good as they should be in certain situations. In the country they are fantastic – I could not fault them. I am just about ready to conclude that the brakes work much better when they are seriously hot.

I didn’t get any fade whatsoever despite numerous long and very fast driving sessions with a lot of hard braking – and the hotter they got, the better they seemed to work (admittedly the outside temp was quite cool so it remains to be seen if they will fade in summer). This may explain their lacklustre braking power in the city as I drive shortish distances and they would be nowhere near as hot. Country driving was a very different experience to standard city driving and also showed that the brakes in the right situation are very capable.

Chassis in the Bends

The chassis is awesome. Very flat – it felt like it has a little less flex in it than the XR6 Turbo. Very predictable too. It didn’t do anything weird, not even once – despite engaging in some rally style corner slides cutting corners with the inside front wheel being prettymuch off-road and sometimes airborne if the road side had suddenly dropped away. It really hugs the road. And it has a surprisingly good ride when cruising at freeway speeds. It definitely makes for a good car to very easily clock up lots of kilometres.

Engine and Gearing

The engine is really is very good. It never stops going hard. It was the first proper drive I have done so really the first time the engine and gearbox has been 100% warmed up in every way. Having reasonably smooth power from idle to redline is very useful. My last XR6 turbos had zero torque below 2000 revs so you absolutely had to keep it above 2000 all the time if you really wanted to boogie.

The SS-V gets from idle to 2000 with a bit more poke so you can be a bit lazier and not change down if you want. The long gears were really handy. On the mega twisties you can simply keep the car in 2nd and do anything from 20kmh tight corners to just over 110kmh on the straights without needing to change gear, then slam on the brakes, slow down for the next corner, and do it all again while still in 2nd.

The engine was just humming – very smooth and free revving despite not having many k’s on it. I can only imagine how well it will rev once it loosens up more. On the slightly more open roads you can use 3rd just about all the time, and go quick from 60 to pretty high (not sure beyond 145) without changing gear except for the occasional really slow 2nd gear corner (and even then you only go into 2nd because you want to hammer out the other side).


A Good Country Experience

This car is made for the twisties. It has well-matched chassis, suspension, engine and gearing which combines to mean you simply do not notice you are driving a big, heavy car – even when driving at the limit. Thats no small achievement.

SS-V Performance vs XR6 Turbo

So power down – I’m sure you want to know!

Firstly, it is well worth noting that the XR6T was always run on premium 98 octane fuel. The SS-V has only been run on standard unleaded with 91 octane rating. The SS-V would run even better on 98 octane, and anecdotal evidence suggests there to be at least a 10kW reduction from using the lower octane fuel.

Launch Control and Clutch

The SS-V is significantly easier to launch hard than the T. The downside is that often when doing it you will burn the hell out of your clutch unless you do a clutch dump. I have burnt the clutch in this car much worse than any other car I have owned, including leaving car-sized plumes of clutch smoke behind the car. And that did not involve dumping the clutch or meaning to burn the clutch – just an attempt to leave the lights at a slightly faster than normal pace.

It’s just the nature of the ultra light, late-gripping, sticky, zero feel clutch in the SS-V. As a result I would be surprised if the clutch lasted a year – whereas driving just as hard in the T I never went through a clutch in 2 XR6T’s over a total of 4 years.

God help anyone towing heavy trailers in a manual SS-V.

The XR6T’s clutch was much better weighted and has more feeling and starts to grip in a better place – and is more forgiving. But at least the launches in the SS-V are hard! The car puts the power down more cleanly than the T which sometimes suffers an abundance of torque coming on too quickly and abruptly. (Common characteristic of a turbo).

The 19 tyres no doubt help over my XR6T’s 18’s. So as a result its often easier to do hard launches in the SS-V than the T – but thats not to say a well launched T wont kick a pretty well launched SS-V. The car is much easier to double-clutch, simply because the engine response is quicker and predictable across the whole rev range – allowing better rev-matching.

Clutch Best Comment
Weight XR6T wins Better weighted. Just heavy and light enough.
Takeup/Friction point XR6T wins Grips in the right place – you simply don’t notice it which is a good thing.
Flammability XR6T wins Its just shocking how easy it is to burn the SS-V’s clutch. Has made me feel guilty many times.

Driveline (Driveshaft, Diff, Axles)

There is no contest here. The first T I had came with a little bit of driveline lash – not much, just a tiny bit.

The second T I had suffered from the nightmare driveline lash that you read about. Especially when at low speeds going from no throttle to light or heavy throttle. There would be a shocking clunk and lurch in the car, and it felt like two surfaces that were supposed to be tightly meshed together were in fact an inch apart, so when you went to accelerate one bashed into the other, causing a terrible clunk. It was embarrassing having a new car with that sort of problem.

Driveline Best Comment
Smoothness SS-V wins Streets ahead. Not a millimetre of free play – literally. Ford could learn a thing or two on this one.

Engine

Both engines are worthy of a lot of praise.

The XR6T’s straight 6 is very smooth, very high tech, and sets the standard for Australian made engines. It is very disappointing to see it replaced by an imported V-6 – although if we get the 321kW 540Nm twin turbo it wont be all bad :). Its vast wall of torque from just 2000rpm and ability to hammer it out to redline time and time again. About the only negative comment is related to a lessening of power on really hot days – a common occurrence with turbos.

The SS-V engine is a large improvement over the previous 5.7 litre LS1. It revs very freely – even when new. It is very fast to respond despite having so much reciprocating mass. It puts out large amounts of torque, and while its low end from 2000 revs to 3000/3500 revs isnt as exhilarating as the XR6T’s, it certainly makes up for it above there, with a heady top end most unlike a typical v8. It rewards those who rev it hard, and thus far has had no signs of heat soak causing a reduction in power. Note that I have not tested it in typical Australian summer temperatures so can not confirm it is completely unaffected. It certainly gives the initial impression that it will run flat out all day every day.

Its important that you do not conclude from the table below that the SS-V is – peaky. It is not. Its just that few cars can compare with the masses of torque from 2000 revs that the XR6 Turbo has.

Rev Range Best Comment
idle-2000 rpm DRAW In the SS-V, although the power isn’t massive, it involves significantly less delay, and what feels like more torque. Not surprising given in this rev range the V8 is making the torque of a V8 but the XR6T is making the torque of a straight 6 with no turbo assistance yet. However it also must be noted that the T revs faster at this stage (likely due to lower rotating mass) – so although it may be a smidgen slower to respond to you initially flooring it, it may just reach 2000rpm a little faster than the SS-V, aided by the SS-V’s slightly taller gearing in first. Its borderline….SS-V faster to respond and hence may get to 2000 rpm before the XR6T but hard to say for sure.
2001-3000 rpm XR6T wins In the T the turbo has just kicked in, torque rises to 450-480Nm pretty much instantly, and the car gets up and boogies. In the SS-V the car goes with reasonable urgency, but not the same instant mountain of torque.
3001-3500 rpm XR6T wins Juuuussssst! The turbo is now well and truly spooled and you are getting flung forward. In the SS-V the car is starting to get serious and you can feel the power increasing, not just the torque – it’s definitely not slow and lacking power, just not hitting the sweet spot quite yet. Don’t confuse it with what the XR8 would be doing! The SS-V’s V8 engine starts running through the rev range faster. The T wins this by a smidgen, and I really should do a back to back in a T and the SS-V to confirm this one – it’s that close.
3501-4500 rpm SS-V wins At this rev range the V8 really comes on line. It pulls like a bull. Bootloads of torque, and being delivered quickly. At this stage you are feeling a very noticeable increase in both torque and power over the T. It really is an urgent engine trying to rip out of the engine bay. Makes me feel like a top fuel tractor racer :)
4501-5000 rpm SS-V wins The car is just like the 3500-4500 range. A lot of power. Quick revving.
5001-5500 rpm SS-V wins Its still pulling hard and fast. Enough to make your palms hairy. There is no sign of letup.
5501-6000 rpm SS-V wins Barely! There is just the slightest sign of a slowdown but its really not noticeable unless you are looking for it. In the T its still revving hard, but perhaps with a little less torque (or perhaps its a little less power or both).

Ad-hoc comments on the engine:

– The engine is not noticeably impacted by the air-conditioning being on. In the T it is.

– The performance is not noticeably impacted by having 4 people in the car. Much less impact than the same people piling into an XR6T.

– The engine reaches operating temp much faster than the T. Less than 5 mins and a km or so at slow speeds. The temperature gauge sits on 1/4. Doesn’t appear to move.

Gearbox

The first T I owned had the 5 speed manual, which felt very weak, yet to its credit never packed in on me in 2 years of hard (but no clutch-dumping brutal take offs) driving.

The second T I owned had the 6 speed manual, which while clunky and slow, felt 110% bullet-proof. It felt way over-engineered which is how I like the important parts of my car to be! It felt like I couldn’t break it if I tried. Ford is to be commended on its strength.

The SS-V’s manual is very similar to the XR6T’s 6 speed, with a few tweaks such as different syncros. As a result it allows you to change gear much quicker. In the T it was not uncommon to try a quick snap change from 1st to 2nd and beat what the gearbox can handle and end up with a lovely grinding-syncro sound from the gearbox.

In the SS-V you can snap change between gears as fast as you possibly can. You can bang in the clutch, do a brutal snap gear change, jump your foot off the clutch while you floor it again, and, mixed with the very fast engine response, it causes the tyres to squeeeeeal into second. It feels like once the tyres wear down some more it may actually turn into a rolling burnout in 2nd. Very fast. Very precise. And a lot of fun – guaranteed to make anyone within 100m turn and wonder what car it is. You certainly do not lose time to a gear change as you can in the T. Remember that this is with a – box with under 3000km on it. It will likely get faster as it loosens up!

Gearbox Best Comment
Strength XR6T wins The XR6T’s – box just feels stronger. That’s not to say it necessarily is stronger but it certainly feels stronger.
Speed SS-V wins The SS-V’s 6 speed manual is wickedly fast, like something slick and quick that you would find in a Honda. It allows wrist-flick gear-changes that you simply can not do with either the 5 or 6 speed Ford manual.

Maximum Speeds in Gears

Gear Speed Comment
1st Gear 77km/h Around 2kmh faster than the XR6T in first. By the time you go for 2nd, you will normally have got to 80km/h.
2nd Gear 112km/h Again, around 2kmh higher speed than the 6 speed XR6T. In reality you are going about 115 km/h by the time you are putting it into 3rd

3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th gears not evaluated.

Speeds in 1st and 2nd Gears at Various revs

Gear Revs Speed
1st 1000 14 km/h
2000 rpm 37 km/h
3000 rpm 45 km/h
4000 rpm 55 km/h
5000 rpm 65 km/h
~6000 rpm 77 km/h
2nd Gear 2000 rpm 40 km/h
3000 rpm 57 km/h
4000 rpm 72 km/h
5000 rpm 95 km/h
~6000 rpm 112 km/h

Note: For safety reasons, the evaluation of the actual speed at any given revs was estimated as best as possible, taking into account I didn’t particularly want to plough into something. I did not have a video camera to record it as I drove and then review in detail later. I manually watched both speed and revs, and read it out into my phone which I had earlier called myself on – and left myself an interesting message while I did it. Other than the top speeds, I do not expect these speeds and revs to be 100% spot on nor match detailed gearing and final drive ratio calculations, but they are a good indicator. Together with the power at certain rev ranges info in the tables above, it is possible to work out some scenarios in 1st and 2nd where an XR6T’s acceleration will take on an SS-V, and vice versa.

3rd Gear

We all know how impressive 3rd gear in the T is at freeway speeds and beyond. An amazing gear. Interestingly, 3rd gear in the T feels like a much better – normal overtaking gear than the SS-V. The reason likely being that at normal overtaking speeds – lets say you are doing 100 in 3rd and floor it (ok, ok, so abnormal overtaking speeds for many), the T is still in its sweet spot in the rev range.

I believe that the T is faster in 3rd from 100-140 or so, then the SS-V will hit its main power-band and I expect will pull ahead in terms of acceleration. I do not know the top end of 3rd gear in the SS-V yet, so can not confirm how well it goes from 150 up. The T went like a bat out of hell from 100km/h to 150 or 160 depending on which manual you had. But its important to note the deceptive power of the SS-V: daily I surprise myself by thinking I am doing one speed and realising I am way over it. It is possible this deceptive acceleration makes 3rd gear in the SS feel not as quick up to 140 when in reality it may be as fast or faster.

Cornering: Stability and Traction Control

The following is related to taking corners in a way that would typically engage electronic traction and/or stability control. For the examples below, think driving down a main road, and then turning right into a smaller side street.

The XR6Turbo is better balanced, which is not surprising given its lower weight engine. As a result there is less weight at the front end, and the handling is very neutral – with minimum understeer. Slight oversteer is possible but also avoidable if required given the excellent natural balance. Oversteer with traction control on is caught well, with enough step-out for fun, but not enough to get into trouble without a reasonable effort. Oversteer tends to be more relevant in city driving when taking a turn into a side street quickly. When traction control kicks in it limits power, requiring a second or two before the engine is at full power again. Faster corners are usually to be had by keeping just below the point when TC kicks in fully. Obviously you can go faster again with TC turned off, but in general it isn’t wise driving on the limit with no TC too much in the city where any unplanned snap oversteer may cause grief.

xr6tline.jpg

The XR6’s line when on the limit largely goes where it is steered, but it does this by cutting power to keep you on line. Fast corner speed, but slower to put power down once around the corner due to the ECU keeping power down a little longer than needed.

In the SS-V the car feels neutral on sweeping or country bends, but when hitting it into a side street quickly there is a tendency to initially understeer. At that stage you can feel the extra weight of the heavier engine pulling the car wide. As the rear follows around the corner, if you are still powering down, the rear will step out somewhat faster than on the XR6T. Stability control catches it quickly, but in doing so also impacts on the line you planned to take, pulling you back to straight ahead slightly faster than expected. This is OK once you are used to it (feels weird though).

For example, during a right hand fast turn into a side street, after initial understeer and running wide the car will quickly pull into line and end up closer to the middle of the new road than expected: the car does not follow a typical cornering arc, but rather an arc which then suddenly pulls tighter – (think what an upside down question mark looks like flipped on its side so the long tail points down the right hand street you are turning into – see slightly dodgy artwork below)

ss-vline.jpg

The SS-V ‘s line when on the limit initially understeers, moves to mild oversteer, then stability control and traction control combine to bring it back onto a tighter line than expected. The less brutal engine power reduction means it puts the power down sooner, but only after a much less smooth line through the corner.

– not exactly a typical racing line! Care needs to be taken once you start to straighten on the road you just turned into that you don’t go further to the right than planned and end up cutting into the other side of the road. Obviously this line could be countered by opposite lock and power sliding it around the corner with stability control disabled, but again like the XR6T that is not a good idea on tight streets if taking tight corners fast.

Whereas the XR6T impacts the power mostly and keeps you exactly where you are steering, the SS impacts your intended cornering path more than the power.

This is likely because the SS also has stability control which can work in conjunction with traction control. The impact is quite different vehicle reaction when pushing it on very tight corners. It is difficult to say which would be faster in that situation: the XR6T holds a much better line but then has to wait a little longer for full power to come back.

The SS-V understeers slightly, moves to oversteer, then corrects itself onto a tight line you would expect if you were going slower, and is back to full power sooner – but the extra – funkyness of the line the car takes when it does this makes me think the T would overall take the corner faster with electronics engaged. By the time both cars are straight and putting power down, I would expect the SS-V to put full power down earlier and quickly haul the T back in.

Traction/Stability Control Best Comment
Power Control SS-V wins The SS-V tends to have a shorter power reduction when the ECU is struggling to keep the car on track. The addition of stability control is the likely reason power reduction can be shorter and less abrupt. The XR6T utilises slightly more harsh (but also very effective) power control methods which take longer for the engine to recover from. Hence there is a greater time before the engine is back at full output.
Cornering Line XR6T wins The SS-V’s stability control mixed with traction control is very effective. It is great for recovering a confused driver from a tricky situation. However for an experienced driver its a little more intrusive than it needs to be. Whilst power output is limited less brutally (and recovers faster) than the XR6T, the car’s corner path can be very different from what’s expected, changing from mild understeer to mild oversteer to the car straightening up faster than expected. If it is a right hand corner once on the new road you may end up further to the right than expected (especially given you just started understeering and running wide to the left a second earlier). The opposite for left handers. As a result while the power comes back faster, you end up with a slightly wonky path that wasn’t intended. The XR6T maintains a truer cornering line more reflective of where the driver is intending the car to go.

Cornering: Apex through to Powering Out

Assuming you hit the apex ok and are getting ready to power out, both vehicles have quite different methods of achieving a corner fast exit. The XR6T, by nature of its turbo, requires you to maintain >2000rpm (to keep the turbo spooled up) and also to maintain positive acceleration: ie do not take your foot fully off the accelerator nor reduce your level of throttle. To do so will result in the turbo quickly spooling down, and mean there is a slight delay when you hit the apex and power out of the corner.

As a result you can work around this in two ways: by slowing down slightly earlier than expected so you can lightly apply equal power or slight acceleration just before the apex, meaning that come the apex, the turbo is already spooled and you can exit hard and fast.

The alternate method is braking while maintaining acceleration to the apex. The engine fights the brakes. The brakes win, but the engine is under load, and the moment you take your foot off the brake the engine leaps ahead without delay.

In the SSV, there is zero delay and you simply power down at the apex. The excellent grip means all that power hits the ground which is surprising. The TC kicks in less frequently on power out than in the XR6T (probably for the same reason mentioned earlier when talking about taking off fast – related to the torque wave nature of the turbo).

Fuel Usage

On my T, in normal city driving, I initially got 24.5L/100km of 98 octane premium unleaded, dropping to 20L/100km once the car had 25,000km on it. My T had outstanding fuel usage on freeways: even not driving that economically I used to get 7-7.5L/100km when travelling 100-120km/h. Just amazing.

Fuel usage using standard unleaded 91 octane for the SS-V is around 24-25L/100km in city driving. I have not done much freeway driving so can not draw conclusions. It is not expected to be anywhere near as economical as my T was at freeway speeds.

For those worried about the above consumption figures, don’t be. The standard for T’s in the real world across many drivers (across all driving conditions) is 14L/100km. I drive a little harder than normal and with a lot of stopping and starting. As a result my city T and SS usage is higher than normal. Don’t expect yours to be the same. (Be proud if it is!)

Conclusion!

Where to start?

Neither car is best in every situation. Both have advantages and disadvantages in terms of their design and their performance.

But lets be clear – both are fantastic – you should be happy driving either.

Ford XR6 Turbo

The XR6T is a very well rounded car. Aside from the driveline lash many experience, there is very little to fault on it once Ford provided the 6 speed gearboxes.

The 2 T’s I have driven over the last 4 years have given me an immense amount of pleasure and fun, and I do not regret having them one bit. Just a fantastic car, and it’s excellent to see such a car (and such an impressive engine) being made in Australia.

– Awesome torque starting at just 2000 rpm, and a dead flat torque curve through to redline.

– Excellent, balanced, predictable – point and shoot handling. Very chuckable.

– Great brakes if you go the premium brake option.

– Very nice dash design and dash colouring (blue).

– Great 6spd manual (and 6spd auto if you like autos). Very solid, although the manual is a little slow and clunky.

– Faultless clutch.

Holden SS-V

The SS-V is also an excellent car. However it has many more compromises than the XR6T despite the XR6T being effectively 4 years older.

– Awesome power, especially above 3500 rpm

– Very, very quick. It is deceptive how quick it is. And thats on 91 octane! Hint: if someone takes you for a spin in one, don’t judge the acceleration until they turn on the digital speedo – you may just be surprised!

– Engine is very solid: do flat out runs all day long and it doesn’t feel like it will care one bit. Shrugs off the weight of extra passengers.

– Lightening fast gearbox.

– Good at getting the power down.

– Terrible clutch.

– Ability to change lots of things via the dash, for example how long lights stay on, when doors auto lock etc.

– Interior flaws: bright red central volt/oil display, steering wheel slipperier than the T, fussy central LCD display and speedo.

– External aerial (time to get rid of that!)

– Handbrake is again a big compromise. Looks ugly.

– Switches etc are nowhere near as well placed as in the T. You have to look at what you are doing every time you want to do something. Some silly stuff: to turn on the interior light (on the roof near the rear view mirror) you cant actually see the button if its dark in the car.

– Some harder, cheaper plastics in the interior. Ford plastics feel more and softer, and better quality overall.

– Stereo goes deeper (ie lower Hz) however is not as detailed overall as the XR6T. Stereo can play MP3’s and has both audio and video inputs available. The Fords should at least be playing MP3s by now.

– Bluetooth standard – awesome for hands free on the phone. Ford, take note!

– A-pillars too wide.

Massive boot. Way larger than you would think from the outside.

I have to admit, the SS-V is a great car in its own right, despite all the glaring compromises. It is a pity because many of the compromises are avoidable, and I feel that Ford try harder to not make those compromises. Holden is perhaps more cost-cutting focussed.

That being said, it’s a hoot every time I get in it, and a great change from my last 2 near identical cars – and will certainly keep me happy while I wait and see what Ford hits back with – I will re-evaluate Ford vs Holden again in 2 years to see what comes next!

Now, off to find some country roads where the SS-V really shines.