Ford RTV Ute
red ford rtv ute on a hill

It may seem odd to review a two-wheel drive car in a journal dedicated to four wheel drive but the Ford RTV is a bit special and may offer an alternative to used buyers looking for something with some off road capability.

RTV stands for Rugged Terrain Vehicle and with additional ground clearance, underbody armour and rear differential lock the Ford utility makes a fair fist of bullying it's way through terrain regular 2WD's can only dream about.

The Ford RTV ute began life in 2003 and continued production through the BF series in 2008. Aimed squarely at tradesmen and farmers who wanted extra ground clearance and diff lock to negotiate tricky building sites and paddocks, Ford never intended to compete against true 4x4's.

Ford designed the RTV around the BA Falcon which finally earned Ford a coveted 'Wheels Car Of The Year Award'. Like the Falcon, the RTV could be ordered with either a 6 cylinder petrol, 6 cylinder dedicated LPG or a V8 petrol engine. These could be coupled to a five speed manual or 4 speed auto gearbox.

Development of the RTV Ute

Ford got serious when they decided to produce a utility that offered better off-road capabilities. They injected 250 million dollars into the development of the RTV and made serious changes the BA Falcon ute.

Hundreds of hours of testing were done in Europe before the release of the new concept vehicle and quality suppliers were sourced to manufacture the new components in the drive train.

The rear diff lock saw a vacuum operated system couple both axles together to provide 50/50 drive to both wheels. Like most diff lock systems this meant the RTV couldn't be driven on bitumen with the diff lock engaged. A switch on the dash could activate the system at speeds under 40kph while the diff lock remained engaged up to 70kph, engaging and disengaging automatically.

The diff itself was a heavy duty unit from Dana/Spicer and in RTV guise it offered a 30mm wider track while the front end was widened to match and help stability in the taller suspension. The guards were flared to accommodate the wider track.

The rear end was lifted 80mm while the front received a 67.5mm lift. It doesn't sound like much but it created a visual difference in the stance of the car and genuinely aided in it's rough terrain duties. Another plus was the suspension lift provided better visibility in traffic.

ABS brakes coupled with EBD brake force distribution were included as standard while underneath, heavy ribbed fibreglass armour provided protection for vital drive line components.

Ford maintained full 1 tonne suspension in the RTV and the ute could be optioned with a 2300kg towing pack.

1 tonne rated 16 inch alloy wheels and chunky 216/60 tyres completed the package and combined with the taller ride-height and flared guards, the RTV created an imposing stance.

On The Gas

Ford's 5.4 litre V8 packed a punch while the 4.0 litre petrol motor was no slouch either.

Road handling was surprisingly good with a some slight body roll in corners but nothing compared to the high centre of gravity of four wheel drives.

The interior comfort of the BA and BF Falcons was good and passenger-car like qualities and low road noise made the RTV a pleasure to drive.

Get the RTV off the road and these polite road manners made for a fun ride in the bush.

We spent two weeks in an RTV touring the southern half of Western Australia on a quick sight seeing trip. The 1 tonne tray was loaded to the hilt with everything we needed for a fortnight in the bush. The route included an 80km stretch of deserted white beach and hundreds of kilometres following the railway lines of the Kalgoorlie goldfieds.

The RTV was taken places that the Ford engineers never intended their 2WD ute to go. The rear diff lock proved to be a real winner and by monitoring tyre pressures and reducing them where needed we found there wasn't a lot of places we couldn't get to. In the fact the limiting factor was the ground clearance rather than a lack of traction. We tore a section of underbody armour off scrambling over some rocks on the southern coast, but in all honesty, we should never have been where we were.

The RTV proved a highly capable performer on gravel roads with a real ability to hold fast corners while the ABS brakes chattered away 'de-locking' when they were stamped on. We have to say the RTV is one of the most fun rides on gravel we've had - confidence inspiring stuff.


It's a shame Ford gave up on the RTV concept because there must have been a score of people who found it the perfect vehicle for them.

It will never be a four wheel drive but then it was never intended to be. What it offered was a passenger car ride coupled with the ability to get off a tricky building site or cross a creek in a paddock.

It's those things that it does really well.

The article How to Buy a Used Four Wheel Drive offers some advice when looking at second hand models.

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