Anyone who’s ever served notice after resigning from a job will tell you it gets increasingly harder to turn up to the old desk each day, with motivation and productivity on a respective decline the closer you get to leaving the joint forever.
Many have expected Ford Australia to have a similar vibe about the place as we draw closer and closer to the October 7 closing date for local production.
Yes, the Australian R&D and engineering teams are going gangbusters with global products we don’t even know about yet, but ever-decreasing sales figures have made the Falcon seem like a bit of a lost cause.
The relatively minor FG X Falcon update hasn’t really helped this perception. Aside from the parts bin best-of collection that made up the XR8, the rest of the range carried on with comparatively minor visual and mechanical upgrades to tie the Falcon nameplate over until its planned curtain call.
Ford’s local development teams did a brilliant job with the resources they had, but the FG X seemed a bit too little, too late compared to the VF Commodore’s inside and out comprehensive refresh.
The Blue Oval’s pledge to keep the GT F as the most powerful Falcon-based model ever also didn’t help our expectations of a final big bash, but we all hoped and dreamed of seeing a more hardcore XR6 at least. Knowing there was the old FPV F6’s tweaked turbo six sitting around, it seemed a logical step to dust it off and plonk it in the XR8’s R-Spec chassis.
This simple formula could have been a dead-set hit with those hanging out to buy the last of the performance Falcons, but spirits were sent into overdrive when Ford announced the Sprint badge would be applied to both XR6 Turbo and XR8 versions late last year. Not only were there to be two engines, but we were also promised more power, upgraded brakes and unique styling tweaks. How on earth did they scrounge the development budget for all that?!
At first glance the Sprint styling tweaks could look like they were done for free, appearing like a simple patchwork of earlier GT and XR bits with some simple decals to help justify their premium pricing over the XR6 Turbo and XR8 models they effectively replace.
This is not the case, with design boss Nick Eterovic describing the Sprint details as a “considered adjustment of XR visual elements.”
The XR8 Sprint is like listening to Barry Gibb and Barry White singing in harmony.
The wheels for example are the same design used on the FG FPV F6 E and GT E but finished in black. The FG versions were never available with the wider 9-inch rear wheel, however. The Sprint’s wider 20-spoke wheels were manufactured at the time, but never used. Impressively, there’s a full-size alloy spare in the same 8-inch width as the fronts in either boot.
Also subtly unique are the reshaped foglight surrounds, black grille outer edge and black boot lip spoiler, with the latter continuing the FG X’s subtle bootlid ducktail flick more than the similar unit fitted to the G6E.
Ford’s engineers say that the lip spoiler gives better aerodynamic balance front/rear than the more elaborate designs used on the GTs, and could theoretically permit a higher top speed if the 230km/h limiter were disabled. The XR8 continues with its signature bonnet bulge, but also gets blacked out door mirrors, exhaust tips and roof turret. The latter passes through the paint booth twice for durability.
The XR8 gets a unique black ‘island’ decal along the lower edge of the doors, whereas the XR6 gets an almost Hemi-style ‘hockey stick’ decal from the rear wheelarch to the leading edge of the taillight.
Among a myriad of little details to keep Falcon trainspotters busy is Sprint badging in a similar italicised font as the ED XR8 Sprint, the 6 and 8 on their respective badges is now black instead of the usual red, and both are the first Falcons to get a gloss finish to the engine bay sheet metal to match the exterior.
The trim panel that links the taillights is also body colour for the Sprints, unlike the chrome of all other FG X sedans.
Both Sprints are available in Winter White, Smoke, Aero Blue, Silhouette, Kinetic or Victory Gold, with all but the white commanding a $500 premium.
Australian showrooms will see just 1400 Sprints in total, with 550 XR6s and 850 XR8s. XR8 production will be split at a demand-driven near-50/50 between autos and manuals.
New Zealand has been allocated 150 examples, divided into 50 XR6s and 100 XR8s, and all are numbered individually with a unique engine plaque.
A total of 16 production prototypes were also built first for validation, media (as seen in our images and video) and marketing use, which are all signified by numbered engine plaques beginning with PP, then numbered 01-16.
These are comprised of ten XR6s and six XR8s, three of which are manuals and all face an uncertain future.
Engines and transmissions
Both the XR6 Barra and XR8 Miami engines have been treated to unique calibrations to ensure they’re the most powerful to wear the XR badge ever.
The 4.0-litre XR6 unit gets the most attention though. Based on the last of the FPV F6 engines, with its unique internals, injectors, turbo and intercooler, the Sprint also gets a new lower airbox, carbon fibre intake snorkel and freer flowing exhaust.
The gorgeous raw-finished intake is the first time carbon fibre has been used on an Australian-built Ford product since the EL GT’s carbon-wrapped one-piece driveshaft.
The new snorkel was co-developed by calibration experts Premcar, and is being produced in Melbourne by Quickstep Automotive.
It features a larger capacity than the standard plastic unit, but is also stronger to help it resist deformation under load.
Helping to maximise its capacity is the consistent wall thickness of around 1mm, which helps it pass through the engine bay in very close proximity to radiator, aircon and intercooler pipework.
The ability to suck and expel air faster has netted a 15kW/11Nm increase over the F6’s figures to 325kW/576Nm, which extends to 370kW/650Nm for up to 10 seconds of overboost that resets with each gearchange. The overboost is only activated on wide open throttle at cooler inlet manifold temperatures.
The XR6 Sprint’s steady state outputs are boosted through the midrange and up top, with the extra thrust warranting the fitment of the stronger transmission mount from the GT F.
Unlike the regular red rocker cover of XR6 Turbos or the blue of the old F6, the Sprint gets the black finish last used on the Territory Turbo.
Locating the numbered build plaque on the six-cylinder engine presented a problem for the development team. Fixing it to the plastic section along the top of the rocker cover would have been simple, but easily removed and transferred to other vehicles.
To help maintain authenticity, a cunning solution was found in the reappropriation of old tooling from the AU VCT Intech rocker cover to permit a milled inset for the Sprint plaque. Aussie ingenuity at its finest that cost the team nothing.
Another detail touch likely to go unnoticed is the unique wording for the plaque on each engine type. XR6 engines will stipulate “Engine proudly built in Geelong”, whereas the XR8 engines will state “Engine proudly hand-built in Geelong.” This is a nod to their differing heritage, with the six manufactured from raw materials in Geelong and the eight being assembled from a variety of sourced parts in the same town.
The eight-cylinder Sprint simply uses the same supercharger manifold recess as the GT F for its engine plaque.
Given Ford’s pledge that the GT F will remain the most powerful Falcon-based model ever, there was less scope for improving the XR8’s supercharged 5.0-litre V8. The XR8 Sprint gets a simple recalibration that liberates an extra 10kW and 5Nm to a new everyday total of 345kW/575Nm (compared with 351kW/570Nm for the GT F), with overboost permitting a full 400kW/650Nm (equal to the GT F) under the same conditions as the XR6 Sprint.
It may not trump the GT F overall, but those overboost figures make it mighty close.
The six-speed ZF auto was recalibrated to suit both engines’ new output curves, while the XR8’s six-speed Tremec TR-6060 manual and clutch were already up to the task.
They may be being produced in limited numbers, but all three drivetrain specs have been treated to Ford’s full gamut of durability and validation testing, with vehicles racking up kilometres and bolted to dynos in Australia, the USA and Germany.
They were also tested locally against key rivals like the Commodore SS-V Redline and even the kilowatt-king HSV GTS.
With outputs and performance such a focus during development, it should come as no surprise that official combined fuel figures have moved upwards, with the XR6 Sprint rated at 12.8L/100km (up 0.2L from the F6) and the XR8 Sprint at 13.8 for the manual and 14.0 for the auto (up 0.1L from the regular XR8).
Starting with a new Pirelli P-Zero tyre, both Sprints were treated to a new suspension tune comprised of new springs and dampers, new front jounce dampers and more camber added to the rear wheel alignment.
The XR6 also scores a new stiffer XR8 top damper mount and revised steering rack valving.
Despite using the same wheel widths as the regular XR8’s R-Spec based setup, the Sprints get a unique rear tyre size, moving from the XR8’s 275/30 R19 to a 265/35 R19 P-Zero.
According to the development team, the Pirelli’s taller aspect ratio was better suited to their ride and handling targets, and despite having a 10mm narrower section width, the new tyre actually has a three per cent larger tread contact area.
Helping to make the most of the engine and chassis refinements is the adoption of the six-piston front, four piston rear Brembo brakes used on the fastest FPV GTs.
Stepping up from the four-piston Brembo front/unbranded sliding caliper rear brakes of the regular XR8, the gold-coloured Sprint calipers are wrapped around the same 335mm front and 330mm rear rotors.
On the inside
Both Sprint interiors have been treated to new Alcantara trim patches on the seats and new dark grey dash and door trim detailing to make the old FG interior feel a bit more special. Also for the first time on XR models is an overhead sunglasses holder and auto dimming rear-view mirror.
The Sprint logo has also been applied to the seats, door sills and gauge cluster, along with the shift knob on manual XR8s.
You’ll be very lucky to find a Sprint without a customer’s name already attached, but for the sake of helping the collector market measure investment yield, the XR6 Sprint lists at $54,990. This looks like an amazing bargain next to the last of the F6s in auto form, which listed in 2014 for $64,390.
The XR8 Sprint kicks off at $59,990 for the manual, and $62,190 for the auto, which represents a premium of $6500 over both versions of the last of the regular XR8s. A bargain in our book, given the depth of the upgrades made to the Sprint.
Hopping aboard the XR8 manual first is a bit like eating dessert before the main course, particularly if you weren’t expecting sweets in the first place.
We’d already been told it is the fastest of the three, and the combination of the V8 with a manual box is easily the most poetic choice. The once-ideal manual gearbox and eight-cylinder V configuration are fading elements of motoring, but throw the XR8’s supercharger into the mix and you’d be lucky to need more than one hand to count cars still in production that combine all three.
Rowing between the first three gears in Hobart’s 15 minutes of peak hour traffic is a reminder of how far Ford has come with the shift quality of the six-speed manual.
It feels lighter and better defined in its operation than the same unit in the current Holden and HSV V8s, and is actually quite sweet to drive once you acclimatise to the spring-loading that’s still heavier than the norm. The clutch is not particularly heavy, and engages smoothly despite its need to cope with 650Nm.
Once free of traffic, the blown eight’s signature supercharger whine increases in pitch as it’s fed more throttle, while the bellow from the quad-tipped exhaust becomes deeper. It’s like listening to Barry Gibb and Barry White singing in harmony, but fantastic.
The 8 Sprint’s extra power and torque over the XR8 is hard to pick in isolation, but the low-down urge of the supercharger is indeed a delight, particularly when you find yourself one gear too tall when accelerating out of corners.
As the roads turned from urban smooth to rural rough, the unique suspension setup started to become quite clear. It feels like it at least matches the body control of the regular XR8’s R-Spec setup, but the softer spring rates bring a bump compliance more like a regular XR6. So it’s a great handler, but much easier to live with out in the sticks. Why have we waited so long for such a brilliant tune?
Recent experience with a 6.2-litre SS V Redline only compounded this impression of the XR8 Sprint’s chassis setup, making the former feel harsh and agricultural by comparison.
The biggest criticism of the Sprint’s drive experience would have to be its front seating position, with an SUV-like height and relative lack of bolstering compared to its cornering abilities carrying over from our thoughts about the XR8. It’s a shame there weren’t any GT seats left in the parts bin.
The XR8’s seating position felt even worse around Baskerville raceway’s tight and undulating curves, with the greater G-loading making you feel even more like you’re sitting on the car rather than in it.
It was here that we gave the XR8’s Brembos a good workout, and they refused to fade even though they made plenty of hot brake smell. They’re not the last word in brake feel either, but stopped the 1869kg XR8 time and time again.
If the XR8 Sprint felt great, the XR6 Sprint felt brilliant, particularly around Baskerville. Swapping between the two proved a perception-shifting moment. All of a sudden the excellent XR8 seemed nose-heavy and relatively ponderous in its throttle response.
The Ford turbo six is no lightweight, and sticks out further ahead of the axle line, but its 59kg weight advantage over the manual XR8 feels more like 150kg around Baskerville.
It’s that much more willing to change direction, and excellent throttle response and exponential turbo thrust make it a real hoot to just stomp and steer around the track.
Auto-only? Don’t worry about it. With the torque-on-demand nature of the XR6 Sprint, it just hauls all the time and masks the six-speeder’s relative lack of ratios and shift-time boasts.
It may not make the Barry/Barry polarised harmony of the XR8, but it just gets the job done easier, and probably faster against the stopwatch.
Speaking of which, Ford isn’t stating official acceleration figures, but independent real-world testing has seen 0-100km/h in 4.7s in both auto Sprints, which is the same figure achieved by the same tester in both manual and auto versions of the 430kW HSV GTS. It just shows, if you can’t put the power down…
Ford engineers say that the Sprints are between 0.1-0.2s faster to 100 thanks to the switch to the Pirellis alone. They also say that the XR8 manual will ultimately be a smidge faster in the right hands and under the right conditions, but the XR6 will be faster in unskilled hands.
Their recommended technique for getting the best out of the XR8 manual is to hold the revs at 1800rpm, then slip the clutch just a bit while mashing the throttle, then making the 1-2 gearshift as fast as humanly possible.
Sounds brutal, and it is.
With the XR6, all you need to do is stall it up to 1900rpm, then quickly release the brake and give it full throttle. Much easier, and it feels like it will do it all day long.
Acceleration and track performance aside, the XR6 Sprint is also a peach on the open road. The comfortable seats easily hold you in place at road speeds, and the engine’s responsiveness is always welcome.