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Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint, XR8 Sprint and HSV GTS 2016 review


Joshua Dowling reviews the Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint, XR8 Sprint and the HSV GTS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

They are the fastest and most powerful cars Australia has ever produced, and soon they will be gone forever.

In true Aussie spirit, their makers have kept the pedal to the metal as they near the finish line.

Ford - contrary to perception, Australia’s oldest and longest serving car maker - built a present to itself and its fans.

To commemorate 91 years of local manufacturing - including 56 years at Broadmeadows - Ford let its engineers build the Falcons they always wanted to build.

The turbocharged XR6 Sprint and supercharged XR8 Sprint, both powered by engines pieced together in Geelong, are the culmination of decades of knowhow.

Holden’s fast-car division, with a little help from a supercharged V8 from the US, has given its performance flagship, the HSV GTS, a visual freshen-up before uncorking something truly extraordinary next year.

For now, though, these cars are the best of their breed, giving mere mortals more grunt per dollar than anywhere else in the world.

Time to see what we’ll be missing once our homegrown heroes are replaced by cars with four-cylinder and V6 power.

Falcon XR6 Sprint

  • 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR6 Sprint.

By Ford’s own admission, the Sprint siblings were "created by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts".

The changes go well beyond the subtle black exterior highlights and badges.

The suspension and steering were recalibrated to optimise the Pirelli P Zero tyres (the same type found on Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis), and Ford left nothing on the spare parts shelf, fitting race-bred six-piston brake calipers up front and four-piston calipers at the rear.

Then they "breathed" on the engine, in the parlance.

Ford engineers know the 4.0-litre six-cylinder like the back of their hands. Locally designed and manufactured inline sixes have been powering Falcons since the first one in 1960.

The turbocharged six-cylinder came about almost by accident. In the late 1990s Ford Australia thought the Falcon V8 era may again come to an end; for a period of time there was no obvious replacement for the Canadian-built Windsor 5.0-litre V8, which would be phased out in 2002.

So Ford Australia secretly developed a turbo six as a back up.

The turbo six turned out to be better than Ford hoped for: faster and more efficient than a V8, and lighter over the nose, which improved the balance and feel of the car in corners.

When Detroit eventually gave the go-ahead for another V8 (a US-sourced but locally-assembled overhead cam 5.4-litreV8 dubbed ‘The Boss’), Ford Australia figured it may as well offer the turbo six as well, since it had already done most of the development work.

The turbo six went on sale with the BA Falcon in 2002 and has been with us ever since.

Despite being the best engine Australia has ever produced, it has never sold as well as the V8. Although the turbo six has its own appealing note, performance-car buyers crave the V8 roar.

Diehard fans always find this hard to believe, but the numbers don’t lie. The turbo six is still quicker than the V8, even in Sprint guise (see below).

Here’s another telling sign: although slightly down on power (325kW versus the supercharged V8’s 345kW) the XR6 Turbo Sprint trumps the XR8 Sprint for torque, by just 1Nm, with 576Nm. Who said engineers weren’t competitive?

The turbo’s power delivery is more linear than the V8 right across the rev range. There’s a subtle “brrrrp” noise between gear changes.

The occasional minor intervention from the stability control on a tight and demanding piece of road is the only thing that dares slow the XR6 Turbo Sprint.

It’s exhilarating to drive and feels more like a sports car than a fleet sedan.

Nothing feels better than this. Until we get into the XR8.

Falcon XR8 Sprint

  • 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint.
  • 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint. 2016 Falcon XR8 Sprint.

While the core of the XR8’s engine comes from the US, every internal part -- and the supercharger -- is bolted together in Geelong, alongside the six-cylinder engine assembly line.

It is essentially the same engine fitted to the final Falcon GT, but Ford deliberately left a performance gap for its icon.

The XR8 Sprint has less power than the GT (345kW versus 351kW) but more torque (575Nm versus 569Nm).

But it turned out to be a moot point, because with all the upgrades the XR8 Sprint drives better than the last GT. All it’s missing is the badge.

The XR Sprint -- aided in no small part by the superb Pirelli tyres -- flattens bumpy roads and handles bends better than any other Falcon before it.

The supercharger howl is glorious. It’s so loud it leaves your spine tingling and your ears ringing.

The XR8 has less grunt at lower revs compared to the XR6, but once it hits 4000rpm all hell breaks loose.

The epic noise makes it sound faster than it really is (as we discovered after putting timing equipment on the car), but who cares?

It turns out you can have too much of a good thing, though. The supercharger howl starts to stutter out of tight and twisty turns as the V8 overpowers the grip from the tyres, and the stability control intervenes.

Wrestling the XR8 up a winding mountain pass makes you feel like you’ve conquered a rock climbing wall. It commands all of your concentration but the reward is intense.

Nothing feels better than this. Until we get into the HSV GTS.

HSV GTS

  • 2016 HSV GTS. 2016 HSV GTS.
  • 2016 HSV GTS. 2016 HSV GTS.
  • 2016 HSV GTS. 2016 HSV GTS.
  • 2016 HSV GTS. 2016 HSV GTS.
  • 2016 HSV GTS. 2016 HSV GTS.
  • 2016 HSV GTS. 2016 HSV GTS.

The HSV GTS is instantly more comfortable, as soon as you sit in it.

The cabin has a classier feel and the car is loaded with more technology, including a sensor key, heads-up display, tap shifters on the steering wheel, higher resolution displays, lane wander warnings -- and adjustable suspension, stability control and exhaust modes.

The GTS would want to have a few extra gadgets at this price: $98,490, a massive $36,300 to $43,500 premium over the fast Fords.

But the GTS also feels like more money has been invested in it.

On the road it sticks like chewing gum to a movie seat cushion.

You can feel the chassis through the seat of the pants and the steering wheel, more so than the Falcon. After sitting in the Ford’s high chair seats, the GTS feels like your bum is just inches off the road.

We’ve driven the supercharged GTS plenty of times over the past three years, including from HSV’s production facility in Clayton, to Mount Panorama Bathurst.

But I’ve never enjoyed or appreciated the GTS as much as I have on this test.

The GTS is a heavy beast but it makes light work of our narrow ribbon of road scaling the edge of a mountain.

The surface is smooth but the turns are tight, and the GTS is completely unfazed. It feels smaller than it is thanks to the well sorted suspension, superb brakes (the biggest ever fitted to an Australian production car) and agile steering.

The other ace up the HSV’s sleeve is the LSA supercharged V8. It feels like a combination of both Ford engines: ample grunt from low revs (like the XR6) and screams at the top end (like the XR8).

It’s stunning and I’m beaming - until the road ends.

Buzzing with adrenaline, and with the “ting ting ting” sound of components cooling in the background, I’m soon overwhelmed with sadness.

We won’t be building cars like this any more.

Verdict

The results of this back-to-back test are academic, because these cars are for diehards and there’s no swaying anyone this late in the game.

But for what it’s worth, our ranking is coincidentally in the same order of their speed: HSV GTS first, XR6 Turbo second and XR8 third.

We love each of these cars for more than just their epic 0 to 100kmh pace, but also how maturely they handle tight corners and the wide open road.

The bad news is there really are no winners; all three cars are heading towards a dead end.

The good news: anyone who buys one of these future classics can’t lose.

How fast are you going now?

Ford doesn’t publish an official 0-100kmh time but engineers reckon you can squeeze a 4.5 sec pass from the XR6 Turbo and a 4.6 from the XR8 -- we managed 4.7 in both models on Tasmanian roads in March. Now we’re starting to wonder if the stretch of road we used might have been downhill.

For this comparison we tested all three cars within 30 minutes of each other on the exact same piece of tarmac, at Sydney Dragway.

Although HSV claims a 0 to 100kmh time of 4.4 seconds for the GTS, we got four 4.6s results in the first four passes in a row, improving on our previous best of time 4.7 in 2013.

The XR6 Turbo knocked out a pair of 4.9s straight away and then got slower as heat soaked the engine bay.

The XR8 took several attempts to limbo to 5.1s because it kept wanting to fry the rear tyres. We aborted the mission the moment we felt tyre slip so that we didn’t get the engine hot and bothered.

We aren’t the only ones to not get close to Ford’s 0 to 100kmh claim. A performance car magazine got similar numbers to us out of the Sprint siblings (5.01 for the XR6 and 5.07 for the XR8) on different days and in another state.

So please, Ford fanatics, save your venom and your keyboards. We did our utmost to get the best out of the XR Sprints. And before you accuse me of bias, full disclosure: my most recent new car was a Ford.

Here are the numbers below. The ambient temperature was an ideal 18 degrees Celsius. We’ve included the odometer readings on each car, showing they were run-in. In the interest of parity, all cars had automatic transmission. As the numbers show, the HSV GTS launches to 60kmh faster and simply powers on from there.

HSV GTS

0 to 60kmh: 2.5 sec
0 to 100kmh: 4.6 sec
Odometer: 10,900km

Falcon XR6 Sprint

0 to 60kmh: 2.6 sec
0 to 100kmh: 4.9 sec
Odometer: 8000km

Falcon XR8 Sprint

0 to 60kmh: 2.7 sec
0 to 100kmh: 5.1 sec
Odometer: 9800km

Limited editions

Ford will build 850 of its flagship XR8 Sprint sedans (750 for Australia, 100 for New Zealand) and 550 XR6 Turbo Sprint sedans (500 for Australia, 50 for New Zealand).

Since 2013, HSV has built just over 3000 LSA-equipped supercharged 6.2-litre V8 GTS sedans and 250 HSV GTS Maloo utes (240 for Australia and 10 for New Zealand).

When will it end?

Ford’s Geelong engine and stamping plant and its Broadmeadows car assembly line will fall silent on October 7, ending 92 years of local manufacturing for the blue oval brand.

In an unfortunate coincidence, that date is the Friday before the iconic Bathurst motor race that helped put Ford and the Falcon on the map.

The Holden Commodore still has approximately another 12 months left to run after Ford’s factory closures.

Holden’s Elizabeth production line is due to close in late 2017, followed by the Toyota Camry factory in Altona -- the birth place of the only locally-assembled hybrid car -- in December 2017.

For its part, HSV says it will continue to operate out of its Clayton facility, but will instead add go-fast parts to -- and perform cosmetic surgery on -- suitable imported Holden vehicles.

Falcon XR6 Turbo Sprint

Price: $54,990 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Capped servicing: $1130 over 3 years
Service interval:12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags  
Engine: 4.0-litre 6-cyl, 325kW/576Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; RWD
Thirst: 12.8L/100km
Dimensions: 4950mm (L), 1868mm (W), 1493mm (H), 2838mm (WB)
Weight: 1818kg
Brakes: Six piston Brembo calipers, 355 x 32mm discs (front), four piston Brembo calipers, 330 x 28mm discs (rear)  
Tyres: Pirelli P Zero, 245/35 R19 (front), 265/35R19 (rear)
Spare: Full-size, 245/35 R19
0-100km/h: 4.9 secs

Falcon XR8 Sprint

Price: $62,190 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Capped servicing: $1490 over 3 years
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags  
Engine: Supercharged 5.0-litre V8, 345kW/575Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; RWD
Thirst: 14.0L/100km
Dimensions: 4950mm (L), 1868mm (W), 1493mm (H), 2838mm (WB)
Weight: 1872kg
Brakes: Six piston Brembo calipers, 355 x 32mm discs (front), four piston Brembo calipers, 330 x 28mm discs (rear)  
Tyres: Pirelli P Zero, 245/35 R19 (front), 265/35R19 (rear)
Spare: Full-size, 245/35 R19
0-100Km/h: 5.1 secs

Click here to see more 2016 Ford Falcon pricing and spec info.

HSV GTS

Price: $98,490 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Capped servicing: $2513 over 3 years
Service interval: 15,000km/9 months
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags  
Engine: Supercharged 6.2-litre V8, 430kW/740Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; RWD
Thirst: 15.0L/100km
Dimensions: 4991mm (L), 1899mm (W), 1453mm (H), 2915mm (WB)
Weight: 1892.5kg
Brakes: Six piston AP Racing calipers, 390 x 35.6mm discs (front), four piston AP Racing calipers, 372 x 28mm discs (rear)  
Tyres: Continental ContiSportContact, 255/35 R20 (front), 275/35R20 (rear)
Spare: Full-size, 255/35 R20
0-100Km/h: 4.6 secs

Click here to see more 2016 HSV GTS pricing and spec info.

Do these final editions pay apt tribute to the history of the Australian sports sedan? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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