Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint

Last of the breed delivers a knockout blow

PETER McKAY

ITíS an undeniably sad time, this look at the last new (and thankfully wild) iteration of the Australian-made Ford Falcon breed, which disappears in October after a rich history dating back 56 years.

But how good it is that Ford has tried really hard to make the farewell model one to remember.

Straight sixes and bent eights have been the staple of Ford Australia local manufacturing, and big in the motoring lives of many of us, so itís fitting that the Blue Oval has created standout examples in the Falcon XR6 Sprint and XR8 Sprint.

With help and inspiration from the recently redundant Ford Performance Vehicles parts bin, the small and FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE p , passionate engineering team set out to produce among the most powerful V8 and turbo units ever from the 5.0-litre Miami and 4.0-litre Barra engines.

There was also the understanding that having a mountain of grunt is futile if it canít put it on the deck.

Thereís a lot of urge to control.

The supercharged 5.0-litre V8 produces 345kW at 5750rpm, with a maximum 575Nm from 2750rpm. The XR6 Sprintís 4.0-litre turbo six revs out a further 250rpm to a peak of 325kW at 6000rpm, while torque Ė 1Nm more than the V8 Ė is ladled out over a more agreeable rev spread, pretty much from 2220-6250rpm. Thereís also the promise of temporary overboost, which lasts for 10 seconds in every gear, upping outputs significantly (an extra 35kW and 74Nm).

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Choosing between the V8 and turbo six would be tough. The feeling is the XR6 Sprint would be a mite faster on a track, although on the road thereís no great difference dynamically. A brief drive of the manual XR8 Sprint confirmed that the auto variant would be way more liveable, especially in metro motoring.

With launch control, thereís a disconcerting hesitation before the Pirellis bite and gallop as the turbo six gets rather frenzied.

With the subdued exhaust finally bellowing, and crackling on over-run, itís a jet-fighter surge towards the horizon.

Both the V8 and six nail the 0-100km/h sprint somewhere between 4.5 and 4.8 seconds.

ďSomewhereĒ is the best we can suggest; the Ford guys donít want to be pinned to a number, and we struggled to find a flat, straight piece of road on the drive program to get valid times.

Fordís team is complimentary about the role the 35-series, 19-inch Pirelli rubber played in making the rollicking Sprint pair so manageable under heavy acceleration. The 245 fronts and 265 rears help tame the wild horses, giving the Sprints the lateral and power-down grip the development team targeted. Yes, the tyres are noisy on coarse surfaces but we can pretty much guarantee no owner will mind.

Ride quality is nothing short of dazzling, devoid of any jarring or loss of body control over bumps, and unflappable in corners.

But the ZF six-speed auto is showing its age; it needs paddle shifts and auto-blipping on downchanges. In todayís world, it canít match dual-clutch gearboxes, which are both faster and more fuel efficient.

The brakes are inherited from the GT-F and are up to any job.

The pedal feel is brilliant and the stopping performance impressive.

The XR6 Sprint weighs in at 1818kg, or 64 kilos less than the auto version of the V8. The turbo six is the only Ford engine anywhere using a carbonfibre air intake, which is paper-thin yet super-strong, providing valuable space in a crowded engine bay.

Styling of the Sprint XRs brings a rare subtlety to the genre.

Theyíre so pleasantly understated that Ford worried the heartland Cashed Up Bogans mightnít go for them. Wrong. They bowled over dealers in an indecent stampede.

Externally, the Sprint models are differentiated by black headlamp bezels, small black rear deck spoilers, new front fog-lamp surrounds, 19-inch black wheels and gold Brembo calipers.

The XR8 Sprint also has a distinctive black-painted roof and black wing mirrors. The six gets a hockey-stick decal on its haunches; the eight wears an island outline.

Importantly for collectors of limited editions, each XR bears numbered build plates on the front of their engines.

While the XR6 Sprint is an unbridled sports sedan, it isnít without its luxury touches.

The cabin makes a statement with its dark yet not-quite-sinister charcoal leather seats with suede splashes. The sports seats from the regular XR (not the excellent FPV GT-P seats we were hoping for) get trim and stitching changes for the Sprint, and some power adjustment. The seats are nicely shaped for the tush but are too high for an ideal relationship with the steering wheel, and the torso is not restrained enough by the seat backs during fast motoring.

Both Sprints get Fordís interior Command Centre, meaning excellent and simple connectivity with SYNC2 voice control and an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen we know from other Fords. The audio is AM/FM/digital+ with a quaint single slot for CD. Dualzone climate control is standard and, lest you forget what youíve bought, the Sprint logo is scattered liberally around the car.

Now the bad news. If you want to own an XR6 Sprint youíre just too darn late. All were snapped up before the on-sale date. Same with the XR8 Sprint auto; only a handful of V8 manuals are left.

It delivers a jet-fighter surge to the horizon

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Not so great divide

WHAT is it about the love affair Australians have for V8s? Historically Ford enthusiasts have favoured the bent-eight over a turbo six, influencing the build allocations for the XR8 Sprint and XR6 Sprint. The decision to build 850 Sprint XR8s (with 100 of those for New Zealand) and only 550 XR6s (50 for the Kiwis) reflects those traditional leanings. But with this swansong Falcon, Ford senses the two engine types are nowhere near as polarising. Some buyers, torn between the two, signed up for one of each.