It's the final Ford Falcon. Does the Falcon XR8 Sprint have the goods to offer a fitting sign off?
The Ford Falcon XR8 has a deeply rich history in Australia. XR6 and XR8 monikers first appeared as part of the 1991 EB Falcon range and were originally marketed as the Ford Falcon S XR6 and Ford Falcon S XR8.
It wasn't until 1993 that a joint venture called Tickford Vehicle Engineering launched the Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint under the ED model range. Today, Tickford is long gone — as is the Ford Performance Vehicles joint venture with Prodrive — but the Sprint name has been resurrected for one final run.
The 2016 Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint will go down in history as the most powerful non-FPV Ford Falcon ever. This special edition also marks what Ford Australia hopes is a fitting farewell to its local manufacturing operation — one that began in Australia almost 90 years ago in 1926.
What are the basics? Ford is launching two special edition models — the 2016 Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint (separate review here) and the 2016 Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint.
Pricing for the Falcon XR8 Sprint starts at $59,990 plus on-road costs (which is $6500 more than the non-Sprint XR8) with a production cap limited to 850 units (100 of those will head to New Zealand). Most of these are already accounted for and each will feature a unique build number plaque attached to the engine.
You may be surprised to hear that the Falcon XR8 Sprint only features an additional three per cent of power and less than one per cent more torque at 345kW of power and 575Nm of torque (up from 335kW and 570Nm). Official fuel use sits at a combined 14L/100km for the six-speed automatic and 13.8L/100km for the six-speed manual. But, these numbers are just semantics.
The outgoing FPV GT-F, which was the ultimate collector's item from the FPV stable, was marketed as a 351kW $77,990 monster. Ford wisely kept the Falcon XR8 Sprint power beneath 351kW to appease the folks that dropped just under $80,000 on one.
The numbers are redundant when you consider the Falcon XR8 Sprint is capable of a short 10 second overboost feature that cranks power output to 400kW of power and 650Nm of torque. Punters have the option of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic (unlike the Falcon XR6 Sprint, which only comes with a six-speed automatic).
While Ford could be criticised for not spending anywhere near enough effort on the interior of its latest, and last, Falcon, the exterior of the Falcon XR8 Sprint is seriously awesome. With six colours available, the Smoke colour — a metallic grey — looks absolutely sensational.
Visual cues that set the Falcon XR8 Sprint apart from the pack include black wheels and highlights on the side sills, Sprint insignia on the front 3/4 panel (the indicator has been moved from this panel to the wing mirror), blacked out wing mirrors, blacked out fog light surrounds, black painted roof and a great looking boot lip spoiler.
More serious than stickers and black paint is the braking package. Each wheel features brilliant looking gold coloured Brembo brakes that measure 355mm at the front and 330mm at the rear, both sets featuring cross drilling and slotting. The front set is fitted with six-piston callipers, while the rear uses four-piston callipers.
In addition to the impressive braking package, Ford has done away with the standard treads and selected Pirelli PZero tyres to provide traction. They measure 245mm at the front and 265mm at the rear (down from the standard 275mm fitted to the non-Sprint Falcon XR8).
The full listed of exterior design changes includes:
Thankfully Ford has tried to jazz things up here with a few styling highlights that include leather/suede mix seats with 'Sprint' insignia stitched in. The driver's seat is comfortable, but could be a little more supportive — only a minor complaint.
Other additions include an electrochromatic mirror (which is incredibly handy to prevent you being blinded by drivers following you at night), a unique gear shift assembly (including 'Sprint' insignia for the six-speed manual version of the Falcon XR8 Sprint) and 'Sprint' insignia on the gauge cluster.
The Sync 2 infotainment system also comes complete with satellite navigation, while the Interior Command Centre features dual-zone climate control and Ford's high-series audio system.
The full list of standard interior features includes:
Before we talk about how it drives, I'm sure you'll want to know how quick it is. While we couldn't verify numbers with our VBox due to the uneven terrain at the race track, we understand both the Falcon Sprint XR8 and Falcon Sprint XR6 will do 0-100km/h in around 4.6 seconds, which we plan on verifying once we get the car through the garage.
The first thing you'll notice when taking off in the Falcon XR8 Sprint is that it feels largely unchanged at low speeds. The throttle remains sharp and that throaty rumble stays on while driving around the city. There are hints of supercharger whine at low speeds, likewise induction noise from the meaty V8 engine.
When you get on the throttle hard for the first time, you will be blown away by the sheer torque on offer. During the car's overboost mode, the engine is producing 400kW of power and a hefty 650Nm of torque. It's limited to 10 seconds per gear, but is reset with each gear change.
This essentially means a virtually unlimited band of torque that is available during normal operation and that is amplified even further when the overboost function kicks in. When it does, the supercharger whine increases and the back end hunkers down to continue slingshotting the Falcon to license-losing speeds.
Grip levels from the new Pirelli P-Zero tyres are unheard of. The XR8 would always squirm and buck about under throttle. The driver always had to be on top of the car to make sure it wouldn't bite. That is virtually non-existent now. It hooks up and continues accelerating.
Throwing the Falcon XR8 Sprint into corners is now even more rewarding thanks to extra camber, new dampers and revised springs. The Ford engineering team has done a tremendous job creating a car can now be confidently driven hard and driven rough, which you could never do in a Falcon.
What about a race track? A place that was always a Falcon's arch nemesis. It's brilliant. Steering feel and turn-in precision is spot on. There's no understeer and you can confidently plant the throttle out of a corner to get the most out of the package.
We sampled both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. We've never been fans of the manual and while it's improved in the Sprint, we'd prefer to opt for the automatic. It offers linear power delivery and lightning fast gear shifts.
The newly calibrated gearbox cracks on upshifts and also has a launch control feature. To activate it, the driver simply presses the brake, floors the throttle and the revs climb to around 1900rpm. It's then a case of letting go of the brake (or slipping off it for the best effect) and holding on for dear life.
At the tight Baskerville Raceway in Tasmania we found the Falcon XR8 Sprint to be very well planted and happy to be thrown around. The stability control now works with the car to help deliver optimum performance — partly thanks to that stellar combination of new tyres and suspension.
And the brakes? Ridiculous. The six-piston Brembo stoppers at the front work magically with the four-piston callipers at the rear to pull this heavy beast up without fuss. Brake pedal feel is great and remains progressive, even after a solid torture session.
The driving position remains a bit average with the steering wheel virtually sitting in your lap, but it doesn't take long to become accustomed to the position you need to sit in to get the most out of the package.
This may sound like an overly glowing review and, to be honest, it wouldn't matter what I wrote, this car will still sell out. But I can't get enough of it. It's not a sticker package. It's a car that has been put together by a team of enthusiasts that know and absolutely love the car. A team of 15 people worked on this car for almost two years to make it what it is.
And that shows. It feels properly put together and properly built to be driven hard. To put it bluntly — it doesn't feel like a Falcon.
Should you buy it? Hell yes. Which one? Well, they're both incredible. Before you head in to drop a deposit, read our review of the Falcon XR6 Sprint, and figure out whether you want a whooshing noise or a whining noise.