WHEN FORD ANNOUNCED AN END TO AUSTRALIAN MANUFACTURING, MANY BELIEVED THE 5.0-LITRE SUPERCHARGED V8 FALCON XR8 WOULD BE ITS LAST HURRAH.
However even the older VF Commodore SS V Redline had its measure. There was no dressing up this stoush – the 6.0-litre V8-powered Holden mauled the faster, but crude, Ford. For all the on-road hammer and theatre in that supercharged Ford V8, the Holden was simply the better drive.
That wasn’t the end of hostilities, though. Rumours circulated that the VF Series II Commodore SS V Redline would score the larger 6.2-litre V8, previously the preserve of HSV. And the rumours proved correct.
Then, again, ears pricked and eyes widened as the rumour mill once more began to turn, this time spinning to the tune of a final-edition Falcon XR Sprint series, which would revive a nameplate introduced on the 1993 ED.
Many then thought Ford would use the 310kW 4.0-litre turbo from the now-defunct FPV F6. Many thought the 335kW XR8 would just add a sticker-pack because, hell, it’s already so highly strung. But those ‘many’ thought wrong.
Here are the 325kW XR6 Sprint and 345kW XR8 Sprint. Together they make a combined 1400-unit send-off for the 56-year-old Falcon nameplate that winds up production in Broadmeadows, Victoria, on October 7.
But critically, the tyres and chassis are overhauled.
Ford has served-up a two-pronged 'Sprint' tour de force, and now, this is it, Falcon versus Commodore, the final round.
Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint ($54,990 plus on-road costs)
- 325kW/576Nm 4.0-litre turbocharged petrol 6cyl | 6-speed automatic
- Fuel use claimed: 12.8 l/100km | tested: 14.9 l/100km
Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint ($62,190 plus on-road costs)
- 345kW/575Nm 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8 | 6-speed automatic
- Fuel use claimed: 14.0 l/100km | tested: 15.5 l/100km
Holden Commodore SS V Redline ($56,190 plus on-road costs)
- 304kW/570Nm 6.2-litre petrol V8 | 6-speed automatic
- Fuel use claimed: 12.9 l/100km | tested: 14.7 l/100km
Squeezed in the middle is the Commodore SS V Redline at $56,190 (plus orc) in as-tested auto form; the $54,490 (plus orc) manual would otherwise be cheapest here.
Look at the two Fords and an early question emerges: could there be some in-house rivalry between Ford’s inline six and the $7200-pricier V8? The company quietly claims 0-100km/h in around 4.6 seconds for both. Holden claims 4.9 seconds.
The Geelong-built turbo 4.0-litre six now makes 325kW at 6000rpm, versus the supercharged 5.0-litre’s 345kW at 5750rpm (and torque is all-but identical; the six's 576Nm versus the V8's 575Nm).
But each has an overboost function. On 10-second transient overboost the in-line six makes 370kW/650Nm, versus the V8’s 400kW/650Nm. (And when, we ask, will you ever have your foot planted for more than 10 seconds on the open road?)
The figures of both make the naturally-aspirated 6.2-litre V8 Commodore’s 304kW at 6000rpm and 570Nm at 4400rpm look pinky-sized and peaky.
Ford slipped into ‘stealth mode’ when styling the Sprints. Pick the XR6 Sprint by its colour-coded door mirrors and roof, both painted black on the XR8 Sprint.
The ‘hockey stick’ rear three-quarter decal and single exhaust signifies the six, and lower door decals, quad exhausts and a bonnet bulge distinguish the XR8.
Shared between the two are black multi-spoke alloy wheels, lip-spoiler and 'sports-luxe' smoked headlights.
There is arguably too much chrome with the SS V Redline, but a ‘black pack’ can be optioned to match the wheels.
The Holden and both Fords get 19-inch wheels and front/rear Brembo brakes – painted like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket in each Falcon – with all three suspension tunes promising better ride and handling compared with previous models.
It all looks to be a fair fight on-paper, and we have the perfect destination in mind to start an 800km-plus road trip to sort this one final answer – Falcon or Commodore?
Late on Friday evening we utilise the ‘one shot’ voice control systems standard on all three cars by reading out a clear destination into each sat-nav system: Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Of course they recognise the venue, cheerfully.
The three-hour cruise makes for perfect re-acclimatisation.
The only area in which the FG X Falcon feels vaguely modern is with its 8.0-inch touchscreen with Ford’s Sync2 global software. It even packs a digital radio lacking in its rival, although speaker quality is average.
The blue-lit speedometer and tachometer remains as cool as it was when it debuted in the 15-year-old BA, and black roof lining continues the ‘dark knight’ theme.
Otherwise the plastics inside this 2008-era taxi cabin are... well, awful. And the driving position isn't much better and becomes less tolerable the taller you are. The slim-spoked steering wheel won’t go high enough and the nicely bolstered leather/suede driver’s seat can’t be cranked low enough.
Unlike the Falcon, the 2013 VF Commodore’s cabin was completely redesigned from the 2006 VE that came before, and it shows.
The Holden’s driving position is superb, the climate controls rotate with precision and touches such as a colour trip computer screen and illuminated steering wheel audio and cruise controls allow it to fly well above Falcon.
Then there’s the features onslaught, including sunroof, nine-speaker Bose audio, blind-spot monitor, forward collision warning and auto park-assist all missing from the Sprints. The Fords can only counter with electric adjustment for the passenger seat and vanity mirror lights.
Our white XR6 Sprint leads the way to Bathurst on the freeway. Right-lane hoggers, who only see an approaching cop in their rear-view mirrors, quickly step aside. It’s comfortable, silken… stealth.
On arrival, the outside temperature gauge shows eight degrees. For a late dinner in town, four testers pile into the XR6 Sprint and we note the FG X Falcon is less spacious in the rear than the Commodore, but it does have a bigger boot with proper split-fold backrest capability.
A country steak, then sleep, and tomorrow 'The Reckoning'.
ON THE ROAD
It is misty and cold at Mount Panorama on a Saturday morning. On the drive the previous night, and through town for photography, the improvements to the XR’s suspension are palpable.
The XR6 Sprint tune aims for a sportier ride compared with the standard XR6 Turbo, while the XR8 Sprint targets improved ride comfort compared with the standard XR8. Both achieve a more Commodore-like tightrope-walk, being essentially hard but with the sharp edges removed.
The tight damping now – finally – feels semi-sophisticated rather than the previous choice between floaty (XR6 Turbo) or wooden (XR8).
Holden’s FE3 suspension tune was clearly a target. As tempting as it is to start with the Sprints, I start the day in the SS V Redline as the former benchmark. And what a reminder of its abilities…
The atmo 6.2-litre thrives on revs, and under load it sounds gloriously pure and throaty (we can thank what looks like a bit of Bunnings plumbing hose for funnelling intake noise into the driver footwell). The bi-modal exhaust thumps, pops and crackles a convincing tune.
The six-speed automatic, too, is terrific. In Sport mode it adapts to conditions ideally, flicking back ratios under brakes. Take to the steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters and there is immediate rev-matching response.
A hillclimb between Bathurst and former goldrush town Sofala validates the addition of the Redline-exclusive electronic stability control (ESC) Competitive Mode. The Commodore’s steering weights up in this mode, feeling firm and crisp on turn-in, while this sedan’s front-end response belies its 1803kg kerb weight.
The Holden offsets mild understeer when pushed hard by rolling onto its outside rear wheel, and the softer rear suspension of the sedan enhances this dynamic more than the stiffer Sportwagon and ute. It can then be balanced beautifully in slight power oversteer on corner exit (which it does not permit with ESC fully on).
Having experienced the XR8’s nose-heaviness before, the next stop is the XR6 Sprint with its 54kg-lighter front-end (overall kerb weights are 1872kg V8 versus 1818kg six-cylinder). There’s a feeling among the group that it may give the SS V Redline a better run than the V8.
It takes a single throttling to realise it redefines ‘fast’ compared to the Commodore. Officially there may be three-tenths between them from a standing start until 100km/h, but best forget the numbers.
The way the heavily boosted six-cylinder piles on speed is in supercar territory, and it sounds silky yet raunchy, backed by a subtle exhaust blurt on upchanges. The stability control light blinks madly, everywhere.
The 265mm-wide Pirelli P Zero rear tyres are 10mm narrower than the Holden’s superb Bridgestone Potenza RE050s, though both get 245mm rubber up front. Likewise the front Brembos of each Falcon include Redline-matching 355mm front discs, but the Commodore’s 360mm rears are 30mm larger.
Another hillclimb appears on Bylong Valley Way as we pierce north-east encircling New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. The XR6 Sprint feels completely different to the SS V Redline here.
The Ford’s brakes feel softer but they bite hard.
The front-end is vague, however. The hydraulically assisted power steering (versus its rival’s electric assist) is heavy at low speed and lighter at higher speed, chatty over straight-line camber changes yet lacking communication of front grip levels through corners.
Likewise the ESC is lenient at low speed, allowing the tail to be flicked out to a surprising degree, yet it abruptly curtails proceedings through tighter bends.
Unlike the Holden’s Sport mode, the only option is ESC off. And unlike with the Commodore, the Falcon’s automatic transmission Sport setting is unintuitive for performance driving.
Without paddleshifters or rev-matching on downshifts, the only option is to use the tipshifter and pluck lower gears well before they’re required, anticipating the delay.
The XR6 Sprint feels faster than the SS V Redline, but also lazier. Where the two cars find harmony is with the damping, and Ford’s engineers have nailed the compromise between control and comfort - something especially noticeable on rougher roads.
Swapping to the XR8 Sprint banishes preconceptions that the XR6 Sprint may hit the sweet spot. The V8’s damping feels harder than the six, especially at the front end, a point that more than one of us mentioned.
Power delivery and throttle response prove the biggest revelation between the two Sprints. Where the turbocharged XR6 feels boosted to within an inch of its life and overly twitchy underfoot - responding to just the lightest touch of the throttle, the supercharged XR8 introduces a linearity of delivery that inspires trust.
It is less prone to immediate wheelspin and constant ESC intervention, although the ESC/steering/auto flaws still remain broadly similar.
The XR8 Sprint is in a different dynamic league to the stock XR8, though. It can be tossed into corners - no wooden understeer here - and it can then be delicately balanced on corner exit thanks to its superb throttle response.
It is certainly more delicate and malleable than the XR6 Sprint, but, compared to the Holden, there’s also less harmony between its front and rear axles.
The loud, whining supercharged V8 bellow is a world away from the low-level jetfighter whoosh of its six-cylinder Sprint stablemate, although it doesn’t quite feel as absurdly fast.
But it is still much quicker than the Commodore in a straight line and is the most convincing engine here overall for balancing speed with driveability.
That's until you get to a petrol pump. We almost ran out of fuel in the XR8 Sprint, which showed 40km to empty when the others were hovering around 100km until the next bowser. Its on-test 15.5 litres per 100 kilometres paled against both the XR6 Sprint (14.9L/100km) and SS V Redline (14.7L/100km).
The Falcon XR8 Sprint, with a sublime supercharged V8 engine under that bulging bonnet, now has a more refined and better matched 'home' in a better chassis than you'll find in the regular XR8.
The XR6 Sprint, however, lacks a little dynamic harmony. It would be better and easier to live with if it wasn’t boosting quite so hard from such gentle throttle movements. It is just too twitchy, like a punch-drunk fighter straining for another 'shot' at the title.
But, for the way it serves supercar-rivalling acceleration, the final Falcon turbo-six is, in any language, a true sports-luxe touring sedan.
Ultimately, however, it is bettered by the XR8 Sprint. And each are bettered, just, by the Commodore SS V Redline. While the Commodore is beaten for sheer speed, it is served with a friendly throttle response and newfound finesse.
On the comparison test scorecard, there is no arguing with the Holden’s superior steering, smart ESC and, simply, its 'balance'.
Many sports cars twice its price are not as consistently impressive and even fewer wrap such virtues into a broad-shouldered five-seat sedan made perfect for Australia.
While many might trade the Holden’s finesse for the sheer ferocity of the supercharged XR8 Falcon, the SS V Redline is simply too complete to lose this – the last ever local contest. Once and for all, no more rounds...
- Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint – 3.5 stars
- Ford Falcon XR8 Sprint – 4.0 stars
- Holden Commodore SS V Redline – 4.5 stars
Photography by Alex Bryden and Andrew Cooper.
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