The best performance car of 2016, as voted by MOTOR readers, is the Ford Falcon XR6 Sprint. If ever proof were needed as to how deeply the affection for locally-made product is felt with Aussie car enthusiasts, the results of our online poll are it.
The two cars sitting on the popularity podium alongside the XR6 Sprint are the Falcon XR8 Sprint and Holden’s VF II Commodore SS-V Redline and between them, these three home-grown muscle cars accounted for 56 per cent of the 689 votes our poll had received as MOTOR closed for press. It seems that if Malcolm Turnbull is ever having a bad run in the polls, all he needs to do is borrow a Sprint for a week and watch his numbers soar...
While the top three is an all-Aussie affair, the XR6 Sprint is a standout favourite, a landslide winner with 33 per cent of the total vote. The reasons why aren’t immediately clear. It’s certainly not because it was the best car on the list. Hang on, stow those pitchforks, Ford fans. Surely even the most die-hard Blue Oval supporter won’t argue that in terms of outright ability, the XR6 Sprint can’t match the likes of the Porsche 911R, Ferrari 488 GTB, McLaren 570S or BMW M2.
But if we’re talking patriotism and sentimentality, why did the XR6 Sprint garner double the number of votes of its supercharged V8 stablemate? From Ford XR Falcon GT to Holden Torana A9X to FPV GT F to HSV GTS, Aussie muscle car culture has traditionally been built on V8s, but it appears that the ultimate turbo Falcon has struck a chord.
Perhaps it’s because it’s undoubtedly the most Australian performance car of the current crop. While the XR8 Sprint’s Miami engine is also locally built and developed, it was derived from the Ford Mustang’s Coyote V8 (even if the two share virtually nothing in common bar their 4951cc displacement). The mighty Barra, on the other hand, is 100 per cent Aussie, from the bottom of its oil pan to the top of its cylinder head, and has been claiming V8 scalps since its introduction in 2002.
Another factor in the XR6 Sprint’s popularity could be that is was essentially a new car. Whereas the XR8 Sprint was an optimisation of the existing XR8 package (new suspension, better tyres) along with a few choice bits from the GT F (twin-pedal throttle map, stiffer transmission mount, ESP calibration), the XR6 Sprint will forever be the fastest six-cylinder car this country ever produced, a huge step in performance over a regular XR6 Turbo and a level beyond even the old FPV F6.
By combining the higher compression XR6 Turbo engine with F6 ancillaries and a new exhaust and carbon fibre air intake, the Sprint team, led by Justin Capicchiano and David Burn, lifted outputs to 325kW/576Nm, or a whopping 370kW/650Nm when the transient overboost function is active. Not just that, the XR6 Sprint also has gear-specific boost maps, which allows the ZF six-speed auto’s 650Nm torque limit to be sustained for as long as possible. Combine this performance with its limited-edition status – just 550 were built, 300 less than the XR8 Sprint – and perhaps it isn’t surprising that this is Aussie car enthusiasts’ favourite machine of 2016.
Nonetheless, MOTOR’s relationship with the XR6 Sprint has been somewhat tumultuous. There’s no doubt that the car is a big improvement over a regular XR6 Turbo. Working with what must’ve been a meagre budget, the Sprint development team managed to improve almost every facet of the car’s dynamics and performance and offer it for a measly $54,990.
But they can’t work miracles: the performance car game moves very quickly and the basic FG platform is eight years old. It only takes one short drive of the latest performance pony in the Ford stables, the Mustang GT, to show where the Falcon is lacking. Then again, as we said, the entire Sprint development budget was probably equivalent to that of the Mustang’s tail-light design. One constant thorn in our side, however, has been our inability to match the Sprint’s claimed performance times.
Of course, Ford doesn’t actually claim official performance figures, but it’s now a matter of public record that in ideal conditions, the XR6 Sprint should be capable of 0-100km/h in 4.5sec and a 12.6sec quarter mile. Despite having tested two different cars at two different locations (Heathcote and Winton) our bests stand at 4.89sec 0-100km/h and a 12.89sec quarter mile at 184.11km/h. Those times were recorded using launch control and the car hooked up very well, but it’s a long way from what the car is supposedly capable of. These are among the fastest figures recorded by independent media, but a member of the Falcon Forums matched the claims using the same press cars we used, so the fault has to lie with us.
But if we’re grown up about this – which is no fun, but bear with me – it’s also largely irrelevant. In the real world, no one ever accelerates from 0-100km/h; whether overtaking or on a winding country road, what you do is accelerate from 60-100km/h a lot, and in this range the XR6 Sprint is an absolute rocket.
Likewise, while it is our job to review and rate cars in comparison to their direct competition, what really matters is that the people buying a car enjoy it, and we’re willing to bet that there are 550 people out there who are extremely happy to have an XR6 Sprint in the garage. More than a few of them are probably responsible for this result. And why wouldn't they enjoy it? For a relatively small outlay (we're not talking AMG money here), they have a practical family car that goes like the clappers, is a piece of automotive history and, perhaps most importantly, has a Ford badge on the bonnet.
We’ll leave the final words to Sprint Program Manager Justin Capicchiano. “It was never meant to be a track car," he says. "We set out to build a pretty capable road car. It was a statement to the fans and they responded.” They sure did.