Let’s not needlessly complicate things here – this is a road test of a gearbox.
We’ve dedicated plenty of ink to the XR8 Sprint in automatic guise, but it’s important for the manual to get its moment in the sun, as 50 per cent of buyers have opted to change gears themselves. Bizarrely, this DIY desire is exclusively a V8 thing, as manual take-up on the turbo six is only around five per cent, hence why there is no manual XR6 Sprint.
To save you the suspense, the addition of an extra pedal doesn’t suddenly transform Ford’s final bent-eight brawler into a Ferrari 488, but the need to select your own cogs does have quite a large effect on the driving experience. The shift itself is... okay. It’s quite heavy and doesn’t like to be rushed, but if you get yourself in sync with how it wants to be driven shifts will slot home cleanly.
The bigger issue is the XR8’s pedals have no feel to them. Both clutch and throttle pedal are completely numb, which makes finding the take-up point difficult, particularly as the latter has some weird quirks to it. You only need to breathe on the accelerator for the tacho to rise slightly, so it’s easy to dial up too many revs on take-off.
Of greater annoyance is the way revs hang when you lift off the accelerator pedal. At first you think it’s your imagination, but lift off the throttle and dip the clutch and, sure enough, the revs will flare slightly.
None of this is the end of world; every car has its own rhythm and once you become attuned to it smooth progress can be made, but it must be said the XR8 does make life harder than it needs to be.
In a performance sense, the numb controls and violent initial torque delivery earns the manual XR8 Sprint the dubious honour of being THE most difficult car to performance test. Nailing a half-decent launch, let alone a perfect one, is frustratingly elusive, as our disappointing bests of 0-100km/h in 5.03sec and 0-400m in 13.05sec from this year’s Bang For Your Bucks show. There’s definitely faster times in it, but extracting them is another matter.
On track the manual works well, offering greater certainty that you’ll have the gear you want when you want it, plus the ability to rev-match downshifts which the ZF slusher can’t do. Third and fourth gears are also much shorter in the manual (3rd: 156km/h, 4th: 203km/h) than the auto (3rd: 182km/h, 4th: 243km/h) so it feels feistier between corners, too.
So which is better, auto or manual?
Obviously, a lot of that decision is down to personal preference, however for us the clincher will be how you use the car. If your XR8 Sprint is a daily driver, the auto is the easier, more comfortable option to live with, however if it’s just a weekend warrior, the manual does feel a little more special.
3.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Greater control over the massive power
DISLIKE: Not the world’s slickest shift
Engine: 4951cc V8, DOHC, 32v, supercharger
Power: 345kW @ 5750rpm
Torque: 575Nm @ 2200rpm
0-100km/h 4.6sec (claimed)