Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - EcoBoost
Lusty and responsive performance, slick automatic, refinement levels, more agile than the six-cylinder, roomy cabin, excellent ride
Room for improvement
Gets a little thirsty when pushed, same average interior plastics as other Falcons, steering wheel needs more height adjustment
24 Apr 2012
FORD may have a low projection of just 2000 sales for the EcoBoost Falcon by the end of December, but make no bones about it – this will become a crucial car for the Blue Oval in its battle to overturn the big sedan’s dramatic sales decline over the past decade.
While the idea of a four-pot Falcon may have once seemed incongruous, it certainly doesn’t any more. The move to smaller, force-inducted engines is being undertaken by car-makers the world over, as rising fuel costs pinch ever harder.
Reduced fuel consumption is the raison d’etre of the Falcon EcoBoost, but we also want to know if the four-cylinder engine compromises the muscular performance that defines the Falcon straight-six.
The good news is that, while the EcoBoost engine may be half the capacity of the six, it gives almost nothing away in terms of real-world performance.
Maximum power of 179kW – 30kW more than the same engine produces in the Mondeo EcoBoost – arrives at a high 5500rpm, giving it a revvier nature, but maximum torque is at a low 2000rpm, so it still pulls strongly from just above idle.
The engine is well-matched to the lighter and smooth-shifting six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, which is quick to downshift or hold gear past 5000rpm with heavy throttle input.
This predilection to rev out may not help the car’s fuel consumption, but it ensures the Falcon retains the characteristic urge off the mark of the I6, making overtaking a breeze.
We never quite matched Ford’s economy claims over our mostly rural drive route, instead achieving readouts just over 9.0 litres per 100km after swift – but not aggressive – driving, but this is not a bad real-world figure and Ford’s 8.1L/100km figure for the XT seems achievable with careful driving.
Ford has been at pains to emphasise the closeness in performance of the EcoBoost and I6 in order to convince buyers of its claim that they need not sacrifice performance to gain frugality. This may not help the cause of the Geelong-built I6, but they’re right.
In back-to-back standing sprint tests, GoAuto achieved a zero-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds for the EcoBoost, only two-tenths slower than the big six.
It should be noted that the fuel consumption and acceleration figures were achieved using 95 RON premium fuel. The EcoBoost engine will handle regular 91 RON unleaded, but expect slightly poorer results from it.
Interestingly, the LPG-powered EcoLPi Falcon was a few tenths faster again courtesy of its power and torque advantages over both, and it is this powertrain that perhaps bears best comparison to the EcoBoost. After all, the far lower cost of LPG makes the EcoLPi an even cheaper proposition at the bowser, though it is somewhat countered by a $2500 purchase price premium.
Steps taken by Ford Australia to improve NVH on the smaller-engined car – including more sound deadening, an acoustic windscreen (like the diesel Territory) and engine cover tweaks – appear to have worked, with the four-cylinder ceding little in terms of refinement to its languid big brother.
The four-cylinder model tips the scales 74kg lighter than the I6 (in base XT guise), most of which sits over the front axle, and this coupled with the stiffer springs and lower ride height gives the EcoBoost a more agile feel.
Turn-in is sharp and direct, while retention of hydraulic power steering, though slightly less efficient, ensures the big car provides plenty of feedback and feel through the steering wheel.
There are some things the iconic Aussie still does better than most. For long-distance cruising, the big Falcon remains an over-achiever.
The Falcon simply ate up the miles on our country cruise in Tasmania, soaking up the bumps with consummate ease. Indeed, the ride quality is not noticeably compromised despite the suspension tweaks, giving plenty of travel over corrugations before settling quickly back into place.
It’s quiet, too, with little in the way of road or wind noise at highway cruising speed.
Inside, the EcoBoost is identical to other Falcons, for good and for bad.
There’s a heap of room both front and rear, the most comfortable seats this side of a CEO’s corner office and a voluminous boot (a glaring weakness of the EcoLPI if a spare tyre is optioned over the standard can of goo).
However, the cabin plastics are typically cheap-feeling around the fascia and transmission tunnel, and feel tawdry and loose around the steering wheel, which itself is unable to rake high enough, inhibiting the driving position for taller drivers.
The eight-inch touchscreen multimedia system introduced as part of the FG MkII update is a welcome addition, with a clear and legible layout from its high point on the instrument panel.
Overall, we were suitably impressed with the EcoBoost Falcon, which might just put to pasture the old idea that there is no replacement for displacement.
Indeed, unless you need the bigger towing capacity (2300kg compared to 1600kg for the EcoBoost), we really question why you would choose the six-cylinder.
Perhaps Ford’s biggest competition comes from within its own portfolio because the EcoBoost Mondeo is a superb mid-sizer with better dynamics and almost as much cabin space, while the EcoLPi Falcon makes a persuasive case of its own when it comes to reducing running costs.
Still, the EcoBoost is a pleasant reminder that there still ought to be a place for the big Aussie sedan – if not the ‘big six’ – despite dwindling customer interest. Traditionalists may be hesitant, but our initial drive shows they have nothing to fear.
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