Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - EcoBoost
Performance, comfort, refinement, poise, value
Room for improvement
Nose too low for speed humps, no steering wheel illumination, insufficient steering height adjustment, exposed bootlid underside, spindly windscreen wipers
6 Jul 2012
BACK in the early 1970s, Ford referred to the Falcon as ‘The Great Australian Road Car’.
Against the locally built Peugeot 504, this was a bit of an exaggeration, but compared to the squidgy pre-HZ Holden Kingswood and soggy Chrysler Valiant, the big Ford certainly drove and handled better.
Buyers slowly woke up to this and it helped the series become our bestselling car for the best part of 15 years from 1982.
Eventually, however, the Falcon lost its drivers’ edge, even after the 2002 BA adopted a multi-link rear suspension to catapult it ahead of the pack once more. Australian tastes were changing at a far more rapid pace.
We don’t need to retell the sorry state of the local large car class today sales are barely enough to sustain a single model line, let alone three (if you include the Toyota Aurion).
Born in the Menzies era, the Falcon for most folk out there is an automotive dinosaur, but we guarantee that you won’t think that behind the wheel of the new four-cylinder turbo and intercooled EcoBoost.
Tested in base XT guise, and costing the same price as the 195kW/391Nm 4.0-litre inline six, the Spanish-built 2.0-litre direct-injection twin-cam unit delivers 179kW of power at 5500rpm and 353Nm of torque at 2000rpm (on 95 RON unleaded).
It’s in good company as the only other turbo-petrol four-pot rear-drive sedans we can think of wear BMW, Mercedes-Benz and, very soon, Jaguar badges, and none come cheap. In fact, the XF will feature a variation of the Falcon’s engine.
There’s a European transmission in the mix as well, a lighter version of the terrific ZF six-speed automatic found in other Falcon (and Territory) models.
The EcoBoost variant also gains a variable-displacement power steering pump, different engine mounts, a quieter exhaust, better sound-deadening measures including a windscreen with an acoustic film for improved noise insulation, and underbody aero aids that lower drag and help cut consumption and emissions.
The result, we’re pleased to report, is the transformation of an already dynamic family car into an achingly compelling one for Aussie buyers.
Turning the key, the EcoBoost sounds very un-Falcon instead of a smooth six-cylinder idle, there’s a slightly uneven four-cylinder beat – workmanlike and not very tuneful. After decades of big engine noises, this sensation took days to get used to.
But slot the lever in Drive and it pulls away smoothly yet emphatically, with much less turbo lag than we anticipated. And as the revs build, the forward thrust can be quite sudden.
Selecting the Sport mode (or ‘Perf’ as indicated in the instrument fascia) doesn’t increase outputs, but it does allow for a more aggressive throttle response as a result of the altered ratio settings.
In either mode, five things become immediately apparent – one, the four-cylinder Ford is certainly no slouch (we recorded 7.5s to 100km/h in a pre-production model late last year) two, the auto shifts ratios with satisfying seamlessness three, the aural sensation is a tad raspy rather than ear-vigorating four, somehow this seems like the quietest, smoothest and sweetest Falcon in memory and five, how can a car so large with an engine so small feel this spirited and light-footed?
The XT’s fuel consumption hovered around the high-8s in inner-urban/freeway driving, then rose beyond the 10s when we decided to explore the rev limiter (6750rpm).
Like the regular Falcon, the hydraulic (not electric) steering is well-weighted, but the nose feels far lighter than the 74kg mass saving over the six-pot version.
Like the steering, that old cliché of carving your way through corners like a knife through hot butter sums it up precisely, for even on the XT’s special low-resistance Goodyear eco tyres, the Falcon feels planted yet playfully acrobatic at the same time.
Yet the ride remains remarkably pliant, with little road noise intrusion, despite the high levels of body control that do so much to keep the Ford feeling trim, taut, and terrific (wasn’t that a very early Falcon tagline as well?).
This also applies on broken and gravel roads, where the Falcon’s recently revamped stability control intervention is handy to have but not heavy-handed, keeping the XT steadily on track.
We cannot recall driving an Australian-designed and engineered entry-level sedan that feels as fun or confidence-inspiring as the base EcoBoost. Even after a week behind the wheel, we’re still enamoured.
However, we also had the time to discover some frankly astonishing anomalies – though not all relate purely to the new powerplant.
Firstly, the nose is too low. Suburban speed humps that are normally no bother continuously caught it out. Lowering the ride height by 13mm and retuning the spring and damper rates might have sharpened the handling at speed, but it also results in scraping the underside.
As we have commented before in relation to the Falcon, the steering wheel does not adjust high enough for many drivers. Are the seats too high? Is the column itself too low? Are our thighs too thunderously thick? Whatever the case, this can put people off driving the car at the dealership level, and if one car needs bums on seats to really shine, the Falcon is it.
Ford’s decision not to offer night-time illumination for the steering wheel and door-mounted power window controls is just plain daft. Do the engineers not believe Falcons are driven at night? The irony, of course, is that the headlights are outstanding.
Also, the windscreen wiper arms look feeble and spindly, as if Ford raided the 1978 XC Falcon surplus parts bin.
And last but not least, is it too much to line the underside of the bootlid? Again, many potential buyers could take one look and run out of the showroom horrified at such penny-pinching ghastliness.
Yet these are comparatively minor quibbles, eclipsed by how right the EcoBoost performs and feels, in a package that – reduced towing capacity aside (it drops from 2300kg to 1600kg with a braked trailer) – in no way detracts from the usual six-cylinder model’s attributes of abundant space, safety, security and usability.
The latter, by the way, includes the standard rear parking sensors and a larger and cleverer dashboard media interface to support the visuals, as part of the pleasing FG MkII facelift announced late last year.
So come on fleet buyers, user-choosers and canny family-car customers, get behind the first four-cylinder Falcon in the series’ 52-year history.
It offers an alacrity and manoeuvrability never before thought possible from a Falcon – or any Australian car of this size – with reduced running costs and emissions to boot.
Ford ought to dust off its old ’70s slogan for the brilliant new EcoBoost, but with one minor change: ‘The Greatest Australian Road Car’.
Trust us. That would be no exaggeration.
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