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First drive: Falcon EcoBoost’s dashing debut

Four pot Falc: The facelifted Ford FG Falcon MkII brings new frontal styling alongside four-cylinder EcoBoost technology.

Ford’s four with more promises six-cylinder capability in 1700kg Falcon

5 Dec 2011

FORD’S game-changing EcoBoost four-cylinder engine promises to propel the Australian-made Falcon large car from zero to 100km/h in just 7.5 seconds – about one second quicker than Holden’s rival 3.0-litre V6 Commodore – when it arrives in the facelifted FG Falcon in April.

And, although no official power, performance or fuel economy figures have been revealed for the first four-cylinder Falcon in the nameplate’s five decades of local production, Ford insiders have described “almost unbelievable” real-world fuel consumption from the EcoBoost variants, which will be 60kg lighter than the 1700kg-plus six-cylinder models that continue with the venerable in-line 4.0-litre engine made in Geelong.

Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano told journalists who were invited to sample – briefly – the 2.0-litre turbocharged direct-injection EcoBoost Falcon at Ford’s You Yangs proving ground in Victoria last week that the EcoBoost Falcon would offer customers more choice.

“We hope you agree EcoBoost is the replacement for displacement, and it is no longer about the number of cylinders, but about capability,” he said.

The exercise was designed partly to ramp up publicity ahead of the launch of the 2012 FG Mark II range that starts with the six-cylinder models in late January, but also to help allay scepticism about the ability of the imported four-cylinder engine to haul the bulky sedan with satisfactory pace.

27 center imageIn back-to-back sprints in development cars driven by Ford engineers and with GoAuto in the passenger seat, electronic timers recorded a best run of 7.0 seconds for the six-cylinder Falcon for the 0-100km/h dash, and then 7.5 seconds for the EcoBoost model.

The 2.0-litre turbo EcoBoost Falcon’s time was a full second quicker to 100km/h than its similarly equipped EcoBoost stablemate, the Mondeo Zetec, for which Ford claims a time of 8.5 seconds.

However, while the Mondeo’s EcoBoost engine packs 149kW of power and 300Nm of torque, the Falcon is believed to get a hi-po variant producing about 177kW and 340Nm.

The engine has been localised in a three-year program by Ford Australia engineers for its rear-drive application in the Falcon – a global first for Ford, which has already launched EcoBoost in a wide variety of Ford front-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles (as well as Volvo and Land Rover models).

Ford says that more than 80 per cent of the company’s global nameplates will be available with EcoBoost by 2013.

Ford Australia realises that the hardest part of the EcoBoost exercise will be convincing Falcon buyers that a four-cylinder engine can do the job – and probably to pay more for it.

No EcoBoost pricing has been revealed, but Ford has already announced price cuts of up to $3655 for the I6 models that go on sale late this month.

The fleet-friendly I6 XT entry model – now $37,325 – will undercut the list price of Holden’s most affordable Commodore, the 3.0-litre Omega, by $2755, leaving room for the EcoBoost variant to match or undercut the Holden model too.

The EcoBoost engine also will be available in mid-range G6 and range-topping G6E.

The lure will be fuel savings without a penalty in performance. The EcoBoost Falcon should win bragging rights over other Australian large cars, with a probable combined fuel reading of less than 8.5 litres per 100km, based on the performance of the Mondeo Zetec, which weighs about 120kg less than the Falcon and records an official Australian combined fuel reading of 8.0L/100km and CO2 output of 187g/km on 95-RON fuel.

The 4.0-litre six-cylinder Falcon officially returns 9.9L/100km and 235g/km on 91 RON, while the most efficient Holden Commodore, the 3.0-litre V6 SIDI, manages 8.9L/100km and 210g/km, also on 91 RON.

However, Toyota’s Australian-built mid-size Camry Hybrid, which is set to get an all-new replacement in a few months, leaves them behind with 6.0L/100km and 142g/km.

Apart from going along for the ride in the sprints at the Ford proving ground, journalists were also invited to take the wheel for a couple of laps of the ride and handling circuit.

While we reserve final judgement on the car until we drive the production version that arrives in showrooms around the first week of April, the four-pot prototype was impressive.

Noticeably lighter in the nose, the EcoBoost Falcon turned into corners nimbly and punched out of them with no noticeable turbo lag.

The car absorbed the track’s numerous bumps and lumps with all the aplomb for which the FG Falcon has been renowned.

The car also rides as quietly as any Falcon, even though direct-injection four-cylinder engines are inherently noisier than well-ironed sixes. One of the noise abatement measures in the EcoBoost variant is a heavier acoustic windscreen.

Engineers found major weight savings in the powertrain, which apart from the smaller and lighter engine also includes a lighter version of the ZF six-speed transmission, which does not have to handle high levels of torque like the six-cylinder driveline.

The Mark II FG retains the old-style hydraulic-mechanical steering (the Territory has moved to fuel-saving electro-mechanical), and along with it a fair amount of steering effort and large handfuls of steering lock.

As GoAuto has already reported, the FG Falcon gets a fresh look across the nose – similar to that of the recently upgraded SZ Territory – and a number of other Territory-style improvements such as the eight-inch touchscreen in the dash as standard equipment on all models except the XT (on which it is optional), side curtain airbags and rear parking sensors across all models.

Audio systems have also been upgraded across the range, with systems now including a USB port.

The overall impression of the EcoBoost Falcon is that it has what it takes to win a lot of friends, just like two of Ford Australia’s other recent innovations, the diesel Territory and EcoLPI gas-powered Falcon.

As always, price will be the key.

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