Could it be? An LPG-powered Ford Falcon beating its equivalent petrol down a drag strip?
The Ford Falcon EcoLPi is leading the charge for a potential resurgence in the large car segment. With better performance than its petrol equivalent, significantly lower running costs and a marginal price increase, there is hardly any real reason not to opt for the LPi Falcon.
Why has the large car segment tanked for private buyers? The days of mums and dads flocking to Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore for a practical family-friendly car have been over for some time, but could this humble Falcon EcoLPi recapture some of the glory?
The large car segment has been punished by the ever-increasing price of fuel and the changing perception that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Nonetheless, what if you could buy a Ford Falcon and have lower running costs than a Ford Fiesta? That’s what Ford Australia is promising with its Falcon EcoLPi.
Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a resource that is in abundance in Australia, hence the price is significantly cheaper than petrol. The problem with LPG powered Falcons of the past has been their poor performance when compared to their petrol powered brothers. Less torque, less power and limited bootspace (with the full size spare) has kept Falcon LPG sales to just 25% of overall volume, despite their improved fuel economy.
For its long-term local manufacturing viability in Australia, Ford needs to change private buyer perception back in favour of the Falcon. It’s a hard gig, given the rest of their range (particularly the Mondeo, new Focus and Fiesta) are so damn good.
For an extra $2,500 on top of the normal Falcon price, buyers can opt out for the new LPI system, out of that, the federal government will refund $2,000 as part of the LPG Vehicle Scheme. Hence to LPI enable your Falcon is a mere $500 on top of the purchase price. So the question becomes, why wouldn’t you tick the box?
Current LPG owners would no doubt jump out of their seats to point out that LPG is less gutsy and cumbersome to drive. I am here to tell you otherwise.
The new dedicated LPI system has 198kW (5000rpm) and 409Nm (3250rpm) which represents a 27% increase in power and 10% increase in torque over the Falcon e-gas it replaces. What that means is that for the first time in the Falcon LPG history, the alternate fuel is now producing the same amount of power and torque as the standard I6 petrol (it also happens to get the ZF6 speed automatic transmission). Best yet, it costs significantly less to run. Not only has performance gone up, but fuel economy has also come down to 12.5L/100km from 14.9L/100km (remember LPG is less than half the price of petrol). If you happen to be a fan of Bob Brown, you'll also be pleased to know emissions have also been reduced, down from 240 g/km to 203 g/km of CO2 (a petrol Mazda3 produces 193 g/km CO2)
On an average 20,000km a year life-cycle, it will cost you $2,752 in petrol if you were to stick with the standard Falcon, in comparison, that cost comes down to $1,650 for EcoLPI. A significant saving of $1,102 a year in fuel costs. So that initial $500 outlay on top of the standard Falcon is repaid in less than six months. Again, the question comes back to, 'why wouldn’t you go for the LPI?'
Because it doesn’t drive as good? – Nope, wrong again. To demonstrate the performance credentials of the Falcon EcoLPI, Ford Australia brought us to Broadford race track about an hour out of Melbourne, where we got to drive a standard petrol Falcon against an EcoLPI – without knowing which one was which.
One would expect that a petrol Falcon would by default be faster in a drag race than its equivalent vehicle powered by LPG. In reality, it was the other way around. When tested down the main straight at Broadford, the LPG-powered Falcon consistently took the lead early on and maintained its position until the finish line.
Not bad for LPG. The tables have in fact turned. You’re now buying a slower car if you don’t opt for LPG and given it’s a $500 price difference (which you make back in less than six months), you’re also losing money by not ticking the LPI box.
The big question here is why Ford Australia continues to offer the standard petrol powered Falcon, given how good the LPI is. Perhaps it’s to maintain the status quo and offer the market a product it has been use to for the last 51 years. Either way, with Falcon sales dipping and the model’s future a constant point of discussion in the industry, the Falcon EcoLPI is a great reason to celebrate Australian engineering.
Speaking of Australian engineering, the folks at Ford have gone all out to make the EcoLPI as petrol-like as possible. For example, there is a priming system that ensures the Falcon EcoLPI is ready to turn on before the driver has even sat in the car.
It’s rather simple, but the best things in life usually are. Unlock your EcoLPI Falcon and the car’s powertrain system wakes up and begins diagnostic checks. If the driver’s door is opened the onboard computers will determine the state of LPG in the system, if it needs to, it will prime itself (it has to have liquid in the fuel rails to inject). By the time you’ve sat your rear-end down and crank is requested, pressure is ready and the EcoLPI’s engine will fire as per the petrol car. In the real world, there was a 0.4 second lag between crank request to the engine running but you really needed a stopwatch to notice it.
In addition to the priming feature, the new LPI system is capable of running on a diverse range of LPG fuels. Everything from 100% propane to 60/40 propane/butane mix. Ford Australia says the Falcon EcoLPI will take any type of LPG fuel available to private customers without problems. It can also deal with climatic conditions ranging from -10c to 49c and 0-100 percent humidity (RH)
Ford Australia cop a lot of flack for their local product, perhaps Australians like to think that vehicles made here cannot be as good as those made overseas, but frankly, the new Ford Territory is, in this writer’s humble opinion, the best medium-SUV in the segment and the Ford Falcon EcoLPI now makes a compelling case for a large car.
There is no suggestion here to rush out and buy a Falcon if you don't need one, only that the argument 'it uses too much fuel and I don’t want the LPG performance disadvantage' is now, simply wrong. The only valid criticism of the Falcon EcoLPI is the boot space.
Ford will offer three options; a bit of goo to patch up a broken tyre and get you back for repair (above); a space saver (no cost option - see below); or for $250 you can get a full-size spare (second picture down).
There is no doubt that boot space is compromised with a space saver or full-size spare, a trade-off in having LPG cylinders taking up space. So the only real advantage of the petrol Falcon becomes its ability to carry a full-size spare without compromise. Is it worth the extra $1,102 a year in extra fuel costs? I don’t think so.
On our drive to and from Broadford race course we had the opportunity to punt an XR6, G6E and XT Falcon EcoLPI around the hilly countryside. In the real world and on paper, the LPI is seriously quick, estimates of 0-100km/h are in the 7.4 second mark and it certainly delivers its pull low down in the rev range – allowing for a very engaging drive.
Ride and handling is pretty good for a car this size but we found the nanny controls interfering far too frequently when pushed in and out of corners, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing depending on who’s driving.
Due to lack of customer demand Ford Australia will not offer LPG on its turbocharged engines, despite the technology being applicable. Chances of an LPG Ford Territory are also pretty low given the diesel option is there to fill that need.
The Falcon itself is a heavily underrated car. It offers generous cabin space front and rear, a modern interior with a good deal of technology and a chassis that is well engineered for Australian conditions. It has been battered with consistent criticism regarding its future and high cost of ownership (mostly related to petrol prices). Whilst some will tell you its future is still up in the air, there is no longer a valid argument over running costs.
Even so, to give criticism where criticism is due: The Falcon lacks Bluetooth audio streaming (despite having Bluetooth telephone connectivity standard) and even the top-of-the range G6E models that come with a full-size colour screen have no satellite navigation as standard (available as a relatively high-priced $2,290 option). The steering column could do with more height adjustability and a bit more cabin sound insulation wouldn’t go astray.
Overall though, the practicality of a large car is now available for the same running costs as a small car. The EcoLPi comes with an 88L tank size in its sedan shape (86L for ute) giving a very respectable 704km range. It’s fair to say that the large car is back with a vengeance and the Ford Falcon EcoLPI is leading the charge. Ford Australia now has a certain winner on its hands, a large car with excellent performance and fantastic fuel economy. The only real question is, can they convince the general public to buy one?
If you’re in the market for a new family sedan but would’ve never considered a Falcon in the past, do yourself a favour and wait until mid-August to test-drive a new Falcon EcoLPI. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Ford FG Falcon EcoLPi Prices (all automatic):
- XT - $42,790
- G6 - $45,890
- XR6 - $46,490
- G6E - $52,890
Styleside Ute Style
- XL - $34,895
- R6 $36,895
- XR6 $41,690
Cab Chassis Ute Style
- XL - $34,595
- R6 - $36,595
- XR6 - $41,390