The Ford Falcon EcoBoost is arguably the most important new vehicle for Ford Australia since the introduction of the Territory in 2004.
Though the local manufacturer is downplaying the four-cylinder Falcon’s role as the great white hope for the embattled 52-year-old nameplate, there’s no denying its success – or failure – will shape the next-generation of the traditional large car, as well as Ford’s manufacturing future in Australia.
The Ford Falcon EcoBoost goes on sale in Australia early in the second quarter of 2012, claiming to offer a no-compromises family sedan with strong performance and impressive fuel economy. It will answer an important question for Ford and for the Australian automotive industry: have new-car buyers been leaving large cars in droves because of their higher fuel consumption or simply because of their size?
Ford Australia announced its decision to produce a four-cylinder Falcon in July 2009 after confirming it had abandoned plans to assemble the all-new Ford Focus small car in Broadmeadows.
Following more than three years in local development (and a delay that should have already seen the car on the market), the Falcon EcoBoost will become the first vehicle in the legendary nameplate’s history to feature a four-cylinder engine. When it is launched (around April next year), it will be the first rear-wheel drive vehicle in the world to feature a 2.0-litre EcoBoost powerplant.
After a short drive of some Falcon EcoBoost development vehicles at Ford Australia’s You Yangs proving ground near Geelong, we think the local manufacturer has given itself every chance of making the four-cylinder Falcon a success.
The engine – which has been in production in Spain since 2009 – combines direct injection, turbocharging and twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT), all of which are designed to maximise combustion efficiency and optimise power delivery and fuel economy.
Exactly how powerful and fuel efficient will the Falcon EcoBoost be? At this stage, Ford isn’t saying. The popular belief is that the Falcon will get the tune already offered in the mid-sized Mondeo in Europe. That engine generates 177kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 340Nm of torque (1750-4500rpm), which would put it 18kW/51Nm adrift of the 4.0-litre inline six (I6) in the standard Falcon.
Based on other applications of the engine (including the Ford Mondeo and Volvo S60), it seems likely the Falcon EcoBoost will have an official fuel consumption rating between 8.0-8.5 litres/100km. That would make it more economical than the 3.0-litre SIDI V6 engine in the Holden Commodore (8.9 litres/100km), and considerably sharper than the Falcon’s I6 (9.9 litres/100km). Ford will not reveal official performance and fuel figures until closer to the car’s second-quarter launch next year.
Perhaps the biggest reservation Australians will have about the Falcon EcoBoost is whether a 2.0-litre engine has got the guts to pull a large family car. While the I6 will be better suited to tasks like towing, the EcoBoost proved to us it won’t get left behind on the road.
Ford Australia engineers put I6 production vehicles and EcoBoost development vehicles head-to-head in a series of 0-100km/h tests. With a driver and front-seat passenger on-board, we achieved 7.05 seconds in the six-cylinder Falcon and 7.22 seconds in the EcoBoost. The difference is so minute that it’s impossible to tell which one is faster from inside the car without looking at the clock.
The most obvious difference between the two is the sound they make. While the I6 accelerates with a deep, progressive rush, the EcoBoost is higher pitched and a little noiser, although still acceptably quiet and refined. There’s a hint of turbo lag from the EcoBoost but it’s really only something you notice when you’re pushing to get the most out of the engine. In normal driving conditions, it feels just as sophisticated as the I6, and doesn’t sound or feel like it is working hard to haul around the large frame.
Ford’s engineers revealed the EcoBoost Falcon is about 60kg lighter than the I6 variants (which weigh 1704kg), with the engine and transmission lighter in comparison. A 3.5 per cent weight saving doesn’t sound like a lot, but you can certainly notice the difference from behind the wheel. That’s because the majority of the weigh has been lifted off the front axle, which pushes the car’s weigh distribution closer to 50:50 and makes it feel more balanced. Stepping out of the I6 and into the EcoBoost, you just feel like there’s less weight in front of you. It’s a positive thing, especially as the I6 Falcon’s already strong handling characteristics have been carried over to accompany the new engine.
Although the cars we drove were development vehicles, Ford’s engineers revealed to us they were in the final stages of calibration (fuel consumption and emissions data has already been calculated) and said they were likely to be highly representative of what to expect from the production vehicles.
So who is going to buy a four-cylinder Falcon? Ford Australia president and CEO Bob Graziano says he believes there are a number of customers who want the fuel efficiency of a smaller car but don’t want to compromise the versatility, comfort and performance of a traditional large sedan.
“EcoBoost is the replacement for displacement. It’s no longer about the number of cylinders, but about capability.
“When you think about operating costs and things of that nature, those are the customers that we’re looking for with the EcoBoost Falcon.”
The EcoBoost engine will be available in XT, G6 and G6E variants. (It seems to us like a slight identity crisis, but Ford says it never considered changing the model names to ‘G4’ and ‘G4E’.) Pricing will be revealed early next year, but don’t expect the EcoBoost to be a cut-price alternative to the I6 – despite the engine being half its size. Graziano would not confirm if the new model would be cheaper – or indeed more expensive – than the conventional six-cylinder.
“[EcoBoost] is as much a technology story as it is a value story. It’s not a discount strategy with that powertrain because … you’re not really having to give up anything to move into the EcoBoost.”
Graziano said there would be no ‘XR4’ EcoBoost variant, insisting that the XR badge was iconic and had a different character and identity to the new downsized 2.0-litre alternative.
Ford Australia spokeswoman Sinead Phipps said the addition of EcoBoost to the Falcon range meant customers had a broader choice of alternative powertrain technologies than ever before.
“All of them – our I6 turbo and non-turbo variants, the EcoLPi and EcoBoost – are all designed to complement each other and target different customers. Australian consumers are very clearly saying that they want choice and we are aiming to give that to them.
“It’s not up to us to dictate which powertrain they should choose – it’s about offering them choice and giving them a reason to stay in a Falcon instead of consider an alternative.”
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