Ford Australia has downplayed the role of its new, four-cylinder Ford Falcon EcoBoost model as a possible saviour for its large car, saying it still expects its traditional, locally built six-cylinder to remain the mainstay of the range.

Ford Falcon EcoBoost badge

The local car maker this week launched the smallest engine yet in the 52-year history of the Falcon, introducing a variant that is more fuel efficient than rivals as well as some medium-sized cars.

The Ford Falcon EcoBoost is the second and final stage of a $243m co-investment program with the Federal Government, via the Green Car Fund, that follows the diesel version of the locally made, Falcon-based Territory SUV released in 2011.

Ford initiated the program after performing a dramatic U-turn in 2009 on a plan to build 40,000 Ford Focus models annually at its Broadmeadows plant in Victoria.

Large-car sales have continued to plummet since, however, with sales for the Falcon dropping to an all-time low in 2011 and already down 24 per cent year on year in 2012.

The new EcoBoost four-cylinder – at 2.0 litres half the size of the Geelong-manufactured 4.0-litre inline six-cylinder – at least provides a solution for efficiency, giving Ford the consumption benchmark in the large car class..

The engine improves the Falcon’s fuel economy to as low as 8.1 litres per 100km for the base model XT when filled with 95 premium unleaded, rising to 8.5L/100km for the G6 and G6E models that are heavier and on regular rather than low-rolling-resistance tyres.

Ford Australia, however, admits it faces a challenge to convince buyers in a segment that for decades has been renowned for both six-cylinder and V8 engines.

“It will be interesting to see the dynamic over the next nine months with this offering [in the market],” says Brad Brownell, Ford Australia’s vice president of marketing, sales and service.

“The balance this year we’re thinking about 2000 units [of the EcoBoost] and then we’ll see where the consumer acceptance of it is. [We expect] a range of between 10 and 20 per cent [of total Falcon sales] out of the gates into 2013.

“We’ll have to gauge it where the demand is. We’ve got flexibility where we can take it higher.”

“We’re not hanging our hat on this [four-cylinder] as the be all and end all. We want to have a number of tools in the toolbox between the 6cyl, Ecoboost and LPi – it covers a lot of what the customer is demanding.”

Ford is hoping, however, that the four-cylinder turbo will add incremental sales that will help stabilise annual Falcon sales at about 25,000.

Brownell says it’s unlikely the smaller engine would eventually replace the company’s 4.0-litre six, which is also available in more varied forms, such as LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), and that there will, at least initially, be greater interest from fleet and government rather than private buyers.

“It will be [fleets initially] because it’s a quick, easy move,” he says. “It’s easier to educate a group of 15 fleets plus government buyers, and that’s part of the launch strategy to get them experiencing [the four-cylinder turbo engine] first hand.

“When you look at government and larger fleets, if you didn’t have a four-cylinder offering you were pretty much taken out of the consideration list.

“It’s no guarantees [having the Ford Falcon EcoBoost], but it opens the door a crack.”

Six-cylinder models are typically priced higher than four-cylinder versions of the same car, though Ford Australia has positioned the Falcon EcoBoost range – comprising base model XT and more luxury-focused G6 and G6E – identically to the six-cylinder versions of those variants.

The Falcon XT starts at $37,235, the G6 at $40,835 and the G6E is priced from $46,735.

The company argues it could have asked a premium for the four-cylinder turbo because it’s a more technologically advanced engine.

A member of Ford’s petrol engine calibration team based in the UK, Andrew Fraser, was in Australia this week to help launch the Ford Falcon EcoBoost.

He says an analogy can be made with high-tech gadgets such as Apple products and smartphones.

“In some ways we think engine development is now moving in the same way as consumer electronics have gone,” says Fraser. “The world in many ways is willing to pay a premium for small, light, more efficient products… mobile phones, iPads...

“[And] there’s a premium you pay for the smallest most efficient unit.”

Ford also describes the EcoBoost engine as a “no compromise” offering, saying the four-cylinder barely loses any performance to the six-cylinder yet is more fuel efficient.

The Spanish-built 2.0-litre direct injection four-cylinder turbo produces 179kW of power and 353Nm of torque when the Falcon is filled with 95 premium unleaded.

That compares with 195kW and 391Nm – on lower-grade, regular unleaded petrol - for the Australian-built 4.0-litre six-cylinder.

Ford is planning further updates for the Falcon up to 2016 as part of the latest co-investment with federal and state governments, announced at the 2012 Detroit motor show, though the company is not providing any guarantees for the large car’s future beyond that.

Click to read the Ford Falcon EcoBoost Review.