With the Ford Falcon having posted its lowest-ever sales result in 2012, and falling out of the top 20 sales charts by one spot, the new year is a good time to pause, reflect, and ponder again if Australians really are missing out on a good thing.
The four-cylinder turbo Ford Falcon EcoBoost, specifically, has been on sale for almost a full year, yet it has failed to provide the necessary boost to get Falcon flying out of showrooms.
For whatever reason, it’s not for want of ability – let’s quit the suspense, the car is brilliant.
The entry-level Ford Falcon XT EcoBoost retails for $37,325, the same figure as the thirstier, torquier, traditional six-cylinder model. But nobody ever pays full retail for the big sedan from Broadmeadows, and we’ve seen Falcon XT EcoBoost variants with dealer-year stickers reading less than $30K driveaway.
What you’re getting for that price is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder producing 179kW at a low-ish 5500rpm, and 353Nm at a very low 2500rpm. Forget the cylinder count, because the 3.0-litre non-turbo V6 in the Holden Commodore Omega needs 2900rpm showing on the tachometer to deliver just 290Nm. The Holden engine must also push a heavier car – although that will be rectified with the lighter VF generation overhaul in a few months.
Ford hasn’t just dropped two cylinders, however. Adding extra sound-deadening on the firewall means that the turbo-four doesn’t sound weedy and thrashy; it’s quieter than a Commodore V6 or Falcon 4.0-litre six-cylinder, revs harder and sounds nicer than either of them, yet slurps less juice – just to cement its dominance.
While the economy claim for the Ford Falcon EcoBoost is 8.5L/100km combined, compared with 9.9L/100km for the six-cylinder and 8.9L/100km for the Commodore Omega, we saw 10L/100km on test in mixed conditions. Not bad for a car that powers to 100km/h in less than seven seconds, around half a second quicker than Falcon with its heavy six-cylinder, and a full tick of the timepiece before the torque-deprived Holden V6.
But a smaller engine also makes for a lighter engine, and less weight on the Falcon’s nose means the EcoBoost is the best-handling model to ever wear the badge – and that includes the under-damped and heavy FPV models.
The Ford Falcon XT EcoBoost turns into corners with verve, and can really be pushed along on the throttle until the humble GoodYear 16-inch rubber starts to howl. Its steering precision and chassis dynamics are outstanding. There’s no need to plaster an Australian flag tattoo on your arm to say that this Falcon’s dynamics are truly world class, equal or better than the similarly-sized BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, both of which also get turbo fours up front in base form.
Badge snobs will scoff, no doubt, and it’s unfortunate that the clothes the Falcon wears inside and out are more Hard Yakka than Hermes. Even for sub-$30K, the cabin quality is below average, with hard, brittle and often ill-fitting plastics almost everywhere the eye falls.
On the upside, the way the buttons on the centre stack operate – especially with the optional colour touchscreen – is ergonomic perfection. There are a few things that grate, however – the lack of rear headrests, non-illuminated steering wheel buttons, and trip computer buttons obscured by a steering wheel that also doesn’t go high enough for tall drivers.
In terms of wind and road noise, the Falcon XT EcoBoost is far from class leading, a prize which the new Toyota Camry and Aurion own. Refinement is also an area which Holden promises to address with the forthcoming VF Commodore.
But in every other way, from seat comfort (superb), to cabin room (better than any compact SUV), to air conditioning performance (far superior to the Honda CR-V and Peugeot 208 recently tested), and even right down to the inclusion of rear seat air vents – the Volkswagen Tiguan and Renault Koleos are, astonishingly, only two of a dozen compact SUVs that include rear coolers – the Falcon is unbeatable.
Likewise with ride comfort. The Falcon’s standard dampers and sensibly chubby (and cheap to replace) rubber are a reminder of how needlessly complicated ‘premium’ cars have become. The XT EcoBoost rides brilliantly, soothing around town, erasing country road lumps, and only becoming bouncy when pushing hard on undulating roads.
The image problem with the Ford Falcon is down to its association with taxis, its dreadful resale – roughly 35-40 per cent retained after three years, a reflection of how cheap fleet buyers get the car – while the thought of a four-cylinder powering a large car may have troubled some. The FG series is now almost five years old, and feels it with its interior design. Yet it also has at least another 12 to 18 months to serve before a mid-life upgrade, and will also cop a wedge from the undoubtedly much-improved VF Commodore in a few months.
It’s a perfect storm to continue tearing up the Ford Falcon’s once proud popularity, and placing its future in jeopardy. But the fact is the current generation Falcon XT EcoBoost is fast, frugal, roomy, comfortable, with a winning trifecta of superb steering, ride and handling. It’s simply better than any compact SUV and almost every mid-sized sedan.
There’s really no need for blind parochialism to clearly see that.