ECOBOOST FALCON REVIEW
Vehicle style: Large family sedan
Engine: Ecoboost 2.0 litre I-4 VCT turbo
Fuel consumption (claimed): 8.1 l/100km
Pricing: Falcon Ecoboost XT $37,235; Ecoboost G6 $40,835; Ecoboost G6E $46,735 (plus on-road costs for each.)
There are a couple of things you need to know about Ford Australia's new 2.0 litre I-4 VCT Ecoboost Falcon.
First, it's not slow: far from it. From the wheel you would barely pick that there was anything other than a big strong 'Aussie' six under the bonnet.
It's the long flat torque curve that's responsible here. There's a lusty 353Nm under the toe available from 2000rpm. And with a power output of 179kW, it's got both the higher and lower ends of the rev-range covered.
Second, the Ecoboost Falcon is inherently better balanced than its six-cylinder counterparts - there are only margins in it, but it's there.
While 73kg lighter overall, most of the weight-saving is found over the front end, giving a better fore-aft weight distribution. It also sits on lowered suspension.
After a day in the saddle - a brief stint on the track at Tasmania's Baskerville raceway for time-trial comparisons with Ford's inline-six and LPi models followed by a long lash through the Tasmanian Midlands then back into Hobart - the question is not whether the Ecoboost is up to the task or not, but whether it's a better car, pound for pound, than the six cylinder models it sits alongside.
We think it might be.
Towing capacity is down: 1600kg for the Ecoboost compared to 2300kg for the i6. But on nearly every other metric, the 2.0 litre Ecoboost is a match or better.
And of one thing we're convinced: the Ecoboost Falcon provides the same loping, effortless highway cruising, the same stab of power for overtaking, and, of course, the same large-car internal space, as Ford's naturally-aspirated six-cylinder range.
It feels at least as eager away from the line and in rolling acceleration, as - say - the Commodore Omega 3.0 litre V6. It feels quicker than the Camry and also quicker than sporting mid-sizers like the Mazda6 and Accord Euro.
But we shouldn't be surprised. A potent four under the bonnet of a larger car is no new concept. It's been understood by Mercedes-Benz and BMW drivers for years. Their best selling mid-sizers - recognised nearly everywhere as the benchmarks for sporting 'family' saloons - are potent fours, petrol and diesel, not sixes.
In the case of the Ecoboost Falcon, there is something 'right' about the feel of this car from Ford Australia.
Maybe it's the coming together of a whole lot of increments, but it adds a subtle layer of finesse to the Falcon in the way it feels at the wheel and the way it goes about things on the road.
There is also a lot right about its fuel consumption and CO2 performance (192g/km for the XT, 201g/km for G6 and G6E).
On the drive through the Midlands, we gave our G6 a very serious workout. Hard acceleration and sustained high speeds, followed by a slow poke back through Hobart to the waterfront, produced an average fuel consumption of 9.2 l/100km.
Our colleagues in an XT, with whom we tag-teamed for a 'tortoise and hare' comparison, and who drove as a family driver might, recorded an average of 8.2 l/100km.
On that unscientific basis, Ford's claims of 8.1 l/100km for the XT and 8.5 l/100km for the G6 look achievable.
It's hard in fact to find a debit. Perhaps the Ecoboost sounds a bit drab - it's quiet and spins effortlessly, and, even when working hard, isn't thrashy or breathless - but it doesn't emit the satisfying burble of a BMW, or even the sporting rasp of the Accord Euro.
And perhaps the FG MkII range is starting to acquire something of a 'grandpa's axe' quality about it - that despite the styling update it doesn't look as crisply modern as the lines of its key imported competitors.
Nothing new here: the Falcon XT and G6 models we drove are known quantities. These are identical in trim, interior style, feature-list and comfort as their six-cylinder counterparts.
We like the Falcon's interior - always have. There's a stylish soft-feel dash, appealing metal highlights and tactile surfaces, robust switchgear and a very good marriage of lines and surfaces throughout.
There are a lot of fussy, overdesigned and plain gauche interiors out there - this is not one of them.
It's a restful interior with an understated elegance to the lines and layout.
I'm not sure the 8-inch colour touch-screen display works - it looks a tad low-brow to me - but it's clear and easily navigated and comes with integrated audio and phone functions, along with satellite navigation for the G6E series.
Where the Ecoboost scores over the six-cylinder variants in the range is in quietness and refinement. There is additional sound insulation under the bonnet, dash, floors and around the engine bay.
There is also a new engine cover insulator, under-engine insulation, a new acoustic windscreen and new exhaust system.
The result is improved NVH in an already serene and impressive package. Even when working hard, there is very little mechanical intrusion to the interior.
And road roar - the shearing of tyres on coarse tarmac - is equally low. Few imported cars, even premium models, can match or even get close to the levels of isolation of road-surface variations as our locally engineered cars.
Despite the fitting of low rolling-resistance tyres to the XT, we noticed no discernable difference in NVH performance between it and the G6 we drove.
On The Road
Let's begin with a look at the engine.
The Ecoboost I-4 2.0 litre is an oversquare design of 1999cm3 with an 87.5mm bore, a relatively short stroke of 83.1mm, and compression ratio of 9.3:1.
It features twin-independent variable valve timing (VCT) to optimise performance across the rev range.
Depending upon the load on the engine, the VCT is an intelligent system that can overlap the opening and closing of intake and exhaust valves; at its most basic, the result is higher torque outputs at lower engine speeds.
It also features four valves per cylinder, chain-driven camshafts, direct fuel injection and a balance shaft to mitigate mechanical vibration.
The operation of the turbo-charger - which spins at up to 200,000 rpm and is engineered for a life-span of more than 200,000 kilometres or 10 years - is designed to eliminate turbo lag and provide peak torque across a wide engine-speed range.
Throttle response, we found, is as good as instantaneous. On road, it is certainly assisted by the well-proven ZF six-speed auto (which is one of the smarter and more satisfying auto transmissions around).
Quiet, strong, and delightfully balanced, it is a super motor matched to a brisk, responsive and intelligent auto.
Besides its nimble and responsive performance, the biggest surprise when driving the Ecoboost Falcon - a large and relatively heavy car - is the 'settled' nature of the transmission.
It doesn't fidget or hunt for gears which we expected it might. Again, it's the very wide torque band that is responsible.
It doesn't need to row up and down through the ratios to keep the engine in the meat of its torque and power output. Instead, it drives in the same relaxed way the torquey i6 performs when mated to the ZF.
When it needs to kick-down, when overtaking or punching out of a corner, it puts the right gear underfoot every time.
Some of the less-sophisticated fours - such as the i40 Tourer wagon of our recent experience - will kick to the wrong gear and scream its head off for a moment without aiding progress, before then finding the right ratio.
There is none of that nonsense with this ZF and Ecoboost pairing. In this it matches the better Euro performers and, certainly, its Ford six-cylinder stablemates.
On the track, Tasmania's old Baskerville circuit, in a straight out nose-to-nose shoot-out with an FG MkII i6 and LPi Falcon, the overwhelming on-road impression that there is little between the performance of the Ecoboost and Ford's six-cylinder warriors would seem to be verified.
The straight stretch of track for the acceleration-testing sloped downhill, so these 0-100km/h figures are only useful as a comparison (don't expect to emulate this on a flat track).
From a braked standing start, we managed 6.61 seconds for the i6; 6.67 seconds for the LPi, and 6.70 seconds for the Ecoboost.
Best run of the day, by another of our colleagues, managed 6.66 seconds for the Ecoboost.
These figures confirm the close match in outright performance of the Ecoboost that we earlier found in a shoot-out with naturally aspirated six-cylinder Falcon models when first exposed to the car in December last year.
Then, three-up in the cars under comparison, the Ecoboost was again a very close match in acceleration performance (within 0.5 of a second).
And for 'real world' performance on the road - strong, quiet, effortless - it is difficult to fault.
So too is the handling. Typical for the Falcon range, it easily absorbs big knocks from broken or ratty tarmac without getting unsettled or transferring the shock through to the cabin.
With the lighter, shorter Ecoboost in the nose, turn-in seems noticeably improved. We've never thought any in the FG range was shabby for cornering performance, but the Ecoboost Falcon feels particularly sharp.
We think the rebound damping could be firmed, you can feel the weight transfer when punching out of a corner, but this is a superior handling car.
The rear is delightfully tied down: rear springs are 40 percent firmer than its six-cylinder stablemates (front springs 13 percent firmer).
First Drive Verdict
When you take the Ecoboost Falcon for a test drive, prepare for a surprise. In our estimation, on the basis of this first drive, it's the pick of the Falcon range.
Sourced in Valencia Spain, the Ecoboost I-4 is an impressive engine loaded with expensive technologies - but what a mill.
At its launch, Ford Australia boss Bob Graziano said, " Ecoboost is a cornerstone of our strategy; we want fuel efficiency as a reason to buy Ford vehicles."
He could easily have added "refinement" and "effortless performance".
Its introduction to the Falcon range adds a noticeable level of finesse to an already fine car - one that is, in our view, better engineered and better buying than many of the imported models eating into its sales.
Besides improved refinement, the Ecoboost Falcon puts fuel-saving performance, with the effortless power to match a 'big-six', in a traditional Australian large car. Where's the downside in that?
But don't take our word, check it out.
The recommended MLP for the new FG Falcon MkII EcoBoost range is:
FG Falcon MkII EcoBoost
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