Dropping a smaller engine under the bonnet was never going to save the Ford Falcon. It’s an unpalatable fact of life for our local carmakers that big sedan sales are slumping everywhere from Germany to Geraldton as buyers scale down and step up.
What the EcoBoost mill does prove is just how good Ford’s new generation of engines are. Ironically, that’s one of the reasons why the Focus will supplant the Falcon as the Blue Oval’s biggest seller this year. But for those who can’t fit in a Focus, the Falcon’s ride and handling makes it a better option than an SUV.
A proven chassis with a responsive, hi-tech engine … what’s not to like? The Falcon can carry five adults in comfort and the boot will swallow more than Matt Preston. It costs the same as the six-cylinder engine - $37,235 in XT guise, rising to $40,835 for the mid-spec G6, with the promise of better fuel use. Carsguide averaged just on 9L/100km in mainly city driving. Space aside, the EcoBoost Falcon will be shopped against everything from the Kia Optima and Mazda6 to the Skoda Superb.
The Falcon is showing its age in terms of driving aids and software. The touchscreen is good but there’s no satnav or reversing camera for the XT, though it does have rear parking sensors. Operating the driver’s info displays requires taking the hands off the wheel to reach the buttons mounted either side of the instrument cluster. The rumoured 2014 facelift will bring the interior on a par with the latest Fords, so expect voice-operated control of the sound system and the latest Bluetooth connectivity.
This is where the Falcon suffers. It doesn’t look as sporty as its traditional rival, the Commodore. In the past that wasn’t a huge issue, given private buyers would go for the XR models and fleets would take the conservative look. But fleets - and governments - aren’t buying big cars, locally built or otherwise. The cabin needs some highlights to offset what is large area of grey plastics … but that’s what the facelift is for.
Size matters in a crash, making the Falcon one of the safer cars to run up against. It has a five-star ANCAP rating and comes with six airbags and ABS with traction and stability control and electronic brakeforce distribution.
The EcoBoost makes the six-cylinder redundant, unless buyers need the extra towing capacity - 2300kg against 1600kg. The four-cylinder prefers premium leaded, in which case sub-seven second times to 100km/h are easily within reach. More impressive is the mid-range acceleration and the way the six-speed auto has been calibrated to bring out the EcoBoost’s best.
It lopes along at under 2000rpm at 100km/h and a quick dab of the pedal provides instant overtaking response. It's the same at 60 and 80km/h and at any speed this car turns-in better than bigger-engined Falcons, courtesy of the 60kg weight cut over the front wheels. The ride is also near XR levels of firmness but never feels unsettled. the seats need upgrading though - bolstering support is marginal at the cornering speeds the EcoBoost is capable of.
The EcoBoost Falcon makes sense at a time when big cars don’t. It has interior space to deal with a mushrooming teenage family and the baggage that comes with them, backed by decent fuel economy and well-sorted road manners. Upgrade the interior and I’d have one.
Ford Falcon EcoBoost XT
Price: from $37,325
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Crash rating: Five stars
Safety: Six airbags, ABS, TC, ESC, EBD
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 179kW/353Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto, RWD
Dimensions: 4965mm (L); 1868mm (W); 1488mm (H)
Thirst: 8.1L/100km, 192g/km CO2