The Falcon four-cylinder works. It's lively and responsive, cushy and quiet, and it has the right numbers for the 21st century.
The new EcoBoost mechanical package scrapes the barnacles off the homegrown Falcon and could - should - at least slow the showroom death spiral which means Ford Australia is only committed to its homegrown hero until 2016.
A 2.0-litre four in the front of the Falcon would have been craziness just a handful of years ago, but the blue oval brand's global focus on EcoBoost technology in everything from the Fiesta up to the F-Series truck brings big benefits for Australians.
Now, if Ford can just get people to take a test drive... "I think it's a landmark car in the history of the Falcon. It changes the perception of what people expect in a Falcon," the president of Ford Australia, Bob Graziano, tells Carsguide.
The EcoBoost Falcon is not as punchy as the regulation inline six, and it pays a penalty in towing power, but the green-focussed turbo motor does the job with power of 179 kiloWatts, torque of 353 Newton-metres, fuel economy of 8.1 litres/100km, the ability to run on 91 unleaded and parity pricing that starts at $37,235. And, before you ask, it cannot be converted to run on LPG.
The EcoBoost engine package costs more than the inline six, and it has to be shipped from Spain instead of rolling down the road from Geelong, but Ford has decided on line-ball pricing for the new Falcon fighter.
That means a $26,990 kick-off for the Falcon XT and a top end at $46,735 for the G6E model, which now seems a little strangely named with a six in the badge and a four in the nose. Ford has its global EcoBoost boss in Hobart for the Falcon launch and he is clear on the objectives. "One common theme ins around the globe - customers are concerned about the cost of ownership," says Andrew Fraser.
The EcoBoost cars benefit from the FG Series II upgrade at the end of last year, which means plenty of standard equipment and genuine luxury in the G6E. But value also means what you pay at the pump, and the Falcon four makes a big breakthrough with a truly economical engine that's not a compromise on performance.
The car also picks up the capped-price servicing package introduced by Ford last year. Against its rivals, it has an obvious marketing advantage over the basic Commodore with 3.0-litre six, as well as better numbers, and Ford sees it doing well also against the latest Toyota Aurion and the ageing Honda Accord V6.
Switching from a six to a four is not a simple as it sounds. The EcoBoost transformation - and it is just that - means a lot more than a straightforward engine swap.
The shorter four goes in easily enough, and brings a 74-kilogram weight advantage, but there is a lot of plumbing to be changed - intercooler, piping, exhaust and more go in - as well as complicated stuff in the suspension and even low-rolling resistance tyres and an 'acoustic' windscreen to cut noise.
The end game is more than just a nice number for fuel economy. "We see ourselves as an enthusiast brand. So it must be fun to drive," says Fraser.
So the suspension has had a lot of tweaking, the calibration of the six-speed auto has been adjusted - with help from the variable valve timing - to virtually eliminate the dreaded 'turbo lag', and even the exhaust note has been tuned to prevent the car sounding wheezy or overworked.
"We did not want this to seem like a busy four-cylinder engine in a big car. We wanted six-cylinder performance with four-cylinder fuel economy," says David Wilkinson, who is the Falcon project leader at Broadmeadows.
How do you pick the Falcon four? Look for the EcoBoost badge, because that's the only hint. The EcoBoost model sits a little lower, but it's only a little. And that's it. Still, the latest Falcon has a solid stance, looks more classy than a taxi, and the cabin is loaded with features.
But, as a Carguide reader recently told us, the dashboard fits in the Falcon are not as tight - or as consistent - as you would hope and it's definitely not as good as an Aurion on the overall quality front.
The EcoBoost Falcon is a five-star car, and there are six airbags with the usual ESP and ABS. Ford has tweaked the stability control to take account of the changes to the weight balance and suspension tuning and chassis chief Alex de Vlugt says the low rolling resistance tyres still have proper grip and don't compromise the car.
But we now wonder how long it will be before Ford Australia fits Isofix child seat mounts - since the system is now finally approved for local use - to boost the safety of kids in its local car.
This is where the EcoBoost story comes to life. Turn the key and the first thing I notice - or don't - is the flat, farty exhaust note of the regulation six-pack. The Falcon four is quiet and refined. Slip the car into drive and it eases away, tip into the accelerator and it gathers pace without fuss or bother. Most people, I'm sure, would not pick the four in the engine room.
Kick down for a lane change or stoplight sprint and the EcoBoost responds eagerly, with plenty of pull from as little as 1500 revs and a solid spin to the up change point at 6500 revs. It does not have the instant midrange thump of the six, but that's the only thing missing. Head out of town, which is easy with the EcoBoost fleet running from Hobart, and the car feels quieter than any other Falcon, also lighter on its suspension and with lighter steering.
Basically, it feels like a smaller car. That's good for the driver in all conditions, but especially on a twisty road where the car is more eager to turn and feels more like an Accord Euro than a LandCruiser. If you think I'm a fan, you're right. But I'm not the only one, as the editor of Wheels magazine keeps saying "This is a good car, no a great car" from the passenger seat.
He's right, and it is. Actually, the EcoBoost Falcon is a reminder that Australian engineers can still do world-class cars when they have the the right tools and funding for the job. So it's such a pity that so few people are expected to be won to the new-age Falcon, and that it really won't influence the long-term future of the car or company in Australia.
The final kicker comes on a quiet highway cruise back to Hobart, as the fuel economy readout in the trip computer settles at 6.9 litres/100km with the speedo sitting on 100km/h. Last week I go 6.6 in a Subaru Impreza, and that is in a different class completely.
It's a winner. I would happily welcome an EcoBoost Falcon as my new company car and will recommend it to friends. It's a sweeter car than the Falcon six, more impressive than the 3-litre Holden Commodore, and finally drives the big Aussie battler out of the rust belt at a time when Ford desperately needs another hero. Take one for a drive and you won't be disappointed.
Ford Falcon EcoBoost
Price: from $37,235 (XT) to $46,735 (G6E)
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 53 per cent
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: Five star
Transmission: six-speed sports automatic, rear wheel drive
Thirst: 8.5 / 100Km