Ford put a new four-cylinder 2.0-litre Falcon to an unusual test in Tasmania last week - it lined it up against a traditional six- cylinder 4.0-litre model in a drag race to see which got to 100 kmh first.
The 2.0-litre model won.
In fact, the new Falcon EcoBoost won the drag several times, as journalists from New Zealand and Australia took turns to tear down a straight at the Baskerville raceway inland from Hobart.
The fastest time recorded by the V-box installed in the Ford was 6.5 seconds, and the average was a very respectable 6.8 seconds.
Pretty good, huh? Significant too, because it emphasised the good things that are being achieved by the motor industry as it moves along a strategy of replacing larger engines with smaller versions that offer the same power but superior fuel economy.
In the case of the Falcon, the engine is a 2.0-litre version of the Ford-developed EcoBoost engine that is being installed in various guises in a growing lineup of Ford, Land Rover and Volvo product.
EcoBoost is based on three core technologies - turbocharging, direct injection, and independent variable camshaft timing, Ford of Europe powertrain team member Andrew Fraser told last week's media conference.
"It's all about downsizing, yet getting more for less," he said. "But the secret is not to compromise anything in other areas. Today is very much an 'and' society - which means that, with motor vehicles, customers will continue to want power and refinement.
"So with EcoBoost, the project has involved us looking for economy and environmental solutions, but with no compromises."
It's a massive global project, too. By next year, Ford plans to have more than 90 per cent of its nameplates to be available with EcoBoost engine options ranging from a 3.5-litre V6 to a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit, and at that stage it expects to be annually producing 1.5 million of the engines.
In New Zealand, there is already an EcoBoost Mondeo on the market, and the 179 kW EcoBoost Falcon XT hits the showroom floors from this week, offered with the same $48,490 price tag as the 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder equivalent.
Later this year, it'll be the turn of the Focus; and next year, new Kuga SUV and Fiesta hatch models will also be launched armed with the new technology.
Although Ford Australia is launching the EcoBoost Falcon in XT, G6 and G6E levels of specification, at this stage Ford New Zealand will only be taking the base XT model as it tests the proverbial water of the fleet market.
It'll be interesting to see how it sells.
Ford NZ managing director Neale Hill believes it has the potential to strike a chord with motorists who are restricted to 2.0-litre cars as their fleet vehicles, and who will now have the opportunity to upsize to Falcon dimensions.
Based on at the exercises at the Baskerville raceway, followed by a drive programme that took journalists up into the Tasmanian highlands, my early opinion is that those who do go the EcoBoost way will be getting a surprisingly good car.
While the turbocharger-assisted acceleration performance showed up to be superior to that provided by the veteran straight six, average economy is superior too - it's easy to attain Ford's published figure of 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres, and in fact my driving partner and I got our average consumption down to as low as 6.5 L/100 km and finished a 200 km drive programme with an average of 6.7 L/100km. That's better than 42 miles per gallon.
By way of comparison, the straight-six XT's published average fuel consumption is 9.9 L/100 km. Just as impressive is the ride and handling, which I think just may be superior to the other Falcon models.
There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least the fact that the in-line-four engine is shorter and has therefore required some important upgrades to steering and suspension to accommodate its lighter mass.
The EcoBoost Falcon has a larger front stabiliser bar, spring and damper rates have been stiffened, and the car's ride height has been lowered by 13mm. The Falcon's 73.9 kg lighter weight has also required development of a brand-new variable displacement power steering pump.
Initial impressions tell me that all this has combined to present a Falcon that feels very composed, and quiet, under all driving environments - and I particularly enjoyed the operation of a latest- generation ZF six-speed auto which is lighter than before.
Frankly I came away impressed. The only area where I can see the EcoBoost Falcon loses ground to the six-cylinder model is with towing capability. This car is rated to tow 1600 kg, which is way down on the 2300 kg the bigger-engined model can haul.
I suppose there will be some resistance to the introduction of EcoBoost Falcon, with many who for years have been fed a diet of six- and eight-cylinder models, viewing with some distain the very thought of the big Ford being powered by a four-cylinder engine.
But here's an interesting counter to that. At this week's media conference, one of the Ford staffers pointed out that automobile engines are just like other consumer items such as mobile phones and laptops, in that as ongoing development continues, they are becoming smaller, more powerful and more capable.
The challenge is for the car companies and the market to take advantage of that. And if that means accepting that less can mean more, then the market can benefit as well.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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