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Ford Falcon Eco LPI First Drive
Looks like a Falcon, drives like a Falcon and it is a Falcon but with some trick new stuff under the bonnet. Indeed, so good is this new car that Ford engineers might have just about killed off the petrol-powered 4.0-litre in-line six that's been the mainstay of the Falcon for decades.
Almost every vehicle manufacturer is actively searching for ways to reduce the amount of energy their vehicles consume and emissions they produce. Some are choosing different powertrain options like hybrid petrol/electric, others, are using efficient little diesels, or a combination of the two, diesel /hybrid.
Mitsubishi and Nissan have pure electric models in their line-up here in Australia; Ford finally got serious about the Ford Territory, shoe-horning the old-generation Landrover Discovery 2.7-litre V6 diesel into the engine bay recently. The Territory diesel now consumes 8.5L/100km, not bad for an almost two-tonne SUV. Back in 2004 when we first tested the Territory TX petrol we recorded an average of 14.1L/100km.
Ford globally hasn't exactly been sitting on its hands and, to be fair, it does sell the most fuel efficient car on the market here in Australia, the Fiesta Econetic.
But let's get down to business. The now superseded E-gas FG Falcon provided an alternative to the petrol version, but the way in which LPG was injected into the engine was old-school and the car lacked many of the improvements that the current FG petrol models had, like, for instance, a six-speed automatic transmission.
Ford looked at the unique characteristics of LPG and made the decision to re-engineer some key components of the 4.0-litre in-line six to best suit the fuel. Specially designed pistons fill the bores and the result is a raised compression ratio of 12.5:1, a ratio that would kill most petrol engines.
To ensure the Eco LPI Falcon would behave just like a normal Falcon, hot or cold, other engineering changes include a door ajar sensor that primes the fuel system before you get inside and turn the key.
The Eco LPI Falcon will cost an additional $2500 compared to the petrol equivalent, currently starting at $42,290 for an XT auto, but there's a $2000 rebate available from the Federal Government so that effectively lowers the premium to just an $500.
At around 60cents/litre for LPG it will take around six months before you start to realise any savings, but it's a better scenario compared to a few years ago when there were no subsidies to soften the blow.
You can choose the Eco LPI option on the sedan and Ute range. In sedans, it's available in XT, G6, G6E and XR6 models and XT, R6 and XR6 in the Ute.
We had a chance to drive the new Eco LPI FG Falcon last week and compare it with its petrol equivalent.
Outwardly the only difference is the new Eco LPI badging on the rear boot-lid, and inside it's the same story. It's just like any current series Falcon.
Open the boot and that's where you will spot the difference, though. The Eco LPI has a flat floor and the LPG tank sits underneath taking up the space that a spare wheel would ordinarily occupy in a petrol Falcon. Strapped to the side of the boot is a tyre inflator kit instead of a spare wheel. If you choose to you can have a temporary use spare instead but that will rob you of some boot space, and if you want a full size spare, you can order one of those, too. That comes at a cost of $250 and takes up even more boot space.
The only other difference you may notice is when you start the engine. Turn the key to the crank position and there's a delay, until the engine management system is satisfied the gas is in the right state to inject into the engine.
Once started the idle quality is just as smooth as a petrol car, and out on our drive leg from Ford HQ, the Eco LPI Falcon felt just like its petrol-powered sibling. Any doubts the Eco LPI doesn't perform as well were dispelled after we turned in through the gates at the Broadford driver training centre and put a petrol Falcon and the new Eco LPI through a series of acceleration tests.
The Eco LPI performed just as well as the petrol Falcon. Acceleration from a standing start was strong and the engine pulled energetically all the way to redline, and with both engines having virtually the same power and torque figures, I struggled to pick which one was which.
The Falcon or any other large car, for that matter, is struggling. Buyers are deserting the traditional large ‘family car' in droves, preferring the variety in powertrains and versatility the ever increasing compact SUV market has to offer.
The Eco LPI seeks to arrest the slide into motoring oblivion for the Falcon. By virtue of its lower cost LPG offers a cost-effective alternative to petrol here in Australia. The Eco LPI emits less C02 when compared with its equivalent petrol model and after you have paid off the extra in purchase price it's cheaper to run, too. Which begs the question, why would you buy a petrol model?
|Model||Falcon Eco LPI|
Looks and drives just like a petrol version: emits just 203gm/km of CO2, and there's a government rebate to soften the blow of purchase.
If you need a full size spare it will rob you of some boot space.
|Country of manufacture||Australia|
|Available from||July 2011|
|Number of cylinders||6|
|Claimed fuel consumption||12.5 L/100km|
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