FALCON LPi COMBINES PERFORMANCE WITH LOW EMISSIONS

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Regular readers of this column will be aware that one of our constant gripes is that Australian governments of all persuasions are making little or no attempt to encourage us to switch to low-emission vehicles. So the cancellation, in mid-2014, of the previous $2000 federal government grant on private-use LPG vehicles – including this week’s test car, the Ford Falcon EcoLPi – while disappointing, should come as no surprise.

The change means that buyers must now pay the full $2500 surcharge if they opt for the cleaner burning LPG fuel over the equivalent petrol-fuelled Falcon. Based on previous calculations by Ford Australia it will take about two and a half years to recoup this amount. In the unlikely event of the current low petrol prices continuing for any length of time then it will take even longer.

Unless Ford changes its mind and follows the lead of Holden, who have decided to retain the Commodore name post-local production, then this will be the final generation of the Ford Falcon. And a sad day it will be with more than 3.5 million Falcons being sold since its debut in 1960.

The EcoLPi is now available in the entry level Falcon and XR6 models with both sedan, cab-chassis and Styleside ute bodies. Our test was in the XR6 sedan.

The most obvious exterior change is the new global Ford signature trapezoidal grille, which to my eyes doesn’t work anywhere near as well in the big Falcon as it does in the smaller Fords. There’s also a new chiselled headlight treatment and smoother, wraparound tail-lamps with LED technology on high-end models. The EcoLPi XR6 gets daytime running lights, the standard Falcon doesn’t.

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The first thing that you’ll notice when you get into the EcoLPi Falcon is a delay of a second or so between pressing the start button and the engine firing up. Indeed, apart from the screw-in fuel cap and a slightly smaller boot (down 71 litres to 464 litres) there’s little to distinguish it from the petrol XR6. That boot space is helped by the absence of any sort of spare tyre. A repair kit is supplied.

ENGINE
The EcoLPi six-cylinder engine generates 198 kW of power and 409 Nm of torque at 3250 rpm, marginally higher (by 3 kW and 18 Nm) than the same engine when operating on 95 RON unleaded petrol. EcoLPi’s power peaks at 5000 rpm, 1000 revs lower than the petrol, and so can run out of steam a bit early.

Fuel consumption from the Ford Falcon EcoLPi is about 25 per cent higher than that for the equivalent six-cylinder petrol model. The 120-litre gas cylinder can only be filled to about 93 litres as space must be left for expansion of the liquid into gas form. In country running the fuel range can be over 700 kilometres, around town this will drop to about 400 to 500 km.

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Official ADR 81/02 testing with EcoLPi on the combined urban/highway cycle produced figures of 12.6 litres per 100 km on the EcoLPi XR6. On a 400 km round trip to the NSW South Coast we averaged an acceptable 13.6 L/100 km.

Similarly, CO2 emissions from the EcoLPi are 204 grams per kilometre compared with 225 g/km from the petrol XR6.

SAFETY
In addition to the standard safety features both Falcon EcoLPi models get a Driver Fatigue Warning system; reversing camera; front and rear parking sensors; front seat side-thorax airbags; and with its Dynamic Stability Control recalibrated to match the Ford EcoLPi engine, transmission and suspension.

The EcoLPi shares with the whole FG X Falcon range a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

INFOTAINMENT
We found Bluetooth pairing to be frustratingly complex to such an extent that we almost went to the last resort and consulted the owner’s handbook! While such things are an annoyance to motoring journos who change cars every week they will easily become second nature to ‘real’ buyers and Ford’s Microsoft-based Sync2 system certainly offers plenty of leading edge technology including Emergency Assistance and voice commands to control telephone, music, radio, air conditioning and satellite navigation (package option in XR6).

The system is accessed through a high-resolution 8-inch colour touch screen with four large colour-coded quadrants. It’s easy to use with minimum distraction time.

There’s also digital radio, that is if you live in a city. For the rest of us the wait continues.

DRIVING
Coming off a succession of SUV road tests we found Falcon slightly more cramped on entry with the steering wheel needing to be set high and the seat low to avoid knee-scraping. Once underway all that was forgotten with the driving dynamics so much better than any of the SUVs. But that’s the practicality vs performance trade-off battle that SUVs are clearly winning and contributing to the Falcon’s demise.

Out on the open road Falcon EcoLPi XR6 is indistinguishable from its petrol-fuelled partner. Its quiet and comfortable when cruising and with excellent turn-in, plenty of rear grip and minimal body roll even under hard cornering.

SUMMING UP
The EcoLPI Falcon offers power, torque and engine performance coupled with the space, comfort and towing capability of a family sedan. Best of all, it brings down fuel costs and emissions levels to those normally only seen in a much smaller car.

Unlike other alternative fuels, LPG is readily available right across Australia and with the Ford EcoLPi system offers significant savings in vehicle running costs and immediate advantages in treatment of the environment. Both are becoming increasingly important factors when it comes to buying a family car, a fact that our civic leaders don’t see as important. Or more cynically – don’t see as vote winners.

The myFord Capped Price Servicing program now runs to seven years and 135,000 km, whichever comes first and includes brake pad replacements albeit up to a maximum amount.

The complete Ford Falcon EcoLPi range, with prices (excluding dealer and government charges) is:
Falcon sedan: $38,400 (automatic)
XR6 sedan: $40,290 (automatic)
Cab chassis: $31,890 (automatic)
Styleside ute: $32,290 (automatic)
XR6 cab chassis: $34,640 (automatic)
XR6 Styleside ute: $35,140 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include dealer or government charges. Contact your local Ford dealer for drive-away prices.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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