Usually when I'm heading to a dealership to pick up an evaluation car, I have some idea in my mind of what to expect.
However, when it came time to drive Ford's new EcoBoost Falcon, I just couldn't get my head around the idea of a Falcon with a four-cylinder engine.
The reason being that every Falcon I'd ever driven has had either a six-cylinder engine or a V8, and the idea of a 2-litre turbocharged unit just didn't seem plausible.
And it must be said that in the immediate future the EcoBoost four-potter is not a replacement for the venerable six that Kiwis (and Aussies) have grown to love, the investment and manufacturing process is still Australia-designated.
The EcoBoost Falcon is still largely Australian, the engine is sourced from Ford's wider manufacturing operation in Spain, it is an engine which has found its way into the Mondeo and a couple of other European off-shoots, but the Falcon is still very much the large fair dinkum car with all of the elements that have made it so desirable.
EcoBoost is something we are going to hear a lot of from Ford. That engine, in varying capacities, is planned as an option in 90 per cent of Ford's global product by next year. EcoBoost simply means turbocharging, but the system is designed so that fuel economy is the greatest benefit along with low emissions.
But where the 2-litre EcoBoost gets interesting is in its high power outputs, the twin-camshaft, 16-valve unit is rated at 179kW with 353Nm of torque available at just 2000rpm. These are very impressive, more so if you take into account that it has half the capacity of the six-cylinder engine, yet almost matches its 195kW and 391Nm.
At $48,490, the EcoBoost Falcon comes with much the same level of fitment as its stablemates. There's a full safety kit including ABS and a traction and stability control system, while for comfort and convenience it gets dual-zone climate control, cruise control, tilt and reach-adjustable steering column, iPod/USB audio connectivity and comprehensive trip computer.
The latter provides some interesting readouts. Throughout my testing time it consistently listed around 10.5l/100km (26mpg) which was a little distant to Ford's 8.1l/100km (34mpg) claim. But it is significantly better than the six-cylinder model which is rated at 9.9l/100km (28mpg).
At 100km/h the engine turns over slowly at 1800rpm providing an instantaneous figure of 6.8/100km (41mpg).
The engine is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, and that is the only gearbox aligned to the EcoBoost engine. In terms of performance the EcoBoost Falcon is quick, it matches the six-cylinder model with a 0-100km/h time of 8.5sec, helped significantly by the lighter weight of the four, 1606kg against 1682kg.
And that also has an affect on the Falcon's handling. The XT feels light at the front given that most of the weight saving is in the engine, it steers directly into a corner, responding to directional changes with precision and moving quickly against the lock.
The XT in all guises is sprung soft, not so soft that it could be described as mushy but there isn't a lot of suspension firming and that promotes a comfortable ride.The trade-off is that the body moves a little over the suspension in a corner and draws in gravitational forces. However, any tendency towards oversteer is quickly contained by the traction control elements.
Ford Australia has done a good job engineering the EcoBoost Falcon. It's not just a matter of plonking in a powerplant, there are hundreds of other elements that have to be designed to work with major power plant changes.
The only thing I couldn't get my head around was the change in harmonics that travel into the cabin; it sounds different, but in reality it would take a keen Falcon driver to notice a difference in the way the four-cylinder drives.
If there is an EcoBoost compromise it would have to be in its tow rating, at just 1600kg, against 2300kg, you wouldn't be able to hook a double horse float onto it like my sister does with her Falcon.