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Car reviews - Ford - Falcon - EcoLPi range

Our Opinion

We like
Better-than-standard ULP I6 Falcon driveability, performance and running costs, FG dynamic prowess, space, comfort, features, safety, world-beating Aussie ingenuity
Room for improvement
Reduced boot size (dire if the full-sized spare wheel is optioned over the goo can or no-cost space-saver spare), at times less-than-satisfactory LPG service station experience

20 Jul 2011

AUTOMOTIVELY speaking, Germany is renowned for its engineering prowess, Italy owns great design, and exquisite quality is what Japan is all about.

But none of those produce a vehicle on the cutting edge of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) performance, efficiency and driveability like Australia.

And Ford is in the vanguard with its new EcoLPi system. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the new dawn for LPG.

Let’s begin with the car – a 2011 FG Falcon in either XT, XR6, G6 or G6E four-door sedan or XL, R6 and XR6 utility style. It blows away any preconceptions about LPG thanks to Liquid Phase injection.

Huh? Basically the old style of LPG – as in the now deceased Falcon E-Gas – converted the LPG to a vapour at the combustion process.

Not a bad way of doing it, but the drop in power and torque (to 156kW and 370Nm respectively), relatively high fuel consumption (14.9L/100km), compromised driveability and four-speed rather than ZF six-speed auto gearbox meant that the regular 195kW/391Nm 4.0-litre I6 petrol engine that spawned the LPG was a better bet in every way.

Only cheap LPG – 66 cents per litre compared with $1.39/L for ULP (Ford’s figures: Australian national average January to June 2011) kept the old car selling.

From today, the EcoLPi system treats LPG in a completely different manner. By keeping it a liquid right through to the combustion process, and incorporating new hardware specifically designed by Orbital and other firms, the resulting boost in performance (to 198kW and 409Nm) now eclipses that of the existing I6 on regular ULP.

Better still, consumption falls from the old E-Gas’s 14.9L/100km to 12.5L/100km (still not matching the ULP I6’s 9.9L/100km, though – that’s because LPG possesses a lower energy density despite its higher octane), while carbon emissions plummet from 240 (and ULP I6’s 236) grams per kilometre to 203g/km – yes, LPG contains fewer hydrocarbons than ULP, so that’s why its fuel consumption figure can be higher while the CO2 rating is lower.

On paper, this means – according to Ford figures again – is that over a 20,000km annual driving cycle between an ULP I6 and EcoLPi at the aforementioned bowser prices, the $2500 premium EcoLPi attracts will be paid back in 23.5 weeks thanks to the $2000 federal government rebate and the fact that LPG will cost $1102 less at $1650 and 2500 litres than 1980L of ULP at $2752.

OK enough facts, figures and gonzo science.

Clever Ford assembled a bunch of journalists on a track after about 150km of urban and rural driving in a number of new FG EcoLPi sedans, and asked each one of us to identify which was the LPG car between a pair of new but disguised XR6 Falcons following a sprint race and test lap.

Of course, your GoAuto Media correspondent listened intently for your benefit throughout the press conference and so rightly figured out that the quicker and marginally more effortless vehicle was the EcoLPi car – proving Ford’s point under its controlled conditions that not only does LPG no longer hinder a Falcon’s performance – it actually improves it while being cheaper – and increasingly so over time – than a petrol equivalent.

Point proven, Ford, but hardly anybody who buys an LPG car is going to go racing in it, are they?

Or are they? You see, the point is that the ‘P’ in EcoLPi can just as well stand for ‘performance’ instead of ‘plodding’.

From inside the car – unless they are hiding in the considerably shallower boot (464L versus 535L – and even less if buyers opt to turf out the can of goo for a space-saver or $250-extra full-sized spare wheel Ford ought to consider run-flat tyres) – LPG-haters will not tell the difference, like we couldn’t. We promise.

One of the challenges that the EcoLPi engineers had to solve was hot-weather starting, so the moment the Falcon is unlocked the electronics ‘wake’ up, while pulling the door handle primes the system, so the maximum delay from the one-crank start regime is four seconds. That’s virtually petrol I6 levels of ignition time, or slightly lengthier, but the point is that’s all you might notice as one of the LPG’s differing operating characteristics.

On the move in both the G6E and XR6 we sampled, we defy anybody not to be impressed by the smoothness and willingness of the EcoLPi. Torque aplenty, combined with that superb ZF six-speeder, makes for an impressive low-speed driving experience.

Feathering the throttle results in the usual Falcon forward surge, but in the LPG car from about 2800rpm the response is perceptibly stronger and more determined – so much so that you can back off a bit and just ride the wave of motion, without having to visit the slightly harsh top-end rev range that has long been part of the I6 engine experience.

Or, in other words, on those lovely rural Victorian roads, we prefer the way the EcoLPi drives to a 91 RON ULP Falcon.

Sitting on marginally different wheel and suspension settings to clear some height for the tanks below that smaller boot floor, both FG EcoLPi G6E and XR6 examples reaffirm why Ford Australia’s dynamic engineers are among the best in the world. Lovely steering, beautiful poise, cosseting ride on the Goodyear 235 50 R17 rubber – we were reminded why the Falcon is such an underrated over-achiever amongst family cars, especially for the price.

Obviously we will need more time behind the wheel of an EcoLPi to really see how the car runs in day-to-day urban nightmare traffic scenarios.

But we can tell you pretty much with hand-on-heart that Ford Australia’s LPG program has far exceeded our expectations for driveability, performance, refinement and integration.

Smaller (but still manageably practical unless you opt for the full-sized spare) boot, as well as the often variable experience of actually having to fill the tank with LPG, aside we cannot understand why you wouldn’t choose this model over the standard petrol-engined Falcon.

If there was justice in this world, the FG’s fortunes would turn around right now as families who feel forced to switch to a smaller four-cylinder car to save fuel and cut some CO2 now have a true real-world alternative.

After all, Ford’s claim that the EcoLPi offers Fiesta-segment light car running costs in a Falcon package is quite the compelling argument. We are converted.

No other car-building country in the world right now offers a better and more integrated LPG driving experience than Australia.

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