If there was one thing we thought was a bit lacking in the Ford Flex, it was power. Oh, there was nothing particularly lacking in the Flex with its original 262-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine; it accelerated well and felt just fine at highway speeds. But driving the 2010 Flex equipped with Ford's all-new 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine was a revelation. The roomy vehicle suddenly felt much more agile and light-on-its feet. The infusion of 93 horsepower and a 41 percent increase in torque will do that. But good as that is, the better news is that the additional power, torque and towing ability come with virtually no decline in fuel economy. Ford projects the Flex with EcoBoost will get the same highway fuel economy as does its base-engine all-wheel-drive sibling.
This stunning fact is the reason Ford Motor Company is betting that the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine and others to come using the same principles will revolutionize the way consumers choose the engines for their vehicles. As we can attest after driving several versions of EcoBoost-equipped Flexes through the Colorado Rockies, the engine offers the powerful, torquey feel of a big American V8, while delivering what Ford says is 20 percent better fuel efficiency. The magic is in the combination of twin intercooled turbochargers and direct fuel injection mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The use of two relatively small turbochargers versus a single larger turbocharger is one important piece of the overall strategy, because the twin turbos spool up so fast that there is virtually no hint of "turbo lag." At the same time, the direct injection of fuel into the combustion chamber allows for a robust 10:1 compression ratio for added efficiency. Available only with all-wheel-drive to handle the engine's significant torque, the EcoBoost 2010 Ford Flex delivers 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
While the drivetrain is remarkable, perhaps even revolutionary, so is the Active Park Assist feature that makes previous attempts at this technology seem lame in comparison. With the aid of ultrasonic sensors, the Park Assist will actually find parking spaces and then allow you to parallel park hands-free. You simply switch the system on, and a beep will alert you when it has found an appropriate parallel parking space. Another series of beeps helps you position your car for the parking maneuver itself. Then you simply engage reverse, take your hands from the wheel and release your foot from the brakes. As you apply the accelerator, the system will steer you into the spot while you watch the steering wheel spin madly in front of you. It's not magic, though it seems like it. The system is enabled by the use of electronic power steering in place of the conventional power steering that is used elsewhere in the Ford Flex product line. Since Ford is pitching Flex as an alternative to a full-size V-8-powered SUV, the vehicle offers an optional trailer tow package with a very sophisticated trailer sway control feature as well. Ford has also upped spring and damping rates so that an EcoBoost-equipped Ford Flex has a tighter, more aggressive feel than its normally aspirated fellows, while at the same time offering a still-comfortable ride.
As to the exterior styling, there is no mistaking the Ford Flex. The six- or seven-passenger crossover revels in its boxiness, and we applaud its straightforward approach. While the exterior design gets attention, it is inside where we think the Flex really shines. With an optional mid-console refrigerator, sumptuous yet flexible seating and the wonders of SYNC now with 911 assist, the Ford Flex has reached an all-new level of sophistication and desirability. The EcoBoost option commands a considerable premium over the standard powertrain, but we believe the advantages justify it.