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2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost AWD Review

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SEE ALSO: 2010 Ford Flex Product Sheet(PDF)
SEE ALSO: Ford Specs, Prices and Comparisons

The Fastest Minivan Yet
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau just canít get this kind of grunt anywhere else in this class.

The good folks at Ford have taken the charming Ford Flex, introduced as a 2009 model, and made it into an athlete. By adding the forward-looking, high-tech, 350-horsepower EcoBoost V6 they’ve put a generous measure of grunt into this already stylish and competent people hauler.

The front-wheel drive Flex (available in all-wheel drive) is essentially Ford’s version of a minivan without soccer mom styling. If you consider the cavernous, functional interior, including a back seat refrigerated compartment, you’ll find minivan-like capacities and features.

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Styling is nothing like a traditional minivan, thank goodness. It’s a boxy, straight-sided, trucky-looking thing on a long wheel base with just a hint of retro. Ford’s typical three-bar chrome grille sets the tone up front. Horizontal faux corrugations along the side give the visual sensation of greater length as does the generous wheel base. Our test car is a striking metallic black, or dark-dark grey, with a white top. Very attractive, I think.

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Inside, the Flex has a distinctively upscale look and feel. The multi-functional steering wheel is wrapped in leather and contoured to enhance the feeling of being involved in the driving process. It also has a pair of paddle shifters that work well for the driver who likes that sort of thing. I find them a bit gimmicky. The leather seating does not pretend to be sporty, rather the feel and look suggest understated luxury. Wood trim extends across the dash under a stylish, attractive brow. The center stack is typically Ford and plenty functional and easy to manage. The shifter is a pistol grip style and feels good.

A basic Flex costs around 28-grand but the EcoBoost version with all-wheel drive (the only way it comes) starts at 39-grand. The “Limited” (top trim level) with EcoBoost will set you back close to 43-grand. That’s quite a premium to pay for a zero-to-sixty time of 7 seconds, suspension upgrades and a few other goodies like dual exhaust with stainless steel tips, SYNC, Sirius, lots of wood and leather, capless fuel filler, 20-inch aluminum wheels, upgraded transmission with paddle shifters, stiffer springs and improved damping, dual zone climate control and plenty more.

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Flex comes in six or seven passenger configurations depending on your second row seating choice - captains seating or bench. Our test car had the bench seat which proved roomy and comfortable. Deep foot wells and generous leg room impressed our rear seat passengers. The seat backs fold down easily for a flat loading surface. The third row seat backs fold flat as well but not as easily. The pull straps took a little too much jerking and pulling to figure them out the first time, but once learned they were fairly easy to manage. Cargo capacity with the third seat folded is a substantial 43 square feet. The space and configuration mimic a minivan which is essentially where it fits into the Ford product line.

Flex also has a 4,500-pound towing capacity and has a trailer sway control function integrated within the chassis controls.

What makes this particular Flex stand out in this category is the 350-hp engine any soccer mom would be thrilled with, if not overwhelmed by. The twin turbos and direct injection along with variable valve timing and a plethora of other engine technologies make the EcoBoost Flex something special. With 355 lb-ft of torque it gets up to speed expeditiously and does so in a sophisticated style, with no thrash or bother. Rated by the EPA at 16-mpg in the city and 22 on the highway the EcoBoost fuel mileage is within an mpg or two of the standard V6. In our week of driving we managed 20.7 mpg with about a third open highway, a third rural two lanes and a third city.

The chassis manages all that power well with tight, firm handling and European-style damping. It’s not a bit flustered by being pushed hard through tight turns. Suspension is fully independent front and rear. Part of the Flex’ handling competence comes from its low stance. It appears, at least, lower than an any of the minivans and considerably lower than any of the SUV and CUV competitors. That means, in addition to better handling, it’s easier to get in and out of, particularly for short people like my pretty blonde and my photographer pal Margaret who really notice such things and are not shy about critiquing.

Flex has earned top 5-Star ratings from NHTSA for front and side crash protection and 4 (out of 5) stars for rollover. I’m not sure I’ve seen a vehicle yet that got a full 5 for rollover.

Fords standard warranty covers the Flex bumper to bumper for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles. You might be interested to note that Flex, along with a bunch of other Ford products, garnered top ratings by the folks at Consumer Reports equalling, and in some cases surpassing the Asians.

Currently Ford is offering the EcoBoost V6 in MKS, MKT and of course the new Taurus SHO. A 4-cylinder EcoBoost is on the way and Ford plans to develop more engines using that turbo+direct injection theme.

Compare the Flex with GM’s popular and competent Lamda platform mates (Acadia, Traverse, Enclave) or any of the other 7 and 8-passenger SUVs and CUVs. I think you’ll find the Flex very competitive. Though EcoBoost power will cost substantially more you just can’t get that kind of grunt anywhere else in this class.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved