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Driven: 2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost

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Among models that go out on the edge with respect to design, there are those that are obviously a little too forced, and others for which the whole package just feels cohesive and complete. The 2010 Ford Flex is one of the latter; its boxy look and bold details might just match to your practical and fashionable needs, and the new EcoBoost turbo engine finally gives it a sprightly feel without bumping fuel economy close to the single digits.

This boxy brick of a vehicle is, for all practical purposes, the modern interpretation of the Volvo 245 wagon—crossed with some decidedly racy, stylish elements. There's a bit of MINI Clubman, with a hint of Ranger Rover Sport as well.

With a nice, upright seating position and lots of headroom, combined with an 'H point' (where your hips sit) that's a tiny bit higher than that of a car but not as high as in a true SUV, the Flex offers the best of both worlds with respect to packaging, with a good view out but none of the too-tall, tipsy feeling. The driving position itself feels sedan-like, and it's refreshing to know where the corners of the vehicle are when maneuvering around a parking lot. About the only detail we'd change on the inside would be the center-stack design; the sound-system and climate control dials were easy to mistake for each other, and the dot-matrix-like display of our non-nav-equipped car looks dated.

EcoBoost adds a friskier feel without sapping mileage

The EcoBoost 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6 engine in our Flex made it feel like a different, far more responsive vehicle than with the naturally aspirated V-6, with no noticeable decrease in fuel economy. The engine makes 355 hp and 350 pound-feet of torque, and you can feel plenty of accessible torque coming on from just above 1,500 rpm or so. The transmission smartly works with the engine to shift up if you can take advantage of the more economical range, yet it downshifts promptly, two or three gears, when needed for passing.

The Flex's powertrain will only reward you with excellent mileage if you drive it gently. Over the first 30 or 40 miles of driving, in town, our mileage languished under the 16-mpg mark, according to the trip computer. All considering, however, that isn't horrible; had Ford decided to put a V-8 with that level of output into the Flex, we doubt it would have returned more than 13 or 14 in real-world city driving. But then over a full week and about 400 miles of driving—including a weekend trip on the Interstate and two-lane country roads—the numbers were more impressive: We averaged about 21 mpg, coming close to match the 22-mpg highway rating overall. Also impressive is that Ford has no requirement for premium fuel with this engine (although it's recommended for peak power and we did gas it up with 91-octane).

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