2011 Ford Flex Performance

8.0
Performance

Given the choice and the bank balance, we’d opt for the turbocharged Flex. However, if you’ve driven a minivan or even one of GM’s crossovers, you won’t be bereaved with the normally aspirated V-6 in this crossover.

The base engine is a 262-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that’s also found in other Ford products, from the Taurus to the Lincoln MKS and MKT. While it’s not awesomely fast, it’s more than capable of hitting freeway speeds with a full load of passengers without causing concern. It’s also a bit smoother than the powertrains in GM’s crossovers, on a par with the Honda Pilot’s warmly received V-6. This base engine pairs with a six-speed automatic and can be ordered with all-wheel drive, which adds to the Flex’s already hefty 4,600-pound curb weight.

The base Flex gives you a taste of handling goodness; the turbo V-6 version tosses in all that horsepower and a tight, composed feel.

The clear winner—in power and in high price—is the turbocharged version of the same engine, which belongs to Ford’s EcoBoost family of powerplants. Teamed to the same six-speed automatic, here with paddle shifters, the turbo V-6 is powerful enough to overcome standard all-wheel drive and six other passengers to give the driver a real performance rush. With 355 horsepower, the EcoBoost Flex delivers more horsepower than any direct competitor and puts out nearly as much grunt as a V-8 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Ford promises V-8 power with V-6 displacement and it delivers—and the turbo engine may cost substantially more (at least $37,000), but it doesn’t exact a huge fuel-economy penalty. It’s EPA-rated at 16/22 mpg, with the base engine a tick or two higher at 17/24 mpg.

The Flex’s delightful ride quality and good steering encourage full use of all that power. Even in the base version, the Flex comports itself like a smaller station wagon, with fairly crisp steering feel and a compliant ride that only gets boundy if you hustle the Flex into deep, tight corners. It’s a big vehicle, but has more enticing moves than any RAV4 or Traverse we’ve driven.

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