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 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.