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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
The updated 3.5-liter V6 Ti-VCT engine we've just driven is still everything most buyers will want in a conventional six, offering plenty of get-up-and-go to pull the 4,828 pounds of the all-wheel-drive model we sampled.
try as I could, I found no fault with the electric power steering. Its weighting felt natural; the quicker ratio is welcome; and with most of the rubber isolation out of the system, the driver can sense road-surface texture through the rim, but not changes in road-surface grip
The turbocharged six never overwhelms the chassis, nor does it feel underpowered
We found the sum of the chassis changes made the Flex feel predictable and communicative, a boon on narrow winding roads covered in slush and ice.
The Flex was surprisingly able on a curvy road before, but with some improvements for 2013 it's now almost in the fun-to-drive category. Ford's electric power steering system, which was previously only fitted to EcoBoost versions, is now included in all Flex models; it's also hard-mounted to the front subframe and has a quicker steering ratio this year. Brakes are also upgraded with more friction area and a larger master cylinder (plus different booster tuning) for improved pedal feel. Altogether, turn-in is now crisp, the steering loads up predictably, and there's even a little feel of the road coming through; the brakes have a noticeably stronger bite as well.
Base 2013 Flex models aren't blisteringly quick, but Ford has added a bit more muscle to the base Flex this year—with a new version of the 3.5-liter V-6, incorporating Ti-VCT (variable camshaft timing) and making 287 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque. EPA fuel economy ratings improve by 1 mpg all around as well. With this engine pickup is only adequate off the line, yet passing power is pretty strong, even with a few passengers on board. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly, noticeably better than the similar transmission found in GM's big crossovers (Acadia, Enclave, Traverse). We'd advise you check out all-wheel drive if you live in the northern tier, but otherwise give it a pass, since it adds more lead to the Flex's feet, since it already weighs about 4,600 pounds.
EcoBoost models make 365 hp and churn out the torque, with a seamless wave as the six-speed automatic upshifts. Steering-wheel paddle shifters are included with this model. You can now give the paddle-shifters a yank in drive, and it'll deliver a quick downshift. The system is smart and considers yaw and steering-angle sensors, as well as throttle, so if you're in the middle of a corner or still climbing a hill, it will stay in the lower gear; but if you ease off the throttle it will go back to the upper gear in as little as ten seconds.
Ride and handling are very well-tuned in the Flex, and with a quicker steering ratio this year plus a new electric power steering system (only EcoBoost models got it before) that's fixed to the subframe, there's more precision and quickness built in. 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, despite its size.
The Flex lives up to its name in performance, with light, composed handling and plenty of muscle in EcoBoost versions.