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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.
With either drivetrain, the Flex has ample power for the mission in mind, and its handling almost touches on fun. Still, we'd tick the boxes for the turbo V-6 almost every time.
The base V-6 is a little more muscular, but isn't blisteringly quick. The latest version of the Ford standby 3.5-liter V-6 now makes 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, and turns in better gas mileage, too. Acceleration off the line is adequate, but passing power is 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. These turbocharged crossovers get steering-wheel paddle shifters to go with their automatic, and a tap of a paddle gives a more manual control mode--though the gearbox will shift short of redline even without input. 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.
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. It 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.
Composed, comfortable, and muscular with EcoBoost power, the Flex drives as well as any three-row crossover has a right to.