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.