Driven: 2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost

July 30, 2010
Among models that go out on the edge with respect to design, there are those that are obviously a little too forced, and others for which the whole package just feels cohesive and complete. The 2010 Ford Flex is one of the latter; its boxy look and bold details might just match to your practical and fashionable needs, and the new EcoBoost turbo engine finally gives it a sprightly feel without bumping fuel economy close to the single digits.

This boxy brick of a vehicle is, for all practical purposes, the modern interpretation of the Volvo 245 wagon—crossed with some decidedly racy, stylish elements. There's a bit of MINI Clubman, with a hint of Ranger Rover Sport as well.

With a nice, upright seating position and lots of headroom, combined with an 'H point' (where your hips sit) that's a tiny bit higher than that of a car but not as high as in a true SUV, the Flex offers the best of both worlds with respect to packaging, with a good view out but none of the too-tall, tipsy feeling. The driving position itself feels sedan-like, and it's refreshing to know where the corners of the vehicle are when maneuvering around a parking lot. About the only detail we'd change on the inside would be the center-stack design; the sound-system and climate control dials were easy to mistake for each other, and the dot-matrix-like display of our non-nav-equipped car looks dated.

EcoBoost adds a friskier feel without sapping mileage

The EcoBoost 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6 engine in our Flex made it feel like a different, far more responsive vehicle than with the naturally aspirated V-6, with no noticeable decrease in fuel economy. The engine makes 355 hp and 350 pound-feet of torque, and you can feel plenty of accessible torque coming on from just above 1,500 rpm or so. The transmission smartly works with the engine to shift up if you can take advantage of the more economical range, yet it downshifts promptly, two or three gears, when needed for passing.

The Flex's powertrain will only reward you with excellent mileage if you drive it gently. Over the first 30 or 40 miles of driving, in town, our mileage languished under the 16-mpg mark, according to the trip computer. All considering, however, that isn't horrible; had Ford decided to put a V-8 with that level of output into the Flex, we doubt it would have returned more than 13 or 14 in real-world city driving. But then over a full week and about 400 miles of driving—including a weekend trip on the Interstate and two-lane country roads—the numbers were more impressive: We averaged about 21 mpg, coming close to match the 22-mpg highway rating overall. Also impressive is that Ford has no requirement for premium fuel with this engine (although it's recommended for peak power and we did gas it up with 91-octane).

The 2010 Ford Flex SEL AWD test vehicle we had this time was optioned with the Autofold power second-row seats, a trailer-towing package, and the silver, two-tone paint scheme, to total $41,555 altogether, including destination. The SEL includes an upgraded Sony 12-speaker sound system and bright.

At more than 4,800 pounds, the Flex EcoBoost feels like a hefty vehicle, but the power and torque, as well as the confident transmission behavior, well-tuned steering system, and very capable brakes serve to make curvy two-lane roads a good deal more enjoyable than you'd expect. And on the Interstate, with such an eager powertrain and quiet, well-isolated interior, you might need to moderate yourself with the cruise control as the speed will creep up on you. Ride quality is great out on the highway, and even around town on rougher surfaces the Flex has a more sophisticated, absorbent suspension feel than the Taurus. And if you think the boxy shape is going to produce more wind noise inside, you're wrong.

Can't be beat for long trips

While the Flex's third-row seat is plenty adequate for short trips, the second row is for the most part just as good as the front seats. For a long trip for four adults, this remains a top pick, alongside the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, Buick Enclave, and full-size luxury-sedan legends like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (and the Flex-related Lincoln MKT, too).

But unlike some of those vehicles, the Flex is simply more likely to fit in, without looking too underdressed or uppity. Part low-riding utility cruiser, part suburban soccer mom-mobile, and part gawky hipster wagon, the Ford Flex is one segment busting, well-designed toolbox of a vehicle that will fit the scene.

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