The Ford Flex rides like a luxury car. It possesses a decent interior, with Ford’s surprise-and-delight SYNC 2.0 system. The Flex is also socially unimpeachable, tracing its roots back to the wagons synonymous with East Coast gentry for nearly half a century (Ralph Lauren has one). Six months ago, I purchased a new 2009 Flex Limited AWD, complete with the amusing second-row refrigerator. So far, I have been pleased as punch. It does everything from cradling my infant son to towing my race car with perfect aplomb. Not everybody likes the way the Flex looks. And? And it’s a little slow.
The Flex isn’t slow in the way that a Porsche 997 Carrera 3.6 is a little slow. I mean eighty-three-miles-per-hour-in-the-quarter-mile slow. Out on the mean suburban streets, the boxy Ford is easy pickings for everything from Honda Odysseys to automatic-transmission Cobalts. Under a full load of passengers, cargo, towing a trailer, the Flex makes continental drift seem like a sprint to the supermarket. A nice V-8 would liven up the party a bit, but transverse-mount V8s which make usefully more power than Ford’s 3.5 Duratec are thin on the ground (Volvo’s XC90 Yamaha V8 aside). The answer: EcoBoost.
The EcoBoost powerplant installed in the Flex isn’t like the engine used in the 2010 Taurus SHO. It’s the same thing, down to the part numbers, which means this EcoBoost’s a twin-turbo V-6 that turns out 355 horsepower and matches the existing naturally-aspirated 3.5 for fuel economy. Quarter-mile trap speeds improve by more than fifteen mph, making the Flex about as quick as a V-6 Camaro or Hyundai Genesis Coupe. If the standard Flex is “Walking With A Panther,” the turbo variant is “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
The advantages of a turbocharged engine are more pronounced at higher altitudes. Hence Ford’s decision to debut the 2010 Flex EcoBoost in Boulder, Colorado. Here, thirty miles from the Mile High City, the V-8 competition from Chevrolet and Toyota feels particularly flaccid, lumbering up hills that the Flex EcoBoost attacks with elan. It’s possible to achieve unreasonable pace in quite reasonable fashion—which isn’t really a surprise given the fact that this two-and-a-half-ton wagon is barely slower than an E39 BMW M5, albeit in a straight line.
Problem: the EcoBoosted Flex’s brakes are no better than those fitted to the Taurus SHO. In both cases, the lack of fade-free, confidence-inspiring retardation is a major chink in the vehicles’ dynamic armory. If a car’s only as good as its brakes, well, them’s the breaks. Of course, realistically, in this case, Flex owners are hardly likely to drive their so-not-a-minivan with any more determination than they would a . . . minivan. Bonus! The EcoBoosted Flex’s suspension is actually an improvement over what you’ll find in the fastest Ford sedan.
Down long, sweeping turns, the Flex adopts a surprisingly neutral stance, adjusting its attitude at turn-in with just a little left-foot brush of the brakes. If things get too out of hand, the electronics intervene immediately and the “Trailer Sway” warning fills the two-line LCD display between speedometer and tach. It’s rather surprising just how high the intervention level for the RSC is set; I failed to activate it with a triple-digits late-braking slide into a turn marked at forty. You really have to get out of line before the Flex takes matters into its own hands.
Which leads us to the Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) and Park Assist. I don’t know how long it will take me to get used to the sticktion-free turn-in response of electric power steering. It feels to me like the tires have very tall tread blocks, an illusion brought on by the faster response of an electric system. But I could get used to Park Assist almost immediately. Cruise down a side street, press the Park Assist button, and the Flex will take it from there, operating the steering for you and providing direction in flawless fashion. It’s hassle-free and beats the Lexus system hands-down. So to speak.
For many drivers, the same will be true of the Flex. This forty-five-thousand-dollar wagon is fast, luxurious, quiet, feature-filled, and it even handles a bit. Ford paints the competition as the Chevrolet Traverse and Toyota Sequoia, but the truth is that the Flex exists in a little world of its own. No other car on the market offers its particular not to say peculiar combination of virtues. If you want a spacious, well-trimmed turbo wagon that parks itself and lets you talk to your iPod, the Flex is your only choice. At least, that is, until the EcoBoosted Lincoln MKT arrives.
My advice? Don’t wait. This isn’t just one of the best domestic vehicles money can buy. It’s one of the most complete cars for sale anywhere.
[Ford provided the vehicle reviewed, gas, insurance, transportation, meals and accommodation.]