The Ford Motor Company was gracious enough to invite the Top Speed staff to beautiful Boulder Colorado to try out the all new, more powerful FLEX with ECOBOOST in the perfect driving environment. This new vehicle combines the retro boxcar that started appearing on streets last year with the American automaker’s latest innovation in gas saving technology, the best part is, it hauls butt. By utilizing a turbocharged and direct injected V6 engine, Ford’s marketing department is claiming to get V8 power with six cylinder fuel economy, they were right. The FLEX with ECOBOOST that we drove through the mountain roads made 350 HP and made the crossover feel like a proper sports car at times.
The roads were outstanding, the view was incredible and the car was awesome. The FLEX is nothing but fun. From the powerful engine to the retro styling and 20 inch wheels this FLEX has a personality that is all its own, something that is very refreshing in this world of homogenous fuel efficient teardrop shaped econoboxes. The only thing better than how it looks is how the car drove, not only was the ECOBOOST V6 quick off the line but it handled amazingly well, and that is something that we were very happy of being constantly faced with 300 foot drops on the side of the mountain roads.
Continued after the jump.
The first thing you notice about the exterior of our Ford FLEX, aside from the all-new everything, are the 20 inch ten spoke wheels. Up front the FLEX carries the modern tree bar grill that has become customary on almost all of the American automaker’s new products. The Ford FLEX features unique styling that is often found in a smaller package, basic two box shape, one for the engine and the other for passengers and cargo.
The ECOBOOST FLEX features a few simple tasteful touches that go a long way contributing to the retro wagons overall design. There are the lines that run down the doors that break up what would be an extremely large flat surface. Chrome is used to dress up the taillights, door handles and base of the side windows. However the most interesting feature is the two tone color scheme using a darker color for the body and a lighter cream colored roof.
The FLEX would look perfect with a pair of surfboards on top, it is a fun car by nature; it looks cool, it’s large enough to accommodate a few friends and a weeks worth of luggage and it is filled with creature comforts. Ford ought to get a little more creative with their boxcar. The Japanese automaker Scion is selling a unique driving experience to xB owners, the Kia Soul offers tons of customizable features and the Honda Element is as practical as an automobile can get. So what is Ford’s angle? We feel that the automaker’s design team should look through the Mopar color pallet and come up with a few crazy colors that will get consumers as excited about the new car as they should be.
One of the first things that you will notice about the Ford FLEX is just how spacious the interior is, there is truly something to be said for the practicality of the box car design. The full sized crossover features some of the softest leather seats that we have ever sat in and are complimented nicely by the white stitching. The Ford design team did an excellent job with the use of wood on the dash and doors. However it is the little FLEX emblem off to the right that caught our eye.
The Flex has an interesting center stack, painted silver with black buttons complete with chrome trim on the knobs as well in a few other tasteful applications on the steering wheel, A/C vents, door pulls, shifter/cupholder surrounds and door handles. There is also plenty of storage inside the FLEX, there are two spacious cubbies on either side of the center console and a decently sized storage compartment at the base of the center stack, if not you get a covered ashtray with the Park Assist button inside. There is even an optional refrigerated unit that is placed in between the rear captain’s chairs. Otherwise you can get a 2nd row bench and behind it optional 3rd row seating.
One of the more convenient features that we noted in the Limited model is a pair of carpeted wedges that serve as removable footrests for the second row passengers. Ford is also offering an optional navigation system that will work with the Microsoft SYNC setup to display real time news, traffic, weather and much more information; as well as the radio.
The ECOBOOST powered Ford Flex is fast, the 350 HP turbocharged and direct injected V6 is more than enough to move this all wheel drive 4,800 pound machine off the line with quite a bit of get-up-and-go and will even make passing slower traffic on the highway a breeze. One particular characteristic of the Flex sticks out in our mind, and that was the steering. Not only was the wheel comfortable in our hands, but also the feel of the front tires on the road is directly translated up the metal column and into the palm your hand, Ford’s design team was able to balance the sense of a sports car and the gentleness of a luxury machine all in the same package.
The suspension was another area that it is evident that Ford’s design team spent a lot of time carefully developing. The Flex is a heavy vehicle, however the blue oval engineers were able to make this car not only stick to the road, but also feel like you are driving on glass. This was a very important aspect of the Flex’s ride, especially considering that Ford had shipped us to Colorado for a quick stint in the Rocky Mountains. When driving on a winding highway with three hundred foot drops just out the passenger window it was very important that the Flex stayed on track. What was surprising is that despite how soft the suspension was; the Flex exhibited very little body roll, an important aspect when confidence behind the wheel is key to arriving alive and on time.
The Ford Flex’s broad stance is a key aspect of that stability, however the only downside to driving a vehicle so wide is that you feel like you are using the entire lane. This can be a nuisance at first, but after racking up a few miles on the odometer the uneasiness will fade away and leave you very content and confident behind the wheel.
While we were in Colorado Ford insisted that we try out the FLEX’s park assist function, and then parallel park a Lexus LS460, we can tell you that just because one is more expensive than the other doesn’t mean it is better. Ford’s system uses sensors built into the side of the car that looks for the curb and other cars parked there in order to place the FLEX into even the tightest of parallel parking spaces without having to touch the wheel.
All you have to do is hit the button, follow the instructions on the LCD display underneath the gauges until it tells you that the FLEX has found a suitable spot, then put the gear selector into reverse, ride the brake and listen for the beeping that lets you know when to stop.
The Lexus on the other hand makes you select the rectangle into which you hope to park the LS and then yells at you if the car goes too fast, if you touch the steering wheel or if the selected space is on too much of an incline. To make a long story short, the FLEX was able to effortlessly squeeze into unthinkable parking spaces while the Lexus left us hanging out in the street, literally.
The 2010 Ford FLEX also has a feature called Trailer Assist that helps to reduce the swaying or rocking that comes from cross winds or even an improperly packed trailer. The system applies pressure to the calipers on one side of the trailer and even pumps the steering wheel subtly, bringing the vehicle and trailer in tow back in line and generally creates a much smoother ride when towing.
ECOBOOST is Ford’s new plan to take power trains into the 21st century, by downsizing engines and introducing direct injection and forced induction, the automaker claims to be able to produce the power of a larger engine with fuel economy comparable to an ordinary similar displacement engine. This allows the FLEX with ECOBOOST to move like the Dickens with a twin turbocharged 3.5 Liter V6 gasoline direct injected engine producing 355 HP and 350 lb-ft of torque, all while consuming only 16 MPG in the city and 22 MPG on the highway.
Ford is also working on a 2.0 Liter four cylinder that follows the same pattern of turbocharged direct injection to produce somewhere around 230 HP. You can expect to see about 80% of Ford’s lineup to be ECOBOOST powered by 2013 whether it be with four or six cylinders.
Top Speed Final Verdict
The Ford FLEX is a full sized crossover that is only made better by the addition of an ECOBOOST power plant. We love the playful attitude that the vehicle possesses and it handled the winding mountain roads of Boulder Colorado quite nicely. However we feel that the entire automobile could do with a little more attention to detail and a little more time spent finishing the vehicle, even if the cost is passed on to the consumer. The FLEX would benefit greatly from more real metal and less shiny plastic. American cars are better than they have been in the last two decades, mechanically speaking, if only they could be wrapped in a more appealing package.
Don’t be fooled by the marketing guys, the FLEX is most definitely a full sized crossover, weighing in at 4,471 pounds or 4,839 pounds with the additional drive train pieces to send power to the rear wheels. Despite being built in the style of a crossover, this is one full size CUV that offers up 155.8 cubic feet of interior cargo space. What is surprising is that the turbocharged and direct injected ECOBOOST V6 is able to propel the FLEX as fast as it does. The FLEX is a very capable and fun ride for only $40,000. We only wish that Ford’s design team would have ad as much fun when designing the FLEX as we did driving it.