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2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost – Click above for high-res image gallery

We were headed on a road trip, because that's what you do when the summer draws to a close and something as gigantic as the Ford Flex rolls into your driveway. Destination: Brooklyn. Five miles into the journey, the Sony audio system belts out the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," and the two sub-five-year-olds in tow agree. But we had an ace up our sleeve: our Flex SEL tester was packing a six-shooter augmented by Ford's EcoBoost turbo system, good for another 100 horsepower over the standard model. If the trip was going to be hellish, at least it would be short.

There's newfound muscle to... flex.
There's a price premium to pay for the heavy breathing, but even at $40,000 as-tested, the kitted out Flex stickered for less than expected, and mitigating drawbacks seems to be a running theme with the EcoBoosted Flex. Its EPA estimated fuel economy in all-wheel drive trim of 17/24 16/22 mpg city/highway, is exactly the same as the unboosted Duratec 3.5-liter, but there's newfound muscle to... flex. A turbocharged engine immediately makes thoughts of premium fuel dance through your head, but nope, the direct-injected V6 is happy to perform tricks on regular, though Ford recommends you run higher octane for maximum performance.

In search of some kind of glaring downfall, we kept the Flex EcoBoost for a while, trying to suss out what penalties you might ultimately pay for the added brawn. Follow the jump to see how the big Ford fared.

Photos copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
The Flex's T-square styling strikes some as boxy, others as handsome and broad-shouldered. Our sampler looked great in metallic black with a contrasting silver roof, though that color combination does little to quell the occasional comparison to a hearse. The optional 20-inch wheels, with a design echoing the high-speed turbines underhood, aren't coated in garishly shiny chrome, but for a performance model, the Flex EcoBoost would look far more sinister with a dropped ride height to tuck those massive hoops into its bold arches.

Only a small Ecoboost badge on the tailgate denotes this Flex as anything different from its lesser brethren, and other than the oddly tall stance, the overall demeanor is fitting, from the dark paint to the dual exhaust tips out back; this may be a wagon, but it's not a mamby-pamby Mike Brady thing.

Like the outside, the interior of the Flex is styled with a combination of contemporary and classic mid-century-modern forms. With a dash contour inspired by classic Electrolux vacuums of the Fifties, it would have been easy to go all retro inside, but thankfully, the Flex interior has been rendered in timeless forms. Who wants to remember those old three-row wagons from the old days, anyway? Those are the cars that made the minivan and SUV so popular by not being wagons in the first place.

Materials inside are high quality, better than a GMC Acadia, say.
Nothing inside the Flex is overly styled, but it's all styled well. The gauges are clean and simple, with four clean dials rimmed in chrome. The leather-covered seats with contrasting stitches are not just attractive, but living room comfortable, too. There's a mixture of textures and materials, from typical plastic graining that imitates leather to a pattern evocative of post-war household appliances. Faux wood, plated plastic, and a flat silver center stack complete the interior fitment. However, the silvered plastic does a bad imitation of aluminum – if that's what it's there for – and over the years, we suspect it will not wear gracefully. The rest of the materials inside are high quality, better than you'll find in the GMC Acadia, one of the Flex's main competitors.

Usability of the controls in the Flex is tops, with or without the formidable list of technology that Ford makes available. There's virtually no need to open the manual to operate the secondary controls. There are knobs for the audio system's volume and tuning, as well as the climate control's temperature setting. We did keep grabbing for a non-existent fan knob, and occasionally had to stare at the buttons for the audio system before discovering which of the multiple like-sized ones we needed. Cupholders sprout like dandelions in the spring aboard the Flex, and other niceities like rear-seat HVAC controls and a 110- volt outlet are packed in to make long journeys just a bit more comfortable.

This is an ideal car for gobbling up the miles while dragging a modest brood and their stuff, or carrying a bunch of people armed with credit cards for when you arrive. There's not a huge amount of cargo room when running sold-out seating, but passengers will enjoy good comfort and room, though your more compact acquaintances would be better served in the third row. Besides people hauling, the other trick the Flex excels at is hauling goods. There's a deep well behind the third row, and folding those seats down is an easy strap pull away. The second row seats operate in much the same manner, and when folded, there's a cavern at your disposal. Visibility from the driver's seat is very good, though the sheer size of the Flex may make parallel parking or reversing a little unsettling for the unpracticed. Dark tinted glass out back adds to the difficulty at night, though big mirrors and an available backup camera help. The car-based Flex, however, is immensely easier to position than most truck-based 'utes.

Our interest in this Flex centered on what's packed under that dining room table-sized hood. The EcoBoost engine is strong, yet it doesn't feel laggy in the least, despite (or perhaps because of) the pair of turbos feeding it. There's no wheezing or huffing and puffing, either. Ford's EcoBoost is very much like BMW's lauded twin-turbo six – brawny and drama-free. The EcoBoost even matches BMW's 100 hp/liter output, with the V6's 3.5 liters serving up 355 horsepower. The muscular engine and all-wheel drive system team up to make the Flex confident without exhibiting any bad behavior. It's a relaxing vehicle to drive despite its size.

The standard Duratec 35's 263 horsepower work constantly to keep the Flex going, but the EcoBoost engine only ups the thrust when needed and turns off the huffer when it's not, so the mileage penalty is negligible. More power means not having to flog it so much, too, and the well behaved powertrain would be interesting to sample in something lighter (Taurus SHO notwithstanding). The substantial weight of the Flex smothers some of the EcoBoost's impressiveness, though it will hike up its skirt and zip along quickly without hesitation.

Better still, Ford's six-speed automatic transmission is smooth up and down the ratios, easily one of the best behaved automatics currently on the market. While other transmissions are reluctant to kick down and take an eternity to do anything, Ford's tranny is responsive when left to think for itself and gives drivers what they ask for in an obedient manner. It may be that the engine's big torque mitigates some of the economy-minded shift behavior, or more likely, Ford's put the time into powertrain development to make it good. One bit of ridiculousness is the Flex's paddle shift capability, which seems out of place in this application, but they hardly cost anything, so no harm, no foul. As it is, the transmission is good enough the paddles can be ignored, but if you want to play race driver, they're present, although perhaps not as responsive as Family Foyt would like.

All the standard Flex attributes are there, just amplified.
Even though the Flex is a big, weighty thing with big power, it's not like the old land yachts with big cubes up front and handling that mimics a pat of butter on a hot griddle. All-wheel drive puts the turbo twist to the ground with no drama at the helm. When it's time to change direction, the steering is direct and weighted well, and while lacking in feel, maneuvering the Flex is not like playing a video game, either. On the open road, the wheel settles down and holds straight ahead, making it easy to roll up the odometer without fatigue. Brakes don't seem to lack any effectiveness in practice, though other vehicles on this same platform have posted rather unfortunate braking numbers and fade resistance. The big discs at all corners have a good, progressive feel with a firm pedal, assuming you don't go torching a mountain pass.

A looser suspension calibration with all the power at hand could be truly scary. Thankfully, the Flex has a well-behaved chassis. Quick lateral moves don't upset it. Bumps and suspension impacts don't perturb it much, either. The size is definitely something you're aware of, but the power and solid underpinnings make the Flex EcoBoost an easy plus-sized dance partner on the superspeedway of the everyday commute. There's enough go and control that the Flex EcoBoost drives 500 pounds lighter than it is. The engine is a revver, and the noise up high gets a little gravelly. It's never harsh or offensive though, and the interior of the Flex is quiet and relaxed.

Even the regular-strength Flex is difficult to dislike. It's a well thought-out family vehicle without being a van or SUV (or carrying the associated stigma). And although the price is higher than you'd prefer for a Ford wagon, the Flex is more on par with the Expeditions people eagerly snapped up not so long ago. It's cavernous inside and enormous outside, yet drives better than any silly truck-cum-wagon ever could. And with the Ecoboost V6 under hood, all the standard Flex's attributes are there, just amplified – without a trade-off on the fast-approaching horizon.

Photos copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Great alternative to a Minivan.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Unless you've actually owned a minivan...and want...you know...space to haul things...and sliding doors.

        Even though Ford mistakenly billed this useless appliance as a minivan replacement, it's not. If it had sliding doors, it wouldn't have thehorrid sales it does. That omission turn a lot of buyers away.

        Ford failed with this vehicle big time.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Geezus H Christmas Matt, we get it, you don't like it. Flex bad. Ford stupid.

        Move on. Or get some help.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hey Matt, Ford isn't the one that went belly up!!!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I love the Flex. Looks great on the road and the interior is excellent. If it were just shorter, I could probably convince my wife that it should be our next family hauler, but that's just too long for an urban mobile (and the Edge just doesn't do it for me).
      • 5 Years Ago
      Fugly car ,lousy gas mileage and you will get smoked by many cars.
      More overpriced garbage from Ford. It looks like a hearse for idiots!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'll never understand why you can't just use real aluminum for Christ sakes. Theres probably enough in two six packs of coke to do the job. Is it really that expensive?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm sure the quality of aluminum in two six packs of Cokes would not be up to the task of maintaining a reliable turbocharged motor. Just an idea.

        This review makes the Flex seem like the best thing that has happened in the history of motoring. I'll have to go test drive one, but it just seems ridiculously optimistic. Hopefully, I'm wrong... I'll be in the market for a people hauler soon.
        • 5 Years Ago
        They don't use aluminum because it gets really, really hot in the sun.
        (He is referring to the dash trim.)

        I've noticed that chrome pieces not only get hot, they also reflect the sun, which can be annoying when the dash is hard to read because of the chrome-trimmed gauges.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually I was reffering to the interior trim.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This looks like a giant Mini on Steroids!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Back when my kids were young, I had a '64 Bonneville wagon with a 389 4BBL V-8 and automatic. I also had a 20 ft. camper behind it that weighed a ton empty, which was seldom. With two kids, wife, gear, coolers, and enough "stuff" to hold off a cold winter, we would easily run 70MPH uphill or down without the engine giving a sound like a stuck pig. We got 18 MPG and it felt like sitting in a livingroom on wheels. I paid $3200.00 for it new. I wonder how it would compare to this? I'd bet the farm that given a choice I would take the "bonnie".
        • 5 Years Ago
        If your definition of a good car is a bloated cocoon that's good to crash in, then yeah old cars were pretty terrible.

        My definition of a good car is something good to drive in. The safety at any price mommies have done a pretty good job of ruining them.

        • 5 Years Ago
        The '64 Bonneville would cost $$22,300 in today's dollars. But it didn't have a smooth 6 speed tranny, all wheel drive, electronic stability control, ABS, airbags all around, SYNC, satellite radio, California emissions compliance, ... the list goes on. The '64 Bonneville would not survive a collison with a modern unibody car very well, I bet.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Good for you Dan. The newer cars may have superior safety devices, but there is a price to pay. My old "Bonnie" would haul the mail, drive like I was sitting in my livingroom couch, (comfort!) get decient fuel milage, and had a lot of class. I would tell the nay-sayers that the "safety" pricetag is a little high for me. I never crashed my old Pontiac, but saw many who did. Two tons of metal had an effect on what hit it, trust me. Shure, airbags would be nice, but where would it be "impossible" to bring back that kind of car with some newer improvements? Oh shure, time marches on, but the love affair ends. Perhaps that is why GM and Chrysler went bankrupt. Back in my day the whole neighborhood came over to look at your new car. Today.....who gives a sh**?
      • 5 Years Ago
      For people who don't like the styling: do you think everything on the road has to look like a curvy sports car? the flex looks the way a crossover should, i find curvy crossovers look like drag queens
        • 5 Years Ago
        Speaking of 'drag queens', I hear that the Cd on this thing is way lower than you'd expect from a basically rectangular shape... if it doesn't need crazy compound curves to achieve decent aerodynamics, then all the better for its purposeful interior...
      • 5 Years Ago
      They are very nice and the styling has been growing on me but I'd rather have an EcoBoost Edge Sport... ;) (hint hint)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Great car, great review!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Here comes the Ford fanboys...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Here come the Ford haters... oh wait
      • 5 Years Ago
      I really like the Flex. With the DIT V6 I'm sure I'd like it even better. However, I've always eyed the Mazda CX-9 because it could haul the kids and steel feel good in the twisties (for an SUV, that is). Although it doesn't look as striking, I think I'm going to hold out for an "Ecoboost" CX-9, assuming Ford's sale of its shares of Mazda don't interrupt that development. Even if it does, I've always preferred handling to outright speed.
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