One last note on the car's cabin tech: Ford's recent partnership with Sony for premium audio systems makes for a relatively inexpensive option that adds considerable value. With 12 speakers, including subwoofer and center channel, it does a good job of covering the capacious space inside the car. The amp is powerful enough to put the sound through the speakers without overwhelming. Most importantly, the system neatly stages the sound for all seating positions. We like the quality of this sound better than that produced by other premium systems in much more expensive cars.
In its standard configuration, the 2010 Ford Flex SEL seats seven passengers, but ours was equipped with twin bucket seats for the middle row, cutting the passenger capacity down to six. But that trade-off in capacity meant easier access to the third row seats; during a few trips we had the car filled to capacity with six adults and heard no complaints about comfort. The middle and third rows fold down for cargo room. With the third row up, cargo space is nearly eliminated.
The 2009 Ford Flex came with only one choice for power, a 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. For the 2010 model year, the SEL and Limited trims can be had with Ford's new EcoBoost engine. This is the same engine we tested earlier in the. EcoBoost models of the Flex also come with all-wheel-drive.
The EcoBoost engine uses direct injection and twin turbochargers to boost the power from the car's 3.5-liter V-6, while getting the same mileage as the standard, naturally aspirated V-6. The EcoBoost engine makes 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, compared with the base V-6's 262 horsepower and 248 pound-feet--a substantial difference.
That extra power is easily felt with the gas pedal, as a light tap makes the big Flex push forward hard. Although we were impressed by the available acceleration, and used it for passing maneuvers, merging with traffic, and climbing hills, it seemed like overkill, as the standard V-6 felt adequate for the 2009 Ford Flex we tested earlier.
However, the extra power from the EcoBoost engine could come in handy when using the Flex as a tow car, and it comes at no cost in fuel economy. Ford states the EPA fuel economy at 16 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway for the Flex with EcoBoost and the naturally aspirated engine. In our testing, we achieved an average of 19.9 mpg with a considerable amount of freeway driving thrown in. With the 2009 non-EcoBoost Flex, our average economy was 17.8 mpg.
Where the 2009 Flex had a six-speed automatic transmission with a low range, the 2010 Flex with EcoBoost has a six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection, and includes paddles on the steering wheel. We went through the gears for testing purposes, and found typical slushbox shifting, but didn't rely on it for the majority of our driving. The standard drive mode works seamlessly with the engine, and readily downshifted when we asked for its best acceleration.
The Flex's all-wheel-drive system isn't particularly sophisticated, but offers a little more grip than the standard front-wheel-drive version of the car. We had the Flex on some gravel roads, which included a winding ascent, and appreciated that it could throw torque to the rear wheels, especially useful under these conditions. Pushing it up those roads, we felt minimal slip from the wheels.
The 2010 Ford Flex SEL with EcoBoost proved to be an excellent car for the kind of vacation traveling we were doing. The lack of cargo space in the rear when the third-row seats are in use could be a problem for large families. From a design standpoint, we give the Flex high marks for its unique style, but fault it a little for the unnecessary directional buttons on the center stack. Fortunately, getting the navigation option solves that interface issue.
Likewise for the Flex's cabin tech, we weren't impressed by the Ford Sync navigation service, but the optional hard-drive-based navigation system makes up for that in a big way. In fact, not getting the navigation option means missing out on the traffic, weather, and fuel price data integrated with the maps. Beyond Sync's inadequate navigation, though, the Bluetooth cell phone and MP3 player integration still beats out anything else on the road today.
Finally, the new EcoBoost engine gives the Flex big points for performance tech. Although 19.9 mpg isn't spectacular mileage, the fact that it gets the same mileage as the base V-6 while adding more than 100 horsepower is truly impressive.
|Model||2010 Ford Flex|
|Trim||SEL with EcoBoost|
|Powertrain||Direct injection twin turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||19.9 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based with traffic; standard through Sync Traffic, Directions, and Information|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Single CD/DVD, MP3 compatible; optional six disc changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod, Zune, many others|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, internal hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Optional 12 speaker Sony system|
|Driver aids||Standard sonar distance warning, optional rear view camera, optional self-parking system|
|Price as tested||$40,905|