Ford Flex May Have Superb Aerodynamics, but Fuel Economy Is Nothing SpecialBy Scott Doggett July 16, 2008
UPDATES WITH FORD REACTION
Right, 2009 Ford Flex in a wind tunnel.
By Scott Doggett, Contributor
Ford Motor Co. issued a press release today, raving about the aerodynamics of its 2009 Ford Flex, a boxy compact SUV that the automaker claims outperformed the competition in wind-tunnel tests.
"At 55 mph, the Flex needs only 8.9 horsepower while the nearest competitors in the full-size crossover segment -- the GMC Acadia and Toyota Highlander -- require more than 9.3 horsepower. Moreover, the Flex's coefficient of drag is significantly better than all of its Asian competitors. Flex tests at 0.355 coefficient of drag while the competitors are at 0.375."
So says the new release. While all of that may be true, what really matters to consumers is not the coefficient of drag or the horsepower needed to make a vehicle go 55 miles per hour, but rather the fuel economy that the vehicle's aerodynamics and other factors achieve.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the 2-wheel-drive 2009 Flex gets an estimated 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, and the 4-wheel-drive version gets an estimated 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. These figures are slightly better than those achieved by the 2008 Ford Flex.
The EPA's estimated fuel-economy figures aren't out yet for the 2009 GMC Acadia and 2009 Toyota Highlander. But the 2008 GMC Acadia was EPA-rated at 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the 2WD version and 16 mpg and 22 mpg highway for the 4WD version. Or put another way, the 2009 2WD Flex can go one 1 mile farther on the gallon of gas than the 2008 2WD Acadia, but otherwise they are spot-on equals on the mileage front.
The EPA numbers for the 2008 Toyota Highlander are 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for the 2WD version, and 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for the 4WD version.
In other words, compared to the 2009 Flex, the 2008 Highlander has slightly better city mileage estimates for both the 2WD and 4WD versions, while the highway fuel-economy estimates are identical.
If anything, the EPA fuel-economy figures for the 2009 Acadia and Highlander vehicles will better those of the previous model year. So, we were a little baffled as to why Ford issued a press release regarding the Flex's aerodynamics, knowing as the automaker must that any autowriter worth his salt would compare the vehicle's mileage with its competitors'.
Ford spokesman Jay Ward explained that when the automaker first launched the Flex, "a lot of the reaction the press gave to us was that they liked the way the thing was styled and the fact that the thing was obviously very boxy. But actually a number of people since then have gone on to say well, yeah, it's all very well and good having a great big box that's very stylish but that's got to be about as aerodynamic as a house brick.
The purpose of the press release, Ward said, was to show that Ford's engineers returned to the vehicle and "worked hard to find a way to make something that's very distinctive in terms of the way it looks, but have actually managed to hone it in such a way that we get better aerodynamics out of it that some of our closest competitors."
As for mileage, he conceded, "your point's a valid one. At the end of the day, the fuel-economy figures in that segment are very similar."
Similar, but with at least one exception: The 2009 all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester's EPA fuel-economy estimates are 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.