2009 Ford Flex Limited: Get the EcoBoost V6 for Towing
April 12, 2010
The time finally came when my restored 1990 Miata racecar was done and ready to be towed to Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca to be put on display as part of the Miatas at Mazda Raceway track event. But I needed a tow vehicle to get it there.
I had originally planned on using our long-term Dodge Ram 1500 pickup, but it was unavailable because Josh was moving over the same weekend. Our 2009 Ford Flex Limited was another candidate, but it lost out because it does not have a factory hitch (and the upgraded oil cooler than comes with it) and it lacks the general sauce of a 2010 Ford Flex with Ecoboost.
But we know people, and I was able to get my hands on an EcoBoosted 2010 Ford Flex with the factory class III trailer tow package for what was essentially an impromptu tow test. Its 4,500-lb tow rating would provide plenty of capacity for the job, as the Miata and trailer weighed just over 3,500 pounds. The whole rig came within 500 pounds of overall capacity when I factored-in the associated tools, luggage, spare track tires, EZ-up, and the all-important Ken, my crew chief, riding with me inside the Flex.
This Flex has middle-row buckets, but no center console. I was able to fold the middle row seats forward and stack my spare race tires flat on the floor, two-high. I put them here for two reasons: I wanted their mass to sit as far forward as possible, and; the floor is wider here than it is in the hatch area. This space becomes really handy without a rear console.
The class III tow package is more than a 2-inch receiver hitch and a 4,500-lb tow capacity. You also get built-in 4- and 7-pin trailer sockets that are pre-wired. For me, trailer hookup was a simple plug-and-play affair.
The package also comes with an engine oil cooler and a trailer sway control algorithm in the stability control system. It comes with a sub-harness that will allow you to easily connect a third-party electric brake controller (I didn't).
Here are a few towing impressions:
Power: The EcoBoost V6 has plenty of it for this job. If anything, the 355-horsepower twin turbo engine feels more potent when you ask it to do something difficult -- like tow a trailer up and over a steep mountain grade like the Grapevine here in southern California -- than it does normally. I could easily make passes on two-lane roads and up hills. When the road ahaed was clear, the cruise control was able to maintain uphill speed without much downshifting. This Flex EcoBoost felt stouter with a trailer than many of the cars in our long-term fleet do in everyday use.
Transmission: The downhill speed control setting in the select-shift 6-speed automatic is activated by sliding the lever from 'D' to 'M', but without touching the steering-mounted shift buttons. (The same feature is activated via a thumb button in our standard Flex.) The transmission and engine computers learn your desired speed from your use of the brake pedal and make adjustments so you can step off the pedal and avoid riding the brakes as you maintain your target speed. It worked really well here on 5- to 6-percent downgrades, even with the trailer pushing relentlessly from behind. As you'd expect, it doesn't quite keep up on extremely steep grades. The route out of the Laguna Seca recreation area, where the racetrack I visited is located, is a winding 16% affair where manual use of the brakes and a manual downshift to 2nd gear is necessary. That's really steep; I can't fault it for that.
Suspension: I'd loaded my trailer to produce a decent amount of stabilizing tongue weight, the rear didn't feel overburdened. It didn't bottom or wallow. It didn't ride low or drag through driveways. And because I had the proper amount of tongue weight, the trailer sway control software never fired-off once.
Steering: With my trailer clamped-on, the 2010 Flex went down the road nice and straight. At one point I had to deal with 30 mph crosswinds. No problem. I could do this all day. It tows real nice.
Fuel economy: This was mostly a highway-speed exercise driven at 60-65 mph, so even though I hate focusing on highway fuel economy ratings in general, I'm going to do it here anyway. The 2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost is exclusively an all-wheel drive machine, and its highway rating is 22 mpg. On the outbound towing leg I was able to get 15-16 mpg with no wind, even with a couple up-and-down climbs thrown in. On the way home, 25-35 mph cross- and headwinds dropped that to 13-14 mpg. My overall trip average was 14.5 mpg over 777 miles of towing. Without a trailer, the in-car meter read 22.2 mpg after about 100 non-towing miles driven at the same speed.
I do have a complaint, however. The back-up sonar cries mercilessly (and loudly) whenever you back up with a trailer back there. Yes, you can turn it off using the menus, but that process is cumbersome when you're trying to shut it off RIGHT NOW. I much prefer the stand-alone button found in our Dodge Ram - one press and you get silence.
But that's the only gripe I could come up with. Turns out a 2010 Ford Flex with the EcoBoost V6 is quite towing-capable and performs well within its published limits. I wouldn't try towing 4,500 pounds with 6 or 7 folks on board, however, because the weight of passengers and their baggage should be deducted from the tow rating in such cases.
I liked the Flex before. I like it even more now.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ No additional miles on our LT Flex. Sorry.
PS: Here's why I did this...