Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief
The Ford Flex, introduced as an all-new wagon/crossover vehicle in 2009, was already capable of pleasing a wide range of constituents. The Flex ditched minivan styling, making it a hit with nontraditional family car shoppers. It also ditched the tiresome, low-buck interior quality found on too many domestic automobiles, making it a hit with discerning, sharp-eyed buyers. And it offered Ford's new Sync communication and entertainment system, making it a hit with fans of automotive technology.
The Edmunds staff was instantly smitten with Ford's new crossover, so much so that we added a long-term 2009 Ford Flex Limited to our fleet of test vehicles last September, and we've piled 30,000 miles on it since.
Complaints have focused on a few minor ergonomic issues, and the gripe on the list with the most hash marks under it is the non-telescoping steering wheel. But power, fuel-efficiency, handling and available feature content (our long-term Flex has a refrigerator, after all) have never been questioned. And according to company representatives, sales continue to climb, with May and June of 2009 showing the strongest Flex numbers yet.
It appears the Flex was satisfying nearly everyone?except Ford Motor Company. One year after introducing this all-new crossover, the Blue Oval boys have upgraded several key areas in the 2010 Ford Flex, offering a new drivetrain, new steering system, new suspension tuning and new high-tech features like Active Park Assist and Trailer Sway Control. Heck, they even added a telescoping steering wheel.
Of course the SUV, minivan and crossover market has never been more competitive. Ford knows this, and has decided to build on the new crossover's momentum. During the press introduction in Boulder, Colorado, Ford also provided access to nontraditional competitors like the Chevrolet Suburban and Dodge Durango to illustrate how a high-tech, twin-turbocharged V6 can compete with burly V8 SUVs in terms of speed and towing capability while beating them in terms of fuel-efficiency.
Was Ford purposely stacking the deck in its favor by holding the 2010 Ford Flex test-drive in the high-altitude Rocky Mountains, where the normally aspirated V8s were sucking wind against Ford's forced-induction V6? Probably.
The primary — though by no means sole — component of the Flex's new EcoBoost system is a 3.5-liter V6 sporting direct fuel injection and dual, water-cooled turbochargers. This engine is good for 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. That compares to the standard (non-turbocharged) 3.5-liter V6 in last year's Flex that makes 262 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque.
The normally aspirated V6 remains the base engine in the 2010 Ford Flex SE and SEL with front-wheel drive. Popping for the EcoBoost engine adds $3,000 to a Flex SEL with all-wheel drive (EcoBoost is only available in all-wheel-drive configuration). But the EcoBoost package also includes the new Electric Power-Assisted Steering (EPAS), a revised six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, a 10mm-lower suspension, stiffer springs and 20-inch wheels (instead of the SEL's standard 18-inch wheels). Fuel mileage with EcoBoost is 16 city/22 highway, matching the base engine's fuel-efficiency despite the increased power and performance.
While an increase of approximately 100 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque suggests an improvement in driving dynamics, it takes quality seat time to fully appreciate Ford's success with EcoBoost. Those peak engine numbers don't convey subtleties like the new Flex's upgraded throttle response, wide torque band and relaxed high-speed cruising. With just a dab of throttle the large people mover maintains an easy 70 mph, and confidence at that kind of speed is aided by the lowered, stiffer springs and 20-inch wheels. Throw in the six-speed automatic's rapid-fire, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and you're left with a seven-passenger runabout offering compact-crossoverlike agility.
Inside, the 2010 Ford Flex offers a roomy interior with real-world space for up to seven adults. Entry and exit from the front seats is easy because of the low step-in height and large door openings. Access to the second- and third-row seats is similarly low-effort, at least by wagon and crossover standards, though it's still not as easy as a minivan.
And you'll actually want to use those second- and third-row seats because, unlike some seven-passenger vehicles, every seating position in the Flex offers a comfortable place to sit, even for full-size adults. The Flex's expansive windows and narrow roof pillars aid visibility which, when combined with the Ford's confident steering and responsive brakes, make it simple to drive and maneuver the large crossover, even in tight spaces. Highway speeds are similarly stress-free, with the EcoBoost V6 providing more than adequate power, while wind and road noise are nonissues.
Ford has addressed the Flex's one major ergonomic flaw with the addition of a standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel on all trim levels for the 2010 model year. The company also continues to upgrade its Sync entertainment and communications system, which now offers audible turn-by-turn directions on models without a navigation system.
Flex buyers with medium-level towing needs can order the Trailer Sway Control option for $570. This includes a Class III hitch, good for pulling up to 4,500 pounds. Trailer Sway Control works with the Flex's stability control sensors to detect and counteract unintended trailer motions. Finally, for those too lazy to master the joy of parallel parking, Ford has created Active Park Assist to slide the Flex into spaces you might not otherwise try.
The system will both identify parking spaces large enough to hold a Flex and handle all steering activity while pulling into said spaces. It's an effective solution, and worth a look if you truly hate the act of curbside parking. Additional Flex hallmarks, like family-friendly interior storage cubbies (lots of them), effective steering-wheel controls and the available center console refrigerator carry over from 2009.
Design/Fit and Finish
Even the base 2010 Ford Flex offers a competitive range of hard- and soft-touch plastics throughout the cabin, but stepping up to the SEL trim with leather seating creates a truly luxurious atmosphere. This upscale interior is complemented by a square exterior shape that somehow avoids being "square."
Tight gap tolerances inside and out, along with creative exterior features like the optional white roof and ribbed lower body panels give the Flex an undeniable advantage over boxy minivans and the ubiquitous "moon buggy" crossover. If you're looking to transport your family in roomy, upscale style, the Flex provides a unique and compelling package.
Who should consider this vehicle
Family shoppers with a need to haul both people and cargo, but a desire to avoid the frumpy minivan or stereotypical crossover, should strongly consider the 2010 Ford Flex. The new EcoBoost drivetrain and Trailer Sway Control option expand the Flex's sporty character and functionality, while high-tech features like Sync and Active Park Assist will appeal to fans of the latest automotive technology.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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