First Drive: 2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost
Our overall impression of the 2009 Ford Flex was good enough to earn it our 2009 Truck of the Year, but some thought it was inappropriate that we labeled it a truck in the first place. It does ride on a chassis similar to the Lincoln MKS and the new Ford Taurus as well as share most of its drivetrain with these sedans as well, so for 2010 Ford is giving the Flex a few upgrades to help it better compete with just about any fullsize crossover or SUV on the market. After spending an afternoon behind the wheel of the 2010 Ford Flex in the mountains of Boulder, Colo., it's easy to see that Ford is still trying to perfect a near-perfect vehicle. From engine and suspension changes to safety and convenience items, the Ford Flex looks to be an even more impressive vehicle heading into its sophomore season. Pricing for the 2010 Ford Flex SEL AWD EcoBoost has a starting MSRP of $39,165, while the more luxurious Flex Limited AWD EcoBoost starts at $42,805.
The biggest news for the 2010 Flex is what is under the hood - Ford's 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6. Matching the Flex's fullsize stature, the EcoBoost gives the 2010 model enough power to compete with fullsize sport utility vehicles such as the Dodge Durango, Toyota Sequoia and Chevrolet Tahoe even though it gets fuel economy closer to smaller crossovers such as the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot. Producing 355 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, the EcoBoost gives the 2010 Flex power similar to its V-8 competitors with the fuel economy of a regular V-6. Despite the gain of 93 horsepower and 102 lb-ft of torque, the Flex with EcoBoost gets identical EPA fuel economy estimates (16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 mpg on the highway) as the all-wheel drive Duratec-powered Flex. All 2010 Flex models equipped with EcoBoost come standard with all-wheel drive.
Ford's six-speed 6F-55 automatic transmission incorporates many advanced features designed to assist the driver including downhill assist, match-rev downshifts and automatic downshifts in certain conditions when in manual mode. The downhill assist is automatically engaged whenever the transmission is shifted into manual mode but will shut off when the driver selects gears using the paddles. When descending a steep hill, instead of the driver having to reapply the brakes on a continual basis, the transmission automatically downshifts when needed (the driver must tap the brake pedal once to fully engage the system) to use the engine to help slow the vehicle down. In manual mode, downshifts are met with an automatic rev match that prevents lag or lurching, and for safety reasons, if the driver goes to wide open throttle in manual mode, the transmission will automatically choose the appropriate gear to downshift to for responsive acceleration (this system was included so if the driver is in sixth gear and needs to accelerate quickly but forgets he/she is in manual mode, the vehicle will drop a couple gears so acceleration is quick and the obstacle can be avoided).
Like the Taurus SHO we recently drove, the Flex with EcoBoost also uses shift paddles mounted to the steering wheel for manual shifting. While most cars use shift paddles for sportier shifting, the Flex's manual controls are more useful for towing situations. We tested out the Flex's towing abilities along steep mountainous roads in Colorado which proved not only that the engine is just as capable as the crossover's V-8-powered counterparts, but the twin turbochargers helped to eliminate the horsepower loss commonly associated with high altitude driving. For anyone who has ever towed an improperly loaded U-HaulÂ® trailer, Ford's Trailer Sway Control is available on properly equipped Flex models to ensure the driver maintains control of the trailer. The system uses the Flex's standard AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control to monitor the trailer sway, or yaw, and help correct this condition by applying the brakes on the side of the vehicle opposing the sway (asymmetric braking) and reducing the engine power.
Another advantage of the EcoBoost drivertrain is the exclusive use of Ford's Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS). Instead of hydraulic fluid and pressure, EPAS uses an electric motor to provide steering assistance for the driver which helps offer stiffer steering at highway speeds and effortless steering in low-speed parking maneuvers. Currently, EPAS is standard on all of Ford's hybrid and EcoBoost-equipped vehicles, but the Flex's boxy shape and large size also benefit from additional features associated with EPAS: Pull-Drift Compensation and Active Park Assist. Pull-Drift Compensation is a software based technology that eliminates incessant steering wheel input caused by crosswinds or crowns in the road. This system is undetectable to the driver and help keeps the Flex in its intended path. Active Park Assist helps make the task of parallel parking much easier by eliminating the two hardest elements of the maneuver: determining a properly sized spot and knowing when to 'cut' the steering wheel to turn the car. Once activated, Active Park Assist automatically finds a proper spot, gives directions to the driver and automatically steers itself into the parking spot. The only input required from the driver is putting the vehicle in the proper gear and operating the gas and brake. Active Park Assist is much more intuitive than other systems such as the one used on the Lexus LS.
Looking ahead to future vehicles, Ford says that 90 percent of its vehicle lineup will feature EPAS (including the Pull-Drift Compensation and Active Park Assist) by 2012 and an equal percentage of vehicles will offer EcoBoost engines by 2013. Plans are already in the works to equip the Ford Mustang and Ford F-150 with EcoBoost V-6 engines, but future applications are expected to include inline-4 options as well. These engines should offer power output equivalent to a V-6 without sacrificing the fuel economy associated with an inline-4.
While the spacious, comfortable cabin was left completely alone, the Flex's classic, retro styling received some minor upgrades for EcoBoost-equipped models. The most noticeable changes for 2010 Flexes equipped with EcoBoost include the large, dual exhaust outlets, standard 20-inch wheels and a lower ride height. Stiffer damping in the front and rear suspension provide the EcoBoost Flexes with a ride height that is 10 millimeters lower than standard Flex models.