2010 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost Review
Cool, if not somewhat pointless, Ford’s funky Flex makes you pay for originality
Sometimes when an automaker takes two automotive concepts and combines them, the result is an impressive success, creating a vehicle that others imitate, spawning a whole new segment in the industry. Other times, it’s a failure, with low sales and a short life. The latter is what appears to be happening to the Ford Flex.
1. Ford’s EcoBoost option for the Flex delivers 355-hp and 350 ft-lbs of torque from a twin-turbo 3.5L V6.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 16/21-mpg (city/hwy) compared to a standard V6-powered AWD Flex at 16/22-mpg.
3. EcoBoost models can hit 60 mph in around 7.0 seconds – not bad for a 4,800 lb vehicle.
4. Pricing starts at $29,075 for a base Flex, $39,645 for an SEL EcoBoost (the cheapest EcoBoost model) and $43,485 for a Limited EcoBoost model like our test car.
The styling might be a concern for some buyers and while we’ll admit the Flex is a significant departure from the rest of the vehicles on the road, we actually love its stand-out retro rod character that opts for muscle rather than the cute and cuddly old school look of cars like the PT Cruiser or Chevy HHR. And we’re sure we’re not alone on this one, meaning there has to be a bigger reason.
FLEX FAILING AT CREATING A NEW SEGMENT AND AT FILLING GAPS IN FORD’S LINEUP
That reason is the inherent nature of the vehicle. Sitting half way between a conventional crossover and a minivan, it helps fill a void left by the Freestar and attract some move traditional SUV buyers – but it doesn’t do a great job at either.
It’s not quite as functional as a minivan, nor is it as capable as a traditional SUV. Besides, there’s already the five-seater Edge and Ford is preparing to launch the all-new 2012 Explorer – which is also moving away from its truck-based chassis of old and onto a new car-based platform – shrinking the Flex’s space in the Ford lineup even further.
The Flex does offer seating for six or seven, depending on if you choose second row captain’s chairs or a bench. But those in search of a third-row could also opt for the current Explorer – which offers considerably more towing capability should you need it.
The Flex, even with the powerful EcoBoost engine like on our tester, is rated to tow 4,500 lbs – 500 lbs less than the Toyota highlander with a tow prep package.
As for the EcoBoost option, well, it may be fun with 355-hp and a 0-60 mph time of right around 7 seconds, but it makes this monstrously large and expensive vehicle even pricier. Acceleration is surprisingly brisk for such a big vehicle (AWD Flex models weighing in at over 4,800 lbs), with smooth power deliver that makes it deceptively quick. Still, you’d expect 355-hp to feel faster.
PRICED TO SIT ON DEALER LOTS
Even more than perhaps its status as both an underachieving minivan and less capable utility vehicle, the Flex’s biggest flaw might be its price. The starting MSRP of $29,075 doesn’t sound all that bad and is spot-on with the Chevy Traverse, but then there’s the $25,855 Highlander or even the bargain basement Dodge Grand Caravan for just $22,635. And that’s just to start, with SEL models jumping to $31,875 ($39,745 with EcoBoost) and Limited trim priced from $37,845 ($43,485 with EcoBoost like our test model).
Ford has more recently introduced a $45,960 Titanium EcoBoost model, which a bunch of extras that really make the Flex pop.
Those prices are tough to swallow, especially when you consider some other factors – like interior trim. Now we’re not saying the Flex isn’t nicely designed and executed with high-quality materials, because it is. But at the higher price range for an EcoBoost model, compare the wood trim and sagging leather coating the pancake flat seat bottoms to what you might expect for $40,000 in, say, a Lexus, and the Ford comes up considerably short. Now, you’re not going to get a 355-hp, 7-seater Lexus for 40 grand either.
WELL-EQUIPPED AND QUALITY INTERIOR GETTING A BIT MONOTONOUS
In general we like the aluminum center stack and nicely detailed gauges, although Ford’s buttons and switchgear are used so repetitively in ever model that you begin to forget what you’re driving.
As for those paddle shifters, which can both shift gears up and down with more of a push-button style, they are beyond useless. A similar setup can be found in the Porsche Cayenne where journalists have been ragging on them since their introduction.
Ford’s SYNC system is standard, as are a long list of power items and even MyKey, which is perfect if you have teenage drivers in the house. It lets you set the audio volume to max-out at 44 percent, makes sure the traction control can’t be shut off, ensures the belt-minder chime doesn’t automatically shut off and even allows you to set an 80 mph top speed.
PLENTY OF ROOM FOR PASSENGERS AND CARGO
Passenger and cargo room are strong points with the Flex. Out tester featured the more civilized 6-seat arrangement with second row captain’s chairs rather than a bench. There’s even a fridge between the two seats (part of a $3,600 package that included the captain’s chairs, “multi panel vista roof” and 20-inch wheels). There’s plenty of room in every direction in the second row, and the third row even delivers useable legroom.
Fold the third row flat and the 20 cubic-feet of space is transformed into 43.2 cu. ft. of perfectly square space, ideal for moving just about anything. Need more? Drop the second-row seats for a cavernous 83.7 cu.-ft. (about as much as a Toyota Sienna, if you don’t remove the minivan’s 2nd row chairs).
What the Flex can’t offer that a minivan can is sliding rear doors. A common comment about crossovers is that they are great alternatives to a van, but even if you can match cargo and passenger room, sliding doors have become a modern necessity for life with kids.
DRIVES LIKE A BEHEMOTH, BUT PARKING EASY THANKS TO ‘ACTIVE PARK ASSIST’
On the road, the Flex feels its size – especially due to the massive front end that will have you thinking you’re behind the wheel of a classic Ford LTD. Toss it into a corner and there’s significantly more support, however; the crossover’s stiff suspension and larger wheels (19s on Limited and optional 20s) with low profile tires delivers a stable ride that’s still smooth out on the highway.
That massive front end can make fitting into a spot a bit difficult, but not if you need to parallel park. The optional Active Park Assist works like a charm: just hit the button when you’re driving down a busy street and the system will find a spot, and do all the steering. You just have to drop it in gear when prompted and use the gas and brake. It’s that easy.
As for the much-touted fuel economy of the EcoBoost engine, well, it’s good but not great, with more focus on the boost than the eco. The official numbers are 16/22 mpg (city/hwy) and we averaged right in the middle. Surprisingly for such an advances system, it can run on regular fuel, although Ford advises premium is best.
When it comes to cars, success can be measured in two ways. In making a cool vehicle, sure, Ford has succeeded. But in making a successful business model, apparently it has not.
This isn’t to say that the Flex is a bad vehicle. On the contrary, we think it’s great (particularly when equipped with the Git-R-Done EcoBoost engine) – but only if you’re part of the small portion of the population who want something enormously large and powerful and like funky box-shaped crossovers. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if you happen to be able to pay extra for originality.
So yes, the EcoBoost Ford Flex is a bit pointless and expensive, but we’d say the same about a 200-hp Honda Fit and yet there would be a small group of people who would love the car (including ourselves).
For the vast majority of consumers we’d recommend looking elsewhere, which is somewhat of a moot point, as it seems new vehicle shoppers are already doing just that.