It’s said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. But extra power can be a good thing, especially in a vehicle that’s meant for loading with passengers and cargo.
Previously available only with a regular 3.5 L V6, the Ford Flex can also be ordered with a 3.5 L EcoBoost version, which adds a small turbocharger. The regular 3.5 makes 287 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque, while the EcoBoost increases that to a maximum of 365 horses and 350 lb.-ft.
The extra power isn’t just for showing off at stoplights. While in a Flex with the regular engine a few years ago, I had an indecisive driver stop ahead of me on the highway while he figured out which exit he wanted. (Where do these people get their licences?) I escaped the resulting mess with just a hair to spare, since the heavy Flex didn’t have that last bit of acceleration I could have used.
Of course, most drivers don’t have to deal with that very often, but extra power is also handy if you’re consistently packing the vehicle with passengers and cargo, since the non-turbo engine feels the weight of a full load.
Built exclusively in Ontario, the Flex is a good alternative to a minivan for those who don’t want the soccer-mom stigma. Its third-row seating is primarily for children, since legroom is tight, but its square-box styling retains impressive headroom in the second and third rows.
It drives and handles like a car, with an impressively smooth ride and very comfortable seats. I took it on a ten-hour trip and felt as refreshed at the end as I did at the beginning.
But while the EcoBoost engine improves performance, it needs to be better packaged. Right now, it’s just too expensive. There are four trim lines — the SE in front-wheel only, which starts at $30,499; the mid-range SEL, in front-or all-wheel, and the top-line Limited, in all-wheel only, at $44,399. Those prices are for the regular V6 engine.
The EcoBoost is only available on the Limited, and it’s bundled into two packages. Get the turbo engine with some chrome trim and 20-inch wheels and it’s an additional $3,900. Go for the higher package, which further adds air-conditioned seats, power-folding rear seats, adaptive cruise control, and self-parking feature, and you’re adding a whopping $6,800 to the Limited’s tag.
How about just making the EcoBoost available in the lower trim lines, without all the extra swag? The turbo is the better choice for those with larger families and all their gear, but they’re probably the least likely to be financing something that expensive.
Both engines use a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual shift mode, activated by a button on the regular model, and by wheel-mounted paddle shifters on the EcoBoost.
The standard seating configuration is for seven, with a three-passenger middle bench, but it can be swapped out for second-row bucket seats if desired on the SEL and Limited. You can even add a second-row console between them that can be fitted with a little electric refrigerated cubby, although at an extra $650, I’d just as soon throw a cooler and some ice in the back to keep my drinks cold.
My tester was equipped with a navigation system and premium Sony stereo. The music sounds great, but it comes with a hard plastic panel that incorporates the controls for the climate system. They’re just little touch-points, rather than buttons, and they’re hard to find without taking your eyes off the road.
All Flexes contain SYNC, a voice-activated connectivity system that generally works really well. I’m still floored that I can say the name of an opera aria in my excuse for Italian, and SYNC will instantly find it on my iPod.
But the SEL and Limited are burdened with MyFord Touch, an awful touch-screen that requires you to tap its corners — often repeatedly before it realizes what you’re doing — to access its climate, navigation, entertainment and phone functions, which you further delve into by tapping little icons. It’s the only place you’ll find the heated seat controls, for example. I shouldn’t have to page through computer screens to adjust my tush’s temperature.
Ford points out that if I don’t want to set the cabin heat via MyFord Touch, I can also tap the climate buttons on the centre stack, or push a button on the steering wheel and tell the SYNC lady to do it for me. But why have three redundant systems to perform a function that could quickly, easily, and safely be done by reaching over and spinning a dial?
Despite my complaints, overall, I love the Flex. It has great road manners, it’s deliciously comfortable, it holds a lot of stuff, and while its box-on-box styling can be polarizing, I like its looks. It needs some fine-tuning on its equipment list, though. Put this EcoBoost engine in the lower trim lines, cut the fat out of its packages, and I think a lot more drivers would love the Flex, too.
2013 Ford Flex
PRICE: $30,499 — $51,199, as-tested $55,849
ENGINE: 3.5-litre V6
POWER/TORQUE: 287 hp/254 lb-ft. (3.5); 365 hp/350 lb.-ft. (3.5 EcoBoost)
FUEL CONSUMPTION (EcoBoost AWD): City 13.1, hwy. 8.8, as-tested 11.7
COMPETITION: Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Tribeca, Toyota Highlander, plus any minivan
WHAT’S BEST: Drives great, very comfortable
WHAT’S WORST: Can’t get EcoBoost in lower trim or without pricey extras
WHAT’S INTERESTING: It’s also the basis of the Lincoln MKT
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