Amidst a virtual sea of conservative crossovers, the Ford Flex EcoBoost stands out for its unmistakable design and an engine producing enough power to actually make this people-mover fun.
Drive the Ford up a freeway onramp and you'll understand: This EcoBoosted Flex is fast. Should you decide to pass a slower crossover (most in this price range are), the Flex will respond – after a moment's hesitation – with 355 horsepower that will put a smile on your face until passengers start wondering why they're in such a hurry.
Of course, Ford's now familiar EcoBoost engine gets full credit for the much-improved acceleration. The engine, which also appears in the Ford Taurus SHO and Flex-based Lincoln MKT, is a direct-injection V-6 with twin turbos. Over the regular AWD Flex, the EcoBoost engine adds 93 horsepower but matches the fuel economy: 16/22 mpg city/highway.
Well, on paper, it's the same rating. Although our mix of city and highway driving yielded about 17 mpg from a possibly optimistic trip computer, lead feet attracted to the EcoBoost model should expect fuel economy on the lower end of the range.
If you're worried about fuel economy, there's always the front-drive, non-EcoBoost Flex, with a 17/24-mpg city/highway rating, in line with the competition. Go that route and you'll save quite a bit of money too. The least expensive Flex EcoBoost is $39,995, not exactly a screaming deal but significantly less than the Lincoln MKT EcoBoost, which starts at $49,995. Topline Limited Flexes add HID headlights, LED taillights, a navigation system with eight-inch screen, and what Ford calls a "satin-aluminum liftgate applique."
All Flex owners should consider whether they truly appreciate the bold styling since the next-generation Explorer isn't too far off. The new Explorer will likely have improved fuel economy, a third-row option, and an EcoBoost engine wrapped in more traditional SUV styling. The Flex, with its $395 white- or silver-colored roof, recalls the Mini Cooper more than a basic two-box SUV.
Of course, successful crossovers do more than just go fast and look good. For the most part, the Flex is family-friendly. The ride is comfortable, yet there's enough room for improvement here so the Lincoln MKT can distinguish itself from the Flex. Handling is predictable for a vehicle this size: Take it easy around corners, and the Flex will respond positively. Its low-effort steering is acceptable for this class, though we would appreciate more brake feel. The brake pedal has too much travel before anything actually happens.