2013 Ford Flex Driving Impressions

Before we get to the awesome 365 horsepower in the twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine, let's just say that 287 horsepower in the new Ti-VCT V6 is enough. Acceleration is smooth and good. The lesser V6 can easily tow 2000 pounds as is, and 4500 pounds with the optional tow package. Both engines use the same sweet 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode, so there's no advantage there. The difference in fuel mileage is 2 mpg.

But it's not really a decision about which engine you need, because the EcoBoost comes only with the Limited; so you'll end up with either 287 or 365 horsepower more probably based on the options and comfort level you want. You can, however, get a heavily optioned Flex SEL with all-wheel drive and the Ti-VCT V6, if you have an aversion to 365 horsepower, and want 22 mpg instead of 20.

Another thing about the EcoBoost V6 is that you'll more easily find yourself at the limits of the suspension, because it's faster. Even though the springs and dampers were stiffened for 2013, our Flex danced a lot during our hard driving on rough and undulating two-lanes. At least it was only up-and-down, not side-to-side, which suggests rebound tuning on the shock absorbers. We should say that we were pushing the Flex harder than most owners ever will, but still not pushing it unreasonably. And we had just one passenger; as a people hauler, with others in the rear rows, this kind of driving just doesn't happen because the passengers would scream bloody murder. Which is a good thing, because the suspension would scream uncle if trying to drive hard with all that people weight.

On the freeway and around town we found the Flex ride to be smooth and composed. It's comfortable and doesn't feel firm. The cabin is silent and steady. It's a pleasure to drive the Ford Flex.

We loved the seamless 6-speed transmission shifting and programming, and the ergonomics of the perfectly designed paddles, on the Limited. The transmission on the Flex SE and SEL models is manually shifted with a small thumb button on the side of the lever, and we hated the ergonomics of that setup, requiring a cocked wrist and raised elbow.

The EcoBoost V6 in the Flex Limited is very smooth, and emits a light growl out the twin chrome exhaust pipes. But because the Flex is a heavy vehicle, even with all that horsepower it isn't a rocket.

For 2013 there's a new brake system with a larger master cylinder, revised booster tuning for improved brake feel, and upgraded friction material for additional resistance to fade. We used the brakes hard, and they felt wonderful, strong but not too sensitive, with progressive feel to the pedal.

There's also new electronic power steering syste on the 2013 Flex with a quicker steering ratio. Still, back in those curves, the steering sometimes feels behind the car, like it's just guiding the wheels, not steering them. The handling is never boaty, but it can feel a bit floaty, even with the revised spring and damper rates making the Flex more responsive than before.

Keep in mind that none of this is affected by the impressive Torque Vectoring Control, and Curve Control technology. These systems step in when traction is an issue, due to speed or hard throttle application, and we weren't there yet. At least we don't think so. One of the things about Torque Vectoring is that it's almost imperceptible (the next day we would drive a Ford Taurus SHO with these systems, harder than we drove the Flex, and we could definitely feel it). Torque Vectoring uses the stability control module to monitor the vehicle 100 times per second; as the car accelerates through a corner, the system detects when the front inside wheel is starting to slip and applies an imperceptible amount of braking to the wheel, which transfers torque to the outside wheel, which has more grip, thus maintaining traction, balance, and steering control.

Curve Control comes into play when the car enters a corner too fast, by cutting power and adding braking. It's expected to be particularly useful when a driver hits a freeway on- or off-ramps with too much speed, especially on wet pavement.

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