Ford has a lot riding on its new engine technology - the 2010 Ford Flex crossover is the latest model to get the 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 engine, which delivers V-8 power with the fuel economy of a V-6.
You'll also find it in the 2010 Taurus SHO, the 2010 Lincoln MKS sedan and the 2010 Lincoln MKT crossover.
"This is not a fad for us. It is not a single-car domain. It's not a headliner. It's a strategy.
"By 2010, 23 per cent of our vehicles will have the EcoBoost technology and, by 2013, that's going to go up to 90 per cent," says Scott Tobin, vehicle line director at the Flex EcoBoost media presentation in Boulder, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Ford chose the city to demonstrate EcoBoost's power and performance as well as towing capabilities in high altitudes.
The 2010 Ford Flex starts at $32,699 for the SE FWD model. But if you want the EcoBoost technology, it's only available on one trim - the Limited AWD - and it's expensive, $46,599.
That's $3,400 more than the regular Limited AWD model, but company officials say the advantages of the system with its new twin-turbocharged, direct-injection, 3.5-litre Ecoboost V-6 engine far outweighs the price.
The "boost" comes from the twin turbochargers, which recovers energy from the exhaust that otherwise would be wasted and puts it back into the engine to maximize efficiency. It forces 25 per cent more air than its normally aspirated sibling, the 3.5-litre Duratec V-6, into the engine for extra power. The EcoBoost engine delivers 355 horsepower - 35 per cent more than the Duratec V-6 - and 350 lb-ft of torque, which is 41 per cent more torque.
And the fuel economy doesn't suffer. The Flex Limited EcoBoost AWD delivers 13.1 litres/100 km in the city and 9.2 on the highway, which is nearly the same as the base Flex AWD, which gets 13.5 city/9.1 highway.
Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters so you can manually shift gears. A squeeze on either paddle will upshift; a push forward will downshift. Personally, I prefer one side for upshifting; the other for downshifting.
Most owners will probably never use their Flex for towing. But Ford officials wanted to drive home that you can. They loaded the Flex Limited EcoBoost with 2,500 lbs of ATVs and sent us driving through Estes Park at an elevation of about 7,500 feet.
But the Flex wasn't alone, a Dodge Durango and a GMC Acadia were also part of the exercise. And after the 25-kilometre trailer-tow loop, the Flex proved it's a powerful towing machine. It fared the best, pulling its weight with ease and stability.
An optional 2,041-kg Class III Trailer Tow package and standard trailer sway control, which detects sway and applies countermeasures to stabilize the vehicle and trailer, helped - it kept the load steady; most of the time it felt like you weren't even towing a thing.
Another impressive feature is a new optional Active Park Assist system, which parallel parks the vehicle at the touch of a button. Similar technology is already available from Lexus.
Ford felt so confident of its parking system it had a Lexus LS460 on hand to compare both systems. While Lexus uses camera-based technology to detect parking spots, it's very fickle and often takes several attempts to line up the vehicle properly before it can park itself. It takes time and quickly can get frustrating - it's easier to do it yourself.
The Ford system, on the other hand, uses ultrasonic sensors on each corner of the vehicle, to find a spot. It's simple to use - just push the P button and it'll search for a spot. Once it has one, it beeps and the words "found spot" appears on the dashboard. Then stop, shift from drive to reverse and the steering wheel whips around on its own, while you control the brake and throttle. It moves seamlessly and quickly into the spot. An audible beep warns when you're too close to other vehicles. A rear-view camera also displays the surroundings.
Ford's technology proved superior to the Lexus in its simplicity, ease of use, quickness and price. The system costs $700; the Lexus parking system is part of a $5,900 premium package.
The Flex lives up to its name - it's flexible and functional with car-like handling and SUV-like versatility.
It can carry up to seven adults in three rows of seats with plenty of head- and legroom in all three rows. It's long and low to the ground so stepping inside the cabin is easy.
While I'm not a big fan of the boxy design, I'll give credit to Ford designers for a bold, in-your-face style that's instantly recognizable on the road.
The Limited trim gets some extra nice touches compared with the base model. It has a satin aluminum appliqué on the lift-gate, chrome mirror skullcaps with folding power heated mirrors, chrome scuff plates and 19-inch polished aluminum wheels.
A tiny "EcoBoost" decal on the rear and a chrome dual-tip exhaust system differentiate the Limited EcoBoost AWD from the regular Limited AWD trim.
Inside, my tester came with a new telescoping steering column, leather seats, a Sony premium audio system with 12 speakers in 10 locations, a convenience package that includes adjustable pedals with memory, memory driver's seat and mirrors, and a lighting package with HID headlamps, LED tail lamps and ambient lighting.
And don't forget the best part - the Flex is Canadian-made at Ford's assembly plant in Oakville, Ont. The Flex Limited EcoBoost version goes on sale later this summer.
l-4 on the way
Ford says it will offer a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine for some of its vehicles starting next year, an effort to provide greater fuel economy to consumers without compromising on horsepower.
At a showcase of the company's 2010 model lineup in Dearborn, Mich., Barb Samardzich, Ford's vice-president for global powertrain engineering, said the I-4 EcoBoost two-litre, four-cylinder engine will make a vehicle perform like one carrying a six-cylinder engine.
Ford executives did not say which vehicles will carry the I-4 EcoBoost.
2010 FORD FLEX LIMITED ECOBOOST
Type: Six-/seven-passenger crossover
Base Price: $46,599; as tested, $47,999
Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6, twin-turbo, Ecoboost
355 hp/350 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km):
13.1 city/9.2 highway;
runs on regular gas, but premium recommended for best performance
Alternatives: Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Dodge Journey, Buick Enclave, Saturn Outlook, Mazda CX-9
Impressive parallel parking system
Built in Canada
Powerful towing machine
Exterior designReport Typo/Error