- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Distinctive appearance, more power and better fuel economy coupled with some useful technology make the new 2010 Ford Flex with EcoBoost an appealing package. The Flex is a practical alternative to the conventional sport utility vehicle, without the stigma of being a gas hog. Better yet, it’s fun to drive.

The Ford Flex has been around for about a year. New for 2010 is the Ford Flex with EcoBoost. The 2010 model is a completely different animal under that same attractive skin. It’s been lowered a bit, the suspension has been firmed up and 20-inch wheels are standard, but the real story is EcoBoost.

Available on the 2010 Ford Flex this summer, the twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers the horsepower of a normally aspirated V-8 with the fuel efficiency of a normally aspirated V-6. That’s no exaggeration. It boasts 355 horsepower with 350 ft.-lb. of torque from 1,500 to 5,250 rpm. Using Ford’s new 6-speed automatic, 0-to-60-mph time is about 7.0 seconds.

The all-wheel-drive version gets 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway — about 20 percent better than competitor V-8 engines. By 2013, more than 90 percent of Ford’s North American lineup will be available with EcoBoost technology.

“We know there are customers who are looking for the power and performance of a traditional V-8, but do not want to sacrifice this for fuel economy,” said Kate Pearce, Flex marketing manager. So how does EcoBoost work?

Twin water-cooled turbochargers operate simultaneously with a direct-injection fuel system. As demand on the engine increases, the engine management system responds by varying timing and injection duration. On each stroke, six individual jets spray fuel directly into the combustion chamber, mixing with the pressurized air from the twin turbochargers.

Ford appears to have found a way to eliminate turbo lag by using two relatively small turbochargers that can spool up very quickly, letting the engine reach peak torque quickly - and logically, it takes two to supply the needed volume of air. Anyhow, turbo lag in the Flex is minimal.

Available with all 2010 Flex models is Ford’s trailer sway control. It works in conjunction with the stability control system and can determine from the yaw motion of the vehicle if the trailer is beginning to sway out of control. The system can apply differential braking or reduce engine torque to bring vehicle and trailer back to normal.

Ford’s Electric Power Assist Steering system is standard on Flex with EcoBoost. Unlike common hydraulic steering systems that continuously draw power, the EPAS electric motor uses power only when needed. EPAS was envisioned as a means to improve fuel economy, but later in the development process it enabled several other high-tech benefits.

EPAS is programmed to reduce steering effort at low speeds for easier maneuvering in parking lots and other, similar situations and provide confident, precise steering on the highway by electrically increasing steering effort as the vehicle speed increases. The change in effort feels so natural that the driver hardly notices as it happens, but it’s the first thing a first-time driver will notice on a test drive.

EPAS automatically offsets steering effort if the road is crowned or there is a serious crosswind. It uses sensors to measure the steering input applied by the driver to maintain the vehicle’s path. Then it electrically adds bias to the steering input to compensate. The result is a neutral feel for the driver, instead of having to constantly add effort to keep the vehicle going straight ahead.

Another EPAS benefit is Active Park Assist. Ultrasonic sensors measure the length of a potential parallel parking space. If long enough, the system electrically steers the front wheels to the angles required to accomplish the parallel-parking maneuver. All the driver has to do is select forward or reverse and step on the gas or brake. APA puts the Lexus automatic parking system to shame.

EcoBoost adds about $3,000 to the price of a Flex, but according to Ford, buyers will recover the added cost in about two years. On sale this summer, the Flex with EcoBoost ranges from $36,890 for the SEL to $43,580 for the well-equipped Limited.

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