Ford Flex

Square Shooter

DO YOU REALLY NEED A BIG-DUTY TRUCK?

There are lots of them available, and many are currently being offered with dealer and manufacturer discounts that start at about $6,000. Sweet, but there's another way to save money -- buy less truck. As you know, those full frames and V-8 engines burn a lot of gas. So why drive a guzzler when you could get a crossover capable of topping 20 mpg instead -- at least while your trailer is parked?

But can a crossover do the job towing a boat? To find out, I hitched my Glastron to a new Ford Flex for a run through Boating's battery of tow tests. Inside the square corners and flat sides of this vehicle you'll find room for six or seven occupants, a maximum 83 cubic feet of cargo space, and easy access through five large doors. As with other crossovers, the Flex is constructed with car components, but it's still more than willing to haul a boat.

Flex's standard powertrain is a 3.5-liter 262-hp V-6 that powers the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive ($1,850) is a worthwhile addition if you expect to fully engage the factory's 4,500-pound tow rating.

Other optional creature comforts include a center-console refrigerator ($760), a Vista roof with four skylights ($1,495), and center-row seats that fold at the touch of a button ($770).

The Flex's hefty 4,840-pound weight and big-boy footprint don't help its agility around town, but they make towing a boat a lot easier. Straight-line stability is superb. This Ford did an excellent job holding a trailer that tended to rove steadfastly in line. Acceleration is sufficient to keep from becoming a traffic hazard and the panic stop from 60 mph required less than 200' with the boat and trailer in tow. Even though the Flex lacks a low range gear, it cranked out a commendable combination of torque and traction. At the launch ramp, there wasn't a hint of spin. The all-important gas-pump report was uplifting, too: Flex's 13 mpg while towing easily beats big SUVs and pickups by 2 to 3 mpg.

MSRP: As Tested - $40,180 ****

For more info: www.ford.com