CANNON BEACH, Ore. -- Starting from Pioneer Square in the skyscraper core of Portland, we plot a route leading west over Coastal Range mountains to Cannon Beach on the rugged Pacific Coast of Oregon.
Vehicle for this daylight dash to the sea -- the 2013 Ford Flex Limited crossover utility vehicle -- stretches long and looks like a squatty square-cornered and slab-sided station wagon painted in two-tone colors to contrast the body and roof.
It also packs substantial firepower, thanks to the new optional twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine promising the fuel economy of a V6 but the power and torque of a big V8.
The DOHC (dual overhead cams) aluminum twin-turbo engine with direct-injection and VVT (variable valve timing) delivers 355 hp at 5700 rpm and torque of 350 lb-ft spread over a broad band from 1500 rpm to 5250 rpm.
Ford's EcoBoost V6 ties to a six-speed electronic automatic SelectShift transaxle with steering-wheel paddle shifters and all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
The electronic AWD traction becomes a helpful asset on our drive due to the slippery-slushy snow that clots all roads to the coast.
All Flex editions for 2013 score significant updates.
The original Flex rolled out for Ford's 2009 line as a rather long mid-size CUV riding on the elongated platform of a sport-tuned sedan. Initially, it offered three trim grades (SE/SEL/Limited) and a 262-hp V6 tied to a six-speed automatic transaxle with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional AWD traction.
Flex for 2013 still has the same three trim grades and FWD or AWD traction but Ford works a makeover outside with bold body sculpting, new standard or optional features in the passenger compartment with improved materials wrought with fine craftsmanship, and a choice of two sophisticated V6 powertrains, each with improved fuel economy figures.
Flex's standard engine for 2013 is a new DOHC 3.5-liter V6 with performance-enhancing Ti-VVT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) technology. The plant produces 285 hp at 6500 rpm and torque of 253 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
Standard shifter is the six-speed electronic automatic with SelectShift manual controller.
This upgraded powertrain increases power points by 23 hp over the 2009 model's V6 yet earns better fuel economy numbers, with EPA-estimated fuel figures anticipated at 18 mpg City/25 mpg Highway for FWD, and 17/24 mpg (City/Highway) for AWD.
All versions of Flex 2013 employ a monocoque structure which unites chassis and body into one cohesive unit that remains extremely rigid when set to motion. A generous wheelbase length of 117.9 inches and broad wheel track of 65.4 inches set up a long and wide platform which brings stability when turning.
And Flex carries independent suspension components -- MacPherson struts and an isolated subframe up front and a multilink design in back with upper and lower control arms plus isolating subframe and stabilizer bar -- to deliver car-smooth ride sensations for passengers.
A speed-sensing steering system gets electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of Flex's powertrain.
Brakes on Flex consist of a disc at every wheel with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device with Roll Stability Control (RSC), which measures vehicle motion on both the yaw and roll axes.
And Ford packs aboard safety systems. Front riders have dual two-stage frontal air bags plus seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and buckle pretensioners, while in the rear there are anchors to tether a child's safety seat. Side-impact air bags mounted on outboard front seats and Ford's Safety Canopy consisting of curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows on three rows are also on tap as standard gear. New inflatable belts apply to for rear seats.
New Flex features include the latest version of MyFord Touch system, new safety and driver aids such as adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support, Ford's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), and Intelligent Access with push-button start and remote start technology.
In the cabin there's ample space for three rows of seats to haul as many as seven passengers. And chairs inside will flip and fold to make room for lots of cargo. The layout shows a pair of bucket seats up front divided by a multi-function console and followed by two captain's chairs, then a back bench for two more riders.
The 2013 Flex editions carry dazzling new electronic instrument clusters, a revised steering wheel and electronic finish panels, as well as enhanced seat trim material.
Class-exclusive new options include a second-row refrigerated console and the latest generation of MyFord Touch with SYNC that adds thumb switches on the steering wheel, LED screens in the instrument cluster and a large LED panel in the center dash, all to control climate and audio systems, phone and navigation gear.
Flex SEL and Limited grades also offer a tow package and multi-panel Vista Roof.
Ford stretches the MSRP range for the 2013 Flex from $31,890 for the SE FWD base trim to $39,240 for a FWD Limited. The AWD Limited with twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 starts at $43,855.