BOULDER, CO – Ford Motor Co. is adding its twin-turbo direct-injection EcoBoost V-6 as an option on its Flex fullsize cross/utility vehicle in an attempt to lure SUV owners more accustomed to V-8 power.

Although the base Flex powered by a normally aspirated 3.5L Duratec V-6 has drawn in customers content with less power, there are “still consumers who don’t want to give up that V-8 performance,” Marketing Manager Kate Pearce says.

She notes 29% of CUV buyers industry-wide make the switch from SUVs, including 18% from medium-size SUVs and 11% from fullsize models.

“With EcoBoost technology we (can) provide them with the V-8 performance they’re used to (for towing) or if they just liked that off-the-line speed or freeway maneuvering that V-8s allow them to do,” Pearce tells Ward’s during a media preview here.

The ’10 Flex with EcoBoost, set to hit dealers later this summer, boasts 355 hp and 350 lb.-ft. (475 Nm) of torque, an increase of 35% and 41%, respectively, over the normally aspirated Duratec V-6.

Despite its power, the engine achieves greater fuel economy than most V-8 rivals. The ’10 Flex with EcoBoost is rated at 16/22 mpg (14.7-10.7 L/100 km) city/highway, which Ford says is 20% better than competitive premium V-8s.

The CUV can be had with an optional tow package that handles loads up to 4,500 lbs. (2,041 kg).

“About 10% of CUV owners tow at least once a month. For that percentage, EcoBoost will be great for them,” Pearce says, noting 29% of traditional SUV owners tow at least once a month.

The tow package also offers Ford’s Trailer Sway Control technology first available on the F-150 fullsize pickup.

The system works in conjunction with AdvanceTrac with roll-stability control to determine from the yaw motion of the vehicle whether the trailer is swaying. If so, the system initiates corrective measures, such as applying precise braking or reducing engine torque.

Ford hopes the EcoBoost-equipped Flex will win over owners of well-established SUVs, such as the Chevrolet Suburban and the Toyota Sequoia, both costing thousands of dollars more.

The Flex SEL with EcoBoost starts at $39,995 (including destination and delivery), while a Sequoia SR5 stickers at $43,528 and the Suburban LT2 sells for a hefty $51,313.

The Flex offers a long list of features, Pearce says, citing the SEL package, which comes with all-wheel drive, the multimedia Sync system, a Sony sound system and leather seats.

“You’re not going to find a single competitor that offers that type of content at the price,” she says.

Pearce is unsure of the potential demographic breakdown of Flex buyers or how many will opt for the up-level engine.

“We don’t see a difference in demographics between the EcoBoost and Duratec,” she says. “It depends on what you’re coming out of. If you’re in a V-8 today and you really like that power, EcoBoost might be a perfect trade for your V-8.”

Despite the absence of EcoBoost until now, the Flex has been performing up to expectations and is attracting consumers considering a variety of other vehicles spanning several segments.

“Flex customers are shopping (GMC) Acadia, (Buick) Enclave, (Toyota) Highlander, (Chevrolet) Traverse and (Chrysler) Town & Country,” Pearce says. “In fact, we’re seeing a fair amount of cross-shopping from minivans.

“And none of those entrants actually offer V-8 performance, so we’re looking at an opportunity to branch out and offer something no one else can.”

Current Flex customers also are purchasing extras in large numbers. Ford says 62% opt for the navigation system, 87% purchase Sync, 52% buy the optional rear-console refrigerator and 77% go for the Sony sound system.

California is the Flex’s second-biggest market after metro Detroit. Traditionally, domestic makes have struggled in California, the nation’s single largest automotive market.

Pearce says 20% of Flex buyers migrate from imports, “and for us that’s really what this vehicle was about.”

Californians are attracted to the Flex’s unique looks, and the vehicle currently ranks third in the state in the 3-row CUV segment, she says.

“We’re beating all of the (General Motors Co.) Lambda products, some of which have been out over a year longer than we have. And we’re nipping at Honda and Toyota. It’s a great position to be in.”

bpope@wardsauto.com