2010 Ford Flex Expert Review:Autoblog
We were headed on a road trip, because that's what you do when the summer draws to a close and something as gigantic as the Ford Flex rolls into your driveway. Destination: Brooklyn. Five miles into the journey, the Sony audio system belts out the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," and the two sub-five-year-olds in tow agree. But we had an ace up our sleeve: our Flex SEL tester was packing a six-shooter augmented by Ford's EcoBoost turbo system, good for another 100 horsepower over the standard model. If the trip was going to be hellish, at least it would be short.
There's a price premium to pay for the heavy breathing, but even at $40,000 as-tested, the kitted out Flex stickered for less than expected, and mitigating drawbacks seems to be a running theme with the EcoBoosted Flex. Its EPA estimated fuel economy in all-wheel drive trim of
In search of some kind of glaring downfall, we kept the Flex EcoBoost for a while, trying to suss out what penalties you might ultimately pay for the added brawn. Follow the jump to see how the big Ford fared.
Photos copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
Nothing inside the Flex is overly styled, but it's all styled well. The gauges are clean and simple, with four clean dials rimmed in chrome. The leather-covered seats with contrasting stitches are not just attractive, but living room comfortable, too. There's a mixture of textures and materials, from typical plastic graining that imitates leather to a pattern evocative of post-war household appliances. Faux wood, plated plastic, and a flat silver center stack complete the interior fitment. However, the silvered plastic does a bad imitation of aluminum – if that's what it's there for – and over the years, we suspect it will not wear gracefully. The rest of the materials inside are high quality, better than you'll find in the GMC Acadia, one of the Flex's main competitors.
The Flex's T-square styling strikes some as boxy, others as handsome and broad-shouldered. Our sampler looked great in metallic black with a contrasting silver roof, though that color combination does little to quell the occasional comparison to a hearse. The optional 20-inch wheels, with a design echoing the high-speed turbines underhood, aren't coated in garishly shiny chrome, but for a performance model, the Flex EcoBoost would look far more sinister with a dropped ride height to tuck those massive hoops into its bold arches.
Only a small Ecoboost badge on the tailgate denotes this Flex as anything different from its lesser brethren, and other than the oddly tall stance, the overall demeanor is fitting, from the dark paint to the dual exhaust tips out back; this may be a wagon, but it's not a mamby-pamby Mike Brady thing.
Like the outside, the interior of the Flex is styled with a combination of contemporary and classic mid-century-modern forms. With a dash contour inspired by classic Electrolux vacuums of the Fifties, it would have been easy to go all retro inside, but thankfully, the Flex interior has been rendered in timeless forms. Who wants to remember those old three-row wagons from the old days, anyway? Those are the cars that made the minivan and SUV so popular by not being wagons in the first place.
Usability of the controls in the Flex is tops, with or without the formidable list of technology that Ford makes available. There's virtually no need to open the manual to operate the secondary controls. There are knobs for the audio system's volume and tuning, as well as the climate control's temperature setting. We did keep grabbing for a non-existent fan knob, and occasionally had to stare at the buttons for the audio system before discovering which of the multiple like-sized ones we needed. Cupholders sprout like dandelions in the spring aboard the Flex, and other niceities like rear-seat HVAC controls and a 110- volt outlet are packed in to make long journeys just a bit more comfortable.
This is an ideal car for gobbling up the miles while dragging a modest brood and their stuff, or carrying a bunch of people armed with credit cards for when you arrive. There's not a huge amount of cargo room when running sold-out seating, but passengers will enjoy good comfort and room, though your more compact acquaintances would be better served in the third row. Besides people hauling, the other trick the Flex excels at is hauling goods. There's a deep well behind the third row, and folding those seats down is an easy strap pull away. The second row seats operate in much the same manner, and when folded, there's a cavern at your disposal. Visibility from the driver's seat is very good, though the sheer size of the Flex may make parallel parking or reversing a little unsettling for the unpracticed. Dark tinted glass out back adds to the difficulty at night, though big mirrors and an available backup camera help. The car-based Flex, however, is immensely easier to position than most truck-based 'utes.
Our interest in this Flex centered on what's packed under that dining room table-sized hood. The EcoBoost engine is strong, yet it doesn't feel laggy in the least, despite (or perhaps because of) the pair of turbos feeding it. There's no wheezing or huffing and puffing, either. Ford's EcoBoost is very much like BMW's lauded twin-turbo six – brawny and drama-free. The EcoBoost even matches BMW's 100 hp/liter output, with the V6's 3.5 liters serving up 355 horsepower. The muscular engine and all-wheel drive system team up to make the Flex confident without exhibiting any bad behavior. It's a relaxing vehicle to drive despite its size.
The standard Duratec 35's 263 horsepower work constantly to keep the Flex going, but the EcoBoost engine only ups the thrust when needed and turns off the huffer when it's not, so the mileage penalty is negligible. More power means not having to flog it so much, too, and the well behaved powertrain would be interesting to sample in something lighter (Taurus SHO notwithstanding). The substantial weight of the Flex smothers some of the EcoBoost's impressiveness, though it will hike up its skirt and zip along quickly without hesitation.
Better still, Ford's six-speed automatic transmission is smooth up and down the ratios, easily one of the best behaved automatics currently on the market. While other transmissions are reluctant to kick down and take an eternity to do anything, Ford's tranny is responsive when left to think for itself and gives drivers what they ask for in an obedient manner. It may be that the engine's big torque mitigates some of the economy-minded shift behavior, or more likely, Ford's put the time into powertrain development to make it good. One bit of ridiculousness is the Flex's paddle shift capability, which seems out of place in this application, but they hardly cost anything, so no harm, no foul. As it is, the transmission is good enough the paddles can be ignored, but if you want to play race driver, they're present, although perhaps not as responsive as Family Foyt would like.
Even though the Flex is a big, weighty thing with big power, it's not like the old land yachts with big cubes up front and handling that mimics a pat of butter on a hot griddle. All-wheel drive puts the turbo twist to the ground with no drama at the helm. When it's time to change direction, the steering is direct and weighted well, and while lacking in feel, maneuvering the Flex is not like playing a video game, either. On the open road, the wheel settles down and holds straight ahead, making it easy to roll up the odometer without fatigue. Brakes don't seem to lack any effectiveness in practice, though other vehicles on this same platform have posted rather unfortunate braking numbers and fade resistance. The big discs at all corners have a good, progressive feel with a firm pedal, assuming you don't go torching a mountain pass.
A looser suspension calibration with all the power at hand could be truly scary. Thankfully, the Flex has a well-behaved chassis. Quick lateral moves don't upset it. Bumps and suspension impacts don't perturb it much, either. The size is definitely something you're aware of, but the power and solid underpinnings make the Flex EcoBoost an easy plus-sized dance partner on the superspeedway of the everyday commute. There's enough go and control that the Flex EcoBoost drives 500 pounds lighter than it is. The engine is a revver, and the noise up high gets a little gravelly. It's never harsh or offensive though, and the interior of the Flex is quiet and relaxed.
Even the regular-strength Flex is difficult to dislike. It's a well thought-out family vehicle without being a van or SUV (or carrying the associated stigma). And although the price is higher than you'd prefer for a Ford wagon, the Flex is more on par with the Expeditions people eagerly snapped up not so long ago. It's cavernous inside and enormous outside, yet drives better than any silly truck-cum-wagon ever could. And with the Ecoboost V6 under hood, all the standard Flex's attributes are there, just amplified – without a trade-off on the fast-approaching horizon.
Photos copyright ©2009 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
Just a year after the Ford Flex first appeared, the Blue Oval has revamped its lineup in ways that make the 2010 model quite different from its forebearer. First among the changes is the Blue Oval's EcoBoost engine, which packs 3.5 liters of displacement and a duo of turbochargers to produce V8 power with V6 fuel economy. Autoblog went to the Colorado hinterlands to spend some with with the Flex and its new powerplant, and as we found out, there's more to Ford's boxy crossover than boosted performance and fuel economy.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon R. Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
The theory is starting to meet ith some success: the Flex sold 20,016 units through the first six months of 2009. That's well down on blustery initial projections of 100,000 units per year, but well above full-sized SUVs like the Suburban and Sequoia. It's also well outpaced by incumbents like the Dodge Caravan and Acadia, yet nearly matching the Enclave's numbers. However, May and June were both sales records for the Flex, and with the EcoBoost model and its improvements, we suspect Ford can look ahead to more gains.
First came wagons, and they ruled the American landscape for decades. Then body-on-frame SUVs (previously known simply as "trucks") remade the wagon by hoisting it up and adding four-wheel-drive. When the price of SUV feedstock – gas – went ballistic, their owners fled into crossovers, which remade the SUV by being lighter, nicer to drive and easier on the debit card. Then came the Ford Flex, which set out to rework both the SUV and CUV by providing 'ute-like room with a car-like ride, even though the car-like seating position is what drove wagons into the swamps and tarpits in the first place.
The design theory behind the Flex – to an outsider at least – is simple: a little box and a big box on wheels. And not far off the ground. The crucial aspect of the theory is that the Flex isn't meant to be compared against traditional CUVs; Ford has put it in the pit with full-sized SUVs like Chevrolet's Suburban and Tahoe, Dodge's Durango, Toyota's Sequoia and Jeep's Commander. And while it fights the heavyweights, it's also meant to dispatch miscellaneous challengers like General Motors' Lambda quadrouplets, the GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook/Chevrolet Traverse/Buick Enclave, and, oh yeah, minivans.
According to the automaker's research, the Flex is doing all the right things from a brand perspective. Forty-percent of buyers are conquest sales, more than half of that coming from Toyota and Honda, and 49% of them are new to the Ford family.
If they're after simplicity of design, they've come to the right place. The 2010 doesn't sport any salient changes over the previous models – not surprising considering Ford believes it has "the coolest wrapper out there" and "an interior to die for." Take a bristle brush to the hyperbole, though, and what you find underneath remains convincing.
The Flex's packaging is hard not to like. That doesn't mean you'll love the styling (it's polarizing by design), but it's hard to fault the spacial efficiencies won by the vehicle's squared-off shape. How does one get angry at a rectangle? We are in the "Don't Mind It" camp, but when it's SEMA-fied with some extra large wheels, we walk across the aisle to "We Dig It." This latest version offers 18-, 19-, and 20-inch wheels, and the latter size adds a sliver more presence and doesn't unduly compromise the ride.
Inside the Flex's big box, one encounters many of the same sensations found in a big box store: lots of space and everything in bulk. The back of the car resides somewhere across the state line. The seats are huge. The cupholders are huge. The center console cover was once the deck of a battleship. True, with the third-row seats deployed, you lose half of your luggage space, and the area between them and the tailgate is only good for a couple of upright suitcases. But knowing how rarely those contingency seats will probably be used, there's still room for five in the first two rows (if you don't opt for the second-row captain's chairs), and 43 cubic feet of space behind the second set of thrones. That matches the Highlander and comes in about 25 cu. ft. down on the Acadia.
The Flex's seats are fine places to be: big, flat, comfy chairs perfectly cushy and supportive enough to get you over the long haul without noticing. Opt for the leather package with cross stitching and you've got a sufficiently decorated interior with plenty of contrasts in materials, along with a leather-wrapped shifter and three different dash plastic textures. Electronic frills include audio by Sony, rear climate settings adjustable from the front, USB and auxiliary ports, Sync, and optional navigation via a brilliant touchscreen.
However, the item we came to see is nestled within the little box up front: the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. In just one day with the car, Ford drilled this line into us, "EcoBoost is more than just an engine." As reported in our Lincoln MKS EcoBoost review, the engine alone has plenty of draw. But the point here wasn't to merely install an engine and then promote the engine's benefits – the point was to produce a premium car that made a better driving argument.
So on top of the 350 horsepower, 355 pound-feet of torque and EPA fuel-economy figures of 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway, Ford lowered the Flex by 10 mm, installed stiffer springs, increased the damping rates and put the package on 20-inch rolling stock. The transmission is also upgraded with new clutches, a better torque converter, and it can be operated with paddle shifters – a segment first. Shifting times are comparable with BMW, and downshifts are rev-matched.
While those changes were made just on the EcoBoost models – the SEL and Limited – there was one change made on those two and the base SE Flex: the addition of a tilt and telescoping steering wheel.
The reason Ford took us to the capillary-taxing altitude of 5,340 feet, and then higher, was to show off the EcoBoost's skills in thinner air versus its naturally-aspirated competition. Although not exactly a useful comparison since most people don't have addresses above the cloud layer, we can testify that the EcoBoost did easily out-handle the competitor vehicles Ford brought out for the test. But before we got to the head-to-head testing, we had to drive another 3,000 feet skyward.
The 4,839-pound Flex is well served by the EcoBoost. The turbos don't wait to kick in, so the plenary complement of torque is available from 1,500 rpm. Acceleration is a feel good event, especially considering you're driving something that's sized like a Costco on wheels. When executing passing maneuvers, the Flex is quick to drop down and go, getting from 40-70 with comforting alacrity.
Standard driving is notable by the virtue of not noticing it. The EcoBoost'd Flex drives like a nicely sorted, and much lighter, car. The increased bodyroll management makes for probably the smoothest CUV driving experience we can remember. Grab the thick, leather-lined steering wheel and guide the Flex like you would any other car. No amusement park rollercoastering, no dancing from side-to-side. It's a job well done. You can put the car into "M" and play with the paddle shifters, availing yourself of rapid, seamless gear changes. But there is no need to – in "Drive" we found the car obediently answered all commands.
Nevertheless, as with so many other crossovers with car-like rides, braking is there to remind you of what you're really driving. The Flex's brakes are fine, and emergency stopping is handled efficiently and without heart-stopping yaw moments. But that's when those two-and-a-half tons say "Don't forget about me." If you drive the Flex like the car it feels like through miles of mountains, you'll receive the faintest olfactory reminder from the brakes when you stop and step outside. Admittedly, it took a day of dancing through the Rockies to achieve that effect, but we'd be a bit more wary if we were towing something.
About that: New features on the Flex that are meant to take that exemplary driving experience and make it more versatile: pull drift compensation, trailer sway control, park assist, and grade assist. Grade assist is the simplest addition, employing an overdrive lockout and engine braking to help maintain speed on long downhills.
The other three features are made possible by the Electronic Power-Assisted Steering (EPAS). We didn't get a chance to try it, but pull drift compensation addresses driving in crosswinds or crowned roads, when the car has a tendency to meander to one side. The system detects the condition and then provides torque assistance to ease the effort on the driver of keeping the car straight.
Ford touts the Flex's 4,500-pound trailering ability, so it has added trailer sway control to make the experience a safer one. The same system introduced on the 2009 F-150, it detects the trailer forces acting on the car and driver inputs to the wheel in excess of a few degrees. If it perceives trailer sway, asymmetric braking is applied to counteract the movements, and engine power can be cut if necessary.
Thankfully, we didn't get a chance to experience that either, but we did pull 2,500-pound trailers with the Flex and compared them to naturally aspirated competition. As expected, the twin turbos in the Ford made the difference at altitude, making a quantifiable difference in pulling up hills and on flats. We can't really justify dinging the competition for falling behind at alpine heights, but we can say that if you're thinking about a Flex but are concerned about towing, you can check that box off with confidence. The Flex won't waste time getting you where you're going, even with a couple of jet skis (or a track-ready ride) behind it.
Thanks to parking assist, the Parallel Parking Phobia that apparently afflicts a large swath of the population has finally been addressed with a system that truly works. Ford had brought another brand's $90,000 luxury sedan with its own self-parking system for comparison, but the demonstration was so lopsided that, out of kindness for the technologically-challenged, we don't even want to mention the other car (you know the one). Ford's system doesn't do only half the work, it finishes the job for you.
As you begin looking for a spot, you press the park assist button and ultrasonic sensors look for a suitable space. When you've found one, the system beeps to let you know, then it tells you where to stop in order for it to work its magic. From there, you just need to put the car in Reverse and operate the gas and brake. The car turns itself into the spot, and if it's a cozy one, those same sensors – and the backup camera – will let you know how much room you have behind. After that first maneuver, put the car in Drive, press the accelerator again and the car lines itself up in the spot. It is so simple – and effective – that if you can pull up next to a parked car, you can use it.
In combination, the pleasant interior, roominess, handling, towing capacity, gadgets and EcoBoost make the Flex a thumbs-up proposition. And that's before you throw the fridge in the back seat, which apparently 52% of buyers order. Ford pitches the Flex at the full-sized SUV set, and unless you need the extra room, it's an easy checklist to review; what you gain in power and space with most full-sized SUVs you lose on price and fuel economy.
Sitting the Flex next to the GMC Acadia makes more sense to us, and then it's close. The Acadia is an inch taller, an inch shorter in length and gets nearly identical gas mileage to the Flex: 16/23 for the AWD Acadia, 16/22 for the AWD Flex Ecoboost. The Acadia has more room inside and can tow 5,200 pounds, but is well down on power for hauling all that heft: 288 hp and 270 lb-ft means 67 fewer horses and 80 fewer pounds of twist – and no turbos to get things going quickly. Furthermore, the Acadia's ride and handling is nowhere near as competent as the Flex.
By the time you get to the Acadia with the SLT1 package – which is where you'd have to start to compare to the Flex – you're only about a grand away from the Ford. And there's no Sync, no Vista Roof and, if you're into that kind of thing, no Flex style. When it goes on sale later this month, the Flex SEL with EcoBoost will start at $39,995, the Limited at $43,635.
The Flex stands up handsomely in the three-row crossover fight – well enough that if you're considering such a beast, you'd be ill-advised to skip out on sampling this Blue Oval box – if only because of the vehicle's rich features and options lists. Ford didn't lie: the Flex EcoBoost is more than just an engine upgrade, and the suite of features it manifests makes it more than just another big box.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
Shot with a Nikon D70 and 18-200mm f3.5
New Car Test Drive
Terrific family hauler.
The Ford Flex is a full-size crossover utility vehicle that can seat up to seven adults and carry luggage or groceries at the same time. It's the modern-day equivalent of what used to be the family station wagon, but no old station wagon can match the comfort, utility, capabilities or driving enjoyment of the Flex.
The Flex has three rows of seats, with a standard 2-3-2 layout or optional 2-2-2 configuration. It's built on a passenger-car platform, as opposed to that of a body-on-frame truck, and thus has the basic stance and friendly driving characteristics of a car.
The Flex is larger and roomier than the Ford Edge, and its three-row seating allows it to carry more people, and in more comfort. Its passenger-car platform makes it lower and more carlike than the Explorer or Expedition, and thus easier to drive and live with in daily use. Competitors for the Flex include the Chevy Traverse, GMC Arcadia, and Buick Enclave, though they are quite different in a variety of ways.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg City/Highway for a front-wheel-drive Flex, 16/22 mpg for an all-wheel-drive model, and that's on Regular 87 octane gasoline.
For 2010, the major change for the Flex is the availability of Ford's strong EcoBoost turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine. EcoBoost utilizes advanced turbocharging technology to deliver the fuel efficiency of a smaller engine with the power and performance of a larger engine. EcoBoost includes two turbochargers and direct fuel injection. The 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine in the Flex is rated at 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, yet with no penalty in fuel economy compared to the standard non-EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6, which is rated at 262 horsepower. In the Flex, the EcoBoost engine will be available only with all-wheel drive.
Also new for 2010: Active Park Assist, an Autofold 60/40-split second-row bench seat, MyKey programmable vehicle key, Trailer Sway Control, tilt-telescoping steering wheel. SYNC comes standard on the SEL trim level, navigation is standard on the Limited trim level.
Ford Flex SE ($28,495) comes standard with cloth seating surfaces, single-zone air conditioning, seven-passenger capacity (2-3-2 seating), six-way power driver seat, manual tilt steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, fog lights, power door locks with autolock, power mirrors with manual-folding bezels, remote keyless entry, retained power, AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio with MP3 compatibility, center-stack screen display (for audio, compass, temperature), message center with trip computer, front-row center console, 10 cup holders/bottle holders, power windows, carpeted floor mats, rear privacy glass, three 12-volt power outlets, 235/60R17 BSW tires, and alloy wheels.
Flex SEL ($31,270) adds bright exterior trim, 18-inch machined alloy wheels, dual-zone A/C, Sony AM/FM/six-CD/MP3/satellite radio, leather seating surfaces, heated first-row seats, 10-way power driver seat, six-way power passenger seat, universal garage door opener and interior woodgrain trim. The Flex SEL AWD ($33,120) adds all-wheel drive. The SEL Convenience Package ($1,000) adds 110-volt power inverter, power adjustable pedals with memory, power liftgate, memory driver's seat and side mirrors, door-mirror mount puddle lamps, and heated mirrors. The SEL AWD is also available with the EcoBoost V6 engine ($36,115).
Flex Limited ($37,165) adds HID headlamps, power multi-function door mirrors with puddle illumination, power-opening liftgate, P235/55R19 BSW tires, 19-inch polished alloy wheels, 110-volt power outlet, power-adjustable pedals with memory, ambient lighting, second-row footrests, perforated leather seating surfaces (for first and second rows), first-row memory seats, Microsoft SYNC system, and navigation. The Flex Limited AWD ($39,015) adds all-wheel drive. The Limited AWD with the EcoBoost engine ($42,010) adds, along with the twin-turbocharged engine, dual exhaust, SelectShift automatic transmission with paddle-shifting, and electronic power steering.
Options include a Class III Trailer Towing Prep Package ($570) with receiver hitch, wiring harness with 4/7 pin connector, engine oil cooler, tire mobility kit; second-row 40/40 reclining seats ($650); second-row floor console ($100); rear console refrigerator ($760); DVD rear entertainment center ($1020); deep-tint Vista roof ($1495); steel roof panel in contrasting White Suede or Brilliant Silver ($395); tri-coat paint ($395); Microsoft SYNC system ($395); roof rack side rails ($195); six-CD with satellite radio ($430); and remote start system ($295).
Safety features include driver and front-passenger dual-stage airbags, side-impact and safety canopy airbags, front passenger airbag sensing system, rear door child-safety locks, perimeter alarm, seatbelt pre-tensioners, reverse sensing, passive anti-theft system and tire pressure monitoring system. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes (ABS), AdvanceTrac electronic traction control, RSC Roll Stability Control, brake assist, and electronic brake force distribution (EBD). Adjustable pedals come on the Limited model. All-wheel drive is available for the SEL and Limited.
The Ford Flex looks boxy, in an attention-getting and stylish sort of way, but boxy nonetheless. The hood and roof are long and flat, the windshield stands tall and proud, corners are squared-off, side body panels are vertical, side glass is nearly vertical, and the tailgate could be plotted with a T-square. The overall box shape suggests interior room and maximum space utilization. Many would also find the shape honest, simple and elegant.
People seeing the Flex for the first time generally agree it has presence and a variety of upscale cues. Those who find it attractive are reminded of the Mini Clubman and Toyota FJ Cruiser, both of which share basic Flex proportions and even color-contrasting tops.
The Flex may at heart be a functional people and cargo-carrier, but it's certainly not shy when it comes to exterior design. There's design everywhere, both in the overall look of the vehicle and in the details. A fair amount of brightwork, just short of bling, sets the Flex apart and communicates upscale intentions. A signature three-bar Ford grille in a muted silver finish extends across the front. Front bumper foglights are encased in highly reflective jeweled surrounds. Door mirror housings are not only chromed, but the caps have little tab-like crenellations that sparkle in sunlight. Big, bright 19-inch polished alloy wheels on the Limited suggest Lincoln more than Ford, as do large chrome door handles, bright window surrounds, and a shiny band running across the tailgate that repeats the front grille theme.
Beyond the brightwork, the Flex has a series of small, horizontal, body-color indents stamped into the door panels. These not only visually lengthen the vehicle and break up mass along the sides, but likely also strengthen the panels and reduce oil-canning noise within the doors. Sure, such detailing is a little finicky and over the top, but the Flex would look a lot heavier if the indents weren't there. Another Flex signature is the optional roof color of either warm white or silver.
The Flex is taller than most station wagons but significantly lower than such traditional SUVs as the Explorer and Expedition. Unlike traditional SUVs, the Flex roof is about level with your eyes, not above them, so when you look at the Flex from up-close, you're looking across it, not up at it.
Inside, interesting design elements are everywhere. While most cars show more attention and budget devoted to exterior design than interior design, it's clear the Flex interior designers were given free reign and considerable budget to work their magic and get things right. The Flex on the inside looks full, complete, spacious, roomy and luxurious. All the basics and most of the details are well covered.
On opening a door and seeing the Flex interior for the first time, the impression is rich and inviting. Color coordination is carefully managed. Materials, plastics, fabrics, leathers and carpets are well matched with textures and sheen is nicely controlled. The visual impression is more Lincoln than Ford, and definitely upscale.
The impression of comfort and luxury is reinforced by large door openings and excellent entry and egress for all three seat rows. Seats are chair height, which means you slide across as opposed to jumping up or squatting down to sit, making it easy for even the less limber among us.
The two front seats, separated by a stylish multi-function console, are more comfortable and accommodating than the second-row seats, which in turn are more comfortable and accommodating than the third-row seats. Perforated leather inserts and smooth leather seatbacks are on the front seats, but only leather inserts in the middle seats (vinyl everywhere else) and all-vinyl seats in back. All interior materials, including the vinyls, have a look and feel that communicate quality and durability.
The front seats are superb, beautifully shaped and wonderfully supportive over long drives. There is a caveat, though, in the form of fairly aggressive headrests Ford claims are mandated by new federal safety standards. These place your head farther forward than you might be accustomed to, in the interest of reducing whiplash in the event of a rear-end accident. Maybe so, but other vehicles that must meet the same requirements seem to have less intrusive headrests.
Second-row seats offer generous legroom and basic support good for long trips, and are marginally less supportive and comfortable than those in front. The second-row seats are adjustable fore and aft, and they can also be folded through an electric switch to enable third-row access. Push a button in the C-pillar and the seatback folds forward, then the seat cushion folds up. It's clever and well done. Another interesting second-row touch is a pair of wedged footrests that attach, with Velcro, to the carpeted floor and add greatly to overall comfort.
Third-row seating is what might be called occasional for adults, but reasonably comfortable and accommodating for anyone under five-feet tall. Adults can reasonably hang on for 30 minutes or so; longer than that, and it becomes confining. This sense of confinement is exacerbated by all rear side glass being fixed, as well as the rear window. Third-row ventilation either has to come from overhead A/C ducts or someone in the second row opening rear-door windows. On sunny days, the third row can quickly become hot and stuffy.
The multi-function screen display in the center stack of the instrument panel works in conjunction with Ford's SYNC Hands-Free and Communications System and offers everything from airwave audio to satellite audio, climate controls, Sirius Travel Link, navigation, hands-free phone and rearview camera monitor. Push-button or touch-sensitive switches are either adjacent to the screen, on the steering wheel, or within the screen itself. Split-screen readouts are available. The reversing camera offers a day-for-night feature, which means that even in the darkest alleys, the rear-view image you see on the screen is as bright and clear as in broad daylight. We found the rearview camera in the Flex to be one of the best available for backing around obstacles.
Audio quality through the system developed by Sony is excellent.
The in-dash screen functions and display look spectacular. The colors, the graphics, the sheer range of capabilities never fail to impress. In practice, there are some limitations. The voice recognition function often takes a couple of tries to get it right. Maybe it's the accent, maybe it's the inflections, maybe it's ambient noise, but regardless you learn to pace yourself giving instructions and have to be prepared to try more than once. Then there are the screen readouts. Some colors (red, for instance) are hard to see in certain lighting conditions. Others are in symbols or fonts too small to distinguish while driving. Still, the system as a whole is a technological tour de force and clearly paves the way for future developments. In any case, don't work these systems while driving.
An refrigerator that fits between second-row bucket seats on 2-2-2 models is available. It's not just a cooler that keeps cold things cold, but an actual refrigerator that takes warm things and makes them cold.
The deep-tint Vista Roof appears to be a single moonroof over the front-row seats combined with a huge glass panel over the second and third-row seats. From the inside, the front-row pane is a conventional glass moonroof with normal slide and tilt features. In the second row, glass is visible over the right and left sides, with a solid headliner trim panel up the middle. In the third row, a single glass pane extends across the seat from left to right. Second and third-row overhead glass is fixed, with retractable sliding shades to reduce interior heat and glare.
Behind the third-row seat is a small cargo area about the size and shape of what you might find in a minivan. This is accessed through a swing-up one-piece tailgate. The load floor is carved into a recessed well, which keeps cargo in place and prevents things spilling out but also makes access marginally more difficult than with a flat load floor. Those needing more room or better access can easily fold the third-row seats to suit.
Cargo capacity is 20.0 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in place, 43.2 cubic feet with the third-row seat folded down, and 83.2 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats down.
The Ford Flex and other people and cargo movers are more about features, accommodations and equipment than the actual driving experience. That said, the Flex is remarkably composed on the road and dynamically competent, and not just for a vehicle its size, but remarkably taut for a vehicle of any size. Seamless is the word that comes to mind.
The prevailing feeling on the road is less of power and speed than overall safety and solidity. The Flex feels like a vault. NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) control is exceptional. This results from a well reinforced body structure (both visible and notable in the way the various pillars and door openings are constructed) that eliminates the usual creaks and groans. The only noise you hear while underway comes from the mirrors, but even this is only slight and at speeds over 65 mph. The Flex is one composed and quiet car.
The standard 3.5-liter V6, with double overhead-cams and 262 horsepower, has more than adequate power for normal driving conditions, along with sufficient torque to either tow a 2000–pound load in standard form or a 4500-pound load with the optional trailer towing package. A newly designed six-speed automatic transmission does its job efficiently and well. We found it was rarely, if ever, caught in the wrong gear.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg City/Highway, 16/22 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The EcoBoost V6, with its 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, is a wonder of power and response, and brings with its additional output no penalty in fuel economy, being rated at the same EPA figures of 16/22 City/Highway as the standard V6.
Ride quality is controlled to the point of neither being noticeable nor a real factor in the driving experience. Cornering is level and quiet. Turns taken at enthusiastic speeds elicit no audible reply from the tires. Four-wheel disc brakes with every conceivable electronic interface are equally quiet and composed, and provide peace of mind.
Towing capacity is rated at 4500 pounds when equipped with the optional Class III Trailer Towing Prep Package.
The Ford Flex is a large, stylish and capable crossover vehicle that can carry six or seven passengers and a fair amount of cargo in luxury and comfort. It is easy to access, easy to use, easy to drive over short and long distances, and comfortable for everyone. The exterior design is distinctive and memorable. The interior is filled with clever details and surprise-and-delight features. High-tech touches abound. For families who need a large vehicle, the Ford Flex offers everything you would want in the way of a satisfying and rewarding vehicle to own and drive.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Rex Parker filed this report from Santa Monica, California.
Ford Flex SE FWD ($28,495); SEL FWD ($31,270); Limited FWD ($37,165); SEL AWD ($33,120); Limited AWD ($39,015).
Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Package 303A ($3,600), includes Vista roof, second-row captain's chairs, second-row refrigerator, 20-inch alloy wheels; white roof ($395).
Ford Flex Limited AWD ($39,015).
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