Test Drive: Ford Flex

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

Portland, Ore. — The Ford Flex is one of those cars that people seem to love or hate, and we both fall strongly into the ?love? column.

Originally appearing as a 2009 model, the full-size crossover has only attained moderate sales success seeming to follow the pattern set by two other full size crossovers of a similar configuration, the Chrysler Pacifica and the Mercedes-Benz R-Class.? We liked both of those other cars, too, but Pacifica was dropped in 2008 and the R-Class is scheduled to be dropped after the current model year.

People who have taken a Flex home, however, love them and give it high owner satisfaction ratings, and a top Crossover Utility Vehicle rating according to Strategic Vision?s Total Value Index.

?Flex appeals to people who want to stand out from the crowd, and it has the highest retention rate of any vehicle in the Ford lineup,? said Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas. ?With technologies not found in other full-size utilities, even better fuel economy and a more modern, sophisticated look, the new model offers people even more reasons to choose Flex.?

??????????? The 2013 Flex, which has a roomy 2+2+2 or 2+3+2 seating configuration, has the long boxy styling, which we think sets it apart from anything else on the road.? For 2013, the Flex is upgraded with a slightly rounded custom-looking front-end treatment.? In an unusual move, the Ford blue oval badge has been removed from the front, leaving just the FLEX name spread across the front edge of the hood.? The name might look even better if it were moved down to the wide satin bar that extends across the full width of the grille.

??????????? To add to the custom look, the new model is available with six new stylish wheel options, including three all-new 20-inch selections. ?All versions Flex models now have standard dual exhaust. ?A new optional appearance package for the Limited and SEL models includes a two-tone black roof and black mirrors, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, leather seats, unique door trim panels and other interior upgrades.

?????????? The posh Flex interior is further upgraded for 2013 with a high-tech instrument panel with the large analog speedometer now flanked by a pair of digital screens that are easily personalized to display the information.? There is also a new steering wheel with a user-friendly controls for the digital screens.? Overall, the dash has the look of a high-end music system, with an accent of wood and soft touch surfaces.

A practical, but expensive ($795), feature is a refrigerated console in the second row. ?As a people mover, the Flex can comfortably carry six adults in the three rows, but with the bench seat, the middle row is best suited for children who get along.? Cargo space, with all the seat backs up, is a generous 20 cubic feet.? Drop the third row seat backs and that expands to 43.2, and with the two rear rows folded Flex can haul 83.2 cubic feet.? That?s about the same cargo capacity as the Ford Explorer.

Available in three trim levels (SE, SEL and Limited) the Flex pricing starts at $31,710, including the destination charge, for a well-equipped front-wheel drive SE. ?The plush Limited starts at $40,055 for the FWD version.? All-wheel drive adds $1,950 and the now famous EcoBoost V-6 with AWD is $45,155.? Load it up with all the available option packages and stand-alone options like the Vista Roof and refrigerated console, and the price peaks at nearly $52,000.

The new Flex is the first Ford model to have the famous SYNC? technology as standard equipment, along with the expanded SYNC with MyFordTouch?.? The systems control communications, entertainment, guidance and emergency assistance. ?It also has the very cool Active Park Assist system that does the parking for you while you control the brakes and speed.

?We?ve listened to our customers and improved what they love about MyFord Touch,? said Kenneth Williams, systems integration engineer. ?In this upgrade, the screens have a cleaner, clearer display. The words on the screens are larger and easier to read, the pressable areas on the screen look more like buttons, and we have made the functions clearer for faster navigation.?

The Flex safety technologies are world class with features like radar-enabled adaptive cruise control, collision warning with brake support and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS?) with cross-traffic alert.? The second row even has available the world?s first inflatable seat belts which, in a collision can reduce the shock along with head, neck and chest injuries.

The Flex is about four inches longer than the Explorer is and it weighs about 300 pounds more.? It has a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds, just 500 pounds less than the Explorer.

Flex is available with a pair of V-6 engines both with six-speed automatic transmissions.? A 287-hp, 3.5-liter is standard and the 365-hp, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 with twin turbocharges is optional and exciting.? The EcoBoost engine propels the big Flex from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.0 seconds making it entertaining to drive.

The Flex ride favors the taunt side, but helps inspired confidence at speed through sections of curvy roads.? The brakes are solid, and quickly pull it to a stop.? We especially appreciate the excellent passing power for blasting around slow moving vehicles on the two lane roads.? The base engine produces the best fuel economy at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, and the awesome EcoBoost is close at 16/25 mpg.

The Flex has a strong utilitarian appeal punctuated by elegance, performance and a distinctive styling.? It stands out in a crowded crossover market and that makes it one of our favorites. ???