Ford Flex – all the right ingredients

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Let’s give Ford some well-deserved credit. It has built a practical people mover that looks like nothing else sold in America. In no way does it resemble a minivan, which has grown out of favor with many families, and it’s far removed from the newly popular curvaceous crossover design that sacrifices form over function.

Its interior volume approaches minivan size, but unlike a minivan it is capable of towing up to 4,500 pounds. And it comes in an all-wheel drive format for all-weather peace of mind.

For those who need passenger space, but want something different, the Ford Flex may be their vehicle.

The Flex is the embodiment of the 21st Century station wagon, but with more attributes than the old, traditional wagons. And it has unique styling. It is square and boxy and it works. It has panache and it might be the most sophisticated model to carry the Ford oval.

Even after months in the public domain, the Flex still turns heads. With its flat roof and slab sides it reminds us of a Mini Cooper on steroids, the end result of an automotive Incredible Hulk experiment. This is all said with much affection because after spending a week behind the wheel of a Limited Edition we were convinced that if we were in the market for a passenger-friendly vehicle, the Flex would make our final list.

We were immediately drawn to the styling, which is probably a love/hate thing with many people. We fell on the love side of the equation.

We were even more pleased with its drivability and road- trip comfort.

And perhaps even most importantly we were impressed with its passenger friendliness, its high and comfortable seating positions, stretch-out legroom for second-row passengers, a third-row seat that can actually hold two adults in a modicum of comfort, scads of useable storage space, cupholders for every rider and the availability of a vast array of options to make the driving and riding experience first class.

The Flex has all the ingredients of a top-rate family hauler.

Six adults can live in harmony in the Flex although those assigned to the rear-most seats may start squirming after a hundred miles. There are an expansive 44 inches of stretch-out leg room for second-row passengers and a useable 33 inches for the third row. Head room, even far back, is more generous than virtually all mid-sized sedans and most mid-sized and full-sized crossovers.

Entry is easily gained to the back by flipping up the second-row seat.

And while those same adults inhabit the three rows en route to dinner or a ballgame there is a generous 20 cubic feet of storage space behind the seats.

When cargo-hauling is the order of the day, the Flex provides 43 cubic feet behind the second-row seats and 83 cubic feet with all seats folded. The front passenger seatback also folds forward to allow storage of long objects.

While that’s as much cargo room as most families will ever need, it falls short of such competitors as the Toyota Highlander and the Chevrolet Traverse, but is about equal to the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Veracruz.

While the Ford’s hauling capabilities are generally up to standard, what about its driving attributes? If a vehicle doesn’t offer acceptable performance and road manners it matters little that it can carry a basketball team and 20 practice balls.

The Flex doesn’t, by any performance measurement, blow away the competition but it does just fine and holds its own, and it passed all our tests with a solid 3-point plus grade average.

All models come outfitted with Ford’s 3.5-liter V-6 generating 262 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Those are solid numbers, but the engine in this case is tasked with pulling 4,640 pounds in the all-wheel drive format (4,468 pounds with front-wheel drive) and that’s a big order especially with a few passengers on board.

We found the Flex up to the task. We had no problem with the daily chores of life — merging onto a freeway or overtaking and passing slower traffic on a two-lane — with four people on board. The engine, quiet under moderate acceleration, is a bit noisy when pushed hard. The transmission shifted seamlessly and there was no delay when the right foot called for a downshift.

For comparison purposes, the Flex has been measured from 0-to-60 in an acceptable 8.8 seconds.

Gas mileage is also acceptable, but we always wish for a bit more. The Flex is rated at 17 mpg city and 24 highway in two-wheel drive and 16/22 with all-wheel drive.

Here’s an interesting piece of information that will make any performance concerns moot, so you might want to think about this before making a crossover decision — the Flex will get Ford’s new twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 engine as an option for the 2010 model year. It develops an astounding 355 horsepower with only a slight, if any fall-off in gas mileage. That is V-8 performance with V-6 gas mileage.

Here’s the trade-off: considering the current state of the economy, buy now and save a bundle or wait a few months and spend more to enjoy the fruits of muscle power. For us this creates conundrum since we love power but we are so darn cheap.

Fortunately our cheap side found the ride quiet and comfortable, and body lean well controlled on hard cornering. The Flex is road friendly enough with appropriate stiffness to make handling easy and compliant enough to keep driver and passengers isolated from any harshness.

The Flex does drive as big as its 202-inch length and 76-inch width would suggest, but it handled well in parking lot situations despite a rather large 40.7-foot turning circle.

What surely will bring smiles to the driver are a great seat, intuitive controls and easy-to-read gauges. And it’s always pleasing to glance over your small interior kingdom and find satisfaction with fit and finish and high-quality materials. Ford has done a terrific job in this regard.

The Flex is offered in three trim levels starting at $29,325 for a well-equipped SE model and increasing to $37,585 for an all-wheel- drive Limited. The base package includes 18-inch wheels, full power accessories, rear climate controls and six-speaker audio system with CD player.

Standard safety includes antilock brakes, stability control and a full complement of airbags. A big selling point for the safety-conscience is the five-star front- and side-impact crash ratings received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Many options are available. A couple of the more interesting are a rear-console refrigerator and a panoramic sunroof. The very useable Microsoft Sync audio and information system is available on all models.

Our top-of-the-line Limited test vehicle came with the Sync system, panoramic sunroof, navigation with backup camera a white two-tone roof bringing the MSRP bottom line to $41,850.

In our estimation Ford has reached parity with Japanese, Korean and German brands and the Flex is a good example. If you like the styling you will probably love the car.


Base price: $29,325; as driven, $41,850
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 262 @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 248 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3/3
Wheelbase: 117.9 inches
Length: 201.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,640 pounds
Turning circle: 40.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 20 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 83 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.6 gallons (regular)
Fuel rating: 22 mpg highway, 16 city
0-60: 8.4 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Mazda RX-9, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot

The Good
• Very unique styling
• Seven-or-eight passenger capability
• Excellent interior fit and finish

The Bad
• We wish for better gas mileage

The Ugly
• Cargo volume not as good as some competitors