New & Used Ford Flex: In Depth
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The Ford Flex is a wonderful piece of contrast in today's market, though it's been on the road since the 2009 model year. It’s still one of the most distinctive cars in its segment.
The Flex is built in Oakville, Ontario, alongside the mechanically identical Lincoln MKT crossover.
While the Flex overlaps with the far more popular and rugged-looking Explorer seven-seat crossover, it's as much of a style statement as a predictable family vehicle (though its cavernous interior and class-leading infotainment features are ideally suited to family duties). The Flex has all along been a better seller in California than in the rest of the country, perhaps to an audience that appreciates its urbane, post-modern station wagon looks.
When optioned with the white roof, the full-size crossover that can seat up to seven passengers looks like a combination of a Range Rover and a MINI Cooper—something you’d be hard-pressed to say about any other crossover on the market. Is it a witty counter-take on today's mainstream, or the ready descendant to the Country Squires and Fairlane wagons of the past? We'll let you decided; but there's no doubt it's a very fashionable piece.
The big wagon went on sale in the middle of 2008, essentially right into the teeth of the economic downturn. The car was previewed by the Ford Fairlane concept of 2005, and the production version first appeared at the 2007 New York Auto Show. The slab-sided design includes horizontal strakes in the door panels that were inspired by vintage vacuum cleaners, according to designer Richard Gresens. Lots of chrome trim and the distinctive white roof give it a flair all its own, and the cabin is simply one of the best in any Ford. Wood and metallic trim are comfortably integrated with leather or tweedy cloth seats, along with blue-lit gauges and cupholders and footwells lit by LED accent lighting.
The engine that powers the Flex is either a 262-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 or a twin-turbocharged, 355-hp version of the same engine, added for the 2010 model year. Both are teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission, with paddles for shifting available on the turbo "EcoBoost" versions. All-wheel drive is an option on either Flex, too. Even in its most powerful trim, the Flex turns in fuel economy of up to 16/22 mpg.
The Flex's running gear originated with former corporate cousin Volvo. The "D4" platform shared by the Flex and the Lincoln MKT (and in some versions, the latest Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS) stems from the full-size chassis underpinning the former Ford Freestyle and Ford Five Hundred, which were in turn derived from the Volvo XC90. It's an independently suspended chassis, with surprisingly responsive steering and very well-damped ride motions.
Inside, up to seven passengers will fit in the Flex' cabin. The front seats are wide and well-cushioned, with active headrests that push a bit too far forward. Telescoping steering was added for the 2010 model year, and corrects the only other major flaw in packaging in the Flex. The second-row is among the best in the industry, with high-seated chairs and auto-folding bench or bucket-style seats. The third-row seats is reasonably accessible even for adults, and has enough headroom for them as well. A power-folding third-row seat is available.
The Flex has earned excellent crash-test results in the past, though it hasn't been subjected to some of the newer tests. In the past, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given it five stars for front and side impacts, though the agency changed its rating system for 2011, and has not yet re-rated the Flex. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) grants it "good" ratings for both sets of tests and for roof-crush protection, making it a Top Safety Pick through 2013. The Flex's comprehensive set of safety features includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control with anti-rollover technology; a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors and Bluetooth are available.
The Flex comes standard with third-row seats and a CD player, with options including Ford’s SYNC system, navigation, a second-row refrigerator and footrests, a 10-speaker Sony audio system with Sirius Travel Link, and a glorious four-panel Vista Roof that opens up the Flex’s cabin to the sky. A dual-headrest DVD entertainment system is an option. While it's priced from the high-$20,000 range, it's easy to push a Flex pricetag well over $50,000.
Since 2013 there have been few significant changes to the Flex. For 2012 the Flex received a handful of minor changes, but for the 2013 model year the Flex received more substantial updates to its powertrain, interior, and its MyFord Touch infotainment system. A new instrument panel, steering wheel, seat trim and padding, and new finish panels were fitted, as was a slightly redesigned front end that rounds out the Flex's look--and looks like a USB port to some.
Other upgrades include a new thumb-shift manual control for the automatic gearbox, along with optional rain-sensing wipers and power-folding mirrors; passive entry and start; a new range of wheel options, including 20-inchers; and dual chrome exhaust tips. Power and gas-mileage ratings changed slightly.
Since Ford introduced the latest Explorer, for the 2011 model year, some reviewers have questioned whether Ford needs all three big crossovers in its lineup. But Ford says the wagon is here to stay, though its sales fell as the new Explorer hit its stride among family buyers.