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2009 Ford Flex Takes The Car Connection for a Ride

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Last year at the New York auto show, we brought you a full preview for the new 2009 Flex. And as Ford preps for the media launch of the Flex this summer, before putting them into showrooms in the fall, they offered us the chance to get a "first ride" in the big crossover during the New York auto show press days.

Ford's Kate Pierce, who heads up marketing for the new crossover, went along for the ride on a rainy afternoon in Manhattan and refreshed us on the basics of the Flex package. A big, big vehicle based on the Ford Five Hundred chassis, the Flex gets a 3.5-liter V-6 with more than 260 horsepower. A six-speed automatic is the only gearbox, and all-wheel drive is going to be an option.

Pretty standard stuff -- but it's the Flex's rectilinear shape that's grabbed eyeballs all over the city in the past few days, as Ford kept a generally low profile during the New York auto show but made sure plenty of Flexes were on the road to distract showgoers from cars like the new Pontiac G8 GXP. (The pics you see here are handouts; our ride took place during a downpour, and looked about as colorful as a rental-fleet Taurus.)

The Flex takes the place in the Ford lineup of two vehicles, a traditional minivan and a modern-style crossover. Pierce says that as the concept bubbled up within the company, they tried a variety of door types, including rear-hinged "suicide" doors, but ultimately decided that the strength of the Flex would be on its style, its upgraded interior and new technology.

The Flex still strikes us as a catchy riff on British car mania, driven down the road of American wagon nostalgia. The two-tone roof treatment in particular gives it some MINI whimsy, and will be offered in white or silver with certain trim levels. It's an appealing shape because it's not a conventionally SUV-influenced crossover, Pierce says. And with the options for roof color and trim, "It's a chameleon," she says. "It's very bold, very polarizing," she adds as our driver needles in and out of traffic expertly.

You can't tell much about a vehicle in a 25-minute crosstown ride in the middle-row seat, but I could tell that the Flex's ride quality seemed pretty well sorted out over manhole covers and Manhattan's patchy streetwork.

I didn't lack for room. Interior space is cavernous: With six inches of headroom above me and a few inches of kneeroom in front, the middle row is clearly the place to put senior adults, non-designated-driver buddies, even child-seated kids. There's enough room to cross a leg over a knee, without even brushing the front seatbacks -- and with the seats all folded flat, including the front passenger, a total of 10 feet of carrying space is freed up. It's much bigger than Ford's smaller Taurus X crossover, and Pierce says Ford will own the size competition, with best-in-class head and leg room, and not by fractions of an inch, she says.

The Flex sizes up against competitors like GMC's Acadia and even Mazda's own CX-9, but the psychographics are way different for the Flex, Pierce says. When a marketing clinic asked customers which company built an unbadged Flex, only 2 percent picked Ford as the manufacturer. Land Rover and Scion got some nods.

Who will the Flex appeal to? Moms leaving minivans behind might be a percentage (Pierce thinks a percentage will come from minivans, in the "low teens") but realtors and executives who have to shuttle clients will be a big market. We can see a base model as a taxicab, replacing Ford's waning Crown Victoria in fleets.

The Flex will come in three trim levels -- and Pierce says clinics have pointed out even the base interior gets high marks from consumers for fit and finish.
All sorts of interior technology promises to set it apart from GM's big crossovers -- stuff like Ford's next-generation navigation system, a Xanavi unit with a flyover-style map.

Our test shuttle also had Sirius Travel Link, which adds real-time traffic information to the navigation mapping, as well as voice-activated controls, which should keep hands on the wheel. Ford's SYNC entertainment system will be offered, as well as Sirius and Sony premium stereo systems.

But the interior isn't cold techno - it's a pleasing, warm place in the Limited that pulled us up to the hotel, where doormen were watching with silent approval. It's a very adult look, with faux wood, seven-color ambient lighting, white-stitched black leather and a Vista Roof package that gives the middle-row bucket seats their own glass panes (along with a single pane across the third-row seat). Second-row footrests would feel in place in a Range Rover--as would the gentle ambient lighting that allows owners to choose seven different colors.

It's one of the best interiors Ford offers, and the Flex, Pierce says, is a good metaphor for where Ford stands today in its rebuilding effort. The Fusion was a good start; the Edge, a big step forward. The Flex, she says, "signifies the turnaround inside the company," she finishes as we pull up on Fifth Avenue.

Soon enough, we'll be able to tell you how the Flex feels firsthand. But until then, take a look at more high-res Flex photos, and stay tuned for our first drive coming this summer.
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Comments (16)
  1. If the stupid Flex is the best endangered Ford can come up with, then Ford is in deep excrement.
     
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  2. I think the Flex is the right product for Ford. Let's face it, the days of Ford dominating the sales chart in anything but big trucks are gone. There will be a handfull of buyers, say 50k, who will chose this over a minivan or big suv. Ford needs to grab those buyers and leave the masses to go buy an Odyssey.
     
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  3. The Masses cannot AFFORD the odyssey, esp. in its TOURING form.

    The Odyssey is the King of Minivans, far better than even the excellent Toyota Sienna and the once pioneering Chrysler Minivans.

    Ford and GM stupidly abandoned the sector, which will come back with a VENGEANCE as gas prices go from bad $3.25 to worse $4.00!

    The FLEX is a silly design, and at $30k base price, few will buy it.
     
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  4. Ford and GM abandoned minivans because they had no customers in that segment. Funny, before Ford was criticized for bland designs. Now you're complaining because they're different.
     
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  5. Thor,

    Can you ever say anything intelligent?
     
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  6. I'm very surprised by the following statement: "It's much bigger than Ford's smaller Taurus X crossover"

    I have a Taurus X and when I compared the numbers on the Ford website it said that the Flex had the exact same cargo space. The interior layout is exactly the same and it is built on the same platform.
     
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  7. " Jay Says:
    March 21st, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Thor,

    Can you ever say anything intelligent?"

    WHat happened, loser? Did I hurt your feelings?

    PS Did you get an 1:18 Flex to play with for easter, clown?
     
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  8. "Mark A. Says:
    March 21st, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Ford and GM abandoned minivans because they had no customers in that segment. Funny, before Ford was criticized for bland designs. Now you’re complaining because they’re different."

    No I'm not.

    The flex is just as bland and stupid, and at $30k it's no bargain.

    And I bet it will be as obese as the Edge and the GM crtossovers and have LOUSY MPG.

    And then Ford will wonder why it does not sell (exactly as the new Taurus and all the other junk they make did not sell)
     
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  9. I like the look. I now have a Freestyle with AWD that gets 25-26 on the highway. I'd like to see Ford offer a turbo diesel as an option for better mileage.
     
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  10. Thor, the minivan segment is going to come back with a VENGEANCE?? What are you smoking? Ford was wise to abandon that shrinking segment because they would never have gained any real traction in it no matter what minivan they came up with. If high gas prices were going to drive people back to minivans it would have happened already. Not that minivans get any better fuel economy than large crossovers, because they DON'T. Crossovers are the future and the growth in the segment proves it. The Flex won't sell a ton by any means, but it will sell enough to be profitable and at least it's unique. Despite what you think is a silly design, when people sit inside of it and see how roomy it is they will realize how sensible the design actually is (even if it's styling is somewhat polarizing). And if Ford launches it smoothly, it will continue to add to Ford's impressive quality accolades as seen with the Fusion launch and the Edge launch.
     
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  11. "Chris D. Says:
    March 21st, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Thor, the minivan segment is going to come back with a VENGEANCE?? What are you smoking? "

    For the record, I nave never ever smoled anything in my entire LIFE so far.

    "Ford was wise to abandon that shrinking segment because they would never have gained any real traction in it no matter what minivan they came up with."

    Using the words Ford and wise in the same sentence is tryly hilarious. They would not know wise if it bit them in their miserable posteriors.

    The TRUE Reason Ford and GM abandoned, in DISGRACE, the Minivan segment after MANY MANY attempts to make $ out of it was that they KEPT making inferior, vastly inferior, products than their Honda, TOyota, and even Chrysler rivals.

    They are NOT wise. They are LOSERS and they will not admit it.

    FOr the Record.

    PS and it's no surprise. The big 3 have been losing HOME GAMES to the Imports for 30-35 years in a row,

    And, surprisingly, thge segment they were defeated in the most humikliating way was NOT the Mid-priced Accord and Camry and Civic And Corolla segment, and not th eMinivan segment either,

    but th emost profitable segment of all, the LUXURY segment, where Lincoln and Caddilac used to own the market (over 80%, almost 90%!) 20-30 years ago, and now the IMPORTS (largely Euros, plus Lexus) own 83% of it, and the domestics 17%!!!

    Explain this one away if you can!
     
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  12. "Chris D. Says:
    March 21st, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Thor, the minivan segment is going to come back with a VENGEANCE?? What are you smoking? "

    For the record, I nave never ever smoked anything in my entire LIFE so far.

    "Ford was wise to abandon that shrinking segment because they would never have gained any real traction in it no matter what minivan they came up with."

    Using the words Ford and wise in the same sentence is truly hilarious. They would not know wise if it bit them in their miserable posteriors.

    The TRUE Reason Ford and GM abandoned, in DISGRACE, the Minivan segment after MANY MANY attempts to make $ out of it was that they KEPT making inferior, vastly inferior, products than their Honda, TOyota, and even Chrysler/Dodge rivals.

    They are NOT wise. They are LOSERS and they will not admit it.

    For the Record.

    PS and it's no surprise. The big 3 have been losing HOME GAMES to the Imports for 30-35 years in a row,

    And, surprisingly, the segment they were defeated in the most humiliating way was NOT the Mid-priced Accord and Camry and Civic And Corolla segment, and not the Minivan segment either,

    but the most profitable segment of all, the LUXURY segment, where Lincoln and Caddillac used to own the market (over 80%, almost 90%!) 20-30 years ago, and now the IMPORTS (largely Euros, plus Lexus) own 83% of it, and the domestics 17%!!!

    Explain this one away if you can!
     
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  13. Sorry for the "double" posting, the unedited version also managed to get posted, ignore it, and go right to the edited one.

    As for the so-called "crossovers", what are they other than niche minivans? They are NOT real SUVs, they have no off-road capabilities, they are just trendy, suboptimal minivans desperately trying to look not like minivans. Suboptimal, because they weight much more and have less space and far worse MPG than a corresponding minivan with the same capabilities.

    It is ridiculous, in the face of $3.50 gas and $4 diesel, to have these freak crossovers weighing close to 5,000 lbs (EMPTY), 6,500 lbs loaded, and getting almost as dismal MPG as the SUVs they replaced.
     
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  14. Thor, just keep talking so you can rationalize your "Opinions". You are to young for a Flex, so yea $30k is too much. Money much better spent on a "real" off road truck - eh?

    The Flex is cool in my "opinion" is efficient and way more interesting than the new (fugly) Pilot or insipid Highlander.
     
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  15. Aside from what's been said here already, I believe there is significant pent up demand for a people mover that has some personality like the Flex. The growth in the crossover segment, combined with the shrinking of the large SUV and minivan segments proves where customers are going. If you look at the other 7 passenger SUV's out there, there aren't many making much of a statement style wise. There are a lot of moms out there that want a vehicle that suits the needs of the family but still looks hip, and the Flex seems to be on target in that regard. As far as the "polarizing" styling, I say good for Ford. The market is too fractured to try and please everyone. Better to carve out a niche of loyal customers with a bold design than to try and come up with the Camry of crossovers.

    I was at a party last week where I witnessed three mothers all talking about how the gas mileage in their large SUV's was killing them and how they needed to get into something with similar interior space with better mileage. All three refuse to drive a minivan. I'd be willing to bet that there are a lot more moms like this out there that represent a lot of potential Flex customers.
     
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  16. I am a big car guy. I know that gas is expensive, but I still want a big car. I love the Flex - now, if they could put wood on the sides and call it the Country Squire, I would know that it is time to trade in my 1993 Roadmaster Estate Wagon.

    I know that the accepted wisdom is that there are not many of us out there, but there are.
     
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