Now that Ford's embargo on driving impressions has expired, it's time to talk about how the Flex drives. And for Ford, it's good news.
For starters, the Flex feels amply powerful for most driving in and out of the city. The 3.5-liter V-6 has enough power to get the job done, though there's a slight amount of engine roar at the top of the rev range. The most noticeable trait of the engine is that it's not often noticed; it executes on command, with few complaints. Still, I can't wait to see what Ford's 315-horsepower EcoBoost V-6 would do in this application.
The Flex's six-speed automatic transmission is related to the unit used in GM’s big crossover vehicles--Ford and GM joined forces to build the transmissions, but each has its own programming. In the Flex, the six-speed seems to hunt for gears less. Regardless of the circumstances we encountered, heading northeast into WASPy Connecticut or back into the city, the Flex's gearbox always extracted enough power to respond quickly to the throttle.
The Flex's handling is fine for a vehicle of its size,too. Its steering feel is smooth and fairly lightweight, if a little slow on response in the all-wheel-drive model I tested. It's a huge improvement over cars like Ford's own Explorer, which is pretty numb at every angle of the steering wheel, and even matches the new Honda Pilot, while completely outpointing the Pilot on matters of taste and style.
Maybe the best quality of the 2009 Ford Flex is its ride. It’s not soft and not firm, just ideally tuned to a comfortable setting that keeps its vertical motions controlled while absorbing most of the atrocious impacts you can find on the Sawmill Parkway--or Lexington Avenue. The Flex doesn't use an air suspension or complex suspension technology to get this sophisticated feel--just a well-tuned multilink rear suspension. Sure, there's body roll to be expected from a big crossover, but Ford's clearly been watching how its country cousins at Mazda tuned their own big CX-9.
In overall performance, the Flex is surprise-free, and if it’s not terribly exciting, it is certainly more than amply powerful and quiet. And in all, the Flex feels confident, assured--and fresh. I used to believe that Honda's Pilot had few peers in this class, but it's grown kludgy and thick; the Flex and Buick's Enclave are now the class of the class, and Ford's superior in-car features give it my nod.
Decide for yourself, though--you can read my full review of the 2009 Ford Flex and get more details on the Flex and on the opinions of some other respected Web sources, too.