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It hasn't been the most popular seven-seat crossover SUV, but the Ford Flex does something unique: it delivers all the functionality and safety of better-selling crossovers, in a boxy wrapper that's part homage to Range Rovers, MINIs, and Fairlanes. It's a witty counter-take on the roundness of today's utes, one that actually puts its standout shape to good use by fitting it with an exceptionally comfortable interior and state of the art infotainment systems--without forgetting an enjoyable driving experience.
The Flex does a great impression of the station wagons of the past, and steers clear of the cliches that drive people away from minivans. It's a boxy vehicle, but in the best senses of the word. It doesn't mute those corners, it plays them up, running grooves down its flanks to draw attention to its long, glassy greenhouse and angling off its headlamps to call out its rectangular grille. The retromodern fusion works like a charm, down to the USB-port wink and nod in the grille. The interior is one of Ford's best, with a mix of materials matching up well, blending LCD screens and touch controls in a serene way.
Ford has made good on the Flex's look by giving it good handling and strong performance. The base 3.5-liter V-6 makes 287 hp, but the star of the lineup remains the turbocharged, 365-hp EcoBoost Flex, which runs off 0-60 mph times of under seven seconds and lightens up the Flex's footwork, making it faster than anything in the class. Thanks to a new electric power steering system, a quicker ratio, and a steering unit that's now locked onto the subframe, steering feel is more precise, while a host of improvements improve ride harshness and keep the cabin much quieter from road noise.
It’s a pleasant vehicle to drive, too, and we think it's a step up from the likes of the Traverse, Pilot, and Highlander. Mostly, it's because of the superior ride quality, descended way back from the Volvo XC90 that spun off the Flex' platform, the same one underpinning the Taurus, the Lincoln MKS and the MKT. Even the base Flex carries itself like a smaller wagon, with crisp steering feel and a compliant feel that comes from its long wheelbase, but great control over its body motions even when it's hustled in a way no family vehicle will ever be used. Trust us on this one.
As large as the Flex is (it's 202 inches long, with an also-long 118-inch wheelbase), it's surprisingly manageable to park and drive around the city. It doesn't exactly drive small, but it doesn't feel much more cumbersome than a mid-size sedan. All the seats in both the first and second rows are cozy, with limousine-like room in every direction, and a choice of buckets or a bench. The long wheelbase pays off most here, but even the third-row seat has leg room for smaller adults, though head room is scant for six-footers.
The Flex's comprehensive safety package includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control with anti-rollover technology. A rearview camera and parking sensors are available, as are a blind-spot warning system and adaptive cruise control. It also has options for inflatable second-row seat belts, adaptive cruise control (with forward-collision alert), and a blind-spot monitoring system.
All Flex crossovers except the base SE have MyFord Touch. Upgraded last year, the infotainment controller responds more quickly and its screens have a less cluttered look. The main instrument panel has been redesigned to go along with MyFord Touch, and a left panel can be reconfigured to show a number of different functions, including a graphic tachometer. Also new, just below MyFord Touch, is a capacitive panel that houses supplemental audio and climate-control buttons. There's a physical button for the hazard lamps, but all else (even climate controls) relies on touch.
The Flex doesn't skimp on features, either. In its top Limited guise, it feels like a full-fledged luxury model. The base Flex SE comes standard with three-row seating; an AM/FM CD player; power windows, mirrors and locks; capless fuel filling; and MyKey, which lets owners set pre-programmed levels for radio volume and vehicle speed, effectively putting an electronic leash on younger drivers. Upscale Flex crossovers can be fitted with the EcoBoost turbo engine; all-wheel drive; a leather interior; and a glass panoramic sunroof.
- Urbane, mid-mod look
- Rush of turbocharged power
- Supple, comfortable seats
- Even more refined than before
- Ride and handling are impressive for its size
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- Back seats not so easy to reach
- Touchscreen controls tough to grok
- Pricey as a Platinum or Limited
- Styling, party of one