2014 Ford Flex Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 19, 2014

Boring isn't in its vocabulary: the 2014 Ford Flex makes owning a family wagon a statement of style.

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.

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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.

9

2014 Ford Flex

Styling

A singular, angular piece of retromodern design, the Ford Flex has all the right hints of Fairline and Range Rover.

If you like your wagons square but still sleek, nothing will satisfy like the Ford Flex. A singular mashup of wagons past and present, the Flex is anything but anonymous, or bland.

Arguably, the Flex looks like an homage to the entire history of station wagons, but we can't help but discern a British streak down its sides. Volvo 245, Ford Fairline, Country Squire--it's all there, and to us, it's also part Range Rover, part MINI Cooper. It boldly forges its own style as it skirts around the "minivan" tag--and now it's even less "Ford," now that the badging's been removed, and only the "FLEX" name is tattooed across its nose. The only Ford mark on the vehicle is a blue-oval badge, on the lower right corner of the hatch. And is it just us, or does the new front end resemble nothing less than a USB port?

Inside, the Flex's design essentially carries over, although there have been some subtle changes to the materials--with soft-touch materials now used in the upper door trims as well. The instrument panel sits low, while a round analog clock on the dash of the navigation-equipped Flex clearly pays homage to the MINI--down to the stamped-in ribs that flank it. Also new is a redesigned center stack that makes room for the large MyFord screen interface, along with all-new capacitive touch controls for climate control and audio beneath it.

8

2014 Ford Flex

Performance

Composed, comfortable, and muscular with EcoBoost power, the Flex drives as well as any three-row crossover has a right to.

With either drivetrain, the Flex has ample power for the mission in mind, and its handling almost touches on fun. Still, we'd tick the boxes for the turbo V-6 almost every time.

The base V-6 is a little more muscular, but isn't blisteringly quick. The latest version of the Ford standby 3.5-liter V-6 now makes 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, and turns in better gas mileage, too. Acceleration off the line is adequate, but passing power is strong, even with a few passengers on board. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly, noticeably better than the similar transmission found in GM's big crossovers (Acadia, Enclave, Traverse). We'd advise you check out all-wheel drive if you live in the northern tier, but otherwise give it a pass, since it adds more lead to the Flex's feet, since it already weighs about 4,600 pounds.

EcoBoost models make 365 hp and churn out the torque, with a seamless wave as the six-speed automatic upshifts. These turbocharged crossovers get steering-wheel paddle shifters to go with their automatic, and a tap of a paddle gives a more manual control mode--though the gearbox will shift short of redline even without input. The system is smart and considers yaw and steering-angle sensors, as well as throttle, so if you're in the middle of a corner or still climbing a hill, it will stay in the lower gear; but if you ease off the throttle it will go back to the upper gear in as little as ten seconds.

The Flex comports itself like a smaller station wagon, with fairly crisp steering feel and a compliant ride that only gets boundy if you hustle the Flex into deep, tight corners, despite its size. It was surprisingly able on a curvy road before, but with some improvements for 2013, it's now almost in the fun-to-drive category. Ford's electric power steering system, which was previously only fitted to EcoBoost versions, is now included in all Flex models; it's also hard-mounted to the front subframe and has a quicker steering ratio this year. Brakes are also upgraded with more friction area and a larger master cylinder (plus different booster tuning) for improved pedal feel. Altogether, turn-in is now crisp, the steering loads up predictably, and there's even a little feel of the road coming through; the brakes have a noticeably stronger bite as well.

9

2014 Ford Flex

Comfort & Quality

The Flex's cabin is expressive and its seats are amazingly comfortable.

With seating for up to seven passengers, uncommonly comfortable seats, and a reconfigurable cargo space, the Ford Flex is one of our favorite vehicles for families that travel long distances frequently. It's more accommodating than most other big crossovers, with better entry and exit playing a big part in its charm.

In the first and second rows of seats, the Flex has wide, well-cushioned chairs with an almost ideal mix of long-distance support and soft-touch padding. One of our few complaints--a long-running one--has been completely remedied now that the Flex has better headrests with a new four-position design.

In the second row, you'll feel regal, there's so much head and leg room. You can thank the Flex's Volvo roots and its emphasis on second-row comfort. Crossovers like the Traverse and Pilot have better third-row accommodations or overall interior space, the Flex is organized to make the front and middle seats as spacious as possible for everyone, not just the under-13 set. At 5 inches shorter overall than the 205-inch-long Chevy Traverse with a wheelbase just as long, the Flex is conversely 10 inches longer than the Honda Pilot.

The third-row seats are thinly padded, but it's impressive that even our 6'-6” editor fits acceptably in the third row, with a slight hunch and knees slightly elevated; it would be fine for a jaunt across town, and it's relatively easy to get back there thanks to the roofline.

With 83 cubic feet of space behind the front seats, the Flex has marginally less interior room than the Honda Pilot, and 20 cubic feet less than the Traverse. However, both its second- and third-row seats can be power-folded out of the way, and behind the third row, it can tote more cargo than the Pilot.

The Flex is much quieter inside now than it has been in the past. In 2013 Ford added more sound deadening and lining, to lower noise and harshness in the vehicle, and it works. Fit and finish look better than ever, too. Ford has done a good job in placing soft-touch materials up where the driver and front passenger most often put their hands, while upholstery and materials feel luxury-grade.

8

2014 Ford Flex

Safety

Safety has been one of the Ford Flex's hallmarks since it was new.

Some of the newest safety technology make the Ford Flex one of the safest family vehicles on the market, but crash test scores are sagging late in its lifespan.

The Flex fields "good" crash-test scores from the IIHS in all its completed tests, but it's no longer a Top Safety Pick since it hasn't been subjected to the agency's new small-overlap crash test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't updated its ratings for the crossover since it was brand-new; the Flex hasn't changed significantly since then, but for published ratings, you'd have to look back to 2009--when the Flex earned near-perfect scores.

Among its standard safety features, the Flex has six airbags, anti-lock brakes; and traction and stability control with anti-roll control. All Flexes also include Curve Control and torque vectoring—both are software upgrades to the stability control system that help the Flex corner better. Over its life cycle, Ford has also redesigned the front-seat headrests: in the older versions, the headrests pitched your head uncomfortably forward. The new four-position design still protects well against whiplash while improving driving comfort.

Parking sensors and a rearview camera are on the options list, and so are a blind-spot alert system and adaptive cruise control. Ford's MyKey system remains available in the Flex; it lets parents or other owners set limits on the Flex’s stereo volume, vehicle speed, and other entertainment features, effectively keeping secondary drivers within the owner's comfort limits.

Inflatable seat belts were new to the Flex last year, and adaptive cruise control (with forward collision alert) and a blind-spot monitoring system were also made available.

10

2014 Ford Flex

Features

Plush fittings and some of the most connected infotainment features make the Ford Flex a luxury car in all but brand.

A well-stocked family wagon with a signature look, the Ford Flex was redesigned last year to accommodate a set of new features that keep it at the forefront of infotainment tech.

Almost all versions of the 2014 Flex--all but the base SE--come with the upgraded version of MyFord Touch, introduced into this crossover in the 2013 model year. This screen- and voice-based interface combines climate, infotainment, and navigation features, as well as other functions. The new iteration includes improved responsiveness, a less cluttered look, improved fonts, and a better design for on-screen buttons. We came away mostly with a positive impression from the system, but noticed that there were still some delays or a dulled response for some menu selections.

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 relies on touch.

Across the lineup, the Flex has a comprehensive set of features. The base Flex SE comes standard with a power windows, mirrors and locks; three-row seating; capless fuel filling; an AM/FM/CD player; Bluetooth; 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.

A second-row refrigerated console is a feature that's not available in any other vehicle in this class. Other new features include rain-sensing wipers, passive entry and start, and a new feature that lets you go up or down a gear at a time on all models, not just those with paddle shifters.

6

2014 Ford Flex

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage isn't wonderful in the Flex; Ford's tuned it for better highway mileage, but it's still average for its class.

Gas mileage in the 2014 Ford Flex is competitive within its segment, and for the number of people it can carry, but ultimately it's far lower than many family sedans.

With no changes to its powertrains from last year, the Flex's EPA ratings carry over intact. Base versions with the 3.5-ltier V-6 and front-wheel drive are rated at 18 miles per gallon city, 25 miles per gallon highway.

Adding all-wheel drive cuts into the numbers significantly: the AWD Flex earns an EPA rating of just 17/23 mpg. From there, it's another step down with the turbocharged Flex EcoBoost to 16/23 mpg.
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August 3, 2015
2014 Ford Flex 4-Door SEL FWD

Just about the nicest car I ever owned!

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I was driving a 2010 Explorer. I liked it very much, but my wife is having trouble with arthritis, and getting in was difficult, even with a running board, so I bought the Flex because it is lower. WE LOVE IT!... + More »
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May 12, 2015
2014 Ford Flex 4-Door Limited FWD

Exceeds my expectations

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Needed a vehicle that my wife could get into easily and had room for her walker, but wanted some fun features and good handling. Flex does all of that.
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Styling 9.0
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