- Ride and handling are impressive for its size
- Even more refined than before
- Supple, comfortable seats
- Rush of turbocharged power
- Urbane, mid-mod look
- Pricey as a Platinum or Limited
- Styling, party of one
- Back seats not so easy to reach
- Touchscreen controls tough to grok
The 2016 Ford Flex remains a singularly boxy and handsome SUV, with excellent interior room and safety scores.
The Ford Flex continues to stand out in the SUV field. In a universe of softly contoured crossovers, the Flex's relentlessly rectilinear shape stands out—and provides some of the best, most polished interior space of any three-row crossover SUV.
It's been on the road since the 2009 model year, and after a 2013 model-year update that included a new front end and a revamped interior, the Flex has kept fairly steady. For the 2016 model year it gains a standard rearview camera, a new black-out appearance package, and a significantly upgraded infotainment system.
With the Flex, Ford has a rival for vehicles like the Honda Pilot and Buick Enclave, but it takes a few sharp turns and right angles to get there.
The Flex steers clear of the cliches that drive people away from crossovers and minivans, doing a great impression of the station wagons of the past instead. It's a boxy vehicle, but in the best senses of the word. It doesn't play down its corners, it amplifies them, carving grooves in its flanks to emphasize its long, glassy greenhouse, angling off its headlamps to call out its rectangular grille. The retro-modern fusion works like a charm, down to the grille that looks like a USB port. The Flex's interior is still one of the best Ford builds, with a mix of materials matching up well, blending LCD screens and touch controls in a serene way.
Ford Flex performance
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 horsepower, but the star of the lineup remains the turbocharged, 365-hp V-6, 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 an electric power steering system with a quick ratio, and a steering unit that's now locked onto the subframe, steering feel is more precise, while the Flex keeps its well-controlled ride and responsive brakes on tap.
It’s a pleasant vehicle to drive, a step up from the likes of the Chevy Traverse and Toyota Highlander. Mostly, it's because of the superior ride quality, descended way back from the Volvo XC90 that spun off the platform of the Flex, 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.
Ford Flex safety and features
The Flex's comprehensive safety package includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control with anti-rollover technology. A rearview camera is now standard, 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. The Flex has earned mostly good scores by the IIHS, but only manages an "Acceptable" rating in the agency's small-overlap front crash test. The Flex hasn't been tested recently by the NHTSA.
The Flex doesn't skimp on features. 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 programmed levels for radio volume and vehicle speed, effectively putting an electronic leash on younger drivers. Upscale Flex crossovers can be fitted with the turbo-six engine; all-wheel drive (AWD); a leather interior; and a glass panoramic sunroof.
All Flex SEL and Limited SUVs get the latest Ford infotainment system, which replaces the unloved MyFord Touch setup.The new Sync 3 infotainment controller responds more quickly and its screens have a less cluttered look. The Flex also has restored some controls to prominence on the center console: there's a capacitive panel that houses supplemental audio and climate-control buttons, and a physical button for the hazard lamps, though everything else (even climate controls) relies on touch.
Base versions with the 3.5-liter V-6 and front-wheel drive are rated at 16 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. All-wheel drive cuts into the numbers significantly: the AWD Flex earns an EPA rating of just 16/22/18 mpg. From there, it's another step down with the turbocharged Flex EcoBoost to 15/21/17 mpg.