- One-of-a-kind looks
- Good powertrains from top to bottom
- Great front seats
- Plenty of interior space
- Can get expensive in a hurry
- Styling, party of one
- Base infotainment isn't great
The 2017 Ford Flex is a spacious family hauler with a style all its own. It lacks the fuel economy of some of the competitors, but beauty doesn't come without effort.
The 2017 Ford Flex has gone its own way since it was new nearly a decade ago. Among softly rendered crossover competitors the Flex's right angles are an anomaly, but its spacious and comfortable interior are what keeps it relevant so many years on.
The long SUV carries forward this year without any significant changes from last year, an indication that the SUV may be nearing its final straightaway. Thank you Ford, can we have another?
Like last year, the Flex comes in SE, SEL, and Limited trims. Starting at just over $31,000, the Flex can be opulently equipped (and lavishly priced) near $50,000 for well-heeled buyers.
It earns a respectable 6.2 out of 10 on our overall scale thanks to a spacious interior and good features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
The Ford Flex's boxy shape and space-age surf wagon style are immediately noticeable and will be everlasting. Like plaid pants that fade in and out of favor, the Flex's shape may not be fresh for much longer, but we imagine that some families will still seek out the stylish wagon if they're tired of the same-old smooth shapes from crossovers.
Inside, the Flex is rolling gymnasium, but the style has started to wane. An update that brought better interior materials and a revised center stack help keep it fresh, but the Flex shows its age between the doors.
Under the hood, the Flex touts a twin-billing of two V-6 engines that aptly power the 4,600-pound wagon without much fuss. A base V-6 that makes 288 horsepower is standard throughout the line and is paired exclusively to a 6-speed automatic. In either front- or all-wheel drive configuration, the Flex doesn't strain with this powerplant, although we'd stop short of calling it outright quick.
The optional engine is a turbocharged V-6 borrowed from the potent Taurus SHO. It produces 365 hp, and is also paired to a 6-speed auto, but stubs in a couple of paddle shifters to the steering column if you're feeling like the adventurous type. It's paired exclusively to all-wheel drive, and predictably comes in at the bottom of fuel efficiency for the eight-passenger SUV.
In either configuration, the Flex borders on nearly fun to drive, but it's a trick: both engines are appropriately handling the Flex's mighty girth.
Comfort, safety, and features
The Flex is a traveling gymnasium, with enough space to handle eight and 20 cubic feet of cargo too. Five adults can fit in the back seats (although, we wouldn't stuff too many in the way-back for long) and thanks to wide openings and a tall roof, no one will lose their modesty on their way back.
The front two rows were clearly Ford's priority. The big, comfortable seats are a pleasure and are spacious enough for adults to glide with relative comfort. Two captain's chairs can be swapped in for the 60/40-split folding second-row bench, the third row stays with a 50/50-split tumbler that gets out of the way with ease.
Federal regulators haven't crashed the Flex since it was new, and have updated their methodology since then. So have we. We held back our safety score until more information becomes available, which may not happen considering the age of the Flex.
Without a federal score, the IIHS gave the Flex mostly "Good" scores in its testing, except for an "Acceptable" rating in its small overlap crash test. Advanced safety features are available, such as forward collision warning and blind-spot monitors, but reserved for higher-level trims of the Flex.
Base cars are well-equipped without them. The base Flex SE includes standard power windows, mirrors, and locks; three-row seating, Ford's SYNC infotainment system with a 4.3-inch screen and Bluetooth; rearview camera; 17-inch wheels; and cloth upholstery.
SEL and Limited models add more creature comforts such as an updated infotainment system, heated and cooled leather seats, power liftgate, and upgraded audio.
2017 Ford Flex
The interior of the Ford Flex is cool in the way that fashion always makes a comeback, inside is another story.
The Ford Flex looks like nothing else on the road today.
Is that good? We think so—even though it was fresh for 2008.
We'll give it a point above base for its exterior swagger, but lop one off for its staid interior. The net result? A 5 out of 10 on our style scale, which belies its eccentricity. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
We see a space-age surf wagon, but so much more. There's a little British in the sides of the Flex—part Range Rover, part Mini Cooper. We also see some Ford Fairlane and Country Squire in the wagon too. The Flex doesn't change much for 2017, except for a pair of new colors, but that's not a bad thing. 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 has stayed relatively the same since its introduction in 2008. The materials and infotainment system have been improved since then, long windows help what could very easily become a very dark cabin.
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. The center stack makes room for the large SYNC3 touchscreen interface, along with capacitive touch controls for climate control and audio beneath it.
2017 Ford Flex
The Ford Flex has all the power and finesse to haul a basketball team, but not much more.
The performance of the 2017 Ford Flex is wholly deceptive.
Both of the drivetrains are strong and the Flex manages to be relatively fun to drive thanks to clever engineering and suspension black magic.
That mitigates the hefty 4,600-pound mass shuffling through the corners, down the streets, and around parking lots, but we can't go much further than that. We're giving the Flex a 5 for performance, which is a feat when everything's considered. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The base 3.5-liter V-6 from Ford is standard in all Flex models. It's the latest version of the corporate powertrain and makes 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque and returns better mileage than the V-6 turbo. Its acceleration is adequate, and it shuffles through its standard 6-speed autobox with grace.
Like the Taurus, the base V-6 can be mated to all-wheel drive for buyers in northern states, but we recommend to give it a pass if you can—the base V-6 does better without the 200 pounds of running gear all-wheel drive requires.
The optional, more-potent engine is the turbocharged V-6 borrowed from the high-po Taurus SHO that makes 365 hp. It's also exclusively mated to all-wheel drive and adds paddle shifters, like the Taurus. (Although the gearbox will automatically shift short of redline 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.
Ford's electric power steering system, is hard-mounted to the front subframe and has a quick steering ratio. Brakes were recently 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.
2017 Ford Flex
Comfort & Quality
Can't stand a van? No problem. The Ford Flex hauls just as many with plenty of room for gear.
The Ford Flex will be a first-ballot hall-of-famer for family haulers thanks to its combination of space, comfort, and ease. It's also surprisingly luxurious, if you're willing to spend more.
It's first- and second-row seats are wide and well-cushioned, with enough room in the back for gear and pets. It seats up to seven people—we've stuffed a 6-foot-6 editor in the way-back—so it earns a near-perfect 9 out of 10 for comfort on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Driver and front-seat passenger are treated to a wide opening with plenty of space for varying body types. The second-row seats are where the Flex shines: There's more head room and leg room than many comparable crossovers—you can thank the Flex's Volvo roots and its emphasis on second-row comfort. Most examples of the Flex will be fitted with a 60/40-split folding second-row bench that folds away quickly for more cargo capacity.
The 50/50-split third row isn't as well padded, but it would be fine for a jaunt across town, and it's relatively easier to clamber back thanks to the tall roofline.
The Flex rides on a 117.9-inch wheelbase that's 8 inches longer than a Honda Pilot, but 1 inch shorter than a Chevy Traverse. Both the Pilot and Traverse have better third-row accommodations, the Flex clearly prioritizes the front two rows first.
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 20 cubic feet of gear, which is 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.
2017 Ford Flex
Incomplete data keeps us from ranking the Ford Flex; but what's in is encouraging.
The only year the feds ranked the Ford Flex was 2009, when the SUV was new. Since then, regulators have changed their methodology—and so have we.
A lack of data means we can't assign a value to the Flex's safety score, but what's in is encouraging. We're withholding our score until we know more, which may never happen. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The IIHS has comprehensively crashed the Ford Flex since then, and the agency gave the SUV mostly top "Good" scores, save an "Acceptable" rating in the small overlap front crash test.
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.
The Flex also includes a standard rearview camera on all models, which should help drivers maneuver the massive family hauler.
Top trims include some active safety features that the IIHS has rated "Basic" for front crash prevention or mitigation. Limited models include standard blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, but Ford frustratingly buries front collision warning and adaptive cruise control in a pricey $2,900 add-on package.
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.
2017 Ford Flex
Base versions are well-equipped for family duty, pricey add-ons can rival some luxury haulers.
The 2017 Ford Flex includes an impressive list of base equipment with available add-ons that rival some luxury cars in features—and price too.
Starting with base SE models, the Flex is also available in SEL and Limited trims. Its starting price tops $31,000, but can reach as high as $50,000 with a heavy hand for options.
It earns a 7 out of 10 on our features scale based on its good base content and good optional content. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The base Flex SE includes standard power windows, mirrors, and locks; three-row seating, Ford's SYNC infotainment system with a 4.3-inch screen and Bluetooth; rearview camera; 17-inch wheels; and cloth upholstery.
Stepping up to SEL models adds 18-inch wheels, an upgraded SYNC3 infotainment system with 8.0-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, remote start and keyless ignition, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats, and wood trim.
Fully loaded Limited models pull all the stops and add 19-inch wheels, leather-trimmed first- and second-row seats, premium Sony audio with 12 speakers, blind-spot monitors, navigation, power liftgate, and upgraded interior materials.
An appearance package can go all-in with a black roof, door handles, grille, and window sills on top of 20-inch wheels. Now you're a real man in that van.
Some thoughtful additions are available too such as advanced safety features (which we cover separately), heated steering wheel, power folding rear seats, panoramic sunroof, trailer-prep tow package, and second-row captain's chairs.
2017 Ford Flex
All things considered, the Ford Flex is fairly fuel efficient for a school bus.
It's too early for official EPA numbers for the 2017 Ford Flex, but based on its similarity to last year's model we can confidently make some predictions.
Base versions with a 3.5-liter V-6 and front-wheel drive are rated at 16 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. Adding all-wheel drive drops those numbers slightly to 16/22/18 mpg.
Those are the versions that we're basing our 5 out of 10 rating for fuel efficiency. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Going all in with the turbocharged version results in a 15/21/17 mpg rating by the EPA.
That's not as efficient as many three-row crossovers, including the Hyundai Santa Fe (18/24/20 mpg with AWD) or the Honda Pilot (19/26/22 mpg with AWD).
Put simply, the Flex's unique looks and character has some hidden costs.