2018 Ford Flex Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 19, 2018

The 2018 Ford Flex still stamps a unique silhouette on the crossover world.

We loved the Ford Flex when it was new. Then again, we also loved the iPhone’s 2G connectivity, the Atlanta Thrashers, and Chicago’s Summer Olympic bid in the same year. We’re not fickle, we’ve just outlived most of those things.

The Flex—still sold in SE, SEL, and Limited trims—is the lone survivor in that bunch. It’s old, yes, but we still harbor some feelings for it. It no longer feels as counter-trendy as it once did, but the shape still is singular, the family-wagon bona fides still solid. On the balance we’d rather have a Chrysler Pacifica or a Honda Pilot.

We give the Flex a still-respectable 6.2 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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A space-age surf wagon, the Ford Flex bundles up all the straight lines unused by eggy crossovers and minivans. It wouldn’t look half-bad with wood side panels, would it? The ribs down its side, the flat body-color or blacked-out roof, the USB-port front end all coalesce into a shape that mashes up looks from companies Ford used to own: Volvo and Range Rover. The cabin’s lost some charm in its recent redo, but the big touchscreen and simple layout work well.

The base 287-horsepower V-6 could use more grunt, but it’s joined to a workhorse of a 6-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive makes the most of the combination, but add on all-wheel drive, and the hefty wagon drains all the juice out of the powertrain. The twin-turbo V-6 on Limited versions has brisk punch and a gutsy roar, but adds $8,200 to the price, bundled as it is with all-wheel drive, big wheels, and anything else Ford wants you to have. 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.

The Flex still comports itself like a classic family wagon. Were it more popular we’d say it stole Volvo’s thunder, if Subaru hadn’t already gotten there. It rides high, and makes it easy for adults to slide into its cozy front seats. Headroom soars as it should in a vehicle shaped like an Amazon warehouse. The second-row bench or buckets suit all the adults we know, and even the tall ones will fit for short stints in the third-row seat.

Crash test data is incomplete, and you’ll have to spend more than $47,000 to get a Flex with forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking. Base models have a disappointingly small infotainment screen, but plusher versions get leather seat surfaces in the front two rows, big wheels and tires, a power tailgate, and Sony audio.

5

2018 Ford Flex

Styling

The Ford Flex still cuts an effortlessly cool figure; the cabin plays an entirely different tune.

When it was new in the 2009 model year, the Ford Flex cut an effortlessly cool figure. The Flex took a Volvo platform and handed it back to Volvo, even more boxy than it found it. Gauntlet, thrown.

The interior didn’t have a chance to catch up.

We still think the Flex has something to say, but it’s been saying it for a while. We give it a 5 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Part Range Rover, part Mini Cooper, the Ford Flex resembles nothing so much as a space-age surf wagon. It’s never gone the woody route, but does it need to? The ribs down its sides, the extreme angular attitude, the revised front end that resembles a USB port. It’s still a singular styling statement, Ford’s most cohesive new look in a generation.

It’s just been with us a while now, and like all the best designs, maybe it needs a few years until we appreciate it again. Tuck it away with the Barcelona chair and come back in a decade.

The cabin never stuck itself out as far on the styling ice. It’s a staid-looking arena that worked best with houndstooth seats and sedate woodgrain trim, a combination long left on the cutting-room floor. It’s still work-worthy, especially now that it houses a big touchscreen and a cleaned-up stack of touch-sensitive controls.

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5

2018 Ford Flex

Performance

Comfort comes first, but the 2018 Ford Flex is no corner klutz.

The Ford Flex straps on some impressive turbo power, and handles better than any 4,600-pound minivan substitute should.

It’s still a big, hefty wagon with comfort at the top of its priority list. We give it a 5 for performance, right down the middle. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Ford’s long-lived 3.5-liter V-6 pulls the base Flex. Rated at 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet, it accelerates adequately, and clicks through the 6 speeds on its automatic transmission without fuss. Gas mileage is better than with the turbo, but well below average for the three-row class. We’d skip the all-wheel drive here, since it saps some of the available energy and runs up the gas bills.

Go directly to the turbo V-6 on loan from the Taurus SHO sedan. Just keep in mind, it’s an $8,200 price boost thanks to a lot of extra equipment bundled with it, including all-wheel drive and 20-inch wheels.

The 3.5-liter V-6 kicks in 365 hp, all of which can be accessed via steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. The transmission makes as much as it can from the power on tap: it shifts short of redline, but will hold a gear in mid-corner or in mid-hillclimb. Once its sensors detect a flat road, back to the top gears it goes.

The Flex delivers the handling you’d expect in a long-wheelbase station wagon, though it blurs some into the crossover-SUV category. The ride is compliant, though it bounds in tight, deep corners if you hustle it through them quickly. Even the massive 20-inch wheels don’t upset its smooth ride quality.

A few years ago Ford updated the Flex’s electric steering mounts and its brakes. Both systems are better for the attention. The crisp steering loads up evenly, and the brakes bite more strongly.

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9

2018 Ford Flex

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Flex still does a great job at pinch-hitting for minivans.

The Ford Flex marries three-row seating with a long-wheelbase body, and gives the world hope that not every budding Tinder relationship will end up in a minivan.

With great seating for adults in the first two rows, usable third-row chairs and a good cargo space, it’s worth a 9 out of 10 here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

By the numbers, the Flex rides on a 117.9-inch wheelbase that's nearly seven inches longer than a Honda Pilot. It’s the outline that makes the Flex better in the first two rows, while the Pilot aces the third-row test.

The Flex’s boxlike shape does wonders for utility and comfort. Tall passengers slide easily into the front seats, which have plenty of knee and shoulder room. The seats have good, soft bolsters, and softer headrests that alleviate its former, problematic headrests that sat too far forward.

The Flex shines in the second row, with lots of room for even the tallest passengers, with very well-padded seats, and with fold-down bench seating or an option for two captain’s chairs.

The Flex’s third-row seat isn’t quite as nice, but we’ve stuffed a very tall editor in it for short drives without complaint (without duct tape, too). It’s split to fold in two equal sections.

With the two rear rows of seats tucked away, the Flex has 83 cubic feet of stuff storage. It’s rated at 20 cubic feet behind the third row, enough for most big-box raids.

A few years ago, Ford added more sound-blocking material to the Flex, and simplified some interior trim. It’s quiet, with a high-buck feel, still a solid competitor for the nicest newest family vehicles.

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2018 Ford Flex

Safety

The Flex hasn’t been fully crash-tested in a long time; the latest safety tech only comes on the most expensive models.

The Ford Flex hasn’t been tested by the NHTSA in nearly a decade, but the IIHS has some encouraging words for it.

Still, without a complete set of data, we can’t assign it a safety rating. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The IIHS says the Flex performs well enough for “Good” scores in most of its tests. It earns an "Acceptable" rating in the agency’s newest small-overlap frontal-impact test.

All Flex crossovers have a rearview camera and the ability to apply a front brake on an outside wheel to corner more securely.

The most expensive Limited model had blind-spot monitors, but it costs nearly $3,000 to upgrade to forward-collision warnings 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.

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7

2018 Ford Flex

Features

The classy, full-tilt Ford Flex has enough luxury touches to make you forget its family-hauler duties. Wait, whose turn was it to get the kids?

The Ford Flex is in its ninth year on the market. Ford’s made efforts to update it with some of the latest technology, and its features and options lists are still impressive.

We give it a 7 in this category. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Flex SE has a base price of more than $31,000, and comes with power features, three rows of seats, a Bluetooth-enabled and voice-controlled infotainment system with a 4.3-inch display, 17-inch wheels, cloth seats, and a rearview camera.

The Flex SEL adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen and a more advanced touchscreen infotainment system, remote start, keyless ignition, heated front seats, 18-inch wheels, woodgrain trim, power front seats, and dual-zone climate control.

Few features go missing in the Flex Limited. It gets 12-speaker Sony audio, leather first- and second-row seats, navigation, power tailgate, 19-inch wheels, and blind-spot monitors. An appearance package tops this version with a black roof, black grille and door handles, and 20-inch wheels.

Other Flex options include a power-fold third-row seat, a panoramic sunroof, a tow package, second-row captain’s chairs, and a heated steering wheel.

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5

2018 Ford Flex

Fuel Economy

The Flex has fallen behind the times in fuel efficiency.

The 2018 Ford Flex carries over the same fuel economy ratings from last year.

The quickest version with a turbo V-6 earns EPA ratings of 15 mpg city, 21 highway, 17 combined. That’s well below some newer crossovers like the Honda Pilot, our current pick in the segment.

Base models with front-wheel drive and a V-6 are pegged at 16/23/19 mpg. With all-wheel drive, those figures fall to 16/22/18 mpg.

We give the Flex a 5 out of 10 rating for gas mileage. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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$30,195
MSRP based on SE FWD
 
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6.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 5
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety N/A
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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  • 2018 Flex supplies holding; 2017s sold out
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