Ford’s Flex fits an interesting niche: not quite a minivan, and not quite an SUV. In practice, however, it functions as a bit of both, especially the all-wheel-drive model that I drove.
By TOM STRONGMAN
Even though it is quite boxy, the Flex has styling cues such as the lines in the lower bodywork that hark back to station wagons from the 1970s. The roof comes in body color or white, silver or black. I think it is most appropriate to think of the Flex as a modern-day station wagon, even though Ford calls it a crossover. For 2013, the front has been reworked with sleeker headlights that give it a rounder, sleeker face.
The Flex is available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $30,900 and range all the way to $43,850 for the twin-turbo EcoBoost engine with all-wheel drive. The base engine, new this year, is a 3.5-liter, 287-horsepower V-6 that is more than adequate. The twin-turbo V-6 produces 365 get-your-attention horsepower that would be great for serious towing or for scaring imported sports sedans in stoplight drag races. The transmission is a six-speed automatic.
The new engine is smooth and torquey, and that makes it pleasant to live with in daily commutes. Fuel economy is not great, but certainly acceptable. All-wheel drive has a rating of 17 city and 23 highway. Front-wheel drive is 18 city and 25 highway. Given the vagaries of Midwestern winters, I would choose all-wheel drive for the most security. Folks who live in the south or west will be happy with front-wheel drive.
As a crossover, the Flex needs to accommodate a lot of people, and it has seating for seven in three rows. The low, flat roof mimics station wagons of old but it lacks the headroom of an SUV or minivan. That is rarely a drawback unless you need to cram large items in the back.
The Flex comes equipped with torque vectoring control and curve control technology. Ford describes it thus: “More typically found on high-performance cars, the torque vectoring control system uses the car’s brakes to imitate the effect of a limited-slip differential, constantly balancing the distribution of engine torque between the front wheels during cornering, resulting in improved grip and steering and a reduced chance of understeer. As the car accelerates through a corner, the system detects when the front inside wheel is starting to slip and applies an imperceptible amount of braking to the wheel. This prevents wheel spin and has the effect of transferring engine torque to the outside wheel, which has more grip, thus maintaining traction and steering control.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
In practice, torque-vectoring and corner control operate seamlessly. Their effect is subtle but useful, especially in situations such as rain or snow.
The Flex interior has the newest generation of MyFord Touch, and while it is greatly improved, I still found it confounding at times. Sync gives the driver voice connectivity. Bluetooth technology allows communication with up to six phones, and a USB port in the console connects directly to an MP3 player. Songs can be stored on the vehicle’s hard disc. The optional Sirius satellite radio offers real-time traffic and weather updates as well as price information for more than 120,000 gas stations.
The front seats are quite comfortable, and the optional adjustable pedals make it easy for drivers of all sizes to find just the right position. The second-row seats have fore and aft adjustability. The third row is large enough for adults. The rear-seat seatbelts their own built-in airbags.
The Limited comes standard with navigation, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera, Sirius satellite radio and a Sony audio system with 12 speakers.
Standard safety items include front, side and side-curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability control.
The base price of the test vehicle was $41,180. The only options were the 20-inch wheels and a white roof. The sticker price was $43,395.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail address is email@example.com.