2009 Ford Flex
Zen And The Art Of The Modern Woody Wagon

We Like: Optional fridge, power lumbar support for the driver's seat, comfortable ride, spaciousness.
We Don't Like: Duratec V-6 is grainier than Traverse's engine.

Considering oil prices and the swiftly shifting market, this year's most significant contenders split into two subsets: small, four-cylinder models (Forester, Tiguan) and larger, space-efficient unibody family wagons (Traverse, Journey, Pilot, Flex). While the Chevy Traverse and Ford Flex duked it out for superiority, in the end, the Ford's distinctive take on the basic box and its more entertaining interior won the argument. It was the only other contender besides our winner to get votes (three).

"Its engine noise is not as pleasant as the Chevy's," Frank Markus says, "but the interior is dressier than the similarly equipped Traverse." With a third-row seat rated for two passengers to the Traverse's three, it's available in six- (with optional refrigerator between the split second row) and seven-passenger variants. Other notable options include Microsoft Sync and a big panorama roof. The third row is more comfortable for adults than the Traverse's three-passenger rear seat. Sharing its Volvo-based platform with a variety of Fords, including Taurus X, Flex's dimensions are similar to the Chevy's, with a lower h-point. The driver can set his seat low, making it feel like a station wagon, or high, for that much desired SUV-command view of the road. It's by no means an off-roader, yet it handled our off-road section with ease.

With its soft suspension, deliberate steering, and big flat expanse of hood ahead of the driver, it doesn't inspire spirited driving, which helps explain better fuel economy versus the Traverse on our loop. The V-6/six-speed automatic combo is smooth with adequate power, although the transmission offers no upshift-downshift options for family vacations across the Rockies. Those who fondly remember late-1960s Country Squires with 429 V-8 options will appreciate the coming 3.5-liter EcoBoost making about 325 horses.

The Flex evokes various heydays of Ford wagons for our seasoned editors. It makes Stone think of his friend's 1947 Woody. The concept version of the Flex was named Fairlane-the 1957 and 1958 Fairlane sedans were the basis for the first Country Squires. Whatever year you think of, the Flex makes Ford wagons cool again and does so without reverting to retro styling.
- Todd Lassa


2009 Ford Flex
Base price range $28,995-$37,255
Price as tested $43,820 (Limited AWD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD 6-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/262-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 4864 lb (54/46%)
Wheelbase 117.9 in
Length x width x height 201.8 x 79.9 x 68.0 in
0-60 mph 8.4 sec.
Quarter mile 16.3 @ 84.6 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 136 ft.
Lateral acceleration 0.75 g (avg)
MT figure eight 29.0 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy econ 16/22 mpg
MT observed fuel econ 14.9 mpg
CO2 emmisions 1.06 lb/mile
RATINGS
Engineering ****
Design *****
Interior/functionality *****
Performance ***
On-road refinement ****
Off-road ability *
Value ****
BOTTOM LINE
The most stylish people-mover box since the original VW Microbus