The transformation from Taurus X to Flex involved more than the five-inch taffy-pull. A revised rear suspension relocates the coil springs inboard so the shocks can move outboard where they stand almost straight up to provide more efficient damping. (No, plywood won't fit flat on the floor between them, but it can slide in atop the armrests.) Beefing up the front and rear anti-roll bars relieved the shocks of some of their roll-control duty, allowing them to provide a more comfortable yet controlled ride. The rear of the chassis is also reinforced to accept a class-III hitch, boosting Flex's trailering muscle to 4500 pounds (enough to cover most boats and lightweight travel trailers). The stretched wheelbase and low center of gravity reportedly make this a stable, comfortable tow vehicle (trailer-sway mitigation isn't even programmed into the stability and roll-control system). The optional rearview camera makes lining up the hitch a no-brainer.

How's it drive? As I imagine a 2009 Country Squire would, had the traditional three-row family wagon been allowed to evolve and SUVs and minivans had never happened. Driving north out of New York City through the "what recession?" bedroom communities of Larchmont and Mamaroneck in Westchester County, the Flex demonstrated reasonable acceleration, and its handling was about as sprightly as one expects in a two-ton car. Ride is supple and controlled with minimal lean or fuss in turns, but the long wheelbase and mass are natural deterrents to any boy-racer inclinations. So is the transmission, the selector for which offers only "D" and "L." That's grossly inadequate and a manumatic shifter must be added ASAP, if for no other reason than to enable folks to maintain proper engine braking in mountain descents without the unanticipated downshifts "L" brings. A "hill" mode supposedly improves transmission responsiveness and reduces hunting when towing, climbing, or driving briskly, but it's no substitute for a proper +/- gear selector.

Of course, many intended buyers-some of whose mansions we drove right past-may not care about such things and will simply be delighted that at highway speeds the driver and third-row passengers can communicate without shouting themselves hoarse, and that six adults can cohabitate for a carpool-lane commute into town. And even if the sleek looks and suave appointments never achieve icon status, they should at least pass muster with the Westchester Joneses.

2009 Ford Flex
Base Price $28,995-$37,255
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD/AWD, 6- or 7-pass, 4-door wagon
Engine 3.5L/262-hp/248 lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 4450-4650 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 117.8 in
Length x width x height 201.8 x 79.9 x 68.0 in
0-60 mph 7.5-8.5 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 16-17/22-24 mpg
CO2 emmisions 0.99-1.06 lb/mi
On sale in U.S. Summer 2008