Originally envisioned to replace the Ford Freestar minivan in 2008, the boxy Flex didn't quite fit into any of the existing paradigms. It's not a minivan nor is it a true SUV. It fits the technical description of a crossover but eschews the windtunnel-sculpted shapes of its contemporaries for a proudly slab-sided body, looking somewhat like an oversized first-generation Scion xB. Its styling is polarizing, to say the least.
The Flex's ample size prepares you to expect an uninspiring driving experience. While we'd hesitate to say driving the Flex gets the enthusiast adrenaline flowing, its responsiveness makes it feel a size or two smaller. The sensation is made more surreal when you take a glance in the rearview mirror and get reminded by the distant rear glass just how large it actually is.
A big part of this Flex's sprightly personality stems from its muscular EcoBoost engine. Producing 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, the twin-turbocharged V-6 has no problem overcoming the Flex's substantial 4874-lb weight. The engine will hustle the Flex off the line with vigor but it feels most impressive in mid-range passing, where the ample torque whisks it forward without the need to downshift. Its 5.9-second 0-60 time puts it well at the head of the three-row fullsize crossover pack and is comparable to that of costlier premium European models.
Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters quietly suggest enthusiastic driving, but the rest of the Flex's interior invites relaxed and stress-free long-distance cruising. Front and rear seats are broad and flat like Barcaloungers and are probably even more comfortable. Lateral support, at least visually, is virtually non-existent, but the seats are plenty supportive in the sense that they're just what you'd want to crash into at the end of a long, stressful day.
Our Limited model shared its MyFord Touch interface with its Explorer sibling and we must admit that we're not unconditional fans. The sole conventional gauge on the dashboard is the speedometer. All others are digital and driver-selectable gauges, including the tachometer and fuel gauge. We do like the relatively intuitive voice-activated functions and the recently-simplified interface.
The second row of the Flex is positively limousine-like, with NBA-league legroom and reclining seatbacks. The third row is not quite as accommodating but is better than that of some three-row crossovers. An average-sized American adult could ride in the 'way back' for short distances relatively comfortably but we wouldn't recommend it for road trips. In our experience, GM's Lambda triplets take the gold in third-row crossover comfort and room.
Ford gave the Flex is mid-cycle refresh for 2013 and the changes give the Flex a decidedly more urban, high-tech look, with projector beam headlights and a prominent horizontal grille accent. The rest of the styling and packaging is relatively unchanged.
At $46,120, our Flex Limited isn't exactly cheap, but the days of a $45,000+ large crossover being considered shocking are long past us. The only missing options were the Vista Roof and power tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
If you have kids and can't bear the thought of owning a minivan or even a conventional SUV but need the space, the Flex is a unique choice. Its stretch-out-room and comfortable seats make it a phenomenal road-trip car. However, there's no escaping its size. For those accustomed to Expeditions, Tahoes and Suburbans, it's nothing unusual. If you're coming from something the size of an Escape, or even a Highlander, the Flex is on the chunky side. It's near 5000-pound weight and powerful engine also make it less than frugal on fuel, despite the 'Eco' branding. Although rated at 16/23 by the EPA, consider yourself lucky if you're able to average 17, especially if you frequently indulge in the EcoBoost's ample power.
All that said, if you're looking for a stylish, unconventional, comfortable full-size cruiser that provides at least a mildly entertaining driving experience when asked, the Flex is your ride.
|2013 Ford Flex Limited AWD |
|BASE PRICE|| $44,675 |
|PRICE AS TESTED|| $46,120 |
|VEHICLE LAYOUT|| Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE ||3.5L/365-hp/350-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 |
|TRANSMISSION|| 6-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)|| 4874 lb (55/45%)|
|WHEELBASE ||117.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT|| 201.8 x 75.9 x 68.0 in|
|0-60 MPH|| 5.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE ||14.3 sec @ 97.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH|| 122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION|| 0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT ||27.5 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON ||16/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY|| 211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS ||1.05 lb/mile|