Ford Flex – Finally a Distinctive Crossover0
Ford has been teasing us with the Ford Flex for months now. We’ve seen it as auto show after auto show and been given rides in it, but not able to actually drive it. Finally, Ford let us drive its new Large Crossover SUV.
GM Lambda Crossover SUVs are Primary Competitors
Competing with General Motors Lambda Crossover SUVs – Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook and the upcoming Chevrolet Traverse – the Ford Flex adopts a much different styling strategy. Where the Lambdas are serious looking, formidable and SUV-like, Flex takes a much more flamboyant approach to style. In some ways it looks like an XXXL Mini Cooper. This is especially true when its roof gets its optional white paint.
While we really like the flamboyant stying (apparently Flex style is a gestation from a Land Rover styling exercise that Ford chose for itself), we wonder if the Flex may be so much of a fashion statement that it will operate like a sporty car. Most sporty cars have an effective life of 18 to 24 months. They are extremely desirable when they are new and fresh, but quickly soften as time goes on. The utility of the Flex may offset that swoon, but Ford would be smart to have an update in the wings for Year 4.
Package is Flex Forte
But style isn’t the only story the Flex tells. The Flex is based on Ford’s excellent D-Platform (Volvo S80/XC90, Ford Taurus/Taurus X, Mercury Sable and Lincoln MKS). This means it has adopted Volvo safety strategies and even improved upon them. The wheelbase of the Flex is 5-inches longer than the Taurus and all that length is behind the B-Pillar giving the Flex a limousine-like 2nd row seat. The two-passenger third row seat (all Flexes have a third row seat and are 6 or 7-passenger vehicles depending on seating configuration) is a tight fit and useful for small people (defined: kids) or extremely occasional use.
Being a stickler for good ingress/egress the Flex excels. Ford stylists did not go for a fast sloping windshield, so the upright A-Pillar provides excellent access to the front seat. The long rear door gives excellent ingress to the rear seat. Ford also has adopted hidden rocker panels that move the rocker panels inboard so stepping into the seating positions is very easy. In addition, Flex has nice big windows and outstanding visibility.
Powertrain Familiar – Will Get EcoBoost Next
Flex shares the powertrain from the Edge – a 3.5L V6 with 262-horsepower. Flex is a large vehicle, but actually weighs less for its size than the Edge (which needs to go on a diet). So, Flex feels pretty good… I’d say adequate – for most applications. A soccer mom would not complain about Flex performance around town unless she were driving a full complement of kids around all the time.
For spirited driving, Flex will be one of the first recipients of Ford’s new EcoBoost system. This will raise the horsepower output of the 3.5L V6 to about 340-horsepower with no deterioration in fuel economy. EcoBoost will require all wheel drive to be selected as well. EcoBoost adds twin turbocharging and gasoline direct injection. Ford claims that the payback on an EcoBoost system will be about 2.5 years compared with 7 for a diesel and eleven for a hybrid.
Flex is Big, but Feels Small
The Flex feels smaller than it is. Maneuverability is very good for a vehicle its size. Ride is nicely controlled even in spirited driving. Body lean is minimal, but there is pronounced understeer – expected. Flex is available with 18, 19 or 20-inch wheel sizes. Even with the 20-inchers ride is very acceptable, but with the smaller diameter wheels ride is a bit more plush. An engineer described Flex as a “cruiser” and he was right. It will be an outstanding vehicle to use for around town, for local sightseeing or long vacation trips.
Pricing – $28,000 to $45,000 – $40,000 Nicely Equipped
Specifying the ideal Flex is easy. Click on this link to go to the Ford site to build your Flex. The base SE model is well equipped with heated seats and keyless entry, but the Limited model may be the ideal choice for those wanting a large Crossover SUV without compromise. My ideal Flex would be a Limited AWD model with an MSRP of $36,555. From an exterior styling appearance, I’d get the optional white roof for $395. I’d get the 19-inch polished aluminum wheels standard with the Limited AWD. I’d spring for an additional $870 to get 40/40 buckets in the second row and add the $760 rear console refrigerator. Finally, I’d add the Navigation System with Sirius Satellite Radio and Travel Link for $2,375. The total price would be $41,755 which includes destination charges. Ford says they have negotiated pretty strong residuals for Flex that should make leasing the Flex a reasonable proposition.
This price puts the AWD Flex Limited squarely in the competitive arena with products like the Lincoln MKS – if you want a luxury sedan – Buick Enclave, loaded GMC Acadia… but much lower than European import brand SUVs.
Flex units are presently on their way to Ford dealerships nationwide.