2009 Ford Flex Limited AWDPosted on September 28th, 2008
Ford’s newest crossover may be one of the best active lifestyle vehicles on the market.
By Nina Russin
Of the numerous vehicles marketed towards active lifestyles, a handful actually deliver. The six-passenger Ford Flex has all the attributes to make the short list: configurable interior, towing up to 4500 pounds, moderate off-road capability, GPS, and multiple power points.
An optional vista roof adds glass panels above all three rows of seating to bring ambient light and additional fresh air inside. A reverse camera backup system projects a wide angle view behind the car on the navigation screen, eliminating blind spots below the driver’s sight line.
Ford’s capless fuel filler eliminates a piece of hardware that’s easily lost, and provides a better seal against evaporative emissions.
Sirius travel link provides real-time traffic updates and coast-to-coast weather: a boon for commuters and frequent travelers.
The Flex has a different profile than most crossover vehicles: it’s boxier, with more glass area and two-tone paint. The styling has a similar retro flavor to the Toyota FJ Cruiser.
This isn’t a complete surprise since Jim Farley, who launched the FJ Cruiser for Toyota, is now the vice president of marketing and communications for Ford.
When Farley introduced the FJ Cruiser, he described the sport-utility vehicle as a ‘cool toolbox.’ What could be better suited for active lifestyles than a toolbox on wheels? Coincidentally, Farley happens to be a competitive triathlete.
The Ford Flex is also a cool toolbox, with a larger interior than the Cruiser. The second and third-row seats fold flat, producing a cargo floor long enough to hold two bicycles with the front wheels in place.
Plenty of power for the open road
The test car is the upscale Limited grade with all-wheel drive. Power comes from a 262-horsepower V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Though Ford doesn’t list zero-to-sixty acceleration figures, the Flex has plenty of power in the critical twenty-to-fifty range. Merging into high-speed traffic is a non-issue.
Unlike some six-speed automatics, there is no manual gear select option for the Flex. The gearshift has the traditional low gear settings for reducing engine speed on steep descents.
Fuel economy for the all-wheel drive model is slightly poorer than the front-wheel drive Flex: about 22 miles-per-gallon on the highway. Fortunately, the Flex runs on 87 octane gas.
Peak torque, 248 foot-pounds, comes on a 4500 rpm. The Flex’s long, flat torque curve makes it well suited for hauling heavy loads and towing.
Despite its relatively long wheelbase and wide track, the Flex handles much like a passenger car. A fully independent four-wheel suspension gives the car a compliant ride, while stabilizer bars front and rear keep it flat in the corners.
The Limited grade comes standard with nineteen inch wheels, which dress up the exterior and give the car better traction. Standard four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
Large side view mirrors improve visibility in traffic. Despite their size, the mirrors don’t obstruct the driver’s forward vision when cornering. Large windows and narrow pillars minimize blind spots to the rear of the car.
Power rack-and-pinion steering has plenty of assist for maneuvering around parking lots, while providing a good on-center feel at speed. I took a couple of cloverleaf turns hard: the wheels stayed glued to the ground.
The all-wheel drive system uses wheel sensors to detect losses in traction. It can send up to a hundred percent of the engine’s power to either axle, depending on driving conditions. The system can also transfer torque from side to side.
All grades come with standard traction and roll-stability control. Ford’s safety canopy keeps the side airbags inflated longer to protect occupants in the event of a rollover. The airbags are tethered to the sides of the car to prevent passengers from hitting glass or metal around the passenger compartment.
One thing I like about the Flex is that people riding in back are as comfortable as those in the first row. Second-row passengers get a separate set of heating and air conditioning controls, have ample head, shoulder and legroom.
The second-row center console has an optional refrigerated bin: it can cool up to seven, twelve-ounce cans or two, twenty-ounce bottles down to 41 degrees.
A driver’s seat with two-position memory and adjustable pedals allows multiple family members to share the car. The steering wheel tilts to accommodate drivers of different sizes, and has redundant audio controls to minimize driver distraction.
Heated front seats and leather trim are standard on the Limited grade. I found both first and second-row seats to have plenty of lower back support.
Buttons on the C pillars tumble the second row seats forward to ease access to the back row. The rear wheel arches always affect third-row access, but the Flex is about as good as it gets.
All four doors have map pockets and bottle holders. First and second-row passengers have access to cupholders in the floor and center consoles. Cupholders and small storage bins are located outboard of the third-row seats.
Dual zone climate controls ensure that both front passengers can find a comfortable temperature. A moonroof on the front-row brings additional fresh air into the back of the car.
Four ceiling vents improve air circulation in the back of the vehicle.
A large center console bin up front contains a 12-volt powerpoint, change holder and MP3 plug-in. There are additional 12-volt outlets in back of the bin for second-row passengers, and to the right of the liftgate in the cargo area. A 110-volt inverter in back of the front console bin allows passengers to plug in a computer.
A shelf in front of the console bin holds a cell phone or PDA. The glovebox is average size: big enough for the owner’s manuals and insurance documents, but not much else.
Easy to enter, easy to load
Ford’s keypad entry system allows passengers to unlock the car using a numeric code in lieu of a key. It’s a great feature at a trailhead, where passengers may be coming back to the car at different times.
A power liftgate opens using a button on the remote fob. Straps on the third row seatbacks fold them flat and tumble the seats into the floor. The headrests have to be down to tumble the seats, but it’s an easy operation taking under a minute.
A cargo net holds smaller items in place. There are also a couple of storage bins on the sides of the cargo area.
The Flex has a low liftover, which is especially noticeable loading large items in back. My road bike is fairly light; the mountain bike is not. The low liftover makes it pretty easy to load my
thirty-pound rock crawler in the Flex’s cargo bay.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Ford build the Flex at its Oakville assembly plant in Ontario Canada. The 2009 Ford Flex is on sale now.
Likes: A six-passenger crossover that’s ideal for active lifestyles with a long flat cargo floor, towing and moderate off-road capability. The optional refrigeration unit and panoramic vista roof should appeal to buyers who like spending time outdoors.
Dislikes: Base price of $36,555 puts the Flex out of reach for some of its target audience.
Model: Flex Limited AWD
Base price: $36,555
As tested: $43,250
Horsepower: 262 Hp @ 6250 rpm
Torque: 248 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Off-road: Yes on models with all-wheel drive.
Fuel economy: 16/22 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $700 delivery charge.
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