2013 Ford Flex LimitedPosted on July 2nd, 2013
A quirky wagon ready for adventure
By Bob Golfen
Ford Flex is long, low and boxy, a stylish wagon for active people who want roomy practicality for such things as bikes, skis and camping gear but don’t want to be stuck with a bland SUV or minivan.
With its fun, head-turning looks, Flex evokes visions of road trips under summer skies, and it seems to attract those who have a more adventurous outlook.
Flex got a facelift for 2013 with some significant styling refinements, including a designer front end that looks like it came straight from an auto-show concept car. The boxy wagon shape has been softened slightly with rounded-off edges around the hood. It goes into the 2014 model year essentially unchanged.
People seem to like Flex’s quirky appearance, as well as its versatility and refined drivability, but sales response to this unique vehicle has been slower than expected. Part of the resistance could be the very thing that sets Flex apart; its distinctive styling has proven polarizing. Not everybody wants to stand out in the crowd.
Yet there is something reassuringly retro about the shape and feel of Flex. From behind the wheel, its broad, flat hood reminded me favorably of trucks from long ago.
Another factor is Flex’s price tag, which is fairly steep, starting around $30,000 for the base front-wheel-drive model and climbing above $40,000 for the decked-out versions.
Flex comfortably seats seven in its three rows, and it presents a more-individualistic alternative to Ford’s other family haulers, the decidedly mainstream Explorer and Expedition. Pricing enters the equation here as well, though, with the newly revamped Explorer coming in slightly cheaper than the Flex.
Whatever, Flex proves to be exceptionally roomy and comfortable. The ride is refined and handling is decent, considering its size and heft. Flex never feels tippy or unbalanced, and its highway manners are solidly stable.
The interior is spacious with enough room in the way-back third row for three adults, although it’s kind of a clamber to get back there. Large windows and a high ceiling give it an airy feel. Cargo space is huge with the third row folded down, and cavernous with the second row folded as well. When the third row is in the upright position, there’s a hidden stowage area.
The test truck was a top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Limited with a bottom line just over $41,000. It was powered by the standard 3.5-liter V6 that provides 287 horsepower, 20 more than the previous model, and 254 pound-feet of torque. Power is more than adequate and maximum towing capacity is rated at 4,500 pounds.
Fuel mileage has improved, but it’s hardly impressive at 17 city and 23 highway, which could be another sticking point for potential buyers. The front-wheel-drive Flex does a bit better, at 18 city and 25 highway.
There’s also a turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 available with 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. But even with its EcoBoost label, mileage is just 16 city and 22 highway, with premium fuel recommended. The turbo engine comes only with all-wheel drive.
Despite having AWD, Flex should not be mistaken for an off-road vehicle; it’s too low and long for that. But power to all four wheels enhances handling stability on pavement, and adds traction for muddy roads or snow. It will get you to your favorite ski slope or mountain-biking trail as long as there’s a road to drive it on.
The premium test truck was loaded with features and trim, including a full range of electronic safety gear, leather seating, navigation and the FordMyTouch connectivity system. The Limited also has a rear-view camera and proximity beeper, which adds an extra layer of security when maneuvering this big vehicle in tight places.
MyFordTouch boasts considerable improvements, but it still seems like an awful lot of herky-jerky motion to accomplish simple tasks. The best ‘infotainment’ systems I’ve seen from other brands have traditional dials and controls for such things as audio and climate that supplement the video-screen interface. Much simpler and friendlier to use.
While Flex is certainly not to everyone’s taste, Ford is to be commended for bringing such a strikingly different active-lifestyle vehicle to market. I think it’s a cool SUV, especially compared with the mostly safe and routine selection of vehicles in this segment.
Likes: Roomy versatility, unique styling, superior drivability.
Dislikes: Fairly pricey, modest fuel mileage, MyFordTouch woes.
Model: Flex Limited, all-wheel drive
Base price: $41,180
As tested: $44,270
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 287 at 6,500 rpm
Torque: 250 at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Zero to 60: NA
Wheelbase: 117.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,643 pounds
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Off-road: Graded roads, mud and snow
Towing: 4,500 pounds
Fuel economy: 17 city, 23 highway, 19 combined
Bob Golfen is a veteran automotive writer and editor based in Phoenix, formerly with The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Best Value 2013, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Ford, performance, pricing, standard safety
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