There’s no doubt that Ford is rolling right now. Their vehicles have gotten better by way of design, performance, and technology. Yet, it doesn’t stop there with more to come from a new Escape, Mustang, Taurus, C-Max Hybrid and Fusion. But for now we will shed light on their roomy, three-row, 7-passenger Flex Crossover Utility Vehicle. Contented with an array of driver conveniences, and featuring improved fuel economy, more powerful engines, and extensive safety upgrades, the Flex is one to consider for couples with kids looking for individuality in their daily drive adventures.
The Flex is unlike most Crossovers on the roads today. Its hip persona has merged with the expectations of Gen X and Y auto buyers to form a long, rectangular body layered with flavor and comfy enough to hold up to seven passengers with no problem. A new face, dual chrome exhaust tips, 20” rims, and colored coded roof tops and side view mirrors make for a fun and interesting owner experience.
To understand the latest characteristics of the 2013 Flex, Automotive Rhythms headed to Portland, Oregon for two snowy days. Although invited media attendees were somewhat unprepared for the inclement weather, the Ford Flex had no problem fighting off the extreme climate. As we drove further into the mountains the snow fell harder and harder. The Flex’s All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system was hard at work, shifting power from front to rear, optimizing traction for the Hankook wrapped 20” wheels. Ford’s AWD starts life as Front-Wheel Drive and can transfer up to 100% of available torque to the rear. The system continuously monitors how much power is needed to the rear differential for optimal traction. However, it doesn’t shift power side to side. There are other Ford safety technologies to tackle this concern such as Curve Control.
First introduced on the 2011 Explorer, Curve Control helps drivers as they steer into a corner or come off a ramp at speeds that may lead to unexpected consequences. If they drift too far out, Curve Control will help adjust the vehicle into its intended path by braking any of the four wheels singularly or in combination and also by reducing engine power. This system is a bit anticipatory and doesn’t intervene as much as stability control. In most cases the driver won’t even notice what is happening.
Another performance and safety technology found in the new Flex is Torque Vectoring Control (TVC), which aids in turns by providing needed traction during acceleration. It applies a bit of braking to the inside wheel and helps the vehicle tuck into a turn. So in theory, TVC enhances your performance in corners at higher speeds. Typically, you find this technology in high-end, track-ready vehicles like the Porsche Boxster.
During the road test, I started out in a Ruby Red Flex (Metallic Tint Clearcoat) Limited AWD with a black top and black rims, accented by a Satin Aluminum look on the grille and tailgate. Power came from Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 with 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The transmission features paddle shifters and a “Sport” mode. The bigger wheels were perfect for the performance since they add more road contact and traction. I must say the new Flex is much more composed than its predecessor. With this set-up fuel consumption is 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The Flex base engine is the 3.6-liter V6 with 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque and gets 25 highway mpg. Adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring system, post-crash alert system, blind spot mirrors, power tailgate, a retuned suspension, and brakes with larger rotors add to the vehicle’s upmarket positioning. Speaking of which, our total price tag was a surprising $50,905 and included the following options: Three-piece panoramic Vista Roof, Titanium Appearance Package, rear inflatable seatbelts, the black roof, the bigger wheels and the paint metallic scheme. Base MSRP for my tester was $43,850.
One question I had during my drive was why the Flex needed a Sport button and paddle shifters, given its people hauling DNA. Well, a Ford engineer stated that it comes with the EcoBoost engine because customers were interested in a sportier ride and wanted more control over the transmission. Yet, it was most appreciated on the snowy roads of backwoods Oregon where I was able to regulate the Flex’s speed and temperament. Sport also holds each gear a bit longer and closer to redline before upshifting. Ford added the intuitive “live and drive” technology, which also upshifts and downshifts the Flex based on throttle demand, engine speed, rpm and other key parameters.
The big story for the interior is a new software update for SYNC with MyFord Touch. Especially since Flex was the first Ford vehicle to receive SYNC as standard equipment. Bigger fonts and tactile feedback are part of the inheritance within the visual 8” touchscreen. Think of it as a laptop for your car. The intuitive multi-media interface uses Microsoft technology to give you weather updates, sports scores, gas prices, show movie listings, and much more. Its calendar can be matched with the calendar in your smartphone, and Bluetooth audio is available as well as voice recognition through another partner dubbed Nuance.
Once seated you will feel like you’re in a Suburban with all its head and legroom. Ten cupholders are positioned everywhere. The coolest feature is the power third row seat that flips to lay completely flat. But there are huge gaps between the third row floor and second row floor. The multifunction steering wheel has two sets of controls for the two digital 4.2” screens on each side of odometer. The right window shows secondary navigation, phone and music while the left side portrays mileage, fuel, and vehicle messages.
Ford has done an exceptional job with its instantly recognizable Flex. It’s priced a bit high for the category it competes in, but certainly worth a look for young, innovative families.