The first time I saw the new, 2009 Ford Flex, I thought it was Ford’s answer to the time-tested International Travelall. However, the more I drove it, the more it grew on me. Flex is a new vehicle and Ford’s sixth people and cargo-carrier, joining the Taurus X, Escape, Edge, Explorer, and Expedition. I’ve had two separate and very different occasions to drive the Flex — my usual week-long test drive in the local Northwest environs when it was just arriving in showrooms, and again just recently on what amounted to a road trip between Orlando, Florida and Gulf Shores, Alabama. While I was initially impressed, the road trip blew me away.
Walkaround: The Flex is boxy — in a stylish, attention-getting sort of way. The hood and roof are both long and tortilla-flat. The squared off windshield stands tall, while the vertical side body panels, and nearly vertical side glass accentuate the totally vertical tailgate.
Unlike traditional SUVs, where height is a critical design element, the roof is eye level, so you look across it, not up at it. And while Flex is taller than most station wagons, it’s significantly lower than most SUVs. There’s also a fair amount of bling — including Ford’s signature three-bar grille in muted chrome, front bumper foglights encased in chrome, big chrome door handles, bright window trim, chromed mirrors, and a shiny band across the tailgate echoing the front grille theme. The package is finished off with bold, in-your-face 19-inch polished alloy wheels.
Brightwork aside, design cues are subtle — like the small, horizontal, body-color indentations in the door panels, that not only break up vertical mass along the sides, but visually lengthen Flex. A couple of generations ago, Flex would have been called a station wagon — which is how I think of most crossover SUV’s anyway. In my view Flex is the modern version of Ford’s venerable wood-sided Country Squire. Although Ford is careful to refer to Flex as a crossover, let’s face it, physically and functionally it’s a wagon.
But Flex definitely has a presence — forcing a second look from most folks. Especially surprising to many, was that it’s a Ford.
Interior: There are three model choices, but the entry-level Flex SE comes pretty well-equipped, offering standard cloth seats, single-zone A/C, seven-passenger 2-3-2 seating, six-way power driver seat, manual tilt wheel with hub-mount audio and cruise controls, fog lights, power windows, mirrors and door locks with autolock and remote keyless entry, six-speaker AM/FM/CD with MP3 compatibility, front-row center console, 10 cup/bottle holders, carpeted floor mats, rear privacy glass, three 12-volt power outlets, and 18-inch painted alloy wheels. The standard center-stack, multi-function video screen (for audio, compass, and climate) has split-screen readouts available, along with a message center and trip computer.
The Flex SEL adds leather seating surfaces, heated first-row seats, 10-way power driver seat, six-way power passenger seat, universal garage door opener, dual-zone A/C, Sony AM/FM/6-CD/MP3/ with Sirius satellite radio, along with interior woodgrain trim, bright exterior trim, and 18-inch machined alloy wheels. The Flex SEL AWD adds all-wheel drive, while the optional Convenience Package features 110-volt power inverter, power adjustable pedals with memory, power liftgate, memory driver seat and side door-mirror mounted puddle lamps.
The top-line Flex Limited, which is also available in all-wheel drive as the Flex Limited AWD (our test driver on both occasions), adds most of the Convenience Package, plus perforated leather seating surfaces in the first and second rows, first-row memory seats and Microsoft’s SYNC system, along with second-row footrests, HID headlamps, ambient lighting, power multi-function door mirrors with puddle illumination, and 19-inch polished alloy wheels.
All 2009 Flex vehicles have three rows of seats, with a standard 2-3-2, or optional 2-2-2 layout, which makes Flex larger and roomier than Ford’s Escape or Edge.
The small cargo space behind the third-row seat is about what you’ll find in a minivan, and accessed through the one-piece, swing-up tailgate. The recessed well keeps cargo in place, but also makes access marginally more difficult than a flat load floor. For more room or better access, it’s easy to fold the third-row seats down. Cargo capacity is 15.0 cubic feet with all three seating rows in place, 43.2 cubic feet with the third-row folded down, and 83.2 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats down.
Other interesting features are color-adjustable cabin mood lighting and an optional refrigerator positioned between individual second-row seats on 2-2-2 vehicles. It’s not just a cooler, but an actual refrigerator. Options: The optional navigation system for the Limited features a rear backup camera and Sirius Travel Link services with real-time traffic information, national weather information, fuel prices, sports scores/schedules, and movie listings.
Other options include a Class III Trailer Towing Prep Package with receiver hitch, wiring harness with 4/7 pin connector, engine oil cooler, tire mobility kit; second-row 40/40 reclining seats; second-row floor console; rear console refrigerator; DVD rear entertainment center; deep-tint Vista roof; steel roof panel in contrasting White Suede or Brilliant Silver; tri-coat paint; Microsoft SYNC system; roof rack side rails; 6 CD with satellite radio; and remote start system.
Under The Hood: There’s only one powerplant — a 3.5-liter, 262-horse, V6 mated with a newly-designed six-speed automatic transmission. The only powertrain choice is front- or all-wheel drive (AWD).
Behind The Wheel: Under the sheetmetal, Flex is identical to the Taurus X — primarily a passenger car as opposed to a body-on-frame truck — giving it the same basic stance and driving characteristics as a car.
Most crossovers are more about features, comfort and equipment than the actual driving experience. However, on our road trip, Flex drove and felt solid, delivering quiet comfort with more than adequate power at 70 mph+ freeway speeds. Ride quality is excellent, with exceptional noise, vibration and harshness control, while cornering is level and quiet. Four-wheel disc brakes with every conceivable electronic interface are equally quiet and efficient.
Flex is large, spacious, and functional, however, EPA-estimated mileage is 17/City and 24/Highway, and 16/22 with AWD — while burning regular.
Bottom Line: Flex is a large, stylish and capable crossover that can carry six or seven passengers plus a fair amount of cargo in luxury and comfort. It’s easy to use, and comfortable to drive over short or long distances. The interior abounds with functionally clever details and high-tech touches, while the exterior is distinctive and memorable. What more could you want or need?