Wednesday

2009 Ford Flex review

Stay with me. I know a lot of you are saying “Holy crap – what is THIS doing on Melted Rubber??” And you’re right. This is not normally a car you would see here. I had the chance to drive one, and I have to say it surprised me despite looking like the short bus.

Let’s just get this out of the way – this thing is ugly to most people. Ok, well, that might be a little harsh. Let's call it.... utilitarian. It’s not attractive, in white it looks like you’re driving a commercial size refrigerator, and it’s not going to win styling awards. It might even be (incorrectly) labeled as an overgrown Scion xB. With the optional white top it could even be called a Mini Cooper wannabe. Fortunately for the Flex, this is a publication about driving, and styling is very subjective. Some will like its polarizing styling; most will not. Even Ford semi-acknowledges this fact in the Flex’s brochure (as an aside one of the best brochures I’ve seen in some time). Almost every outside shot of the Flex is blurred, dark, full of reflections, or small.

Move inside, though, and things change dramatically. There actually is a lot to like. Assembly is top-notch, the quality of materials used is better than normal in a Ford, and features abound. Get in even a fairly loaded mid-range model, and you’ll find a mega sound system courtesy of Sony, sat radio, HID lamps, dual and rear independent climate control, traction control, stability system, enough airbags to make it float in the air, memory seats, pedals, and mirrors, available navi and DVD systems, and voice control for your phone and MP3 player. You can even spec a lighting package that illuminates the front cup holders, the footwells and behind the center console with several different hues of color. While not that big of a deal, it really adds to the ambience and feeling that you’re NOT driving a dork-mobile. As a contrast to what I said above, all interior shots in the brochure are large, crisp, and presented well. Power is courtesy of Ford’s standard issue Eco-Tech V6 motor mated to a 6 speed auto trans. Pick FWD or AWD platforms (a stretched Volvo S80 chassis in either guise BTW) and you’re good to go.

Side note – why this car has a redline on the tach while the new SHO does not is a total mystery to me.

Poke around the other seats, and you’ll find more than ample room in the second row (available as a bench or buckets), even for tall people like myself to relax. Surprisingly the third row is comfortable and doesn’t feel like an afterthought as it does in so many other applications. In fact, even with the third row in use, there is a decent storage well behind it for cargo – strollers, groceries, etc. If max cargo area is needed, all seats except for the drivers (duh) can fold flat.




Be sure to order the optional sunroof package. It includes the main power sunroof for the front seat passengers and skylight portals for the second and third row occupants, with the ability to block any or all of the views with sunshades. Without this feature, sitting in the Flex feels eerily similar to being in a MRI tube. It’s an expensive option, but one that truly makes a difference in the feel of the car.

Moving down the road is a relaxed affair. The power is adequate but not abundant, and handling is competent. The nice thing is it doesn’t pull any surprises in its moves. The limits of acceleration, deceleration, and cornering are not abundantly high, but you always know what the car is doing and you always feel in control. It’s not an enthusiasts machine, but it doesn’t drive like what it looks like. It feels far closer to a regular sized car than a bus. Plus, thanks to the adjustable pedals in the test model, dialing in a decent driving position is simple enough. Add the memory package and you can set it once and forget about adjusting the seats, mirrors, and pedals ever again.

More surprising is that there are no creaks in the structure. Structural integrity seems to be quite high. I listened and I tried hard to detect any flutter in the body when going over bumps, (and believe me it’s easy to find enough blown up roads in SE Michigan to test this) but none was noticed.

While I’m not one to normally make over family fare rides, I can completely see why someone with a medium to large size family could like the Flex – a lot. It’s comfortable, comes with everything you could ask for, feels like a quality built piece that will last for a long time, moves down the road with confidence, scores well in crash testing, and just plain does what it is supposed to do. You really could use the Flex for anything that your circumstances might require – family errands, shuttling clients, camping trips, road trips, etc. I could nitpick and say it needs more power to move its 4000+ lbs of mass with a little more authority, but even that is being addressed in 2010 with the twin turbo SHO motor being offered as an option on the AWD model.

As a result, (aside from the outside styling) I can’t find anything to hate about this car. And trust me – I really wanted to. Yet again, here is another case of not judging a book by its cover. It’s practical, seems fairly cost efficient to run, comes loaded with things usually only found in luxury cars, and while you might get sticker shock if you’re careless with the option sheet it’s more or less comparable to other models in its class. After driving it, I asked myself why GM made the Traverse (review) so horrible – and it costs the same as the Flex. It doesn’t add up. The Traverse is junk in comparison to this. The Flex actually makes me believe I wouldn’t mind owning one to accommodate a growing family, especially if road trips are part of the equation.

And that is the highest praise I can possibly give it. Well done Ford.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have a 2010 w/ EB and it's a beast. Love it.

Chris said...

Awesome. That's actually the top running contender for our family car. It just seems like an unbeatable package, and saves us from minivan purgatory.

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