Monday, July 30, 2012

Ford Flex - Big and Comfy Crossover

Look, Ma, no Ford logo!
The Ford Flex still reminds me of a MINI Cooper on steroids--thanks to its upright shape and white roof. But it could probably hold a MINI in its cargo area.

This is one nice family hauler, with room for up to seven, if you fold down the third row seats. The fronts are plush buckets, the middle row ditto, and the rears? Well, they fold down invisibly in two halves to make a flat cargo floor or pop up with the pull on a strap or two. Every passenger gets a sunroof, too, with glass (and manual shades) for all three rows. Only the one in front opens, however.

The Flex gets a new face this year, and it is a surprising turn. The Ford oval logo is gone! Instead, the letters F  L  E  X are spread across the leading edge of the hood and a solid chrome bar runs through the grille. This new look echoes a general move away from blatant badging on Ford's part. Just wait until the new Fusion appears this fall for the big change.

The Flex offers two 3.5-liter engines. The standard one puts out 287 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque, while the EcoBoost model essentially replaces the old V8 with 365 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque from the same displacement. Ford is introducing EcoBoost throughout the line over time to get the power folks expect from larger engines from smaller displacements.

My Ginger Ale Metallic tester was an SEL model with all-wheel drive.With the standard engine, it was ranked 17 City, 23 Highway, or 19 average. I averaged 18.9 mpg--almost exactly what the EPA says.

Ford's programmable instrument panel displays are standard in the Flex. You can choose the information you view on the left and right sides of the main instrument panel gauge. I liked looking at fuel economy numbers on the left and the entertainment system on the right, but you can view other functions using steering wheel mounted buttons.

The center console display offers a quartered home page with phone, Audio, Information and Climate quadrants. Touch the inside corner of any and a full screen display gives you details. 

The Flex had the first instance I've seen of the new inflatable seatbelts ($195). These fatter-than-usual straps inflate when a crash is sensed and give added protection to the torsos of the middle-row rear seat passengers during an accident.

A couple of 21st-century annoyances: I had trouble keeping my phone connected to the Bluetooth system, but this is a common issue in cars--Bluetooth is still a little unreliable.I also was slightly annoyed when the iPod hookup kept losing the shuffle feature and had to be restarted each time.

The Flex crossover fits in the Ford lineup in between the midsize Explorer and the full-size Expedition SUVs. It has a significantly lower ride height.

Prices start at $31,710 for the SE, but my SEL tester, with options, came to $41,935. That's really Lincoln territory, and this car probably should be sold as one, considering its upscale appeal. Lincoln does offer the similar (but very different looking) MKT, but the Ford seems at least as nice.

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