The Ford Flex was born of failure. Ford had never had much luck with minivans. The Ford Aerostar, Windstar and Freestar sold moderately well to dismal, and it seemed the harder Ford tried, the worse it was. The Mercury Villager, shared with the Nissan Quest, helped little, and the Mercury Monterey, Mercury’s equivalent of the Freestar, was forgettable and forgotten. The Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, and later the Honda Odyssey, left the Ford minivans slowly twisting in the wind.
So Ford threw in the towel. No more minivans from Ford. Instead, Ford came up with something different. Really different. Something that will not be confused with anything else on the road.
That’s the Ford Flex, and you’re looking at it.
No doubt that look is polarizing. Some will like the vehicle’s avant garde functionality. To others, it looks like a third grade school project to make a school bus from a shoebox using only scissors, tape and paint.
Whatever, the Ford Flex is uniquely unique.
Built on Ford’s “D4” platform that is shares with the Lincoln MKT, essentially a stretched version of that under the Ford Taurus and even Volvo products. It’s configured to be a three-row not-a-minivan, with hinged rather than sliding rear doors, and with front or all-wheel drive and a choice between two V-6 engines. It’s available in three trim levels, from the base SE at $30,885, the SEL at $33,225 before options, and the $41,180 Flex Limited. The last, with all-wheel drive and the standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine, was our test vehicle.
The Ford Flex, debuting in the 2009 model year, was updated for 2013, with a new, rounder grille and other exterior trim changes. The Flex gets the latest version of Ford’s MyFord Touch system, plus adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support, Ford’s Blind Spot Information System (also known as BLIS, first seen on Volvo when Volvo was still owned by Ford, Ford’s version of proximity key (Ford calls it Intelligent Access) with push-button start.
The collision warning system sets off a combination of loud beeps and a row of flashing red LED lights at the base of the windshield if it appears a collision is imminent. We experienced it several times, but only when the system was confused by a hilly twisting road. It’s absolutely startling and should prevent a few rear enders. Alas, collision warning—which includes brake support, a system that preps brakes for a quick response—is available only on the top-of-the-line 2013 Ford Flex Limited in an option package that also includes adaptive cruise control.
Intelligent Access is standard on the Limited but not available even as an option on the base SE or mid-range SEL trim levels. The Flex Limited also includes as standard a power liftgate, HID headlamps and LED taillights.
An industry-exclusive for all three trim levels, however, is inflatable seatbelts for rear seat passengers. The belts, which inflate on impact, reduce potential injury from the seatbelt itself, particularly children and older passengers.
The 2013 Flex is the first vehicle in the Ford lineup to have the SYNC connectivity system with the new generation of MyFord Touch as standard equipment. Ford also upgraded the screens to be more easily readable, with crisper graphics and larger fonts. Ford also claims to have made the buttons on the screen look more like buttons and improved the functions for easier navigation. We found the system easy to use, never having to resort to the owner’s manual.
The capacitive touch buttons left us equivocating, however. These “buttons” are on a glossy black surface below the multi-information display screen and required just a little too much aiming for us. A little bit of indent in the surface or perhaps haptic feedback, like that of the Cadillac XTS’s CUE system, would make it easier to hit the correct button.
The voice recognition was so frustrating that we gave up, as it seldom understood clearly enunciated pure Midwestern speech, and even when it did, said that an intersection we were looking for on two identified roads didn’t exist…which the manually-operated navigation system had no trouble finding.
Of the two engines available for the 2013 Ford Flex, the optional EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6—turbocharging and direct injection—is available only in the Limited trim level, and as with other Ford EcoBoost engines, it’s an overacheiver. It’s rated at 365 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque, and is available only with all-wheel drive.
Fully adequate, however, and easier on the bottom line, is the 3.5-liter TI-VCT V-6. At 287 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s up 25 horses from its predecessor and with EPA fuel economy of 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway in front wheel-drive models. That’s up one mpg from last year, a win-win. The all-wheel drive version is rated at 17/23 mpg city/highway.