Ford has been hard at work building the finest arsenal of in-cabin technologies in the auto industry, and our recent reviews of its products suggest the effort is paying off. But offering a huge collection of amenities means the customer must choose from a laundry list of options that can make the car-buying process overly complicated. Some options aren't available on some trim levels, while those same options come standard on others. Ford also uses "Rapid Spec" packages that can range in price from $1,000 to well over $4,000, depending on how much luxury and technology you care to pile on. And, of course, there's nothing worse than checking a box with an asterisk, a bit of punctuation that means you have to add another option before earning the right to check the box you wanted in the first place.
Ordering a new vehicle gets a lot easier when you use the "I'll take everything" approach. This is the simplest way to shop, but it's also the priciest. And what happens if "everything" isn't enough? Ford thinks it has the answer to that question: a Titanium model that bungees on every conceivable extra to already loaded-up Limited models. Already a hit in Europe, Ford's Titanium trim level is chugging across The Pond this year with a maiden voyage aboard the S.S. Flex. We just spent a week with the 2011 Flex Titanium to see if the Blue Oval's ultimate trim level is worth its premium price.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL
Before detailing what makes our $50,145 tester Titanium-worthy ($49,370 plus $775 delivery), it's important to recap what we already know about Ford's boxy three-row crossover. When the Flex first arrived in dealerships back in 2008, we said it has "the technology customers crave, its interior is world-class and it turns heads everywhere it goes." Those attributes still apply to the Flex more than two years later, and the addition of an optional 355-horsepower EcoBoost V6 has only bolstered the status of this unique crossover.
So how does the Titanium trim level improve upon the already distinctly styled Flex? Dearborn designers have differentiated it with several standard features that aren't available anywhere else in the Flex lineup. On the outside, Titanium Flexes get a Tuxedo Black Metallic roof (lesser models make do with body-color or white lids) accented by black chrome and alloy metallic accents. When contrasted against the White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat paint on our tester, the razor-sharp all-black greenhouse really pops. Our favorite exterior feature, however, is the black chrome liftgate applique that tells the world this is no run-of-the-mill Flex. Other Titanium-specific trim features include sinister smoked head- and taillight fixtures, a gunmetal gray front grille and eye-catching 20-inch alloys wrapped with 255/45R20 rubber. If there were one Titanium feature we would uncheck if we could, it'd be the bold, capitalized "FLEX" badging affixed to the leading edge of the hood.
The exterior of the Flex carries considerable presence, but the big crossover shines brightest with a warm and inviting cabin that delivers a near-luxury driving environment. Our tester came with standard navigation, SYNC, an uplevel Sony sound system and massive Vista moonroof spanning all three rows. Remember the aforementioned options that come with the dreaded asterisk? The despicable star presents itself when opting for the $795 second row refrigerator, which also requires shelling out $750 for second-row bucket seats and another $100 for a floor console, bringing the total tab for refrigerated cans of Coke to $1,645. The comfort of the second row captain's chairs is first rate, but we're not sold on the costly fridge, which only holds six or seven cans of soda.
It's also disappointing that MyFord Touch has not yet migrated to the Flex as an option. We tested this Flex Titanium only a few weeks after driving a MyFord Touch-equipped Edge Limited, and Ford's new user interface coupled with multiple LCD screens makes the center console of the Flex look antiquated. As the Titanium model isn't part of a full-line overhaul, this oversight isn't surprising and will be no doubt remedied when Ford performs a mid-cycle refresh on the entire Flex range.
Navigation, SYNC and the Vista roof are all standard in Limited models, but the Titanium trim adds charcoal leather seats with three rows of Alcantara inserts. The suede-like additions are both tasteful and feel fantastic to the touch. They're the single best reason to spend $2,500 above and beyond the Limited. Occupants are also greeted with illuminated skid plates, unique door inserts and metallic accents on the center stack. For the driver, the the most important feature unique to the Titanium is the fat, perforated leather steering wheel rim that wouldn't look out of place in a $100,000 German luxury crossover.
Speaking of features that are typically only available on high-dollar people haulers, our tester came with Ford's 355-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6. Opting for the EcoBoost engine brings with it all-wheel drive as standard equipment – something of a necessity given the engine's substantial torque reserves (350 pound-feet from just 1,500 rpm). Augmenting the powertrain with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost means the Titanium's already substantial base price rises from $40,340 to $45,185. With such a large vehicle that's also all-wheel drive, this Flex's fuel economy lays low at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway – hardly deserving of being branded "Eco-" anything, but a similarly powerful V8 engine would be even less efficient.
Then again, we tend not to worry about consumption when brandishing 355 horsepower, and if you're going to spend this much money on a crossover, you should reward yourself with the best powertrain available. The fuel economy really wasn't as bad as we thought, either, as we managed a respectable (for such a big, heavy vehicle) 19.1 mpg during a week of driving.
The Flex Titanium shows us that Ford's range-topping crossover has the style, amenities and performance to go toe-to-toe with models from more upscale brands. It's even luxurious enough to make people considering its costlier cousin – the Lincoln MKT – think twice about their purchase. With a starting price just $2,500 more than a Limited model and a target audience that likes loaded vehicles, the 2011 Ford Flex Titanium will definitely entice a few customers to dig deeper for its exclusive options.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL