2009 Flex New Car Test Drive
Ford Flex is a new model that represents a sixth entry in Ford's already extensive lineup of people and cargo-carrier vehicles, joining Escape, Edge, Taurus X, Explorer, and Expedition on the showroom floor.
All Flex vehicles have three rows of seats, with a standard 2-3-2 layout or optional 2-2-2 layout. Under the skin, and in all functional aspects, Flex is identical to Taurus X. This makes it a passenger car, as opposed to body-on-frame truck, and gives it the basic stance and driving characteristics of a conventional car.
Three-row seating makes Flex larger and roomier than Escape or Edge. Its passenger-car platform makes it lower and more carlike than Explorer or Expedition. Those choosing Flex do so for a variety of reasons: They need something roomier than Escape or Edge. They don't either want or need the higher seating positions and trailer towing capabilities of Explorer or Expedition. They want something more distinctive and stylish than Taurus X. The tradeoffs are Flex being larger and thirstier than Escape or Edge, less rugged than Explorer or Expedition, and marginally more expensive than Taurus X.
A generation or two ago, Flex would have been called a station wagon. Those with longer memories might think of it as a modern version of Ford's venerable wood-sided Country Squire, with Taurus X being a slightly lower-level Country Sedan. In official releases, Ford is careful to refer to Flex as a crossover, which at this stage could mean just about anything. In an interesting attempt to set things straight, Ford design chief J Mays recently went ahead and called Flex a station wagon, which surely sent PR personnel scurrying but went a long way toward clearing the air. Call it a station wagon, for that's physically and functionally what it is.
The most direct competitors for the Flex are the Chevy Traverse, Saturn Outlook, GMC Arcadia, and Buick Enclave (all built on GM's Lambda platform), plus the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. These competitors are quite different from the Flex in a variety of ways, so it's a good idea to shop them all to understand what each has to offer.
Projecting ahead, it's reasonable to assume Flex's ultimate success in the marketplace will depend less on the vehicle and its merits than the future price of fuel. Flex is a large and spacious vehicle that most would casually look at and assume to be pretty thirsty. Appearances aside, let's review at the numbers.
On recommended 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline, official EPA city/highway ratings for a front-wheel drive Flex are 17/24 mpg. An all-wheel-drive Flex comes in at 16/22 mpg. In a combination of city and highway driving, and driven as a station wagon might normally be driven, we observed averages in the 20-23 mpg range. Our test Flex AWD, driven steadily at 70 mph on a flat road, delivered instant readouts of 27-28 mpg. All this suggests that due to an advanced engine management system, sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission and comparatively tall gearing, Flex is more fuel-efficient than its size and mass might suggest. The question then becomes whether you can live with real-world fuel consumption somewhere in the 20-23 mpg range. If yes, Flex represents a stylish, elegant, comfortable and versatile choice.
The 2009 Ford Flex comes in three trim levels. All come with a 262-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. A choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive is available.
Flex SE ($28,295) comes standard with cloth seating surfaces, single-zone air conditioning, seven-passenger capacity (2-3-2 seating), six-way power driver seat, manual tilt steering wheel with hub-mount audio and cruise controls, fog lights, power door locks with autolock, power mirrors with manual-folding bezels, remote keyless entry, retained power, AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio with MP3 compatibility, center-stack screen display (for audio, compass, temperature), message center with trip computer, front-row center console, 10 cup holders/bottle holders, power windows, carpeted floor mats, rear privacy glass, three 12-volt power outlets, 235/60R18 BSW tires, and 18-inch painted alloy wheels.
Flex SEL ($32,070) adds bright exterior trim, 18-inch machined alloy wheels, dual-zone A/C, Sony AM/FM/6-CD/MP3/satellite radio, leather seating surfaces, heated first-row seats, 10-way power driver seat, six-way power passenger seat, universal garage door opener and interior woodgrain trim. Flex SEL AWD ($33,920) adds all-wheel drive. The SEL Convenience Package ($985) adds 110-volt power inverter, power adjustable pedals with memory, power liftgate, memory driver seat and side mirrors, door-mirror mount puddle lamps.
Flex Limited ($34,705) adds HID headlamps, power multi-function door mirrors with puddle illumination, power-opening liftgate, P235/55R19 BSW tires, 19-inch polished alloy wheels, 110-volt power outlet, power-adjustable pedals with memory, ambient lighting, second-row footrests, perforated leather seating surfaces (for first and second rows), first-row memory seats and Microsoft SYNC system. Flex Limited AWD ($36,555) adds all-wheel drive. The optional navigation system ($2375) 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, movie listings.
Options include a Class III Trailer Towing Prep Package ($570) with receiver hitch, wiring harness with 4/7 pin connector, engine oil cooler, tire mobility kit; second-row 40/40 reclining seats ($770); second-row floor console ($100); rear console refrigerator ($760); DVD rear entertainment center ($1020); deep-tint Vista roof ($1495); steel roof panel in contrasting White Suede or Brilliant Silver ($395); tri-coat paint ($395); Microsoft SYNC system ($395); roof rack side rails ($100); 6 CD with satellite radio ($430); remote start system ($295).
Safety features include the federally mandated dual driver/passenger front airbags plus side-impact and safety canopy airbags, dual-stage deployment front airbags, front passenger airbag sensing system, rear door child-safety locks, perimeter alarm, seatbelt pre-tensioners, reverse sensing, passive anti-theft system and tire pressure monitoring system. A wiper-activated automatic headlamp on-off switch and a tire pressure monitoring system come standard. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes (ABS), Advance Trac electronic traction control, RSC Roll Stability Control, yaw control, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution (EBD). Adjustable pedals come on the Limited model to help short and tall drivers achieve the ideal driving position. All-wheel drive is available for the SEL and Limited for improved safety in adverse weather. The rearview camera that comes with the Limited navigation system greatly enhances safety for its ability to help the driver spot children and adults behind the vehicle when backing up.