Back in 2008, Ford launched a new crossover that was very different from any other crossover on sale. Some called it a mega-sized Mini, while some called it a modern day interpretation of the old woody wagon. Its maker called it the Flex.
|1. A new base 3.5L V6 engine delivers 25 hp more plus improved fuel economy.
2. The Flex boasts 20 cu-ft of trunk space, 43 cu-ft behind the 2nd row and 83 cu-ft total.
3. Safety options include the world’s first rear inflatable seat belts.
4. Other available features include adaptive cruise control, collision warning, a blind spot warning system and cross-traffic alert.
It was based on the Ford Fairlane concept from 2005, and after seeing the positive reaction the concept created, Ford decided to put it in production.
The name change might have lead to a change of heart for the buying public, because the Flex is the slowest selling mass-produced Ford product in the company’s 109-year history.
Despite the low sales, Ford seems committed to the Flex, and hence is offering a revised version for 2013. Will the changes convince more customers to buy a Flex? That only time will tell, but what we can tell you now is if the changes make it a better vehicle than the Flex used to be.
NEW GRILLE, SAME BOXY LOOK
We’ll begin with the styling. Look at it from the back or the side and you’ll be very hard pressed to notice any differences. The one big clue to look out for from the back is to spot the placement of the Ford badge; it used to be in the middle of the tailgate and now it’s towards the bottom right-hand corner of the lift-gate.
From the front, the differences are much easier to spot. The 2013 Ford Flex gets a completely new nose job, with new grilles and headlights. Gone is the Ford blue oval logo from the grille. Instead, the letters F-L-E-X are displayed proudly above the grille – a style Ford introduced in 2011 on the high-grade Titanium model.
Changes to the interior make a notable difference. Gone is the ugly four-spoke steering wheel, replaced by a much nicer three-spoke design. Look through the steering wheel and you’ll find completely new gauges (which are similar to the ones found in the Ford Fusion Hybrid, minus the Hybrid drive-train readout). With the speedometer right smack in the middle it is now much easier to keep an eye on your speed – not that that’s of much concern with the Flex.
MYFORD TOUCH EASIER TO USE
The center dashboard is completely different also. You now get a larger, clearer screen with the updated MyFord Touch and navigation software, plus all the raised buttons are replaced by soft touch buttons. The look is certainly clean, but it does take a lot of getting used to. Gone is the satisfaction of pressing a button with a reassuring ‘click’ signaling it has engaged the function you’ve requested.
These new flat-panel buttons might be easy for someone who is in their teens and spend all day playing on the iPad, but when was the last time you saw a teen go out and buy a Flex? The age demographic for the Ford Flex is understandably high, and we think some of its more mature customers might be turned off by the new layouts complexity.
What buyer’s won’t be turned off by is the interior space. This is a seven-passenger vehicle that can quite reasonably carry seven adults. So if you want the practicality of a minivan but want something that looks cooler, the Flex is it.
MORE POWERFUL AND EFFICIENT BASE V6
To move you down the road, Ford is offering two engines in the Flex. The base motor is a 3.5-liter V6 producing 287 hp at 6500 rpm and 254 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. From this motor, power can be fed to either just the front wheels or all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. According to Ford, with this engine, a front-wheel drive Flex can achieve 18-mpg in the city and 25-mpg on the highway. With all-wheel drive, that number drops to 17-mpg in the city and 23-mpg on the highway.
If you want more power under your right foot, there’s the 3.5-liter, EcoBoost V6 engine. This direct-injected, twin-turbo charged motor produces 365 hp at 5500 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque between 1500 and 5250 rpm. The EcoBoost engine does have a wide torque band, which certainly helps to move this 201.8-inch (16.8-ft) long vehicle. The effect of the extra performance is minimal on your fuel consumption, however, as Ford says the Flex EcoBoost can achieve 16-mpg in the city and 23-mpg on the highway. That’s quite impressive when you consider it comes standard with all-wheel drive.
EcoBoost models also get Ford’s SelectShift automatic paddle-shift transmission. Does this transmission help turn this crossover into a fun family vehicle? We’re not entirely convinced, but since it’s not an extra cost option, we’ll take it.
SAFETY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
To stop the new Flex, Ford has fitted it with improved four-wheel disc brakes. Plus, to further improve safety Ford is now offering inflatable second-row safety belts on all Flex models.
The best way to survive an accident is by avoiding it in the first place. For that, the new Flex has as standard its AdvanceTrac and Roll Stability Control (RSC) system. When the vehicle detects it is going too fast around a corner, these systems cut engine power while also working each brake independently to keep the vehicle under control. So be in no doubt, the Ford Flex is now safer than ever.
Ford has also spent a lot of time making the Flex quieter than before. We found this out first hand at the 2013 Flex launch on Portland, OR, where the cabin remained silent even along the 200 miles of rain-soaked roads on our drive route.
We also were pleasantly surprised by how well behaved this crossover is through the twisty stuff. Sure it might not be as nimble as a sports car, and the electronic power steering system does lack some feel, but we were often surprised at its composure on the twisty mountain roads between Portland and Cannon Beach.
Helping to deliver that feel is what Ford calls Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control with the former using the car’s brake system to act like a limited slip differential, slowing the inside drive wheel in a corner and thereby reducing understeer. As for Curve Control, this system can apply braking at all four wheels to slow the car by up to 10 mph in a corner if it detects the vehicle is going too fast for the amount of steering the driver is inputting.
Pricing for the 2013 Flex starts at $30,885 for the SE model, which only comes in front-wheel drive form. The better-equipped SEL model starts at $33,225, but if you want all-wheel drive in this trim package, you’ll have to spend an extra $1950.
The Limited model, the only model that has the blind spot monitoring system (BLIS) as standard, starts at $39,230. Add all-wheel drive to this package and you’ll again be adding $1,950. The top of the line EcoBoost model starts at $44,330, which certainly is a lot for a vehicle that does not have a premium badge.
A stylish, comfortable and capable vehicle since its launch, the 2013 model delivers more in every category.