The Ford Flex has always been something of a standout in the fullsize crossover field. For starters, it doesn’t look like anything else out there. It’s low and sleek and its stance on the road makes it appear a foot lower than most other large crossovers. It’s a very original and distinctive piece of styling and doesn’t seem to “date” the way some rivals do, even though it’s been around since 2009. There’s simply nothing on the road that can be mistaken for a Flex.
Built at the Ford plant in Oakville, Ontario, the Flex was one of the triumphs of then Ford design boss Peter Horbury. Much of the success of Ford and Lincoln in recent years can be attributed to Horbury who worked wonders in making the ranges more appealing. Before his years at Ford, he was design chief at Volvo and later, he returned to the Swedish automaker where he serves as design VP today.
The Flex is a large, roomy and classy crossover with three-row seating inside. Its low stance makes it very easy to get in and out of and I’d rate it very highly for access, even for people with mobility problems. Even large SUVs often need a duck of the head to climb in, but not the Flex, thanks to its large door openings.
Flex buyers have a choice of two engines – a 3.5-litre V-6 delivering 287-horsepower and a more technically sophisticated 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 with 365-horsepower. Both are excellent power units, but the EcoBoost (fitted to my test Flex) was expectedly more potent. Both engines use a 6-speed automatic overdrive transmission. Suspension front and rear is fully independent, common enough these days, and the low centre of gravity of the vehicle makes for better handling than you’d expect from a large crossover. Four-wheel ventilated discs are highly effective and on my tester the spokes of the very stylish black-paint alloy wheels revealed the discs, which seemed huge. The Limited version uses 20-inch wheels if specified and other trim levels use 18-inch and 19-inch wheels.
The basic vehicle uses front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available and that’s probably what most buyers will go for. My Flex was equipped with an optional pocket for a towing hitch and this is very effective, capable of hauling 4,500 lbs with all-wheel drive specified. Tow ratings like this are not common among crossovers so the Flex is a very versatile rig for people who want to haul campers, boats and the like.
It’s a great vehicle to drive – speedy on the highway and agile on winding roads. Among available goodies is active park assist, which uses sensors around the vehicle to “park itself” with the driver controlling gearshift, gas and brake pedals. Systems like this are quite remarkable when the driver gets used to it – there’s no need to steer at all.
The interior is very nicely fitted out and is both comfortable and practical. I particularly liked the fact that the information touch screen is very close to the driver and there’s no need to stretch to reach anything. Ford’s SYNC3 communications and entertainment system is its best yet and more intuitive than most I try. Hooking up your mobile phone for hands-free calls takes a matter of moments.
The Flex deserves more attention from the market than it gets, not only for its design originality, but also for its outstanding roominess, performance and practicality. It’s certainly as good as many of the more exotic nameplates around and better than many.
SPECS AT A GLANCE…
BODY STYLE: Four door and hatch, seven-passenger crossover
ENGINE: 3.5-litre Duratec V-6 normally aspirated or EcoBoost twin turbo V-6
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
TOWING CAPACITY: 4,500 lbs
FUEL ECONOMY: 12.7-litres/100 km combined (base vehicle)
PRICE: From $31,799 to $45,599 MSRP