What's New for 2009
Making its debut for 2009, the Ford Flex crossover wagon boasts eye-catching styling and room for seven full-size adults.
It wasn't too long ago that minivans reigned supreme as the go-to choice of growing families across the country. In recent years, however, minivan sales have declined due to the arrival of seven-passenger crossover SUVs, which allow moms and dads to look and feel a little more stylish while transporting their broods. These crossovers don't offer as much utility, however. So what if an automaker attempted to marry the "cool factor" of a crossover SUV and the unbeatable practicality of a minivan's shoebox-like shape? The result would probably end up something like the 2009 Ford Flex.
With styling inspired by vintage vacuum cleaners and an overall shape that resembles a super-sized cross between a first-generation Scion xB and a Mini Cooper Clubman, it's safe to say there's nothing else quite like the Ford Flex on the road today. Though the Flex shares its underpinnings and powertrain with the capable but anonymously styled Taurus X, its daring design sets it apart from the legions of look-alike crossovers roaming our roads. Fortunately for Ford, the Flex's appeal is much more than skin-deep. For example, it offers one of the highest-quality interiors we've seen from Ford in a long time, replete with plentiful soft-touch surfaces and an expensive-looking design. Ford's innovative Sync MP3 player and phone interface system is also available, as is a Vista sunroof, which consists of four fixed glass panels that brighten up the cabin for second- and third-row occupants. Add a reasonably powerful 3.5-liter V6 to the mix, along with available all-wheel drive, and you've got all the ingredients of a crowd-pleasing people mover.
Featuring conventional rear doors instead of the maximally convenient sliding variety, the Flex nonetheless constitutes a compelling package for families who just can't stomach the idea of rolling in a blatantly utilitarian conveyance. Seven adults can fit comfortably inside its elongated cabin, and access to the third row is a cinch with the optional power-folding second-row seats, though a bit of a pain without them. The second-row seats also slide fore and aft, while an optional refrigerator inside the rear console keeps perishables cool while driving. With the rear seats flipped down and the second row flipped forward, the Flex offers a large cargo area, though minivans are still considerably more capacious.
It's hard to predict whether the new Ford Flex will be a success, but Ford deserves credit for boldly bringing such an unconventional yet well-thought-out offering into the marketplace. In theory, the Flex should appeal to any family looking for a winning combination of panache and practicality. We suggest that consumers looking at either a minivan or a large crossover SUV give it strong consideration.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Ford Flex crossover wagon is offered in three different trim levels. The base SE is only available with front-wheel drive and comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, rear park assist, a 60/40-split second-row bench, a 50/50-split third-row bench that folds into the floor, rear climate controls, a power driver seat and a six-speaker CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. The midlevel SEL, available with either front- or all-wheel drive, adds upgraded exterior trim and 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, power heated front seats, leather upholstery (vinyl for the third row) and a 10-speaker stereo with satellite radio. The top-of-the-line Flex Limited, also available with either front- or all-wheel drive, boasts 19-inch wheels, xenon headlights, a power liftgate, power-adjustable pedals, a memory function for the driver seat, perforated leather upholstery and Ford's exclusive Microsoft-developed Sync multimedia interface.
Many of the Limited's features are available as options on the SEL, and the Sync system is also optional on the SE. Additional options include second-row captain's chairs (heated on the Limited), the four-panel Vista sunroof, a towing package, keyless ignition/entry and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The Limited can be equipped with a touchscreen navigation system featuring voice recognition, an integrated back-up camera and Sirius Travel Link, which provides real-time traffic, weather and other information. A white- or silver-painted roof is also available.
Powertrains and Performance
The Flex is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that churns out 262 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission. The Flex is either front- or all-wheel drive, although the latter is available only on the SEL and Limited. We managed a respectable 8.8-second 0-60 gallop in the AWD Flex. EPA fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive Flex is 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined, which is on par with GM's full-size crossovers. Opting for AWD drops those numbers by about 1 mpg.
Standard safety features on the 2009 Ford Flex include antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Ford Flex's interior quality is top-notch, with abundant soft-touch materials and an attractive, upscale design. The spacious layout affords true seven-passenger seating -- even the third row is hospitable for full-size adults, offering surprisingly generous leg- and headroom, although the second-row seat tracks impinge on third-row foot room, and the third-row armrests aren't padded like the others. The available Microsoft Sync system imbues the Flex with a high-tech character, offering trick features like advanced voice-recognition software for MP3 players as well as cell phones. Other intriguing options such as the Vista roof, Sirius Travel Link and rear-console refrigerator extend the Flex's appeal.
One notable misstep, however, is the Flex's lack of a telescoping steering column -- an inexcusable omission at this price point. Our longer-legged editors found that they had to adopt a straight-armed driving position in order to reach the wheel. Also, the Flex's seats may be on the narrow side for larger folks. Moreover, the Flex's maximum cargo capacity of 83 cubic feet, which is more than adequate for most purposes, is smaller than GM's large crossovers and positively dwarfed by that of any minivan.
On the road, the 2009 Ford Flex gets the job done in a competent if uninvolving way. Though its prodigious length is always apparent, the Flex handles securely for such a large vehicle, albeit with a fair amount of play in the steering. The suspension provides a forgiving ride, cushioning impacts with impressive refinement. While acceleration is adequate overall, the 3.5-liter V6 feels rather soft off the line. The long-travel brake pedal doesn't necessarily inspire confidence, but our AWD test vehicle stopped from 60 mph in a satisfactory 128 feet.
Read our Ford Flex Long-Term 70,000-Mile Test