Full 2014 Ford Flex Review
What's New for 2014
For 2014, the Ford Flex sees no changes of note apart from a slight power boost for the base V6 engine and the renaming of the former Titanium Appearance package as simply the Appearance package. The latter now offers a choice of a black or color-keyed roof.
Last time we checked, the Ford Flex didn't have body panels capable of absorbing radar energy like those on a stealth bomber. Yet with yearly sales totaling only about a seventh of its Explorer SUV sibling, the Flex is not on the radar of many consumers looking for a three-row family hauler that seats six to seven. It's perplexing to us, because the 2014 Ford Flex is one of the most useful family vehicles out there.
Reasons for our unabashed enthusiasm include the Flex's roomy and comfortable cabin complete with adult-friendly third-row seating, well-balanced ride and handling qualities and a wide array of options that include a strong turbocharged V6 engine. There's also the Flex's unique styling, which has a modern yet retro old-school wagon vibe about it. But even if you're not too keen on the rectilinear design aesthetic, there's no denying this Ford's inherent utility, versatility and abundance of useful high-tech gadgets.
Seating up to seven with room to spare, the Ford Flex provides nearly as much passenger space and seating/cargo flexibility as a minivan but without the stigma. Getting into the Flex's second and third rows isn't as easy as with a minivan, but certainly access is better than in most large crossover SUVs thanks to the Flex's lower stance and standard second-row one-touch tumble feature. The optional second-row captain's chairs reduce seating capacity to six, but their sliding feature not only increases comfort in that row, but expands legroom in the third row. As such, the 2014 Ford Flex is the rare crossover that allows 6-footers to fit comfortably in all three rows.
There are a couple of downsides to the Flex, however. The biggest of these is the aforementioned offbeat styling, which some people just find off-putting. If that's the case, the Ford Explorer is mechanically related and similarly equipped -- although, in the real world, it can't match the Flex's space and versatility. Outside of the Ford family, the GMC Acadia (and its siblings, the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse) has room for eight and a bigger cargo hold. We also like the Mazda CX-9 for its sporty personality and the Nissan Pathfinder for its upscale interior. Of course, a minivan would be more practical than any of these vehicles. Still, on our radar screen, the 2014 Ford Flex looms large as a top pick for savvy families.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Ford Flex is a large crossover/wagon available in six- or seven-passenger configurations. There are three trim levels: SE, SEL and Limited.
The base SE comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, rear parking sensors, cruise control, keypad entry, air-conditioning, a six-way power driver seat (manual recline and lumbar support), a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 60/40-split second-row seat (with a passenger side auto-fold feature for easy access to the third row), a 4.2-inch central display screen, the base version of Sync (voice controls for phone and audio), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, USB port and auxiliary audio jack.
The SEL adds 18-inch wheels, heated mirrors, foglights, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), a six-way power front passenger seat and satellite radio. Also included is the MyFord Touch electronics interface, which includes an 8-inch central touchscreen, two multifunction secondary displays in the gauge cluster, enhanced steering-wheel controls, enhanced Ford Sync features (turn-by-turn navigation and traffic reports), two USB ports, an SD card reader and an audio/video input jack.
Additional option packages are available for the SEL. Equipment Group 201A adds a 110-volt power outlet, a rearview camera and a power liftgate. Equipment Group 202A has those features plus a remote ignition, blind spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alerts, power-adjustable pedals, leather upholstery (vinyl in the third row), driver memory settings and an upgraded seven-speaker sound system.
The Limited comes standard with the features from the SEL's 202A package and further adds 19-inch wheels, additional chrome/satin aluminum accents, xenon headlights, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system and a 12-speaker Sony sound system with HD radio.
Optional on every trim level are roof side rails, second-row inflatable seatbelts and sliding and reclining second-row captain's chairs with a center console.
The navigation system is optional for the SEL. The Appearance package (SEL and Limited) adds 20-inch wheels, a black or color-matched painted roof, different exterior and interior trim and gray perforated leather upholstery inserts. The SEL and Limited can also be equipped with a multipanel rear sunroof (Vista Roof), a rear seat entertainment system (with dual displays) and a tow package.
Stand-alone options for the Limited include 20-inch wheels, a refrigerated compartment in the optional second-row console, heated second-row captain's chairs and the Equipment Group 301A (or 303A) package that includes an automatic parallel-parking system, adaptive cruise control, a collision warning system with brake support, ventilated front seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column and a one-touch power-fold-and-tumble third row.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2014 Ford Flex comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard. All-wheel drive is optional on the SEL and Limited. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg combined (18 mpg city/25 mpg highway) with front-wheel drive. Opting for AWD lowers those estimates to 19 combined (17 city/23 highway).
Optional on the Flex Limited is a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 (dubbed EcoBoost) that produces 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired exclusively with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The last EcoBoost-equipped Flex we tested hit 60 mph in a swift 6.6 seconds. Fuel economy ratings drop to 18 combined (16 city/23 highway).
Properly equipped, both powertrains are rated to tow up to 4,500 pounds.
The 2014 Ford Flex comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and rear parking sensors. The Ford Sync system includes an emergency crash notification feature that automatically dials 911 when paired with a compatible cell phone. Also standard is Ford's MyKey, which can be used to set certain parameters for teen drivers.
A rearview camera and a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alerts are optional on the SEL and standard for the Limited. Optional for both are second-row inflatable seatbelts. The Limited is also available with a collision warning system with brake support.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Flex earned a top rating of "Good" for its performance in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, both a Flex Limited with the standard 3.5-liter engine and an EcoBoost model stopped from 60 mph in 128 feet -- average for the class.
Interior Design and Special Features
Overall, we like the Flex's interior because of its abundant soft-touch materials and attractive, upscale design. The spacious layout comfortably affords seven-passenger seating rivaling that of a minivan. Even the third row is accessible and big enough for adults. The optional reclining and heated second-row captain's chairs reduce seating capacity to six, but comfort increases. Their ability to slide forward also expands third-row legroom.
With either configuration, the standard auto-tumbling feature for the second row makes getting into the third row a snap. The Flex can hold a maximum of 83 cubic feet of stuff behind the first row. This is less voluminous than some minivans and several large crossovers, but you can make the most out of the available space thanks to the Flex's conveniently boxy shape.
Unfortunately, both of the Flex's electronics interfaces leave something to be desired. The SE's MyFord system includes a display screen, but it's not especially intuitive and some buttons can be hard to reach. The MyFord Touch system that is standard on the SEL and Limited consists of configurable gauge cluster displays and a large main touchscreen. There are nice customization possibilities here, but the experience is soured by the touchscreen's virtual buttons that are slow to respond and prone to the occasional glitch. You'll likely acclimate to MyFord Touch and its idiosyncrasies (and the Sync voice command system continues to be very useful), but in general, other systems are easier to use.
The 2014 Ford Flex's base V6 is adequate for a vehicle this size, providing enough gusto to keep up with competing crossovers. The turbocharged V6, meanwhile, invigorates the Flex Limited with more of a sport wagon demeanor thanks to its extra power and the tighter suspension tuning that comes with it.
No matter the model, the Flex provides a very pleasant, if not exactly exciting, driving experience. The ride is always comfortable -- even with the bigger wheels -- soaking up bumps in the road with luxury car ease. Uncharacteristically responsive steering adds to the Flex's well-rounded dynamics, as it makes parking easy and provides excellent stability on the open road. Excellent outward visibility also makes the Flex easy to drive.