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2009 Ford Flex: What's It Like to Live With?

Read the latest updates in our long-term road test of the 2009 Ford Flex as our editors live with this car for a year.

Ford Flex 2009

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Introduction

The 2009 Ford Flex Limited is not some kind of traditional Ford minivan. We remember the last Ford minivan, and it wasn't pretty.

There was no fanfare, no 21-gun salute and no teary-eyed widow at the gates of Ford's plant in Oakville, Ontario, as the final Ford Freestar rolled off the line in November 2006. Minivans, the embodiment of the 2.5-children, dog-in-tow American dream, were lost in the wake of the SUV boom. And while Chrysler toiled away at a new generation of minivans — and Honda and Toyota were still selling 'em at a goodly rate — Ford quietly said good-bye as its sliding-door seven-seater slipped quietly into that good night.

The Ford Edge replaced the Windstar and Freestar, both in market segment and on the assembly line. By most accounts, the Edge is a success: stylish, competitively fuel-efficient, and one of the top-selling crossover utility vehicles on the market. But a crossover can't be a people-packing minivan. It lacks the cargo space, the passenger accessibility and the road-hugging size that made the minivan the most ubiquitous vehicle of the 1980s.

The Ford Flex is a kind of crossover that secretly wants to be a minivan. While Ford didn't adopt sliding doors in order to avoid the curse of minivan identity, the 2009 Ford Flex Limited makes amends to the minivan faithful, although it does so with the trendy design language of the 2005 Ford Fairlane concept. We accept Ford's apology and look forward to a 12-month, 20,000-mile long-term test of the coolest family hauler around.

What We Bought
The 2009 Ford Flex starts off well enough at $28,995 out the door. Though this would've gotten us the same 262-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed transmission that sits in our Limited, we would have seriously missed out. The Limited comes with a power tailgate, multiadjustable memory seats, power-adjustable pedals, HID headlamps, interior ambient lighting that can be selected from an array of colors, and when coupled with the $2,375 navigation system, even an analog clock. (Because the 2008 Buick Enclave that's in our long-term test fleet has an analog clock, we decided that we shouldn't play favorites.)

The $2,400 for a navigation system (with back-up camera) was a big hit to our wallet, but the options sheet still beckoned us onward. The $55 for rubber floor mats? Have you priced a carpet shampooer rental lately? Done deal. The 40/40-split auto-fold rear seats ran $870, an option that offers access space for passengers to enter the third row. Turns out, we're pretty comfortable just making the third rowers (who we can't like nearly as much as the first- or second-row passengers) climb back there as best they can.

So when we heard that Ford can, for a meager $760, fill that void with a real compressor-driven refrigerator (as opposed to other "refrigerators" in vehicles that simply reroute air-conditioning to an insulated box), we were wholeheartedly onboard. As long as our second-row patrons were living the lavish life with reclining heated seats, a 110-volt power outlet and a $100 floor console, we decided to really let them enjoy themselves with the $1,020 DVD entertainment system. And, because the one Flex Limited in stock that had the Johnny Cash-style black-on-black color scheme we wanted also came with a panorama sunroof, we had to pay the extra $1,495.

The sticker says $42,080 but thanks to a sluggish economy, high gas prices and a highly competitive market (not to mention a silver tongue when it comes to bargaining), we wrote a check for $37,658 and left with a shiny new 2009 Ford Flex Limited.

Why We Bought It
"When you're behind the wheel, the Flex feels low to the ground and comfortably sure-footed, kind of like a really big Ford Taurus, only good," Executive Editor Michael Jordan wrote in our full test of an all-wheel-drive Flex. The same rings true for every Flex throughout the model line, emphasis on the "good." Interior materials are top-notch. The infotainment system isn't just class-leading, it's industry-leading, combining a high-resolution screen that displays not only directions but traffic and weather. This system is also connected to Sync, the Microsoft-designed software that integrates all of the entertainment systems in the vehicle — including Bluetooth phone and iPod — via voice commands. And then there's the ride; the Flex rides like a big, comfortable American car. The kind we grew up in, but good. We like that.

Ford estimates that some 100,000 other people each year will feel the same way. For the next 12 months, we're (collectively) one of those 100,000 people. We put our money where our mouth is because, at first blush, the 2009 Ford Flex is the first crossover that does what it's supposed to do: drive like a car, haul kids like an SUV and look like it's going out on the town.

Current Odometer: 1,687
Best Fuel Economy: 18.1 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 16.1 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 17.2 mpg

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.


Crunch-Crunch, Drip-Drip

September 10, 2008

Living with our 2009 Ford Flex long-term car for over a week confirmed what I'd already figured — when it comes to carting people and things around, this crossover gets the job done with both style and grace. The Flex inspired multiple double-takes and a few questions from onlookers during the week, and its plush interior, car-like handling and multiple gadgets (my kids loved the idea of a rear-seat 'fridge) made it a pleasant family tote bag for the most part.

Only two issues arose during my drive time. The first related to the car's flashy, 19-inch chrome wheels. These certainly enhance the Flex's looks, but on a vehicle with this much wheelbase (117.9 inches) keeping them away from curbs can be difficult. I found this out while going through the local McDonald's drive-thru, a path I've travelled several dozen times without incident. This time, however, I scraped the driver's-side rear wheel as I made the turn between order and pick-up.

I couldn't believe it, and looking at the odometer I thought 'Well, at 1,850 miles I guess the wheels are broken in.' When I got home I went to inspect the damage and noticed that while the rear wheel had a couple scrapes (pictured above), the front wheel (which never got near a curb during my use of the Flex) had much larger and deeper scrapes (pictured below).

So, apparently I didn't break the car's wheels in after all. But this confirms what I felt after scraping the rear wheel — this car can be tricky to steer though tight places. If anything, the car-like driving quality masks how truly big the Flex is. Normally that's a good thing, but it can also lull you into a false sense of manueverability.

The other problem I encountered came during a gas fill up. I like the idea of Ford's capless fuel system, and it's always worked fine on my Ford GT. But this day, as the fuel pump hit its automatic shut-off point, I heard a dripping sound and looked down to see gas spilling onto the pavement — from behind the Flex's rear quarter panel.

I'm not sure if the pump's shut-off sensor allowed for too much fuel to build up under the capless fuel cap, of if there's a leak at the top of the nozzel. Either way, it was a bit disturbing because the fuel came out from a location we don't have access to with this capless system. We'll keep an eye on the issue and see if it happens again.


Big Scion. Hallelujah.

September 15, 2008

Ford just might have pulled it off. For years, I've told anyone who'd listen that the first company that makes a cool minivan will create the next must-have family hauler trend and score big. The 2009 Ford Flex just might be the template for that cool minivan — or whatever you want to call it.

'It looks like a big Scion,' said the caretaker at our secret test location. And I've gotten more than one double-take and enthusiastic thumbs-up from other drivers while commuting in our Flex, some on crotch rockets and one from a genuine first-generation Scion xB pilot.

From some angles the Flex manages to look like a chopped-top surf wagon — especially with the optional white roof. And the embossed side strakes somehow say 'woodie', but minus the dry rot and termites. It would look at home with a pair of surfboards on top. But what to call it?

The Flex is no SUV, that's for sure, and the word "crossover" doesn't seem to apply either because those so labelled have typically tried to look like kinder, gentler SUVs. This gives off no such vibe. But it feels too big and substantial to be a wagon. Despite appearing much lower, the Flex stands less than two inches (the short side of a business card) shorter than my wife's '03 Odyssey minivan, but the rear doors aren't sliders.

But the local car wash down the street doesn't care about marketing doublespeak and car classification conundrums; all they know is that I needed to be charged a buck extra for it being an "SUV / minivan" when I had it hosed-off this morning.

I don't care what it's called. I like it.

One thing needs attention before I could own one (and I just might — Tracy thinks it's cool, as well). The seating position doesn't work for 6'2" tall me. The seats themselves are great, but when they're slid back far enough for my legs I can't reach the steering wheel properly. I have to hunch forward a full two inches further than optimal to drive it — the same feeling I got in our long-term Honda Fit. Like the old Fit, this one really needs a telescopic wheel. Oh sure, our Flex has adjustable pedals, but all of the above happens with the pedals as far in as they'll go. Adjustable pedals are a weak substitute for a proper telescopic wheel.

Still, the Flex is cool. If gas prices don't scare folks away from anything bigger than a Focus or Civic, Ford just might have a hit on their hands.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 2,314 miles

Sir Flex a lot

September 15, 2008

I like big cars and I cannot lie, but there's something about the Flex I can't deny. It's big, not round and frankly just too big for me.

Apparently, the Flex has got it goin' on, till the break of dawn because everywhere I went people were taken with this big wagon. I can see why - it has minivan usefulness without looking like - well, like a minivan. Several neighbors used the phrase 'surf wagon.' Although the Flex feels wide and long on the road, the handling is OK. It never feels sluggish and doesn't have excessive body roll. Nice Job, Ford.

Brian Moody, Road Test Editor.

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ROAD TRIP!

September 26, 2008

There's nothing quite as American as the road trip. Nothing. Not apple pie. Not baseball. Hell, compared to the road trip even mom looks like a flag-burning communist. And in terms of road trips, this is a good one.

South Bay to Back Bay — 3,024 miles — in the 2009 Ford Flex for my college roommate's wedding. The Flex's excellent nav system, iPod integration, comfy (heated) seats, refrigerator, TV and smooth ride made it my first choice.

I grew up in the age of cheap flights and terrible cars. Planes are faster, easier and probably cheaper — they're also statistically safer. But there's no adventure. No commitment. Even on a long flight the biggest challenge is paying for the on-board snacks. Committing to 6,000 miles of asphalt requires one to abandon all rational thought of the task at hand and just go. It's an adventure. And hopefully it's an adventure that hasn't died in the wake of gas prices and the global warming scare.

Follow along as I blog what will probably turn out to be the worst idea I've ever had. I'll also be Twittering the trip for those times when WiFi isn't available — or I'm just too tired to bother with more than 140 characters.

Wish me luck.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant

Road Trip Part 1

September 29, 2008

The first leg of this trip was going to be a drag. I knew that much from the start. Southern California up through Vegas, the north western tip of Arizona and then into Utah — it all looks pretty much the same until you get to Arizona, by then though the drive has started to take its toll. But the Flex is, so far, a willing partner in this adventure and I was feeling pretty fresh. When I hit Salina, Utah — only 590 miles from my departure point — the sun had set and route 70 through Utah is a bendy, four-lane highway with a surprisingly high 75-mph speed limit. The highway is also, as the signs indicate, chock full of deer, elk and eagles. I was willing, but the Flex's headlights were not. We paid extra for these HIDs but they simply are not up to the task of illuminating an unlit desert road at 75mph. Maybe it was a good thing, had I been able to 'make time' through Spotted Wolf Canyon, I would have missed some of the best sights I've seen to date.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 3,044 miles

Road Trip Part II

October 01, 2008

After being thankfully thrown from my original plan due to the lame headlights on the Flex (even the high beams weren't sufficient in that scenario), I was able to, as posted before, see Utah for all I never really knew it was. I wanted to hit Grand Junction by day one. I've been to Colorado before (for off-road driver training) and was won over by the views and the general 'vibe' of the state. I don't have any data to back this up, but I'm pretty sure there are more bike trails in Colorado than the entire rest of the world combined. (Unfortunately I don't have my bike with me on this leg of the trip...on the way back I will.) Losing my night running hours meant stops had to be ditched. Denver was out. Grand Junction was punctuated. Vail, however, was still very much in.

The Flex, after almost 1,000 miles, is doing well. But, somewhere around 10,000 feet, before the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel (West of Denver) the Flex's second weakness showed. The transmission — which it shares with the Buick Enclave amongst others — just doesn't know what to do with inclines. With no manual option and a lousy L mode, the engine is constantly torn between fuel economy and maintaining momentum. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Down. Down. Up. It's not fun. If I were in the Enclave I could just push the button a couple of times, leave the thing in 4 and get on with my trip at a steady RPM. It's a great gearbox in GM vehicles, why isn't it great here at 11,000 feet where I need it?

<

Unfortunately the traffic piled up almost directly outside of the tunnel and continued for about two hours. When the traffic was finished Colorado stopped being fun. The eastern edge into Nebraska is boring. Probably trying to ween drivers off of the grandeur of the Rockies and prepare them for the harsh, bleak reality that awaits them in Nebraska.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 3,773 miles.

Road Trip Part III, The midwest

October 02, 2008

When we last left our road trip diary the Ford Flex was whisking us through eastern Colorado and on into Nebraska. Thrilling, I know. With 75 mph limits, straight roads and just enough traffic to avoid being the only car on the road, this was the Flex's time to shine. And shine it did. I turned on my Valentine One, set the cruise control and drove for hours in perfect comfort. Once acclimated to the system, Sync works exceptionally well with an iPod. Sirius' weather link kept me apprised of the looming thunderstorms (which eventually halted my run), and the flat-looking seats kept my butt supported and warm with no complaints. I also managed to, at those speeds, beat the EPA estimated 24mpg with a 25.7mpg tank.

That night I tried, for the first time, sleeping in the Flex. I was hoping the back, seats folded flat, would make an acceptable bed. They don't. It's like sleeping on the floor of a dog's kennel. The front seats don't recline enough for sleeping either. The second row bench is interrupted by the refrigerator so that's out, too. I had an easier time sleeping in our old Lancer than I did in the Flex. That was the last night we tried that. For a detailed account of the rest of that day — including Iowa — please see my illustration below. <

But hey, I got to go to the world's largest truck stop! The truck stop dentist wasn't in my plan.

That'll show all those other truck stops without embroidery shops!

Nothing worse than a road trip with a dirty dog.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 4,739 miles

Road Trip part III, made it.

October 05, 2008

Made it.

The drive east from Ohio into New York and then into Massachusetts is like driving through a calendar. The leaves are starting to turn, the rolling fields are dotted with peeling white or red paint, and air freshens up. It also has a little something that the west coast doesn't have, weather. More specifically, rain. It was another chance to try out the live radar-map some more. The big green thing on the screen tells me where the rain is. So do the rain drops on my window.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 5,980 miles.

Road Trip Part IV, Best Road Trip Car Ever?

October 08, 2008

With its black-on-black color scheme (no mini-cooper/FJ white roof for us!) some have complained that our 2009 Ford Flex Limited looks like a hearse. So I took it to one of New England's newest cemetery — established in the 1720s — for a better field of reference. Indeed, it does look a bit like a hearse. But the kind of cool hearse that you'd see on open drag nights with a tubbed rear, big block and skull shifter. Except that this has a V6, FWD and a six-speed auto.

While it may not be able to do a huge burnout, and it doesn't have those cool curtains hearses do, it is still the best road trip car available today.

Sure, at 42 grand it's not the cheapest. And averaging 25/26 mpg it's not the most efficient. But when you add up everything — fridge, nav, DVD player, roominess, comfort — there simply isn't a better car for driving 8,000 miles in a very short period of time in this price range.

You're driving cross-country and back with a girlfriend in tow, what would you take? (I won't accept any answer of R8, GT-R or any Ferrari — you need to make it there and back without having anything replaced, that includes your ear drums, spine and eyeballs that have been shaken loose from your skull.)

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 6,320 miles

Road Trip, On refrigeration and hitting the wall

October 10, 2008

This is the interior of the refrigerator inside the 2009 Ford Flex. Pictured is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There was also a fluffernutter, but it didn't last long enough to be in the photo. It's a neat idea but the execution here is a little lame. First, they put the rear armrest hinge on the front. Probably to dissuade the driver from attempting to reach in while driving. Sorry, Ford, not gonna work. Humans are where we are today by adapting and bending the will of our opponents, animate or not. It's possible to get inside if one's willing to drive with their foot (cruise control is a necessity here) and contort a little. It's easier still to make your passenger do it. Its second shortcoming is the size. That's not trick photography, folks it really is that small. The third thing wrong with the fridge is the freeze setting. 12-hours and there's only some frost on the side of the water. It keeps things — and even gets things — very cold, but if you're going to give me a button that says freeze, the damn thing better freeze. Solid. Maybe I should have gone 24-hours straight.

The fourth thing that warrants complaints about the availability of a fridge is the lack of a microwave. Don't laugh. It's got a TV and a DVD player and a refrigerator already. Why not? 10 years ago I would have punched the current me for suggesting a car have any of those things. Now I'm jealous of future-Mike for having an in-car microwave.

Take, for instance a road trip across the country. You drive through a town that actually has food that looks safe and edible, but you're just not hungry...or maybe it was so good you want another order to go. Why not? It won't spoil thanks to the modern marvel of refrigeration. But then the problem arises that cold BBQ sucks. Sure, I could've wrapped it in foil and chucked it under the hood for a few hours but that's not the point.

Speaking of Road Trips across the country, today's installment covers the first few days of the return trip. Boston, NYC, Columbus, St. Louis and Tulsa!

The return trip was intended from the beginning to simply be a return. I was going to go the southern route for a change of perspective, but it was going to be a straight shot. Unless, of course, I ran into some crazy road-side nonsense that I simply couldn't resist. Day one was great. I love NYC and got to spend a few hours there before the clock told me I had to leave. Driving west through PA was marked by cops. Lots of them. Everywhere. On the 76 the only thing I saw more frequently than highway patrol was deer carcasses. Seriously, give out some hunting licenses or something, there were dozens. Day one ended in Columbus with no drama.

Day two was Columbus Ohio to Tulsa, OK. Just over 800 miles and save for a short visit to St. Louis, not much to report. Tulsa did have the cheapest recorded gas of the trip, $2.75 / gal. So that was neat.

Day three I hit the wall. Somewhere around Groom Texas I just couldn't do it anymore. I was done. The pressure and dehydration of the last week finally caught up with me and I had to stop. It was a huge disappointment for me, but preventing a horrible crash seemed prudent at the time.

Driving one way was easy. Having to return was proving a bit more problematic.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 8,150 miles

Road Trip Conclusion by the Numbers

October 20, 2008

It was a long (very long) journey, but I've been back for a few days now. Conclusions — including a by-the-numbers account — of the trip are after the jump.

Miles driven: 6,780.2

States visited: 21 (California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico.)

Days on road: 10

Gallons of fuel used: 304.8

Best Fuel economy: 24.8 mpg through Nebraska with a 75 mph average — maybe slightly higher.

Worst: 17.5 LA traffic + Vegas traffic

Overall Average MPG: 22.2

Cheapest gas: 2.75 in Tulsa.

Longest run on a single tank: 422.3 miles. NY + Western MA

Shortest run: 165.4. Somewhere in Utah a sign said no gas for almost 200 miles. I decided not to risk it.

Speeding tickets: 0 (thanks, Valentine One!)

Breakdowns: 0. Though on the return trip through Arizona the oil change warning illuminated.

Gallons of water (for drinking): 5

Gallons of bug dissolving washer fluid: 1

BBQ Stops: 4

Miles driven on dirt roads instead of highways thanks to nav system: 3

Other Flexes seen on road: 1

Corvette ZR-1s seen on road: 1

Not to get too far into the political sphere here (though I guess I do have a degree in that which I'm sure my parents are thrilled they paid for), but as someone who has lived only in the Northeast and in Southern California, a trip across the nation at ground level is an eye opener — especially during these tough economic times. At ground level it's easy to see history. To see which industry — shipping, textile, farming, manufacturing — built up certain areas and then devastated them when the jobs left. Seeing the towns that have bounced back, the ones that gave up, and the ones that are have just started to grow. Or more frequently now, started to fall. Watching the signs change from Obama / Biden to McCain / Palin and then to Jesus and eventually back to Obama.

Putting a frame of reference on President Bush's comment that our nation is addicted to oil is easy to do here in SoCal with the constant traffic, but it's more than that; an addiction to cheap goods (trucked from the heartland and from port cities) has made entire corridors of the country little more than a string of big-rig fueling stations. And while we're on the subject of addiction, I'm afraid I came across another addiction of ours ( I'm two-for-two in this whole national addiction thing): beef. From sea-to-shining-sea, if corn, wheat or soybeans won't grow, then dagnabit, cattle will. I'm not sure this is great for our collective waistlines or cholesterol count, but it does make BBQ easier to find (and more delicious).

It's a testament to the architects of our society that we can make it all work. The disparity between L.A. and, say, Gallup New Mexico couldn't be greater if there was a sea and a language barrier separating them. But it does and I won't pretend that passing through with short visits has given me any greater insight as to how. In fact, it's made me more confused. All I know is that my text message to Schmidt read "I've never been so happy to see smog" when I passed over the hill and back to LA.

When I first moved to California (for this job) I couldn't understand the allure, why anyone would suffer the traffic, the smog, and the sprawl. But after spending nearly two weeks away from it, I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't pack up and head west.

But I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening. It was a great trip. If you ever get the chance I recommend it highly. In fact, don't wait for the chance to arise, seek it out. Take a vacation. Quit your job. Just get out on the road and go. But do yourself the favor and figure out a way to do it one way.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 9,265 miles

Sometimes the Truth Hearse

October 20, 2008

Just sayin'.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief @ 9,744 miles

Highway Wind And Road Noise

October 29, 2008

One notable attribute about our long-term 2009 Ford Flex: road noise is impressively quelled. Even on concrete, only a minimal amount of tire noise makes it into the cabin. (Our car is shod with Hancook Optimo H725 tires.) There's more wind noise than road noise, but even so the Flex remains library quiet during 75-mph highway drives. Too bad Flex owners with squabbling children in back probably won't notice.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 10,034 miles

D, L And Nothing Else

October 31, 2008

Mike actually mentioned this in Part Two of his road trip cross-country odyssey, but it's worth focusing on specifically here. Like on many other Ford products, the Flex's automatic transmission gear selector has just two forward gates: Drive and Low. There's no manual mode.

If you leave it in Drive and are driving on hilly terrain with steep inclines, the transmission hunts between gears in response to your changing throttle inputs. There is a button on the left side of the shifter ('Grade Assist') that drops the transmission out of overdrive. It helps, but it seems to be designed more for getting additional engine braking on declines rather than ideal gearing for inclines. And dropping down to Low seems like overkill.

But wait, there's more...

Meanwhile, you'll notice in the above picture that Ford neglected to include an in-dash gear indicator for the transmission. So anytime you need to see what gear you're in, you'll have to look down to the shifter. I think this is the case for our long-term Edge, too.

Ford got so much right on its new Flex that you'd think these current Ford foibles would have been binned. Guess not.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Third-Row Seat

November 03, 2008

When not in use, the 2009 Ford Flex's 50/50-split third-row seat folds flat and stores in a fairly deep rear well. When the rear seats are raised, the well is exposed. It's perfect for securing grocery bags, especially if you're using the reusable kind.

A low-production-value video of me raising the third-row seat and operating the power liftgate follows after the jump. Why bother watching Marina's HotForWords on YouTube when you can watch this instead?

The power liftgate is one of the quicker opening units I've encountered recently. Plus, for the opening process, you don't have to wait for any beeping delay; press the button and it goes. Closing the liftgate does take longer, though.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 10,104 miles

Flexin' Its IKEA Muscle

November 11, 2008

Somehow a 59-inch-long sleeper sofa needs to fit into the back of our long-term Ford Flex.

Voila!

The Flex's 83 cubic feet of cargo space easily swallows the small sofa, its 'hidden' storage box, and the packaged mattress and slipcover.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 10,325 miles

Fuel Economy Update

December 01, 2008

After four months in service, our 2009 Ford Flex has earned the following fuel economy numbers:

Worst tank: 14.9 mpg

Best tank: 24.8 mpg

Average: 20.1 mpg

Not exactly the 24 mpg that Ford is touting, but not bad, either.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @11,650 miles

Not Enough Power To Suck

December 15, 2008

I bought a Christmas tree this weekend. And put it inside the Flex. Because I'm an idiot. Christmas trees have needles. Lots of them. And they come off inside a car. No problem, I figured. 'Tomorrow is Monday and I'll be getting this rig cleaned up before I take it to the office anyway.' This is IL policy, lest you suffer the wrath of Oldham.

The plan comes undone after the jump.

Here's where the long string of logic and justification begins. It was pouring in the OC this morning. Pouring, I say. The kind of rain we don't get in California unless, of course, I need to get a car washed and vacuumed.

'So vacuum it yourself,' you say. Ah, yes, and I would have had there not been a river coming out of the sky. Shop vacs don't work so well under water. Vacuuming water is one thing. Vacuuming under water is quite another I assure you. So I grabbed the handheld vacuum my mother in law bought on QVC (don't ask) and headed for the Flex. I had already spotted the AC outlet on the back of the center console facing the second row — right where I needed to suck the most.

But there was no sucking to be had — at least not courtesy of the Flex. 'Must be the cheap vacuum,' I thought. Nope. Sucks fine when plugged into an outlet in the house.

The Flex's outlet cover reads '110 volts, 150 watts.' Now I'm no expert on electrons, but I'd wager that's simply not enough to power my crappy QVC hand vacuum.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ about 12,500 miles

2009 Ford Flex Limited is Worth a Test Drive

December 16, 2008

My brother drives a 2002 Ford Explorer and now he's shopping for a new mid-sized SUV. He called me for some advice and I asked he what he was considering. He said, 'We were going to look at that new boxy thing but we're done with Ford.'

I said, 'Hold on a second.'

I bought the 2009 Ford Flex Limited for our long term fleet about two months ago but I hadn't driven it until just recently. On the freeway I noticed it had a very pleasant ride, like a big, heavy luxury car, and it was extremely well insulated. I liked the wide leather seats and loved the feel of the wood and leather steering wheel.

The surprise came when I reached my exit and swung into the spiraling off ramp.

Suddenly, this heavyweight showed it could be level, stable and composed through a tight corner. The only thing that kept it from being downright fun was the light steering.

It's a surprise how big this vehicle is inside. The backseat legroom is amazing! For a big vehicle it gets about 18 mpg in a mix of city and highway conditions which is nothing to write home about.

But could I really recommend this vehicle? Would I buy it? The only thing that puts me off is that, after 12,264 miles I feel a hard upshift from the transmission. That, coupled with the fact that my brother is car shopping because his Explorer's transmission is has a degenerative illness, kept me from being more enthusiastic about this new Ford.

Still, I like the edgy styling, and love the way it drives. So I took the ultimate definitive stance: 'It's worth a test drive.'

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 12,264 miles

Headrests From Hell

December 19, 2008

I cannot drive this car.

It pains me to say this, because in most ways the Flex is a home run. Its interior materials are what Lincoln's should be. Real adults can lounge comfortably in the third row. The second-row seats are veritable thrones. It performs well. It looks cool. Et cetera.

But I cannot drive this car.

Why? Primarily because of the absolutely demonic angle of the front headrests. In the Flex, 'headrest' is an oxymoron. 'Headpunch' is more like it — these things force your head forward at a ridiculously stern angle, and no, they're not adjustable. It's not just the Flex, either; a number of current Ford products share this flaw. Did anyone actually try this headrest design out before it went into production?

There's also the matter of the steering wheel, which doesn't telescope. Even with the adjustable pedals all the way forward, I can't get my lanky 6'1' frame close enough. My elbows are locked during normal driving, and I have to lean forward in my seat to crank the wheel when turning through an intersection. Hey Ford! Great car! Telescoping steering wheel please!

I like the Flex. I'd like it a lot more if I could drive it.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 12,678 miles

Ford's Finest?

December 22, 2008

I see a lot of politicians on TV lately. They say stuff like 'American cars aren't competitive.' I don't know, I've been driving this Flex for a few days now and I can't really see anything that's so bad about it. I'd rather have this than a minivan or even a truck based SUV. The interior is well finished, the car is attractive plus the new nav and audio system is easily class leading.

I'd rather have a Flex than an R-Class, Pacifica, Tahoe, Sienna, Murano and even a Range Rover. Not sure I'd get black though - color aside, this is really a very good family wagon. I could probably name 6 or 7 other American cars that are good enough to put in my garage - the Flex is just one of them.

Brian Moody, Senior Automotive Editor @ 13,122 miles

Oregon Bound

December 23, 2008

To almost no one's surprise, I've got the keys to the 2009 Ford Flex in my pocket for our annual holiday trip north to Oregon.

We're all looking forward to it. It has plenty of room for us to stretch out, plenty of room for our stuff and it's loaded with plenty of toys to keep the miles from wearing us out. We'll put the navigation system, satellite radio, Sync iPod connection, Bluetooth connection, rear DVD screen, and built-in cooler to very good use.

We don't actually leave until the day after Christmas, so I have a couple of days to watch the weather and plan my route. Snow is going to be unavoidable this year because we're adding a side trip to Bend to see my sister-in-law. We have to cross the Cascades to get there from the coast.

California and Oregon are militant about the need to carry tire chains and use them. They set up checkpoints. They're dead serious about it. And many times they don't care if you have AWD. This might not be a problem if you're a local and you have snow tires. But if you're driving up from sunny SoCal, you need chains. And the 10-day weather forecast shows that pesky little snowflake icon up north the whole time.

In fact, as I write this, a colleague in our video production department is already in Oregon and he just called not 5 minutes ago from the roadside while installing chains on the Ford Edge. 'Front or rear?' he asked with chattering teeth. I'm not making this up.

And this is where the Flex has a potential problem: The Flex's owner's manual says you can't put chains on a Flex, even so-called S-type cable chains. Chains won't fit, they say, over the standard 18-inch tires as well as the 19 and 20-inch optional ones. (Our front-wheel drive Limited has the 19's.) I've never heard of such a thing on a volume family product. Who signed off on this?

There is one Flex model that can accept chains: the 2WD SE base model can be ordered with an optional 17-inch tire 'downgrade.' They're 1-inch shorter, you see. They provide one-half inch more radial clearance in the fender wheels. The AWD's final drive ratio is borrowed to keep the gearing straight.

But besides a paltry options list, there is a catch: Ford says they only sell this option in 'snow states.' What 'snow state' denizen would go for 2WD and chains? Sounds like a fleet special, to me. And I'm sure places like California and Arizona aren't considered 'snow states,' but both have high mountains and real ski resorts. Folks who live outside snow areas and visit occasionally are the ones who need chains, not the locals who live in it. But I digress.

After a bit of frantic research (the keys to the Grand Caravan were long gone so I had to make this work), I learned a few things:

SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standards require 15 mm of clearance (about 5/8 inch) for S-type chains, roughly speaking.

The optional 17-inch tires have the same width as my 19's, but by being shorter they gain 12.7 mm of radial clearance. That's the difference I have to make up.

I found a brand of cable chain that exceeds SAE S-type requirements. They only need 6.3 mm (1/4 inch) of clearance — a savings of 8.7 mm.

Using these slim-fit cable chains with my 19-inch tires reduces the descrepancy to only 4 mm — just over 1/8 inch. I'm sure Ford didn't cut it that close, so I think I'm good. But just to be sure I went down to the garage for some measurements.

The clearance between the tire and the strut isn't really close. There's almost a full inch there. No problem. The fender lip looks good too.

The closest point seems to be the distance between the tread and the rear of the fender liner at full lock. Even with these 'big' tires, it looks really close to the required 15 mm. I easily see more than a half-inch — significantly more than the 1/4 inch required by the slim-fit cable chains.

I'm going for it. At worst I'll simply call my sister-in-law in Bend and tell her we can't get through.

And as Paul in the next cubicle said, going through all of this trouble and buying chains means that Murphy's Law will now protect me with sunny skies and clear roads.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 13,232 miles

Last Minute Panic

December 25, 2008

I was struck by a sinking feeling on the day before liftoff to Oregon in our 2009 Ford Flex. Just as the odometer turned over the 13,000 mile mark I noticed that the mileage on the dealer-installed oil change label was identical.

Great. I'm about to embark on a 2,000 mile trip and it looks like the Flex needs an oil change. But didn't it just have one? And how am I going to pull this off on Christmas day?

Out comes the owner's manual to look at the maintenance schedules. The first oil change comes at 7,500 miles; the second at 15,000 miles. This 7,500 mile interval carries through the life of this Ford. Severe service intervals are 5,000 miles, but Ford's definition of 'severe' is quite specific and, well, severe. We don't tow, we don't make deliveries or use it as a taxi. Our driving pattern doesn't come close to meeting any of the threshholds.

So the manual is quite clear that 7,500 miles is the proper oil change interval for the way we drive our Flex.

Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath texts me to say that the last oil change came a couple of hundred miles after the service reminder light came on. He's home for the holidays and away from the receipts, but we figure it at about 7,800 to 8,000 miles. The next change is therefore due at 15,500 miles or so, not 13,000 miles. Indeed the service reminder light has not yet re-illuminated to indicate that oil change #2 is looming.

So the sticker mileage is either an example of a dealer who doesn't read the manual himself or good old upselling. And check out the 'Motorcraft Full Synthetic' label. More upselling. The Flex neither requires synthetic nor did we spring for it on the last change. By its presence, the label implies that pricier synthetic is required here. But it's just an ad. The Flex needs nothing more than regular 5W-20.

Nice try, guys. Better luck next time. I'll have ithe oil changed when I get back, and I'm not going with synthetic, either.

This is one of several reasons why I usually change my own oil.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 13,042 miles

Oregon Day 1, Identity Crisis?

December 26, 2008

'What car are you driving up this year?' asked my dad as we called to report our progress from the road.

'It's a 2009 Ford Flex,' I replied.

'A what?'

'A Ford Flex. It's new.'

'Never heard of it. Does it run on ethanol?'

'No, it won't run on E85.'

'Why do they call it Flex, then?'

Good question. I have no answer to that one.

Dad wasn't the only one to make the incorrect flex-fuel assupmtion, either. Two or three other relatives I saw over the last two days made the same deduction. It's such an easy conclusion to draw, apparently, that Ford felt the need to emblazon the Easy Fuel filler neck with 'no E85' icons. I don't remember seeing anything like it on any other car that won't run on E85. But, then again, none of them are called 'Flex,' either.

This misconception seems so pervasive that I have to wonder if the Flex is being dismissed as a vehicle choice by those who either don't have E85 in their area or don't believe in the stuff. That'd be a shame, because this is one nice ride.

As for the Easy Fuel itself, I'm still not used to the lack of a cap. I have to wonder if those who have a two-car stable, one with Easy Fuel and one without, ever get used to it.

All that aside, we burned two tanks totalling 30.06 gallons of regular unleaded today over 682.8 miles of mostly high speed freeway driving, for an average fuel economy of 22.7 mpg. The in-car gauge apparently reads a bit high; it reported the day's average as 23.6 mpg.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 13, 743 miles

Oregon Day 2, Eureka!

December 27, 2008

Phase One of our holiday odyssey in the 2009 Ford Flex has come to an end. We've arrived at my parents' place near Brookings, Oregon after some 830 miles in the saddle.

But not until after we made our now-customary lunch stop at the Lost Coast Brewing Company in Eureka, California. The above painted wall mural frames one end of the parking lot across the street.

So far, our intrepid crew has nothing but good things to say about the Flex:

The ride was smooth and comfortable, yet body motions were never buoyant or floaty. This is quite a trick on many northern California highways, distorted as they are by frequent land slippage and roadbed settling. Kudos to the suspension tuning crew at Ford.

We sit lower in a Flex than a minivan or big SUV and the lower roofline produces a lower center of gravity. Inside, we feel less roll movement in corners. I'm not sure if this is because the body actually rolls less, if it rolls the same but more gradually, or if our lower seated position (closer to the roll axis) results in less seat displacement for a given amount of roll. It's probably a case of 'All of the Above.'

Bottom line, no one got car sick this time — even with their heads buried in a book, playing with their Nintendos or watching the DVD screen.

And everyone loved the Flex's entertainment system. The kids found it easy to manipulate the system to keep themselves busy with movies in the back, while Tracy and I kept the iPod going up front. I only wish the Sync interface provided better control over audiobooks. They don't show up under genre. You have to select the author, Neil Gaiman in this case, as if he were a band, or something. And trying to listen to a continuous 7-hour track with no chapter markers is a pain. A book should be an album, and chapters should be tracks. But they aren't.

Even so, the touch screen controls for it all, made possible by the navigation screen, kept it all running smoothly.

And then there are the seats. Stormy weather and cold fuel and food stops made the front and rear seat heaters a big hit. Some of you scoffed at the wrinkly look of the seats themselves in my pre-trip post, but the fact that the leather isn't stretched as tight as a drum made them quite pliable. They squish down just enough in the right spots while providing strategically-placed support over long distances. Sure, they aren't wildly bolstered and sculpted like Recaros, but the Flex isn't a GT-R and it isn't made to haul butt. But it does seem to haul butts rather well.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vedhicle Testing @ 13, 875 miles

Oregon Day 3, Stormy Weather

December 28, 2008

I can't remember where I heard it, or even if it's true, but the Weather Channel is supposed to be the most-watched cable network. It's hard to fathom in southern California, where this trip in the 2009 Ford Flex Limited began. But here on the Oregon coast it's a lot easier to believe.

Dad has his own weather setup, and he has logged temperature, rainfall and windspeed more or less each day since he moved here from So Cal some 19 years ago. This morning's rain gauge reading was 5.4 inches, the second-highest 24-hour total he's recorded.

Despite this, we pointed the Flex toward Gold Beach, 15 miles away. Our mission: fresh Dungeness crab for tonight's annual crab feed. That's right, some adventerous fisherman was out in it last night, bobbing around in his boat and hauling up crab pots to harvest what would become dinner for a lot of locals around here.

On the way to town, we encountered a rotted tree that had blown down across the road. Further on, we came to a place where the Pistol River had overflowed its banks and overtopped the road. We had another route to choose from, so we got our crab anyway.

The Flex has a really handy pair of 3rd row seats that fold into the floor like most late-model minivans when not in use. But when the third row is in use, a deep well with a surprising amount of space is revealed behind the deployed seatbacks. It was here that our cooler full of fresh crab rode securely, with no need for tie-downs to keep it from moving about on the trip home up convoluted Carpenterville Road.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 13,951 miles

Oregon Day 4, Seagull Approved

December 29, 2008

Want to have some fun at the beach in your 2009 Ford Flex this winter?

Load grandma, grandpa and the kids into all three rows. Don't feel bad about those in the back seats, because all three rows enjoy generous legroom. Despite the flat roofline, the third row sits a bit higher than the second, which in turn sits fractionally higher than the first. Everyone can see out.

Take a couple of slices of stale bread down to the jetty and wait for the seagulls to gather. It won't take long; they know the drill. Roll down the windows a little ways and toss a bit of it out onto the ground. In no time you'll have a couple of dozen new friends.

If you have the multi-panel Vista Roof, toss a few chunks on the roof and all three rows will get a close up lesson in avian flight dynamics and pecking order behavior through the overhead glass.

Before long, certain foreign substances will begin to obscure the view. Head directly to the nearest quarter car wash and rinse thoroughly before it sets.

Or so I've heard.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 14, 023 miles

Oregon Day 5, Easy Access

December 30, 2008

Turns out our 2009 Ford Flex is well suited to those who aren't so flexible. Dad still gets around pretty well, but he appreciates the Flex on two counts:

The seat height is neither too low nor too high. No gymnastics are required on the mount or the dismount.

The door sill is much narrower than it looks when the door is closed, thanks to a very narrow rocker. He can get into position to sit down while keeping his outside foot planted firmly on the ground.

All of the above applies equally to the front and rear seats.

His one complaint? The grab handle is over the top of the door, where it doesn't do him much good for ingress or egress. He'd prefer the A-pillar location to help him hoist himself in or out. Most Ford trucks and SUVs have A-pillar assist handles, but not the Flex.

Overall, however, Dad finds the 2009 Ford Flex easy to get in and out of.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 14,067 miles

Oregon Day 6, Snow Day!

December 31, 2008

Today we said goodbye to my parents on the coast and headed inland to Bend, Oregon in our 2009 Ford Flex. Our route took us over a 5,400 foot pass where recent snows had brought the snow accumulation up to over 70 inches.

At least 100 miles of our route was in the snow zone, so as the law around here requires, we carried chains, just in case.

Much of the road had been cleared, but just after we stopped to have the Oregon Department of Transportation's 'Trip Check' road camera record our passage, the route entered an area with 5 and 6% slopes that was still coated with packed snow.

Most of the people we saw parked in the snow play areas were locals and they all had fitted studded tires on their 4x4s. Our front-wheel drive Flex Limited made do with its standard Hankook 235/55R19 all-season tires. We had no trouble, and we didn't have to chain-up.

But even though we had plenty of grip for climbing and turning, the ABS triggered easily and stopping distances were a bit long. If I lived in the white stuff full time, I'd upgrade my tires, too. But on a just-passin'-through basis, the stock rubber did just fine.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 14, 402 miles

Oregon Day 8, Making our Escape

January 02, 2009

Today, after spending Day 7 doing nothing but recovering from the previous night's celebrations and watching football, we finally pointed our 2009 Ford Flex southward for the trip home. The weather forecast called for conditions conducive to the formation of ice. It had rained overnight, and then the temperature dropped below freezing.

Indeed the icy black asphalt of our hotel's parking lot was hard to walk across as we loaded-up. But we couldn't dawdle too long waiting for sunshine because we needed to get past Weed, California, some 200 miles south, before the predicted snow arrived there at 2pm.

After a few test laps of the parking lot, the front-wheel drive Flex felt secure enough on its all-season rubber and we lumbered out of town as the in-car temperature gauge dropped to 29 degrees and stayed there. It had snowed overnight along highway 97, and we padded along with a group of other cars at 35 mph in places where the plows hadn't yet scraped or sprayed de-icing fluid. We had no problems with grip, but then I wasn't demanding much as I squeezed the throttle like a hypermiler and used sparing steering inputs.

One of the negative points of the Flex is the small swept area of the rear window wiper. Not sure if this can be helped because of the car's basic proportions, but I found myself wishing for more, especially toward the driver's side.

We kept a steady pace and got completely out of snow country without incident. One overturned Ford Expedition we saw couldn't say the same, but everyone looked OK.

After clearing snow country for good, we stopped for a late lunch. It was then I noticed that we had been getting excellent mileage, so I delayed refueling to see how far I could stretch the tank. At some point the remaining fuel range dipped below 50 miles and the navigation screen automatically zoomed-in and displayed fuel station POI icons, even though I hadn't pre-selected them.

We eventually stopped after 454.5 miles and installed 17.052 gallons of 87 octane. That's 26.7 mpg, nearly 3 mpg higher than the Flex's highway fuel economy rating. The on-board display was more 'optimistic,' as it had been at each and every previous fill-up. It read 27.9 mpg when we finally rolled up to the pump. But I trust my own calculated number more.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 15,055 miles

Oregon Day 9, Home at Last

January 03, 2009

Our 2009 Ford Flex is spending tonight in my driveway wearing 9 days worth of road grime. As for us, we're only a little bit cleaner, but we're happy to be sleeping in our own beds.

Earlier on I'd passed along my dad's praise for the narrow door sills and how they ease ingress and egress. An alert reader pointed out that this would keep one's pants leg from getting dirty, too. At first I thought this comment had to do with the geometry of the design and how it made it less likely that one's pants leg would drag across the narrower sill when getting in. But there's more to it than that.

No matter what sort of choas is going on outside, the sill never gets the least bit dirty. Just look at that shine! This is because of the way the bottom of the door wraps around and cups the door sill. And there are seals down there, too.

I just put a load of jeans in the wash, and none of them had schmutz on the pant legs. For this reason, the Flex gets my vote as the #1 job interview car for anyone living and working in ice and snow country.

No doubt this byzantine arrangement is also a big reason why we experienced a rather low amount of road noise on a variety of surfaces.

Yesterday we'd achieved 26.7 mpg coming down out of the mountains, but the overall drop in altitude and the slow pace and delicate throttle inputs forced upon us by the weather made me wonder if this figure was a fluke. After all, the front-wheel drive Flex is EPA certified at 24 mpg on the highway.

On today's last leg, I steadfastly used the cruise control, alternating the set-point between 65 and 70 mph as the speed limit varied likewise. The route from Fresno starts out flat, but then it climbs sharply to over 4,000 feet and dithers up and down a bit before dropping back near sea level in the LA basin. And of course there were a couple of potty stops. All in all, this wasn't the driving profile I'd have chosen to determine maximum fuel economy. But at least it was realistic.

The result? 26.5 mpg. As usual, the on-board computer exaggerated like a novice fisherman and claimed a 27.8 mpg performance.

After I get a good night's sleep, I'll summarize my accumulated Ford Flex impressions on Monday. Or Tuesday. I need a break.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 15, 320 miles

Oregon Wrap-Up

January 06, 2009

It's over. The 2009 Ford Flex has been washed and gassed for the final time and the keys are in someone else's hands for a change.

All told, our trip lasted 2,275 miles. Over that distance, I added a total of 99.8 gallons of unleaded gasoline.

Average trip fuel economy: 22.8 mpg (Enclave last year = 22.1)

Best tanks: 26.7 and 26.5 mpg (Enclave last year = 25.6)

Longest run: 454.5 miles

Worst tank: 18.2 mpg (multiple runs up the steep switchbacks to my folks' mountaintop lair after feeding seagulls and such)

Number of other Ford Flexes seen on the road: Zero (dealer lots don't count.)

Yes, but what do we think after all of that time?

Of all the long-term cars my family has taken on this trip, this 2009 Ford Flex Limited is far and away our favorite. If not for the fact that it's already paid off and we don't want to take on a new car payment, my wife would gladly ditch our previous-generation 2003 Honda Odyssey for one of these. I can get behind that.

The Flex rides and handles better than any other long-term car we've taken over this route. Ford got the suspension right: It rides comfortably, but doesn't roll excessively or float and bob over waves in the pavement. On the same roads, the Jeep Commander had been an absolute vomit comet. The Enclave was better, but still tended toward queasy in the coastal mountain highways of northern California; too much 'Buick ride' for this terrain.

Our departed Cadillac SRX was perhaps as good as the Flex in this regard, and it steered a bit more precisely. But it's only a player for the summer version of this trip. I wouldn't chose it it for the winter edition on two counts: The cargo area and 5-seat layout is too small for holiday duty and I would have been reluctant to take the rear-wheel drive SRX in the snow.

We made a lot of side trip to places like the 'cat houses' on the Gold Beach jetty (above), so there were many occasions where we had 6 people in the car: 4 adults, 1 pre-teen and 1 kid-sister. The Flex excels in front and middle seat legroom; the latter is almost limo-like. Even the third row is quite roomy, and a nifty flip-fold mechanism makes them easy to get in and out of.

The seats are comfy enough, but, as Josh mentioned earlier, the headrests jut too far forward and are not adjustable for rake. And I desperately needed a telescopic steering wheel to bring the rim at least an inch closer.

Cargo space is less cavernous than an Odyssey, but for us, it was more than enough. And the fold-flat third row reveals a deep storage well when the seats are in use, so there's still a lot of room back there for groceries. But the presence of first and second row consoles make the 2x4-down-the-middle trick impossible. Even though it doesn't totally avoid the issue, I'd pass on the rear console and integrated cooler; we didn't use it much, anyway.

The lines are so straight on this thing that a sliding rear door would seem to be easy to implement gracefully and not ruin the look. Ford should have done it. As it stands, the rear doors are long and they need to be opened wide. 'Let me pull out of this parking space [or garage] before you get in,' was a common refrain on this trip.

Finally, there are the electronics. This was a slam-dunk hit. The kids played DVDs in the back, they used the 110V outlet to keep their Nintendos charged-up, and we kept the iPod running up front playing through the interface built into the nav screen. One complaint: every page needs a 'back' button to retreat one level. Synch made us go back to the main menu and work back from there to where we were. Annoying.

The navigation system works pretty well, but the database it feeds from is still full of errors. Like the Enclave before it, the Flex tried to route us through the same locked gate across private property. For this and other reasons, I'm not ready to fork over tons of cash for a factory system just yet.

The engine isn't particularly strong, but neither is it weak. The biggest problem I faced is the lack of a way to downshift out of drive to a desired lower gear. There are only two choices: D or L. Well, there is a 'Grade Assist' button that tries to do something, but the response was never consistent and it never did what I wanted. Just let me pick the gear, OK? Your computer can't see down the road. I can.

And the Ford Flex looks very cool. I know, I know. Image isn't everything. But for a people hauler, I like looking at it. And I have no doubt that the lower stance is one of the main reasons why this crew arrived at our final destination without stomach upset and largely intact.

For me, the 2009 Ford Flex is a good candidate to replace our current minivan when it finally wears out. Or maybe when it wears out its welcome. At this rate, that might happen sooner rather than later.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 15,475 miles

High Quality So Far

February 02, 2009

I just spent an enjoyable weekend in our long-term 2009 Ford Flex. It's not exactly a perfect vehicle, but it's as close as Ford has gotten to perfect in a very long time. Although I have issue with the Flex's seating position and its shifter, most of the time I find myself thinking, 'Man this is a well done vehicle,' or some such gush. I've even recommended it to several friends.

One thing that jumped out at me this weekend was the Flex's solidity. So far our Flex does not have a single squeak or rattle. There's no loose trim. No bugs in the Sync or navigation systems. In fact, after more that 16,000 miles in just six months you'd swear our Flex is brand new.

Okay, it did have to return to the dealer once for an unscheduled fix; at 1,686 miles its brakelights stayed on, so Santa Monica Ford replaced the brake pedal switch. But that's it. Otherwise solid as a rock. If you ask me, one trip to the dealer in 16,000 miles is a record any vehicle manufacturer would be proud of.

Now I don't know how the Flex is going to hold up over the next six months or six years, but up until this point, it's been one of our most reliable and durable long-term cars ever.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief @ 16,158 miles

2009 Ford Flex Annoying Chimes Edition

February 04, 2009

Edmunds.com Editor in Chief Scott Oldham takes you on a tour of the warning chimes in our 2009 Ford Flex. We've submitted this short moody piece to the Cannes film festival.


Our Favorite Caption

February 06, 2009

Thanks to edubya for this week's favorite.

Quite a few gave us a good chuckle. These commenters get honorable mention:

Ford Flex found soiled. Fowl play suspected. (eidolways)
Gullible buyers welcome. (eidolways)
Ford introduces a new Gull Wing option for the Flex (wable)
Ford reveals eco-friendly two tone paint facility. (vwthing1)
With this, we can strike anywhere, anytime. We're unstoppable! Drive on puny human! (gooney911)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

February 06, 2009

Here is a lovely scenic photo taken by our Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds.

Our Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt came up with 'Talk to me, Goose.'

Can you do better?

We'll post our favorite at 4PM (Pacific Time).

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

We Got Weather

February 09, 2009

Now that I'm armed with a video camera, I'm going to drive you CRAZY with moving images. You're gonna get video on EVERYTHING.

As Socrates once said, 'An unvlogged life is not worth living.'

Here's a video montage of driving the Ford Flex in the rain on my morning commute.

In the second segment, that big gray thing you see looming in the distance is the Pacific Ocean. You'll get a closer look at it in the third segment. Don't worry the whole thing is only a minute long.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 16,529 miles

Hit Me Baby One More Time

February 10, 2009

The other day our 2009 Ford Flex took a shot in traffic. Not our fault. The damage seems to be cosmetic and limited to the plastic bumper cover, but we'll let you know how it all plays out. Body shop here we come...probably next week. Heck, maybe it'll just buff out.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Oil Change Required

February 23, 2009

With just over 17,000 miles on the odometer, our 2009 Ford Flex Limited is requesting an oil change.

Edmunds' Maintenance Guide estimates we should pay $28.74 in parts (oil and filter) and $63.00 labor for the LOF and tire rotation in our Santa Monica zip code.

We'll see what our local dealer has to say.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 17,255 miles

Flying First Class

March 11, 2009

Our long-term 2009 Ford Flex Limited pulled light-aircraft duty this past week, shuttling us on an 1,800-mile extended ski weekend to Colorado, and earning a spot on any traveling family's must-consider list. Like a gentlemen's smoking club on wheels, our leather-lined and faux-wood trimmed black Flex Limited is a road-trip tour de force, providing a swift and serene environment capable of hauling the mail or whatever else you wish to carry, while coddling you with impressively integrated electronic conveniences.

We unleashed the Flex on the interstate, where it painlessly delivered us from L.A. to Vail, CO in a single 13-hour/900-mile stint. With the cruise set reasonably close this route's near-constant 75-mph speed limit, the Flex ate up the miles while hauling a ridiculous amount of gear and luggage for a six-day outing on the slopes. With all the rear seats folded flat, cargo space was a non-issue in the Flex, and few circumstances let you pack with such abandon. No need for roof racks as the Flex happily ate our ski box in the cavernous cargo area, with tons of room to spare for luggage ahead or behind it. Did we overpack? Heck yeah. Did it matter? No.

Rolling down the road, the Flex's long wheelbase and soft suspension soaked up road irregularities and showed the cabin to be impressively hushed at speed. Though the early movement in the Flex's suspension is pillowy (great for freeway slab), just beneath lies firmer travel, a setup that helps keep the Flex surprisingly planted and composed in fast sweeping turns, even if body roll is apparent.

The overboosted steering is a boon to interstate miles, and though effort is light, Ford has found a touring sweet spot, as the tiller remains accurate in spite of the boost. This easy but precise tuning helps keep fatigue at bay as you devour 400 miles per tank. The 3.5-liter V6 does not overpower the Flex, but it's quite smooth at cruising speeds, and plenty grunty to keep the Flex out of its own way. While sailing up the continent's spine, we still managed 20.5 mpg.

With light bathing in from the multi-panel Vista Roof, and a southwestern U.S. geography lesson whispering by tall windows, you could not help but feel pride in such a sweet modern version of the classic American station wagon. Ford has updated an icon in duds so cool you couldn't help but feel envy from the minivan set, while providing convenience features you could only dream about in the '70s.

As far as entertainment goes, Ford's latest navigation system with Sync is the benchmark. The large and crystalline screen can be split for simultaneous feedback on navigation, media, and climate control status. The back-up camera is clear and bright, even at night. From Sirius satellite radio to iPod tunes recalled via voice command to a sleep-inducing Jane Austen book on CD, the system is a delight to use, and you can easily catch up on overdue family calls via the voice activated Bluetooth setup. Even with my surname, it never mis-dialed a call to family members.

Once in Vail and what seemed like most of our worldly possessions were hauled out of the Flex, it earned its name by instantly converting to a sweet, three-row shuttle for the trio of couples on hand. If you know to look for the switches, rearmost-seat access is an easy button push away. Even with some exceedingly tall (6'3", 6'5") and annoyingly capable ski pals in the elevated rear seat, there was headroom aplenty (how these clowns managed such lovely brides, I'll never know...).

Coupled to a general sense of refinement, mostly due to the often unheralded substance in Ford's latest interiors, the upcoming twin-turbocharged, all-wheel-drive version of the Flex is destined to become a common sight in ski-towns around the U.S.A. The clunky turn-signal/wiper/high-beam stalk combo could really use retirement, and larger, seat-eating traveling broods will need a roof rack for all the skis and luggage, but the extra power and grip is sure to make that Flex a covetable ride in any tax bracket.

Until that SHO-like version of the Flex arrives, there's not much in the current Flex for real driving enthusiasts. In its element of clicking off straight miles while carrying lots of anything, the Flex's sharp but low-effort steering and cushy ride will offend no one, and the dead-pedal is well placed for your left foot. Far more long-haul friend than canyon carver, every time you look in the rear-view mirror and sense the hatch lingering back in the previous zipcode, you think, 'This thing's pretty slick for a school bus.'

By the time we knocked off our second, straight-shot, 900-mile stint home (only 12:45 heading back - must have had a tailwind) where we averaged 20.7 mpg, I'd become a convert. The Flex Limited is so cool, so comfortable at eating miles, so completely slick in its electronic complement, it makes you want to expand your family and get out and see the U.S.A. If the domestic auto industry lives to thrive again, it will be because of vehicles like the Flex.

Paul Seredynski, Executive Editor @ 19,907 miles

Oil Change

March 12, 2009

Our Long Term 2009 Ford Flex limited just got back from an oil change, tire rotation and brake inspection over at Santa Monica Ford. Preliminary estimates predicted this service to cost about 90 bucks here in Santa Monica. It didn't.

$44.59 and a few hours later the Flex was ready to roll. The service advisor even gave me a form to fill out for a $10 mail-in-rebate on the service. The ownership experience with this car just keeps getting better.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 19,932

20,000 Miles

March 16, 2009

Just like our long-term Subaru Impreza WRX, our 2009 Ford Flex Limited cruised its 20,000th mile this weekend.

Unlike in the WRX (which has been with us about 4 months longer), it only took us about 8 months to run the Flex's odometer to the 20,000 milestone. I don't know if tha'ts a long-term fleet record (and I'm sure you'll tell me, if it is), but it's obvious that we like this boxy crossover. It seems to like us, too, as it's given us little trouble.

To date: three major road trips (Oregon and back, Massachusetts and back, Utah and back), two scheduled oil changes, one visit to the dealer for brakelights staying on, one not-our-fault bumper scrape.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 20,087 miles

14-year-old Boy Approved

March 17, 2009

I've spent a good deal of time in the Ford Flex, just not our particular long termer. Last summer, I journeyed up to Big Bear Lake, California, in a Cinnamon-colored short termer and was left thoroughly impressed by its road trip manners. One month later I was in Toronto on vacation and picked up a Light Ice Blue SEL from the same factory in Oakville, Ontario, its Ford family-hauling predecessors were built since 1994. Both the Windstar and Freestar (and Mercury Monterey!) minivans were mediocre-to-horrible for most of their existence, and the fact that these diseased members of an endangered species have been replaced at the Oakville plant and in the Ford lineup by a hopefully game-changing vehicle like the Flex certainly seemed symbolic.

While the Flex doesn't have the same max utility of a minivan, that summer Toronto trip certainly showed it had the type of appeal the Windstar could only dream about.

Photos and more after the jump.

2009 Ford Flex at Ford Canada Headquarters and the adjacent factory that builds the Flex, Edge, Lincoln MKX and MKT.

"Hey James, that's a cool car," said my 13-year-old cousin Cooper after a long look over the Flex. A three-row, six-passenger family mobile shouldn't in theory draw this sort of reaction from a generation devoted to its text messaging, skater boy fashion sense and that quasi-punk band I'd rather not know the name of. But here was such a vehicle appealing to such a kid. At the Toronto airport, a similarly aged boy passed in front of me at a crosswalk and gave me a thumbs up, clearly mouthing "nice car, man." The 22-year-old brother of a friend also thought the Flex was "pretty sweet."

At the same time, my mother loved the Flex. "I wish I would've had one of these when you were a kid." (Although anything would've been better than an '83 Cutlass Cierra). The space, the high-quality interior, the electronic goodies and the styling all had their appeal. A whole host of other adults thought the Flex would make a great family vehicle (mind you, several others thought it was butt-ugly).

The fact that a family hauler can appeal to moms and 14-year-old boys alike is a triumph. How many times does that really happen ... in any realm? If mom and dad can have their three-rows of seats and room for hockey equipment, while skater son can look cool pulling up to the school parking lot, everyone wins. I've been seeing more Flexes on the road recently and once the economy improves, I foresee the Flex being a runaway best-seller. Well done Ford.

The Flex at Ford Canada HQ (left), and at Canada's smallest jail in Coboconk, Ontario

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 20,104 miles

Excellent Rear Visibility

March 20, 2009

This is what you see when you look over your shoulder in the 2009 Ford Flex. With the third row lowered, you have an amazing amount of glass space (it's not that different with the seat raised). As such, there's really no excuse for errantly backing into things — especially with the rearview camera. The Flex's boxy shape might provide its trademark look, but its subsequent interior space and visibility advantages add to this family vehicle's overall practicality.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Best Bluetooth Award

March 30, 2009

Ford's SYNC gets my award for the best bluetooth interface of any vehicle on the market today. It's a simple interface that, with a few button punches, can be easily linked to your phone. And, once bonded, it can easily be reconnected while moving. This wouldn't matter so much if my phone didn't insist on deactivating bluetooth every time it leaves the car. It also allows phone volume adjustment on the audio system volume knob when bluetooth is in use. Excellent.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 20,804 miles

Country Squire Package

April 01, 2009

Taking a page from Mini Cooper and their Mini Motoring Graphics kits, Ford Motor Company announced a similar product for their 2009 Ford Flex.

We've installed a sneak-peek sample on our 2009 Ford Flex long-term test car. The Country Squire Graphics Package, as it's formally called, will be available as a dealer accessory at the beginning of June.

Richard Duschene, senior product planner and strategist for Ford's car division, explained it this way:

'Troubled times call for a back-to-basics approach. We've studied what worked for us in the past, back in the pre-SUV days. What we found was the pinnacle of our popularity among families and the middle class occurred when we were making a lot of station wagons, particularly Country Squire station wagons.'

'We thought for awhile that we could sell the Flex as a crossover, whatever that is. But our customers have been telling us that we're not fooling anyone. The Flex isn't a minivan, and it isn't an SUV. What's left, then, is station wagon. And that's OK.'

'It's so OK, in fact, that we decided to go all-in and put the Flex 'back in the crate', if you will. If customer response is as strong as we think it's going to be, you might see the Country Squire come back as a factory-installed production option.'

'Frankly, that thought gives a lot of folks here at Ford a woodie.'

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 21,824 miles

Oh No! It Won't Come Off!

April 01, 2009

Houston, we have a problem. The woodie treatment I applied to our 2009 Ford Flex last night just won't come off.

It was funny when I drove to work this morning and got more looks that I ever got in the Nissan GT-R. (Got cut-off a lot more, too.) The best part was that not all of them were disgusted. Some seemed mildly interested.

But now it's April 2nd in Australia. The joke's over. Now what?

Hah! Got you again. It peeled straight off in two minutes. Zero residue.

As you are now aware, it wasn't paint and it wasn't Photoshop. It was good old fashioned Contact-brand shelf paper, which has a mild adhesive backing. I used to use it for car numbers when I road-raced my daily driver several years back. It's $6 for a 25-foot roll at Home Depot. Cuts with scissors. You can get a floral print if you want.

And they make it in wood grain. In two shades, no less.

If you can keep it from sticking to itself, you can use it again.

How do you like my 2009 Ford Flex Country Squire GT?

I still say it's a station wagon. And my wife still wants one.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 21, 599 miles

Separated At Birth

April 02, 2009
Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Our Favorite Caption

April 03, 2009

Thanks to ergsum for this week's favorite caption.

Look how many ergsum had in the finals. You guys are really getting good at this. The final decision was killing me. Heh.

Honorable mention goes to:

Quit your coffin back there. — I can't, my throat Hearse. (ampim)
For the life of me, I can't get this dead pedal to work. (mnorm1)
Ford Flex, got Goth? (ergsum)
It really is that quiet on the inside. (hendrix22)
Flex!!! — I cant!! Rigor Mortis! (CommonSense01)
A hearse is a hearse, of corpse of corpse! (ergsum)
No, no, I said you needed to buy a gasket, not bury a casket! (ergsum)
Strange place for a drive-thru, but boy is this McSoylent Green burger tasty. (ergsum)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

April 03, 2009

Scott took this picture of the 2009 Ford Flex in its unnatural habitat.

I offer you 'My Kingdom for a Hearse'

I'm sure you can do better.

We'll post our favorite at 4PM Pacific Time.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Downshift Already!

April 13, 2009

The Ford Flex can be frustrating to drive in a congested, fast-moving city. Quite often this weekend, I found myself trying to merge into a slot onto the freeway or into a quicker moving surface street lane only to have the Flex utterly refuse to downshift. It would usually take a full foot-to-the-floor and then a good two seconds before it would oblige with a two-gear drop. It would've only needed a one-gear drop, but it lost so much momentum with its stubbornness that more effort, noise and fuel had to be exerted. After a while, I started second guessing merges that I normally wouldn't second guess in such a powerful vehicle — but its downshifting negligence would cause me to second guess and just wait patiently for a bigger hole in traffic. The fact that the Flex feels 29 feet long doesn't help things.

Normally, I'd agree that an automanual shifting override would be useless in a vehicle that offers no driving fun. But if the transmission is going to be so stubborn in its adoration for sixth gear, it would be nice for a better override than simply L.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 21,300 miles

Transporting Billy

April 16, 2009

My DVD collection has grown too plentiful for its present home, so a journey to Ikea was in order to add a second, identical storage cabinet. For those of you who've never been to Ikea, it's important to know that they give everything they sell funny Scandinavian names. That loveseat with the flowers over there is Bjorn; that four-drawer chest is Kviby. So you now know what I mean when I say, the original 6-foot-5 Billy I bought nearly two years ago barely fit in our old long-term Cadillac SRX. I obviously had to flip all the seats down and both boxes (the frame and glass door) were resting on the center console armrest. Not ideal.

For the new Billy, I brought along a much better companion — our long-term Flex. I folded down the second-row seat backs, flip-folded the third row and easily slid both in. Also, the front seats were pushed almost entirely rearward. Despite the picture, I could have stacked both on top of each other and still had room for four passengers and some more Ikea stuff in the trunk well behind the raised third row. Plus, there was a perfectly sized cubby for a pair of extra glass Billy shelves.

If you're wondering how Billy would fit in other big vehicles — say a Buick Enclave and a Honda Odyssey — you're in luck. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait a few weeks for an Edmunds comparison test. What a tease.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 21,410 miles

Conestoga Wagon With Tinted Windows

April 27, 2009

This weekend, our long-term Ford Flex made a trip to some family-owned desert property just past Willow Springs Raceway, the last 6 miles of which were on well-kept dirt roads with only a few relatively minor ruts. The Flex performed like a champ. The ride was a bit bumpy, sure, but it wasn't intolerable, and with the air conditioning on recirculate while we trailed the lead car to our final stop, the desert dust stayed where we wanted it (on the outside, seen above). Despite strong, gusty winds at times on the drive out there, the Flex felt quite steady and planted, unlike a crossover with a higher profile might feel.

I used to think that the Flex was too funky-looking, too big, too hard to drive. But I've gotten used to its size. It's visibility is actually better than most crossovers thanks to the giant greenhouse, and the funky styling had grown on me. Child safety seats are easy to install, too. I think I've finally been won over by this giant wagon with the men's lounge-style interior, pardner.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 22,267 miles

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

April 30, 2009

An open letter to car manufacturers (those that are left, anyways),

Please standardize steering wheel controls for all makes and models accordingly: Audio controls on the left, cruise control on the right.

From time to time, I like to hold the hand of my significant other while we motor down the highway. I'll hazard a guess that most drivers use the wheel-mounted audio buttons more often than the cruise control buttons. For that reason, as well as for those who need their right hand free to shift gears in a traditional manual transmission, the most commonly used controls should be situated on the left side of the wheel.

While we're at it, please make sure the buttons are illuminated at night, and keep the buttons as simple as possible — this isn't Formula One, after all.

As for the Flex and Ford, I still love Sync. But is there a way we could make it truly hands-free? Perhaps we could just say, "Sync", and the system would activate? If not, let's just move it to the left. We now return you to the regularly scheduled ranting.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor @ 22,390 miles

Cramming It Full

May 04, 2009

Here's a shot of the Flex navigating a sissy creek crossing at the Hurkey Creek campground near Idyllwild, California. This was just one chapter in another family hauling adventure for the Flex last weekend. And, once again, the Jacquot family pushed the limits on how much crap can be jammed into a family hauler.

Trivial content details after the jump.

This level of detail might seem like minutiae, but the sheer volume of crap required for a one-day bike race with the family is truly astounding. And packing it all was no picnic, but the Flex treated us right. The photo shows how it looks packed and strapped for travel. Here's how it breaks down:

29-inch wheel mountain bike (yes, it's in there)

Super Stroller (with three 26-inch wheels)

World's largest convertible baby seat

Baby

Tent

Two grocery bags filled with food

170 ounces of water

Two camping chairs

Wife (with ridiculous cowboy hat)

Two helmets

One full cycling gear bag

Multiple moving blankets

Two spare 29-inch tires

Two spare tubes

Three CO2 inflators

Diaper bag

Lunch box for the baby

Snuzzler (don't ask)

Hydration pack

Miscellaneous crap to keep the kid happy and alive

Sanity

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor at about 22,550 miles

It's easy

May 11, 2009

Could raising or lowering the 3rd row seats on our 2009 Ford Flex be any easier?

Yes, of course: they could be power-operated.
But like all of us, Ford is trying to save money.
So instead they devised some easy-to-use pull straps on the seats.

But what's the order for pulling on those straps?
If you had a fancy-pants 3G phone, you could watch Brent's award-winning video before loading your luggage.

Or you could go old-school and read the clearly marked labels just below the seatbacks.

Easy.

Albert Austria, Sr Vehicle Eval Engineer @ 23,250 mi

Part 2 of What's It Like to Work at Inside Line?

May 12, 2009

Here's what happens on an evening photo shoot while we're waiting for the light to get good. We buy gas station burritos, beef jerky nuggets and Bugles, and make the 2009 Ford Flex watch as we consume this garbage gourmet food.

Why the Flex? Because its compliant yet controlled suspension and roomy cargo area (with the third-row seats folded) make it useful for shooting car-to-car photography (cool action photos shot from the road of cars on the road... see example shot by Kurt Niebuhr in thumbs below).

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

Funk Masters Flex

May 18, 2009

Breaking: Santa Monica, Ca.

Top olfactory scientists were baffled at the sudden, gripping funk that took over the Edmunds.com Ford Flex.

'It smelled like bad bananas,' says one editor who asked for anonymity, 'but I searched, there were no bananas. No bananas!'

The source of the fruity fragrance remained a mystery for literally days until 6 Edmunds editors crammed into the 3-row crossover to escape the blistering desert heat and stumbled upon something horrifying.

Continued on Page 2.

A piercing 'Ewww' rang from the third row, says Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath. 'I heard the yell and then someone said 'We're going to need paper towels. And bleach. And do we have any latex gloves?' and that's when things got gross.'

Finally, a breakthrough.

In the last row of the Ford Flex is a storage bin directly next to a round cupholder. Think back to kindergarten: round pegs go in round holes, square pegs go in square holes. Fast forward to being a parent and giving a small child a juice box and then a round hole to put it in. The contradiction must be maddening.

One child, it seems, solved the problem.

A furry box, bluish-green with mold was extracted from the cubby with expert care. Onlookers were too disgusted for photography. This grainy cell phone shot, taken with one hand cupped over the user's nose, is the only evidence that remains.

Late reports indicate that a healthy dose of Oxy Clean spray and half a roll of Bounty eliminated the remaining problem.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 23,982 miles

Another Rough Day At The Office

May 20, 2009

I mean, seriously. The lengths we go to for our readers' entertainment. But hey, that's what we're here for. If we have to drive all the way to El Mirage to do donuts in the Flex on a lawless dry lake bed, then by OIdham, that's what we're gonna do.

Donut artist Magrath reports that the Flex's always-on stability control system made his job rather difficult, requiring spastic stabs at the throttle to stay a step ahead of the computer. Not surprisingly, the parking-brake pedal proved entirely unhelpful (come on, no handbrake in a six-passenger minibus?!).

Alas, there would be no successful top-speed run this time, thanks to the Flex's anemic acceleration above 85 mph and an abundance of dilapidated Winnebagos randomly driving around. I did however snap a revealing picture (right) of Magrath's high-speed driving posture — no wonder he's not bothered by those demonic headrests.

Josh Sadlier (text, photos) and Mark Takahashi (animation) @ 23,250 miles

"There's a Little Ford GT in Every Flex We Build"

May 26, 2009

Ford never tried to use that marketing line on its Flex, probably because the cars are separated by 3 model years, a couple dozen feet of cargo space and over $100,000.

But it still occurred to me as I hauled a load of spare Ford GT parts home in it recently. Yup, I'm stockpiling Ford GT parts because A) I might need them someday and B) even if I don't, I'm thinking they're better than money in the bank as far as future value goes. And I felt this way even before A) the government added a third shift to every mint in country and B) the U.S. automotive supplier base appeared destined for its own carpocalypse (supplier-ocalypse?).

Regardless, I needed to haul two Ford GT seats, a steering wheel, a right headlight and a rear tire home. The Flex is our de-facto cargo-hauler since we lost the Grand Caravan, Edge, Tundra, Silverado and X5 in the past year. With up to 83 cubic feet of cargo space it proved easily capable of swallowing said items, even with one second-row seat still positioned for passenger duty.

If you're looking for a minivan but want to avoid the 'box-on-wheels' styling and telltale slide doors, the Ford Flex makes an excellent alternative.

Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief @ 24,301 miles

25,000 Miles

June 01, 2009

It's been 9 months, almost to the day, since the Ford Flex joined our fleet with the goal of hitting 20,000 miles by year's end. Turns out driving a car to Boston and back has a significant impact on that sort of thing.

25,000 miles, zero squeaks, zero rattles and zero problems. I love this car.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 25,000.1 miles

Tired

June 03, 2009

How many wheels/tires do you think you could fit in a 2009 Ford Flex given these limitations:

-No tire may be higher than the headrests.

-Must be room for two persons.

-Must be room for two carry-on bags, a 3 1/2 ton floor jack and a few doze cones.

-Must be stable for > 1,000 miles.

Follow the jump for the answer. (And some pictures!)

So, how many tires did you think would fit?

Did I hear someone say 12? Correct!

See, the trouble is that the tires we needed to haul were too wide to sit two across in the rear cargo area. It was possible (as seen above) to do so over the rear seats, but doing so required them to sit on top of the fridge hump.

The rear had to be arranged like this: three stacked vertically, two horizontal and one sort of crooked using the jack for stability. There's six. There is not enough depth left in front of the stacked tires to place more vertically or horizontally.

Second row seats went like this: two stacked on each seat, one in each footwell. There's another six.

And here's the D-side

The Flex and I did a hair over 1,000 miles like this without breaking a sweat or my neck with a flying tire. A minivan would've been better, but I wouldn't have been as happy.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 25,240 miles

Driving the Stink Out of It

June 07, 2009

Our funky-looking minivan alternative — or is it a wagon on steroids — has been in our fleet now for about 8 months and more than 25,000 miles.

In that time, we've driven it across country to Fenway Park, cooled our lunch, stuffed it full of furniture, got pooped on in Oregon, got rear-ended in an unrelated incident, gave it the woodie treatment, and drove it bananas.

And now the Ford Flex is car of the week.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Maneuverable

June 08, 2009

Even though our seven-passenger Ford Flex is longer than the Infiniti FX50, it feels more maneuverable to me.

I know these aren't direct competitors but they happen to be the only two cars in our fleet right now that can carry a lot of stuff in the back.

At 201.8 inches long the Flex has 10.5 inches on the Infiniti which is just over 191 inches long. In a previous post I talked about how the Infiniti feels all boaty like its length is all in its nose. The Flex feels more normal.

Both vehicles are the same width at 75.9 inches but I have trouble sensing where I am in the lane when driving the Infiniti. In the Flex I feel right in the center of the lane and more in control.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 25,620 miles

Dealer FAIL

June 09, 2009

As I hinted at in my last post, the 2009 Ford Flex spent the better part of the afternoon in my driveway during a suspension walkaround photo session.

The tires have to come off for this treatment, of course, and it was during this procedure that I discovered that our dealer screwed-up royally when they replaced our Flex's rear brake pads. How so?

The rear lug nuts on both sides were no more than snug, and that's being generous. They came off without any effort at all. It was as if my 10-year old daughter Sarah had tightened them. Kudos for not using an air wrench, but a big fat FAIL for forgetting to apply the torque wrench after putting the Flex back on the ground. One of these wheels could have easily loosened and fallen off between now and the next dealer visit if I hadn't checked.

But wait, there's more. The tires were visibly in dire need of a rotation, but it hadn't been done. And I know they had the fronts off, too, because a brake inspection was performed on that end as well. (Those pads were OK and the lugs were properly tight).

Are you telling me that if all 4 tires come off in the course of a service you're still not going to rotate them because we didn't specifically ask or pay? Really?

Now do you see why I like to do DIY service? Buy a decent jack and tools, learn how to use them, keep some grubby jeans handy and don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Holy bleep.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing, holding steady @ 25,674 miles

Fiesta At My Place

June 09, 2009

I'd better run out and buy lottery tickets. Why? There are only 100 Ford Fiestas in the Fiesta Movement program, and one them turned up two doors down from me as I was in my driveway finishing the photography for an upcoming 2009 Ford Flex suspension walkaround.

If that wasn't enough, the driver turned out to be none other than Courtney Force, daughter of Funny Car legend John Force. An up-and-coming drag racer in her own right, Courtney went to the same grade school as my kids and still lives nearby.

When I took these photos I hadn't yet seen the driver. It was only later, when I didn't have my camera, that the driver came back to the car and I started asking her about the car.

The Fiesta looks really good in person. The outside looks zippy and smart and the inside (Courtney let me sit in it) seems attractive, well-built and sensibly laid-out. This example clearly out-does the current dumbed-down US Ford Focus.

If they keep the production examples at or above this level, Ford will have a strong answer to cars like the Honda Fit and the Scion xD.

Here's a link to a bunch of Courtney's Fiesta Movement YouTube videos.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Tresting @ 25,674 miles

Open Thread

June 09, 2009

What can we tell you about the Ford Flex that we haven't already? Post your questions and we'll get back to you.

Have you seen any Flexes on the road? What color did you see?

If you've driven one, write a review in the comments section.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Picture Perfect

June 10, 2009

This is my favorite picture involving the Flex in all of our 25,000+ miles.

This was taken by Dan Edmunds on his trip to Oregon.

Fierce.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Suspension Walkaround

June 10, 2009

The 2009 Ford Flex sits crossways in my driveway and the right side wheels are off. Time to peek into the wheel wells to see what's going on in there.

Will we find any surprises?

The front end is made up of standard fare: There's a coil-over strut (yellow) and a welded steel lower control arm (green). Both attach to a cast aluminum hub carrier (white) that cuts down on unsprung mass a bit.

Here you can see the L-shaped lower control arm (yellow). It's made of two stamped steel halves that are welded together, a very common method of construction.

Like most front-wheel drive-based vehicles, the Flex has a transverse-mounted engine and transmission, and that means the steering rack (green) has to be located behind the axle centerline.

The rear control arm bushing is a large aluminum affair, and the way it's mounted makes it seem to hang in space. Here's why:

Say you hit a pothole. The upward force goes straight up into the spring and strut, but the wheel is also knocked back, and this force enters the arm at the lower ball joint (blue). The forward control arm bush fits tightly in a reinforced pocket with rubber shims on each side, so it absorbs most of the hit in the fore-aft direction. But in so doing it becomes a pivot, and that creates an in-n-out force (as opposed to a delicious hamburger) at the rear bushing, whose mounting is therefore optimized to handle forces in that direction.

Here's a close-up of the bush. The yellow arrow is pointing to a witness mark that shows where the bigger hits have been transmitting those inward forces. The bushing has a lot of rubber volume and there is a specifically engineered gap because you need a bit of give to absorb the hits to prevent harshness. The trick is not making it so gooey that it adversely affects the steering. The Flex has struck a good balance in this regard.

A high performance sports car can tolerate more harshness and needs surgically-precise steering, so you won't see the same solution on cars like that. Suspension tuning is all about managing conflicting requirements and matching the result to the intended use and customer expectations for a particular type of car.

The Flex's front stabilizer bar runs behind the steering rack, so it must loop up and over to meet up with the link. Looks weird, but it's no problem at all.

This, however, looks a little unusual. That gap between the stabilizer bar and it's bushing does not look right. Such a gap would reduce the efficiency of the stab bar, and might lead to noise. It's either worn or the bush for a larger bar was installed by mistake. I'll look into this and post a follow-up.

We're not hearing anything though, and the Flex seems to be performing well. If they need to be replaced, this looks like an easy DIY fix, too.

The stabilizer bar link mounts directly to the strut housing, however, so the motion ratio, at least, is 1:1 for high efficiency. Note also that the strut tube is flattened somewhat in the area of the sticker for extra clearance from the wheel and tire.

Ford can do this because these are twin-tube struts. A second tube within this tube is the precision-ground chamber where the piston runs up and down, and the space between is an oil reservoir. This makes it easy to weld-on various brackets and such, but it also makes it a thermos bottle that retains heat generated inside, by the valve. That's OK for a passenger car, but it's bad for track cars and off-road trucks because excessive heat leads to foaming and fade.

The Flex's front brakes consist of twin-piston (yellow) sliding calipers. The pins they slide on are hidden beneath the bellows (white); they need a dab of high-temperature grease inside to keep them sliding properly.

The rear of the Flex is a multilink set-up, with an upper arm (green) and three links. The black and white ones approximate a lower arm, and the final link (yellow) handles toe control.

This view shows that the toe link (green) is adjustable. All of the links bolt to a lightweight aluminum hub carrier/knuckle (black). A stabilizer bar (yellow) runs beneath it all.

As we've seen before, the long lower ling is spread wide (black) to serve as a lower spring mount. The upper end of the spring seats against the subframe (yellow) which in turn bolts to the body through good-sized bushings for extra isolation.

The stabilizer bar end link (yellow) and the rear shock absorber (white) both mount directly to the aluminum knuckle for maximum efficiency and precision.

The rear pivot of the rear supension's upper arm is precisely located by a pillow block that is securely bolted to the subframe.

There's a lot of space in the middle of this tangle of links for one good reason: You can get all-wheel drive in a Flex and a rear drive axle has to fit through it all.

The rear hubs are splined and ready for those axles. After all, why bother making two versions?

Minus points for the special Torx head bolts that locate the rear brake rotors. DIYers need to have a set of these handy.

Plus points, though, for the lug studs that have the last few threads removed to guide the nuts on without cross-threading.

Single piston sliding calipers do the work in back, and the rotors are mere solid discs. It's hard to tell from here, but that seems a bit light-duty for such a heavy people mover. Could this be why we just replaced the pads at just 25k miles? Probably not, but we're looking into it.

The big spring and cable indicate a mechanism that squeezes directly on the piston to create the parking brake function.

Our 2009 Ford Flex Limited wears P235/55R19 Hankook tires. Mounted on rims, the wheel and tire assembly weighs 55 pounds.

As you can see, these Hankooks have a 600 treadwear rating. Those numbers are so unreliable as to be about useless; we're going to come up short of 35,000 miles with these tires.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 25,719 miles

Bigger in Person

June 11, 2009

I think I talked someone out of buying a Flex. It wasn't really on purpose - a mom at a kid's b-day party asked how I liked our Long Term Flex Limited and explained that her current Saturn lease was up. I said 'It's a great car but it is BIG - drive one before you decide.' The next day she showed up in a brand new 2010 Ford Fusion. My fault? I hope not but this sucker is quite large, something pictures alone don't convey.

Brian Moody, Automotive Editor @ 25,811 miles

My Winter Olympic Ride?

June 11, 2009

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to get tickets to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. And by "lucky," I mean "received the honor of paying an arm, leg and pancreas to attend four events." But it still took some effort, so I still feel accomplished. If you care, I go into more detail after the jump.

What does this have to do with our long-term fleet? Well, I need your help blogosphere. I'll be driving to Vancouver in the dead of February and will need something to get me, three friends and all our stuff through the wintry climes of Northern California, Oregon, Washington and a sliver of British Columbia. Therefore, I'll prefer all-wheel-drive. At first glance, our present fleet actually has quite a few vehicles that meet that criteria: Audi A4 Avant, Audi S5, Mitsubishi Evo MR, Suzuki SX4, Infiniti FX50 and Nissan GT-R. On second glance, never mind. The Infiniti is orobably the best candidate, but as Phil discovered back in December, our long termer has summer tires on it. The Audis would be great for making a hip Olympic entrance, but neither satisfies the friends and stuff criteria. The GT-R would be awesome if my friends were Keebler Elves and we had a plow escort.

If I were to leave tomorrow, I'd probably just take the Flex and its chains since I know they can handle a snowy road trip. But I have eight months before Vancouver and we'll have a different fleet by then. What cars and SUVs should I lobby for to make my Olympic road trip? The serious and ridiculous are certainly welcome.

About those tickets. Even as a Canadian citizen with an in-country address (a family member's) my first request for several ticket packages was denied during the 'Phase 1 Priority Access Period' of ticketing back in December. Actually, I got three tickets for curling (shut up, I like it). I certainly wasn't alone in my frustration. The next phase was last Saturday, when a la carte event tickets went on sale. Since the system was so overwhelmed with traffic, the Olympic Web site diverted into a 'virtual waiting room' where I 'sat' for an hour and 20 minutes before being logged into the system. When I got in, I was able to snag tickets for women's luge, women's 1000m speed skating and one of the nightly victory ceremonies at the Olympic Stadium (aka BC Place). And all the women's events is due to scheduling, not because I especially enjoy watching ladies in spandex. Also, Alpine skiing and ski jumping were sold out.

But I'm going, and I'm thrilled. Should make for a fun time (and blog) in eight months.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Easy Tech

June 12, 2009

Much has already been said about the Flex's high tech features - Sync, Sirius Travel Link and a touch screen nav system are all useful. Yet, Ford has done something really remarkable here - they've made all those complex features easy to use and even easier to understand. On one screen you can see the nav map, the current song playing (satellite radio, iPod or CD) and climate control settings. This is exactly how tech SHOULD work. High fives all around.

Brian Moody, Automotive Editor @ 25,901 miles.

True to the Concept?

June 15, 2009

Here's a look at the rear of the Flex Limited. The concept car for the Flex used this nice metallic looking treatment too but how close do you think the Flex is to the original Fairlane Concept from 2005?

Check out the Concept version after the jump...

I think Ford stayed pretty true to the original idea - what do you think? Does it even matter or do most people forget the concept version by the time the real car goes on sale?

Brian Moody @ 26,009 miles

Broken and Disconnected

June 25, 2009

After 26,000 miles things are bound to break. Fortunately, the non-functioning pieces I discovered last night are minor, but irritating nonetheless.

The first thing I do once I get in the Flex is plug in my iPhone to get the tunes playing. One of the few reasons I like the Flex is for its Sync system — almost enough to overlook the bizarre seating position I'm forced into (This is one car that really needs a telescoping wheel).

As I went to open the center armrest bin, I noticed the latch is no longer spring loaded, and boy, does that thing feel cheap when it's left dangling. No biggie, I thought. Then after plugging in my iPhone to the USB port, nothing happened. I tried to get Sync to find an external device, but lady in the dash only said, "Device not found." Rats. Maybe it's my cord? Nope, still zilch with another connection **sigh**.

But wait! the new iPhone 3.0 update last week just might bail me out since it now supports streaming 

music over Bluetooth. Ta-da! Yes, it works! The sound quality is pretty good, but Sync doesn't control the device, requiring me to manually select and skip on the phone — oh the humanity! What is this, 2007?!? Also, the signal cuts out every now and then, interrupting the music...and my groove.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor @ 26,402 miles

Cruise Interface Still Terrible

June 29, 2009

Ford's been on this kick for a while now where they equip their cars with the most pathetic cruise control interface possible. Our longterm 2009 Ford Flex is the most recent victim. Pardon the lint in the pic above; the Flex was fresh from the car wash.

I've ranted about this before for other Ford vehicles. To re-reiterate, Ford's cruise interface fails on many levels:

First — still no 'cancel' button. Mystifying. Tapping the brakes is a terrible way to accomplish this. Ever wonder how traffic forms?

Second — since there's no cancel button, the on/off button takes its place. This means that every time you press 'off' to 'cancel,' you have to then un-cancel by using the 'on' button.  And yes, you will have to rely on your memory for this because:

Third — there is no telltale in the instrument cluster to inform you whether the cruise is currently 'on' or 'off.' Sure, it tells when it's 'set,' but not when it's 'on.'

Fourth — at a fundamental level, having to turn on the cruise before setting it is silly. I have to turn it on before I turn it on? Seriously? And it defaults to 'off' every time you turn the Flex off. We have nobody but overly paranoid lawyers to thank for that.

Fifth — the buttons are all too similarly shaped and in a neat column. I'm sure some designer received mad props from a middle-level desk jockey when he or she came up with this golly-gee-looking arrangement fifteen years ago. However, even after living with this for days or even weeks, I still find myself having to look down at the buttons every time I want to use them. Ergonomics fail.

Sixth — they're on the wrong side of the steering wheel. The correct layout if you must have buttons is audio on the left; cruise on the right.

Attention, Ford Cruise Control Department: grow a pair and don't have the lawyers or designers tell you how to do your job. Then do what you know is right and copy the BMW stalk.

That is all.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor at 26,xxx miles.

Broken Interior Trim

July 02, 2009

Suddenly the interior of our long-term 2009 Ford Flex is showing some age. The small chrome latch on the center console is broken (actually it's about the fall off) and will no longer grab hold and secure the console lid. Funny, the same thing has happened to our long-term Mazda 6.

And that's not all.

The lower seat trim has also come off and won't snap back in. I'll have to mess with it over the weekend.

Both of these items should not be broken after just 26,000 miles, but we should all keep in mind that they are also high use touch points. That console release is in constant use and that seat trim gets kicked everytime the driver climbs in and out of the Flex.

We'll get the console fixed when the Flex goes in for its next scheduled service. The seat trim too if I'm too much of monkey to snap it back in place.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Where Are The Auto Windows?

July 02, 2009

This morning on the way to work I realized that our $42,080 long-term 2009 Ford Flex Limited does not have auto up and down windows. Only the driver's window has the feature. The other three aren't auto up or down.

The fact that I haven't noticed this until now (the Flex has more than 26,000 miles on it) tells me this isn't a big deal, but I still find it disappointing in such an expensive vehicle.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Interior by the Gap

July 06, 2009

I drove our Ford Flex over the weekend. I like our Ford Flex. A lot. Enough to consider buying one. The lease on my wife's Passat wagon is up and she's making noise about wanting a third row.

But there is one thing about the Flex that has bugged me from day one; the huge crevasse between the sunroof shade and the headliner. No I'm not kidding. Look at that gap. And it's not just our Flex, they're all like that. In fact, it's a Ford across the board thing. I was just in a new F-150 and it had the same gape. Not cool.

I mean, look at that. I can stick my Blackberry in there. Um, file this under unsatifactory.

Maybe I'll get the wife a Mazda CX-9.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief @ 26,726 miles

Sunroof Shade Drama Part II

July 07, 2009

Man, some of you people are dense. I was not prying the Flex's sunroof shade up or open with my finger or my Blackberry. That's the size of the gap, I was just using those things to illustrate the scale of its enormity.

By the way, if the ill-fitting sunroof cover doesn't bother you that's fine, but this is at $42,000 vehicle, and for my forty two grand I want stuff to fit right. And trust me when I tell you that this is not the way it should be. I drive hundreds of vehicles a year and the majority of them have sunroofs. And only this Flex and other Fords have this huge space between the shade and the headliner. Every other car company seems to be able to do it the right way. You would never see that kind of low standard in the interior of a Audi for instance, at any price point.

Why is that?

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Power Tailgate is Smooth and Quiet

July 08, 2009

As power tailgates go the one hung on the back of our long-term Ford Flex is a quiet and smooth as I've seen. Sure it's a little slow, but the fact that it doesn't slam and the absence of a nasal whine from its electric motors is worth an extra second or so.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

It Holds Big Stuff, Part XXVII

July 13, 2009

In case it's not obvious, that's a the underside of a washing machine. And it's in the back of our longterm 2009 Ford Flex.

That the Flex can hold large items is not news. But wait, there's more!

Did you see the dryer sitting just in front of the washer in the lead pic?

No?

Well, friends, here's a view of said clothes tumbling device taken from the side door:

Yes, those are two 'super capacity' appliances that fit simultaneously in the Flex as if the vehicle was designed around them.

The two appliances weren't going to fit end-to-end, so I spun the dryer 90 degrees once I slid it in past the rear wheelwells. That left enough space for just one orientation of the washer.

There's about a half-inch of clearance between the dryer and the headliner, and another half-inch between the washer and the hatch. Perfect.

Moving sucks, but the Flex sure helps. Gotta love craigslist, too — these bad boys cost me a total of just 160 bucks at a moving sale.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

New Horizon

July 14, 2009

During a very involved multi-day shoot, we found a great new use for the Flex: camera platform.

Instead of carrying a ladder with use, simply pop open the sunroof, stand on a seat and plant your camera on the roof for that extra height.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

Mucho Trips to Target

July 20, 2009

I think my husband hates me. All he wants to do on weekends is take a nap by the pool, and I prefer to use our time together to get things done. And bought.

This weekend, we purchased a 127-gallon outdoor storage bin to hold our rainbow crop of styrofoam pool noodles.

And then we went back the next day for a 36-inch-high eight-cube shelf and and eight fabric storage bins.

Unassembled, neither item was particularly unwieldy, but the Flex's low load-height and power rear hatch made it easy for my husband to move the boxes from the red shopping cart to the carpeted cargo-hold.

For me, the Ford Flex is the perfect shopping companion. Whether its our first trip to Target that weekend, or our fifth, the Flex and I never squabble about what I want to buy, or who's going to put it together when we get home.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 28,223 miles

I Decided to Buy Something Else

July 21, 2009

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was car shopping for a family hauler to replace our beloved VW Passat wagon (our second). The Passat's lease was up and I was in the market again, only this time a wagon wouldn't do. My wife decided a third row was on the gotta-have list so I found myself, against my will, in the crossover market.

The short list looked like this: Ford Flex, Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca, Hyundai Veracruz and the budget buster Acura MDX. All others out there were either too lame or too pricey.

I've obviously driven them all for my job, and we've had a Flex, a CX-9, an Enclave and a Veracruz in our long-term fleet over the last few years, so each of those have been used by the Oldham family extensively for daily use and road trips.

And for a while there I was set on getting one of the GM triplets. I was recommending them to all my friends for months. But ultimately the GMC and the Buick turned out to be too much money. Then I decided I like the Flex better than the Traverse, which was the finishing order of a recent Edmunds.com comparison test. The MDX is great to drive and packed with luxuries even in the base model, but it was just too small and too expensive.

The Tribeca got close. I like the way the Subaru drives and dig the fact that its off-the-radar for the majority of suburbia. I even took my wife to Santa Monica Subaru for a look and priced one out, but it was judged by by her to be too small in the third row and the interior left her cold.

Which left the Flex, the Mazda and the Veracruz. Three quality vehicles anybody would be lucky to own. But in the end I chose the Mazda. I leased a white CX-9 Touring for three years. There it is in my driveway next to our long-term Flex.

And the reason I chose it is simple. I decided the CX-9 delivered the best mix of value, fit and finish, styling, comfort and performance for me and my family. I just decided that I preferred the packaging and driving experience of the CX-9 the most.

Hopefully it will treat us well.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Tires

July 24, 2009

Another day, another trip to Stokes here in Santa Monica. This time around, it was our 2009 Ford Flex Limited in need of some new rubber. While the G8's uneven tire wear can be attributed almost solely to hyperactive throttle application, the Flex's requirement of only two tires can be blamed on us. While the dealer may have said the tires were being rotated, we should have been more diligent in checking their work.

2 Hankook Optimo H725 tires, 235/55R19, including installation, ran $376.28.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 28,316 miles

Seat Comfort Gone Wrong

July 24, 2009

I love our 2009 Ford Flex's wide, cushy captain's chairs.

At least for the first 20 miles.

At that point, the luxury of driving from my couch mysteriously changes to piloting from a bean bag chair. You know, when the styrofoam pellets split to both sides, leaving just a washable vinyl cover between your behind and the hard floor. No amount of adjusting the seat eases that collapsed feeling once its begun.

So as much as I like the Flex's seating at first sit, our love affair only lasts a couple of freeway exits.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor

Even Syncier

August 03, 2009

Driving the Ford Flex this weekend gave me an opportunity to compare Sync systems back-to-back with the Focus.

Not surprisingly, the display in the Ford Flex is much more sophisticated than in the Focus. The navigation screen in the Flex has a modern, easy-on-the eyes white display. It's viewable even in direct sunlight. You can use the voice controls or you can touch the screen to make most selections.

Unlike the Focus, the Flex doesn't have a special iPod cable in the car. I had to use the USB cable that came with my iPod. Easy enough. It tucks away into the center storage compartment and stays connected. Once I selected 'all songs,' the music started to play in alphabetical order even though my iPod was set to shuffle. I'm sure I could adjust this, but I was already moving and had no time for fiddling.

I give it a thumbs up.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Don't Need a Family to Dig It

August 06, 2009

I always feel a bit ridiculous when driving an overtly family vehicle. I really liked driving our long-term Enclave, for instance, but the thought of a 20-something dude with 0.0 kids driving around in a giant Buick family hauler just didn't seem right. If I saw me driving that, I'd figure he'd boosted his dad's car, he'd given up on life prematurely or looked remarkably young for his age.

The Ford Flex is different, though. In our Grave Digger paint scheme, the Flex looks very cool. Although it's also gigantic and can fit my non-existent children (Molly and Skeletor) in comfort, it doesn't give that mom mobile vibe. If I was a family man, I'd appreciate being able to take the wife out to dinner on Saturday night in something that looked like the Flex. Taking the Odyssey or the Enclave would be a little depressing.

Practical and cool scores points for me.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 28,996 miles

Wii Love the Sunroof Gap

August 10, 2009

Someone in the office recently whined about the sunroof gap in our 2009 Ford Flex. It's true, there is a lot of daylight between the headliner and the sunshade, and it isn't particularly pretty. But it isn't all bad — the girls and I found a use for it during our vacation prep.

They wanted to bring their Nintendo Wii game system, you see, because the Flex has a fold-down screen and DVD player with external inputs. Ummm, OK, but where does one put the sensor bar — the long receiver that talks to the Wiimotes? At home, it usually sits on top of your TV.

It took only a few minutes to come up with a prime candidate — the infamous Sunroof Gap.

The sensor bar fits perfectly. It slips right in and the sunshade doesn't even know it's there; it opens and closes normally.

At first we thought the fold-down screen would get in the way, since it sits between the kids and the sensor bar's proposed home.

But the sunroof gap location works great. The sensor bar sees the Wiimotes just fine. If all goes to plan, the kids will be bowling inside our Flex while we roll on down the highway.

For obvious reasons, the central roof-mounted screen location isn't my favorite. I guess I have to deal with it. If it wasn't the Wii, it'd be DVDs.

The Wii is aboard, our luggage is packed and we're ready to go. Zero miles down, 2,100 or so to go.

Dan Edmunds, DIrector of Vehicle Testing @ 29,175 miles

Sirius Link to a Drive-In Movie

August 10, 2009

As you can see, the girls and I have parked the 2009 Ford Flex at a Drive-In theater. We're waiting for the projectionist to decide that the sun's gone down far enough.

We're tourists, of course, so we don't know the local movie scene. Heck, we didn't even know we wanted to see a movie until we drove by this drive-in while passing by on the 101 freeway.

'Is it open? Is it abandoned? What's playing? When does it start?'

We had no local newspaper or telephone directory, but we did have an ace up our sleeve: Sirius Travel Link.

I've never used the system before, but it's as simple as it gets. Two or three button presses is all it takes to get the name, address and phone number of the theater.

The first step is to press the Info button (yellow arrow). Next I select Sirius Travel Link from the 5 soft buttons on the left side of the touchscreen.

Sirius Travel Link is an add-on pay service above and beyond Sirius satellite radio. Its most well-known function is real-time traffic notifications on the nav screen, but it offers a lot more, as you can see above. The first 6 months are free, but our Flex is way past that point, so we pay $5.99 per month to keep it going.

Anyway, from here I simply press 'Movie Listings', and then I get this....

The car knows where it is via GPS, so I get a list of nearby theaters. The uppermost listing scrolls across the screen to read 'Sunset Drive-In'. Bingo. I press the entry on the touch screen and see the following...

There's the address and the phone number. My cell phone is paired to the Sync system via Bluetooth, so all I do is press the Dial button on the touchscreen to call the theater.

It's a recording, of course. Tonight's show is a double feature: GI Joe followed by Transformers 2. Six bucks a head. Kids under 12 are two dollars. Gates open at 7:30 pm. GI Joe is first and it starts at 8:15 pm.

The Nav system is ready to provide guidance if I need it, but I'm a block away so I don't bother.

We take up a strategic position near the snack bar (and the rest rooms) and wait. Drive-in veterans will notice the lack of a window-hanging speaker. Instead we tune our FM radio to 100.7 FM, as instructed.

The old-school projector (and projectionist) are at ground level, right there next to the snack bar.

Of course the sound coming through the Flex's stereo is decidedly better than any window-hanging speaker ever could be. We put the key in the ACC position, but we find that we have to go through a few extra steps in the Flex to make sure that doesn't kill the battery

1) ACC does indeed kill the gauges, but not the tiny lights that illuminate the power window switches. They're always on in ACC, as far as I can tell. These we'll have to live with.
2) The nav screen can be dimmed to the state you see here by pressing the DISP button once. A second press makes the screen go completely dark, yet the radio stays alive.
3) The ambient lighting in the footwell and the cupholders doesn't respond to the dimmer, but a hidden control in the center console allows me to switch between several colors. Fortunately, one of the 'colors' is OFF.

GI Joe turns out to be silly, dumb fun with lots of explosions — perfect drive-in movie fare. I wish we had one of these back home.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 29,435 miles

Mission Accomplished

August 11, 2009

Stage 2 of our Ford Flex Tour de California (and Oregon) brought us to one of California's most remote and unspoiled missions, Mission San Antonio de Padua. To get there you have to take a detour off Highway 101 for some 25 miles until you get to the checkpoint at Fort Hunter-Liggett, an active Army training facility. From there you drive 6 miles through the base to get to the mission. The military checkpoint requires ID, vehicle registration and proof of insurance in order to proceed.

Any California 4th grader can tell you about the missions and how Fray Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan from Catlunya, founded a string of 20-something of them along what was then called Alta California the late 1700's. The idea was to convert the local Indians and colonize the west coast of North America. San Antonio de Padua, the 3rd one built, was founded on July 14, 1771. It's still an active parish that serves 35 families. Admission is free.

About 2 miles south of the mission you'll find the start of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, a narrow, twisty road that cuts through the Fort and crosses over the mountains to the Pacific Ocean and Highway 1 at Lucia, right in the heart of the most spectacular part of the Big Sur coast. N-F Road is the only crossing over these mountains between San Luis Obispo and Carmel, and every motorcyclist I know talks about it.

I had planned to check it out for myself on this trip, but a brush fire in those mountains closed the road to all but fire personnel. So our side-trip to the mission was an out-and back affair, and we continued up 101 to our stopover in San Francisco.

Fuel consumption, Stage 1, Yorba Linda to San Luis Obispo: 259.7 miles and 13.2 gallons for
19.7 mpg.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 29,692 miles

30,000 Miles & Counting

August 12, 2009

We interrupt your 2009 Ford Flex Road Trip coverage for this special 30,000 mile update. We are told that all is well, and that the Flex steers and handles as well as it ever has, which is to say, quite pleasingly.

That is all.

Wait. Hang on a minute.

We are receiving word that a photograph of the location at which such an event occurs is traditional in such circumstances. Here then, is the wayside rest that sits on the shore of Stone Lagoon in Humboldt Lagoons State Park.

PS: We've been listening to Sherlock Holmes audiobooks most of the day to pass the time. Can you tell?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 30,000.2 miles

Frisco to Oregon

August 12, 2009

Today we left San Francisco behind and headed north to the Oregon border in the 2009 Ford Flex. We needed to cover a lot of ground, so we got an early start.

On of the first orders of business was to fill the tank on the way out of town. Here the Sirius Travel Link made itself useful again, as hitting the 'Fuel Prices' button was the quickest way to find a nearby station (much easier than the usual POI method) and, as we saw with our drive-in search 2 days ago, it provided a simple way to set the selected station as a waypoint in the Nav system.

San Francisco sees itself as quite progressive when it comes to energy policy. Indeed electric buses powered by overhead cables hummed up and down the hilly streets outside our hotel all night. But the fight over what direction is best still rages on, as illustrated by the gas station our nav system directed us to.

Audi TDI diesel ads sat atop all of the pumps, and all of the fuel hoses wore advertising placards with the word 'diesel' on them.

But none of the pumps at this station dispensed diesel. Not a single one. This seems like a 'complain to your cable operator' type of ad campaign to me. Odd.

Right behind us, at the same station, sat two Zip Cars, which I gather is a sort of communal car sharing scheme, or something. In this dense walking city, this solution to the occaisional need for a car makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose. But what really struck me was the cars themselves: these aren't beat-up old bottom-feeder compacts.

Our tank full of 87 octane gasoline, we were off to the Golden Gate bridge. What a sight!

Sorry, kids. It's really spectacular. You should see it sometime.

Our next stop was Hopland, California, a region famous for that necessary beer ingredient and, apparently, solar panels. Real Goods is a crunchy store that promotes the technology, which is no bad thing. But the front row of their parking lot is reserved for electric cars, complete with electrical junction boxes. We parked the Flex in one of the spaces anyway.

Why? Eight spaces is more than you'd need in the largest shopping mall in Santa Monica, and this place rarely has 8 customers at a time. We've stopped here a lot in the past 10 years to feed the fish and stretch our legs, but we've never once seen an electric car plugged-in. And Hopland is a dinky little town that would be far beyond the range of our own Mini E, even if it were based in San Francisco. And then there's the plug itself.

In short, it was a box of cobwebs. One of the plugs has the remains of a wasp's nest stuck to it. And none of the plugs (save the 110V outlets), is compatible with any of the modern electric cars I know of, including our Mini E. And I don't count the 110 V outlets because 50 miles of Mini E range takes 24 hours when connected to one of these. Its 220 V or nothing, IMHO. Electric cars need standarization in the plug area if they are to move beyond the hobbyist phase, and I don't hear much serious talk about it from any quarter yet.

They sell Biodiesel here, though. Several TDI Jettas, presumably employee cars, sat nearby.

A few hours later brought us to our favorite NorCal lunch spot, the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka. It sits alongside the southbound lanes of US 101 in the downtown region where it splits into a pair of one-way streets that are a block apart. Its worth the U-turn if you're headed north. And you may even recognize their beer from your local supermarket.

Further north we went, up into the coast redwoods. The roads get progressively twisty, but the Flex handles them easily. Its low center of gravity and lower seating position makes the sensation of body roll much less noticeable than it would be in an SUV or our own Honda Odyssey minivan. No one gets sick. No one complains. And that's not something I can say about every car we bring up here.

As for me, I'm liking the way the steering effort builds progressively as the tires load-up in corners — even at the relatively low lateral g levels we're seeing at our leisurely place. It's a sure-footed machine that goes down this lazy sinuous road nice and easy.

Gas update:

Stage 2, SLO to SF: 257.4 miles, 11.31 gallons for 22.8 mpg (24.4 on trip meter)
Stage 3, SF to Crescent City*: 356.3 miles, 16.13 gallons for 22.1 mpg (22.9 on trip meter)
*near the Oregon border.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 30,068 miles

Our Favorite Caption

August 14, 2009

Thanks to rick8365 for this week's favorite caption.

Here are the other honorables:

This photo is rated XXX for Axe, Ox, Flex (ergsum)
Paul says that Babe prefers a Taurus. (ergsum)
Mr. Bunyan was hired to fix the Flex's 'fake wood' interior. (dougtheeng)
Flex-a-bull (mnorm1)
Mr. Bunyan dragged in his old grass guzzler and got a great deal on a new Flex at Courtesy Ford! (calcarl)
Cows for Clunkers; Ox for Keepers (abyss)
Okay kids, whatever you do, don't ask Babe if he wants to Wii! (ergsum)
You did NOT just park in Bunyan's spot. (lowmilelude)
They are coming out of the woods for cash for clunkers. (stpawyfrmdonut)
Roy Scheider: 'We're gonna need a bigger car...' (anonimo)
And I thought I was a lumbering giant (eidolways)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Driving Position Update

August 14, 2009

You're looking at one of my biggest complaints about the 2009 Ford Flex. The steering wheel is too far away (by at least a couple of inches) and it does not telescope in and out. Sure, there are power adjustable pedals, but they mainly adress the needs of shorter drivers. Taller folk like me need to pull the wheel back to maintain an ideal reach to the steering wheel as we slide the seat backward to gain legroom and kneeroom.

But in the '09 Flex, setting the seat where my legs want it results in a straight-armed, elbows locked 9 and 3 driving position that is really tiring. I find myself cruising along the straighter sections of insterstate with my fingertips down at 5 and 7 — not a good thing.

But relief is on the horizon.

Here's the inside of the 2010 Ford Flex SEL with EcoBoost. I sat in one a couple of weeks back when a pair of them were in the hands of the Ford Fiesta race team that contested the Pike's Peak hillclimb and the X-Games.

A couple of differences are readily apparent. Both are very welcome, indeed.

1) This is a telescopic steering column, and in the above picture I've pulled it all the way out. Compare the position of the turn signal stalk relative to the dash as you shuffle between this picture and the last. See how much more daylight there is? I estimate that the 2010 Flex steering wheel pulls back about 1.5 inches, perhaps more. Whatever the figure is, it makes all the difference to me.

2) There are steering mounted shift paddles to allow easy gear selection: press on the front to downshift, pull on the back to upshift. Use the left or right side as you choose, because they both do the same thing.

Meanwhile, our '09 Flex has a really lame shifter with meager control options: 'D' or 'L'. There is a 'grade assist' button that acts like an 'OD off' switch, but the results are unpredictable and unsatisfying. Overall, the driver has poor control over a 2009 Flex's transmission.

But there are two problems with this new solution. First, you have to shift the lever to 'M' before the manual buttons do anything. That's OK as far as it goes, but it's also nice to have them 'live' when the transmission is in 'D' because there are many times when you want to command a temporary downshift without committing to full manual mode. There are plenty of well-executed examples of how this can work really well out there in automobiledom. Second, we have an unconfirmed feeling that this arrangement will only be paired with the EcoBoost engine. Anyone who buys a 2010 Flex with the base 3.5L engine (the one we have in our '09 model) will probably have the same lame shifter that we have.

Still, it's nice to see that the already-good Flex is going to get better in 2010.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 30,089 miles

You Write the Caption

August 14, 2009

Vehicle Testing Director Dan Edmunds loves you so much that he sent me a caption contest photo from his vacation.

Here's the 2009 Ford Flex Limited with pals Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

We suggest: Hey, Babe, Wanna See Me Flex?

We'll post our favorite 4:00ish Santa Monica time.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Gold Beach to Bend

August 17, 2009

Today we said 'so long' to my folks and their stunning place on the Oregon coast. It was time to point the 2009 Ford Flex inland (and further north) toward Bend, Oregon.

The Flex of course has been a great conveyance for the four of us as we cover the long distances between stops to visit family and see cool stuff.

Could we be doing this type of long distance trip in a sedan? Probably, but there would have been a lot of compromises.

As it stands, the Flex and its flexible and spacious three row seating arrangement has made it possible to bring my parents along with us to town for eats and drinks — something no sedan would have allowed.

And there's enough space behind the third row for our luggage, a bunch of groceries or this pile of tools we needed to carry.

Our eventual escape includes a trip over scenic McKenzie Pass from Eugene to Bend, a very narrow, winding road that tops 5,000 feet as it crosses an ancient lava flow.

The sinuous road isn't wide-open enough for the 3.5-liter V6 to seem underpowered. The passengers reach their limit before this powerplant does. In fact, this 'normal' Flex engine has proved itself powerful enough throughout the whole trip.

Would more power be welcome? Sure, I guess. But I put a higher priority on a manual shift mode or, at the very least, a shift gate with more than 'D' and 'L' to choose from.

But let's not call the upcoming new V6 EcoBoost. Using turbos to make a same-sized engine more powerful without harming (or improving) fuel economy is PowerBoost. No one is replacing a V8 with a more efficient V6 in this case, because the Flex never offered a V8 in the first place.

No, EcoBoost would be what you'd get if you put a smaller turbo-4 in the Flex that made the same power as this V6, but with better fuel economy. You know, like they did in 1983 when they put a turbo-4 in the Thunderbird. I had one of those.

Speaking of fuel economy, here's how the last two tanks have gone:

Rural local driving in southern Oregon: 218 miles, 11.2 gallons, 19.4 mpg
Gold Beach to Bend: 341 miles, 16.8 gallons, 20.3 mpg
(Both tanks included a fair amount of mountainous driving)

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 30,613 miles

A Day in Bend

August 18, 2009

As Ferris Bueller once proclaimed, 'If you have the means, I highly recommend that you...' visit Bend, Oregon.

OK, I changed the ending around a wee bit. But today's rest day gave us a chance to sample a couple of the things Bend has to offer, and not all of them required the services of our 2009 Ford Flex.

Above, we're crossing Tumalo Creek after visiting Tumalo Falls. The trip up the unpaved national forest road has a pronounced washboard surface, but a few extra mph smooths things out for the Flex and its passengers quite nicely. Get there early if you want to have time to hike up the trail to the top — and to avoid the evening onslaught of mosquitoes.

A lot of Bend has been built recently, and it seems that the city fathers have been sold on the merits of roundabouts. They're quite commonplace, and wherever they are traffic moves quite smoothly. It's about time, frankly, and I only wish we had more of these back home because I hate needless stops at deserted 4-way stops and signals.

We were in Bend last December with this very Flex. At the time a debate was raging in the local paper about studded tires. A disproportionate number of locals (mostly new arrivals, I'm told) had them, and they seemed caught up in an almost religious belief in the spikey treads while carrying a deep mistrust of 'mere' snow tires. Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, transplants from Minnesota were wondering why everyone was overreacting, already. 'Holy smokes, dontcha know? It's just a little snow. Garsh.'

I tend to side with the Minnesota contingent. Our FWD Flex on all-season tires did just fine during our wintertime visit, and we drove on a variety of snow and ice conditions without incident. A year-'round local with dedicated studless snow tires and an AWD Flex would have been totally covered. As it was, I saw a lot of sparks flying from lots of studs around the roundabouts in town, where the snow gets cleared frequently.

Besides, look what the studs and chains have done to the road. OK, there are visitors coming to ski at Mt. Bachelor from warmer climes, and they have no choice but to use chains on the run up to the slopes. But the locals need to be weaned off the studded tires. This isn't Finland.

My wife's sister and husband are locals, and they jumped in to be our tour guides. Everyone had plenty of space and a good view out. Of course the kids had to show them how it's possible to go bowling in a Flex while rolling down the road, courtesy their Wii.

The Flex can't do everything, however. It stayed parked at our hotel at Seventh Mountain while we went for a little float trip.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 30,683 smiles

Bend to Reno, Nevada

August 19, 2009

It's been something like 10 days since we left home for parts north in the 2009 Ford Flex. We've seen a lot of cool stuff, but today's run from Bend to Reno is proving to be the least scenic so far.

That's not to say the route down highway 97 through Alturas to highway 395 is ugly — it isn't. This mostly striaght two-lane rises and falls as the scenery gradually changes from pine forest to desert. It's just that there aren't many interesting landmarks on this lonely road.

Until we come to the Shoe Tree, that is.

Known to the scientific community as Conversii Odiferous, this rare tree blooms year-'round, but only alongside rarely-travelled highways.

You'd think that months in the sun and a bit of rain and snow would somehow bleach out the smell. I'm here to tell you that this is *cough* not true. Handy Hint: Stay upwind of the branch with the orange ankle cast.

A few dozen miles past the shoe tree, highway 395 crosses into Nevada and — no surprise here — exit 1 leads to the Borderline Casino.

In no time we're in downtown Reno. We almost instantly wish we'd chosen a hotel in the suburbs.

Right next door to the Civic Center (and presumably the mayor's office) is an ovoid concrete plaza. By day, the skateboarders and panhandlers have dibs on the space.

But by night, the local girls' roller derby club comes out to play. That's right, roller derby.

What's this, you want to hear more about the Flex?

As I said, the route was straight and the road was empty, so the driving was fairly simple and the Flex cruised easily at our 65 to 70 mph target speed.

I suppose I can say that the cruise control works fairly well. I'm not too enamored with the steering buttons that control it, and I'd like it a lot more if it had a genuine 'cancel' button.

The second tank from Alturas to Reno was nearly all downhill, so the in-car average fuel economy meter went up and up until it reached 25.7 mpg. But as we got to Reno, more city driving crept in and the alleged average fell to 24.3 mpg by the time we refuelled.

I say 'alleged' because the actual calculated value, miles driven divided by gallons added, was not nearly as impressive. Our actual fuel economy came out to just 21.8 mpg.

This has been a trip-long trend. The on-board mpg meter varies from the calclated value, and it's read higher on every tank except one. On average, it has over-reported mpg by 5.6% — about 1.2 mpg.

Tank 6, Bend to Alturas: 298.7 miles, 12.81 gallons, 23.3 mpg
Tank 7, Alturas to Reno: 218.4 miles, 10.04 gallons, 21.8 mpg

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 31,111 miles

Reno to Mammoth Lakes

August 20, 2009

Today's theme was a dual one: mountains and ghost towns. Our 2009 Ford Flex took us up and down several steep grades on the way in and out of the mountaintop mining towns of Virginia City, Nevada (population 1200-ish) and Bodie, California (population 0).

Without any advance plan to do so, the day turned into a test of the Grade Assist function built into the Flex's transmission software.

Grade Assist is activated by this button on the shifter. It may look like a familiar 'O/D off' (Overdrive off) button that simply disables the highest gear — making a 6-speed into a 5-speed or a 5-speed into a 4-speed. The intent is to lessen gear hunting on ascents and limit downhill speed and save the brakes on descents.

But Grade Assist doesn't quite work that way.

When activated, this icon appears, an icon that happens to match the one on the button.

At first, nothing much happens and downhill speed creeps up as usual. But when I step on the brakes and linger on them a few seconds after I stabilize my speed, the system recognizes what I'm trying to do and downshifts so that I don't have to continue to ride the brakes.

I can then ease off the brake and let the system hold my desired speed. It worked great on the steep 30 mph grade out of Virginia City, using a gear that couldn't have been any higher than 3rd. It also held my desired 60 mph descent speed on the steep grade south of Bridgeport, California, probably by using 5th or 4th.

Because it seems to work at different speeds and use different gears (and responds appropriately to variations in the grade all the way down), Grade Assist is doing something far more sophisticated than a simple O/D off function. There is an element of downhill cruise control here, even when cruise control is off.

But it doesn't work on every grade at every desired speed. Example: It wouldn't hold my desired speed when descending the 35 mph downgrade from the Mammoth ski lodge. I tried 35 mph and 40 mph, but I had to stay on the brakes to control my speed.

I guess that's no surprise, because there's a nearly limitless variety of grade profiles and descent speeds out there. The software and hardware can't be tested and massaged to work on all of them.

Which brings me back to the shift lever. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Flex needs more choices than 'D' and 'L', Grade Assist notwithstanding. And that applies equally to the standard V6 engine and the new twin-turbo V6 mill.

Bodie sits at 8,375 feet. It was founded in the mid 1800's, when prospectors ventured to the most remote locations in search of a repeat of the gold rush. They found it here, and in it's heyday about 10,000 people lived in Bodie. Everyone was gone by 1941.

The site was proteced in 1962, by which time only 5% of the buildings remained. Today the Bodie ghost town is kept in a state of arrested decay.

You can find Bodie 14 miles east of Highway 395, at the end of a side road that departs 395 about 6 or 7 miles south of Bridgeport, California. The first 11 miles are a narrow winding road with the worst frost damage I've seen west of the Mississippi. The last 3 miles are a washboard dirt road. There are two or three other pure dirt road routes across BLM land that you can use if you want to turn your visit into an off-road trip. Access in winter is pretty much limited to snowshoes, cross-country skis or snowmobiles. Really.

Go here if you care to find out more.

Needless to say our Flex is getting pretty filthy after all the dirt roads and the numerous clouds of bugs.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 31,323 miles

A Delicious Milestone?

August 21, 2009

Our 2009 Ford Flex turned over yet another milestone today. But before you roll your eyes and label this engineer a big fat geek (my wife certainly did), know that it wasn't my idea. I was pestered into doing it by a certain enthusiastic co-worker with two liberal arts degrees.

But if I was going to go along with it, I was going to do it right. So I took the liberty of taking his idea one step further. Let's see if he notices.

Here's the exchange that led up to this point:

It started at lunch about four weeks ago, when the Flex was still one of several candidates for this trip. Mike knew the Flex's odometer by heart, of course, and he knows my Oregon trip is good for about 2,000 miles. If I did indeed select the Flex, Mike had this plan hatched and ready for me to carry out.

Once the Flex got the green light, he reminded me about it a couple of more times in the days leading up to my trip. Then, when I was at home with the Flex and getting prepared for lift-off, I started getting texts:

MM: Aug 8 - Remember to watch the odometer. The .9 is imperative! Enjoy your Trip!

MM: Aug 14 - Hi. Did you reach it yet? How's the trip?

DE: Aug 14 - Great. Might not hit it until the last day.

MM: Aug 21 - Saw your last blog...you're close! Stay sharp!

DE: Aug 21 - OK. 80 miles to go. Chill, baby, chill.

There you have it. But I ask this of the audience at large: Do you think Mr. Liberal Arts Major has been spending too much alone time with our VBOX data logger?

Oh, and here's where it happened...

Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, somewhere south of Bishop, California on US 395 south.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ Pi miles (sort of, if you ignore the misplaced decimals.)

Mammoth Lakes to Home

August 22, 2009

After nearly two weeks on the road in our 2009 Ford Flex, we decided to splurge and spend the last two nights in one of Mammoth's swankiest hotels — the Westin Monache.

Great minds think alike, apparently, and we were joined by another Flex (an SEL) in the check-out queue.

The run from Mammoth to our home in Orange County is mostly downhill through the desert, so we expected this run to produce the best MPG yet.

But we haven't been seeing the same 25 and 26 mpg figures that we saw last winter. Why?

Well, unlike our winter trip, we've made fewer long uninterrupted runs — none, actually. Every tank of gas has included side trips to places like Virginia City and the Bodie ghost town. There have also been significant doses of city driving, like in Reno and Bend.

Today was no different, as we decided to stop at a place I've heard about since high school and driven past many times: the remnants of a WWII internment camp called Manzanar.

Manzanar was one of about a dozen similar camps where 110,000 Japanese-Americans were confined after being forced by the US Army to abandon their homes on the west coast of the United States after Pearl Harbor. Manzanar held 10,000 adults and children between 1942 and 1944, but all that remains today is s single auditorium-sized building (the guard shack has been rebuilt) and a bunch of concrete foundations that were once the barracks.

There's an auto tour that winds through the grounds, and we spent some minutes idling around the unpaved perimeter roads in the Flex.

The elevated summer tempeartures (it was 102 degrees here at Manzanar) have surely been a contributing factor in the reduced mileage on the latter half of this trip, and the triple-zone auto A/C system in our Flex has been hard at work.

Despite the conditions and the stops, today's fuel economy was the best we've seen over the past two weeks.

But, as usual, the 26.2 mpg displayed on the Flex's on-board display proved to be a little optimistic. In reality, the Flex drank 13.24 gallons of unleaded after driving 325.3 miles. That works out to 24.6 mpg, a figure that still bests our Flex's EPA highway rating of 24 mpg.

It was a great trip, and the Flex, yet again, proved its worth as a family hauler.

For now, we have to unpack and deal with 2,500 miles of accumulated dust and bugs. I'll give it a wash and summarize things on Monday.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 31671.5 miles

Wrap-Up & Clean-Up

August 25, 2009

Put a fork in me, 'cuz I'm done. Done with vacation. Done with sleeping in different places every other night. Done with doing laundry on the road. And done with living out of a suitcase.

But one thing I'm not done with is the 2009 Ford Flex. If I were willing to take on a car payment right now, I'd own one — tomorrow. But my 2003 Honda Odyssey is paid off and still has some miles left in it, so I'm probably going to remain on the sidelines until 2010 or 2011.

Or not. These past two weeks are likely to renew talk among the Edmunds clan of replacing the old minivan. If asked, all four of our right brains would march down to the local Ford dealer right now. A goodly portion of our left brains would go along, too, because the Flex makes sense for our family on a variety of levels.

The only part of the brain — OK, my brain — that is holding back is the region devoted to money and the fear of spending it at this moment in time.

In case you're not in the same cheapskate mode as I am right now, here's what we liked — and disliked — about the Ford Flex on this vacation.

+1 Ride & Handling: The steering is sure and the Flex goes down the road with effortless ease. And no one got carsick the whole time, despite miles of mountain roads — unheard-of with my family. Kudos to the chassis development engineers.

+1 Seat Comfort & Space: There's plenty of space in all three rows, and the seats are comfy and supportive. Adults as tall as me (6'-2') fit in the 3rd row.

-1 Headrests: My wife and I share this gripe. The front headrests jut too far forward. Not sure if this issue gets relief on 2010 or not.

-1 Steering Wheel Reach: I won't waste time here, because this problem goes away when a telescopic steering wheel finally arrives sometime in 2010.

+1 Storage Space: Sure, our minivan has more cubic feet — it's a taller box. But the Flex sports a minivan-like deep well behind that the 3rd row emerges from — it easily holds luggage or groceries when the 3rd seat is in use.

+1 Electronics: Sync, Bluetooth, iPod integration, satellite radio, navi, traffic — it's all here. And few other automakers tie it all together as seamlessly as this Ford. And our girls took full advantage of the aux inputs to play Wii on the rear DVD screen about half the trip. Our '03 Odyssey is crude by comparison.

+1 Grade Assist: This speed-regulating transmission mode works sort of like off-road Hill Descent Control, but at regular highway and freeway driving speeds. Much better than expected after I lived with it.

-1 No discreet gear selection: Even with the above system, I still want to choose my own gear in certain situations. 'D' and 'L' alone don't cut it.

+1 The Duratec 3.5L V6: Enough power for this trip. I never really found myself bemoaning the lack of the PowerBoost EcoBoost twin-turbo direct-injection V6 that's coming in 2010. Still, if the mpg is the same as this engine, as it's reported to be, why the heck not? Bottom line: There are no bad choices in this department.

-1 Interior Fit and Finish: What I would like is the Limited in content, but without the fake wood (or even real wood) and without so much obvious plastic-chrome trim on all of the knobs. I'd like to see the inside that is a bit more high tech - maybe even a touch of Steam Punk. The interior does not have the same 'it' factor that the exterior has. Audis have it. Our Nissan 370Z has it. I wish I could get it here.

+1 Looks: I've always said that whoever comes to market with the first cool minivan will rule the family hauler segment. The Ford Flex is it, even though its more of a tall wagon/CUV thingy. Sure it doesn't have sliding doors, and OK it holds a wee bit less than our Odyssey. But this thing looks like a big Scion xB — in a good way.

Don't like the hearse look? Don't buy all black. Go for the surfmobile look instead. Just choose bright red or brown, and then add the white roof. Point is, my wife was dragged kicking and screaming into the minivan world. She really appreciates her Odyssey now, for all the logical reasons you care to name, but her fashion sense has never made peace with the thing. But she LOVES the Flex. Thinks it's cool. And she's right.

FInally, here's the final trip tally of fuel economy...

Total miles driven: 2,496.2 Total fuel added: 115.9 gallons Total Fuel Cost: $360.42

Trip average fuel economy: 21.5 mpg (24.6 mpg best, 19.4 mpg worst)

[EPA rated fuel economy is 17 city, 24 highway, 19 combined]

Average in-car meter reading: 22.7 mpg for an exaggeration of 5.3% or 1.2 mpg.

That about does it. When the time comes, I'll be sorry to see this one go.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 31,705 miles

Sunroof Gap Walkaround

August 26, 2009

I know, I know. Some of you are rolling your eyes at the mere mention of it. But it's too late for that — the sunroof gap in our 2009 Ford Flex has taken on a life of its own. Mention of it shows up as a non-sequitur in other unrelated posts. There are songs. We hear it figures prominently in the next Quentin Tarantino film.

Besides, Donna is hogging this week's Car of the Week all week.

Back to the sunroof gap. When Scott Oldham first complained about it, many scoffed. 'Picky, picky', they said.

Later, when prepping for our Oregon trip, I found a use for it. The gap became a handy place to mount the Wii sensor bar. Maybe it's not so bad, after all.

But as I was unloading the Flex and removing the Wii, the sunroof gap revealed itself as something that wasn't designed like that, wasn't supposed to be there, and the reason for it became all too clear.

First, let's get out bearings. Above, the yellow arrow indicates the sunroof wind deflector that pops up when the sunroof is open, as it is in this photo. White shows the edge of the sunroof frame. The black arrow points to the headliner. Finally, the green arrows represent the infamous sunroof gap.

Between the arrows, you can see a strip of industrial-strength velcro, the kind that has the firm hooks on both sides and no fabric loop. I don't know if you've ever played with this version of the stuff, but it's quite strong.

No problem. This should be a simple matter of re-engaging the velcro.

Here we go...

All I have to do is press hard, like *grunt* this. Wait. It's not working. What the?

I'm really pressing quite hard in this picture — 40 or 50 lbs of pressure, at least. This amount of force is much higher than the weight of the headliner itself. Something's wrong here: the headliner seems to resist the up position and the velcro isn't catching.

Just look at it. The prongs on the upper mating surface are all bent over, and they're all laying over the same way. I bvelieve that if the velcro had been properly seated in the first place, the headliner should never have come down and the gap should have never happened. It may be that the prongs were not lined up properly during assembly, so they bent over instead of engaging, or something. It's hard to know at this point, but I bet this headliner rolled off the assembly line with this gap.

Are you thinking that velcro doesn't seem like the right sort of fasteners to assemble parts such as this? Maybe, maybe not. I've seen velcro do impressive things in the past.

<anecdote>
I used to race a VW GTI in SCCA showroom stock events. It was my daily driver, too, so it had a stereo in it. It was a nice one, but what I didn't know until later was this: it had two aftermarket external amps — one under each front seat. One was bolted firmly to the floor with four 10-32 grade 5 bolts. A larger and much heavier second amp sat under the other seat, held to the carpet with simple Velcro strips.

My buddy borrowed this car for an SCCA driver's school on the big track at Willow Springs. Someone cut him off, he overreacted, and as I watched in horror he went off at turn 6 and rolled 5 or 6 times. He was OK due to a stout roll cage and other safety gear, but the car was a total loss.

In salvaging the car, I found the bolted-down amp far up under the dash, near the base of the windshield and the defroster vents. All four mounting bolts had sheared off. Meanwhile, the heavier velcro-mounted amp was still in its place, apparently unphased. (I know, I know. The whole idea of such an aftermarket stereo system in a track car is stupid.)
</anecdote>

Anyway, back to the Flex. There isn't just the one velcro pad.

There are three of them, and together they ought to offer enough holding force. But all three are bent in the same way. None will engage. It's not possible to fudge the headliner to one side to realign things because it is fixed firmly in place at the sides, out by the door frames. Laterally, it's not going anywhere. Besides, once the pins are bent flat like this, you're done.

No, replacement of the velcro seems to be the only solution. It's either that or live with the sunroof gap. Personally, I'm torn: I wish it wasn't here, but I admit I never noticed it until Scott pointed it out.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 31,715 miles

The White Knight to our Dark Knight

August 26, 2009

I caught this "angeled out" Ford Flex at Galpin Lincoln/Mercury/Jaguar/Aston Martin last week. Judging by its plate, it was customized by Galpin Auto Sports, aka GAS, aka the garage that used to do Pimp My Ride.

So, which one would you go for? Are you a Harvey Dent sort or a Batman sort? White Knight or Dark Knight? Angel or devil? Oreo cookie or Oreo cream?

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ more than 128 miles

Massive Sunvisor

August 28, 2009

I like a big sunvisor. Too often, when I make that turn toward the rising or setting sun and reach up for relief, the visor that greets me is inadequate (it was particularly so in our departed LT Scion xB). And it's more than just a comfort thing; it's a safety thing.

The Flex's windshield is a large piece of real estate, which is great for overall visibility, but can pose a challenge when the sun is low in the sky. That's why I love the size of the Flex's sun visors. At 8.25 inches by 17.5 inches, they can block what seems like half of the windshield, handy at sunrise or sunset when you're driving toward the blinding star that warms our planet.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com

Automatic Seat Not So Automatic

August 31, 2009

We opted for the optional autofold second-row bucket seats (MSRP $870). The above video of the passenger side second-row seat shows how nicely they work when they work. Hit the jump to see what it's like when things go otherwise.

No one else on staff has mentioned this, as far as I know. It's still very easy to reach down and finish the motor's job by pulling on that strap at the bottom of the seatback, at least. We'll be mentioning this at the Flex's next dealer visit, I'm sure.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 32,508 miles

A Rare Bird in So Cal

September 08, 2009

My friends, the Suarezs, are looking for a new family car and announced this weekend that the Ford Flex has made their shortlist.

When I asked why the Flex, their answer was honestly simple. "Because you don't see them around," they said in unison. (They're freaky that way).

True, not in our Southern California neighborhood, but earlier this summer on a vacation trip to Michigan, I couldn't have thrown a toasted marshmallow from the fire pit without splatting a Flex's windshield.

Any car in particular that dominates your neighborhood?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 32,999 miles

Bachelor Party Approved

September 14, 2009

I ventured up to a cabin in Big Bear, Calif., this weekend for a bachelor party. I tasked myself with bringing three of the nine other guys up, and although any number of our sedans could have done the job, the Flex was once again called upon for a road trip. Quite simply, there's no other car that's been in the long-term fleet during my nearly three-year tenure that approaches the Flex's desirability for treking distances.

I've driven a Flex to Big Bear before, so I've previously noted how its lack of manual gear selection hampers the journey up and down the 7,000-foot climb. When hauling derriere up the mountain to make up for the time we lost in traffic, the Flex was surprisingly capable of taking turns, but wasn't happy to do so and I doubt many drivers would duplicate my pace.

Yet, what about the thoughts of the nine other guys?

Well in short, they loved it. When we ventured into town with six aboard, the power flip-and-fold second row seats elicited oohs, aahs and the demand for the four other guys traveling by 4Runner to check them out. The Vista Roof, back seat refrigerator, DVD entertainment system and the sheer fact that six grown men could comfortably fit in a vehicle that's not a minivan were other plus points. One guy noted he appreciated the styling much more in a dark paint scheme where the side ribbing is less noticable.

This journey proved to me once again the Flex's ability to make practicality cool. Would a Honda Odyssey or Buick Enclave garner such positive reactions from a group of 26-year-old beer pong-playing dudes — one of which said he'd consider buying one? No way, not a chance. Go Flex.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 33,439 miles

Maintenance Required

September 17, 2009

When I started up the Ford Flex yesterday today to leave the office, the IP display announced, 'Oil Life 1 %.'

This morning, it promptly switched over to 'Maintenance Required.'

We'll head to our local Ford dealer this week and let you know the final cost.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 33,550 miles

Taking One For the Team

September 18, 2009

The Flex managed to shrug off most of a semi-truck tire carcass last night, but it did sustain some damage to the rear bumper. The worst of it was reserved for the portion of the bumper cover that wraps under the car - that part got peeled back like a banana. After closer inspection this morning, the damage looks be only cosmetic; a slightly disjointed bumper cover, tire smears on the side of said bumper cover, and the peeled back lower portion of the rear bumper.

We'll get it looked at.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 33,671 miles

My Biggest Gripe is Solved for 2010

September 23, 2009

You've heard me rail constantly about the fixed and faraway position of our 2009 Ford Flex's steering wheel. My long legs want me to slide the seat back and stretch out a bit, but then the steering wheel is simply too far away.

So I usually split the difference by sliding the the seat forward a little bit and hunching forward a little bit. I've managed to get through two 2,000-mile road trips like this without the need for chiropractic assistance, but I'm never able to ignore this uncomfortable compromise.

But the 2010 Ford Flex gets relief in the form of a telescopic steering wheel. But how much does it telescope, and does it go the right way?

This is a 2010 Ford Flex (it's an SEL, as evidenced by the lack of a 'wood' insert) with the new telescopic steering wheel pushed in all the way. The rim sits in approximately the same position as the 2009 photo above. The measurement to the rim centerline looks to be about 4 3/4 inches in both cases, but it's far more helpful to refer to the 4 1/2-inch point when you compare this shot to the next one.

Here I've pulled the wheel all the way out, and the same point is now 6 inches out from the dash.

So the span of adjustment is 1.5-inches, and all of it is available for tall drivers like me to pull the wheel closer when we've slid the seat back to make our legs comfortable.

Don't want it closer? Are you of below average stature and want to push the wheel further away? You're already handled because the Flex has always provided the option of power adjustable pedals that allow you to scoot the seat back and then pull the pedals back to meet your feet.

By finally offering both a telescopic wheel and power-adjustable pedals, everyone should be able to get comfy behind the wheel of a 2010 Flex.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 34,212 miles

An Upgrade to First Class

September 24, 2009

Our Ford Flex has so many different seating possibilities that you can discover new ones even after a year of ownership.

While sitting in the Flex's back seat at the track, I found the little release that makes the front passenger seat flip forward. 'Ottoman!' I declared and allowed Magrath to sample my fragrant feet as I reclined my seatback, tapped away on my laptop and enjoyed a venti Earl Grey. If that video screen were connected to satellite TV and I were some sort of roving, mobile businessman, I could've watched Bloomberg or that crazed CNBC dufus. Plus, the center console fridge will keep a chilled bottle of Dom for those all-important roving business meetings and after-work rendezvous with my secretary Candy.

I may have to work on the wardrobe, but take that Romans and your Business Class Fit! I've found First Class.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

In Sync with text messaging

September 27, 2009

Our long-term 2009 Ford Flex has Sync. Sync gives you Bluetooth and ipod integration. Big deal, so does everybody else.

What is interesting about Sync is that it also handles SMS text messages. Like many of you, I think I text now more than I call.
I just love the impersonal nature of texting (j/k, LOL!).

With Sync, you can display your text messages, but due to safety reasons, not while the vehicle is in motion.

What to do?

With Sync, one of the options you have is to reply by SMS text, but you also can't type out a reply when you're moving. Sync instead makes available 15 canned short reply messages (for some reason, I was only able to find 10).

But how do view that incoming text when the vehicle is in motion?
You don't; you listen to it through text-to-voice.

Ford is also reportedly working on speech-to-text, so you could speak and send text messages into future generations of Sync. You may see this at CES in January.

Here's the movie of the text message in the 2nd photo overall (please excuse the lack of focus):

Yeah, I know: the synthesized voice sounds like the chess playing / world destroying supercomputer in Matthew Broderick's debut movie, Wargames ('Do you want to play a game?').
But it's still kind of cool. And useful, without imposing excessive distraction.

Albert Austria, Sr Vehicle Evaluation Engineer @ 34,513 miles

Cool

September 28, 2009

A new neighbor moved into my apartment building, and this weekend, he stopped me to ask the inevitable question: Why are you always driving a different car each night? His eyes widened and he backed away from me when I told him that I was a Robin Hood of sorts, stealing cars from the rich and selling them so I could use the money to help the poor — my poor grandmother, who needs the cash for a long-overdue hip-replacement operation. After I explained that I was just kidding, he made his way back into my personal bubble and peppered me with questions about my vehicle for the weekend, the Ford Flex. We talked about the Ford for a bit, with the take-away being that he thinks the Flex is 'cool.'

It just served to reaffirm what I'd already known: With the Flex, Ford has achieved what many thought was impossible. The Flex is part wagon, part minivan. Wagon? Not cool. Minivan? So not cool. But the Flex manages to transcend all this to occupy a niche all its own, one that makes it an acceptable transportation option even for twenty-something guys like my neighbor.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 34,550 miles

2009 Ford Flex Versus EcoBoost V6

September 30, 2009

You already know how much we choose to drive our 2009 Ford Flex. It has almost 35,000 miles on it now.

But how much better would we like it if we had the Ecoboost?

Let's compare our outings at the test track:

 
2009 Ford Flex
2010 Ford Flex SEL AWD w/ EcoBoost V6
  Engine Type:
Normally-aspirated, 3.5-liter V6
 
Twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter V6
  Horsepower:
262 hp @ 6250 rpm
 
355 @ 5,700 rpm
  Torque:
248 ft-lbs. @ 4500 rpm
 
350 ft.-lb. @1,500 to 5,250 rpm
  As tested Curb Weight:
4,681 lbs.
 
4,819 lbs.
  0 - 60 (sec):
8.9
 
6.4
  0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec):
8.5
 
6.1
  1/4 Mile (sec @ mph)
16.5 @ 85.9
 
14.6 @ 95.0
  60 - 0 (ft):
129
 
128
  Slalom (mph):
57.1
 
60.6
  Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g):
0.74
 
0.76

The difference in acceleration is significant, but look how the braking numbers aren't that different.

You can read more details on Erin's post on our Straightline blog.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

The Missing Piece

October 05, 2009

The trim piece behind the driver side door handle is gone. It's been gone for a while now and I've searched through all the cubbies and under the seats to see if it's just hiding, but to no avail. If you see it out there on the mean streets of Santa Monica, can you tell it to come home?

At least the passenger side is still intact. Here's what it's supposed to look like.

I guess the Flex is starting to show the wear and tear of nearly 35,000 long-term fleet miles.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 34,751 miles

Haulin'

October 13, 2009

What do you do when a load of stuff needs hauling north and the Ram's already out? Dial 1-800PAK-THE-FLEX.

We have already praised our 2009 Ford Flex's usefulness in various kinds of over-the-road duty, and we've spun its odometer (yes, it's digital, but come on) past 36,000 miles in less than 15 months. What the Flex does great is accommodate a wide range of loads - people, luggage, cargo, Golden Retrievers, anything short of bulky furniture - and pound up the freeway in a relaxed, smooth and efficient manner. For this weekend, we averaged 21.3 mpg over 1312 miles, almost all of it at a steady 75 mph indicated and the load in back a light press fit between carpet and headliner. We had all the aft seats folded flat, but depending on the needs of the moment, of course, the Flex can be configured to suit. And the trip was a delight: comfy, entertaining (thank you, Sirius) and not at all the ordeal the miles/day might suggest.

Our gripes are pretty small, and some have been documented here before. Like Dan Edmunds, my arms are too short for my legs when seated at the Flex's helm, though I could find a compromise position that mostly let me forget about it. I don't love the steering feel, which strikes me as a bit more truck-like than necessary, and the slick, capless fuel filler sometimes dribbled a little overflow even when I didn't top off.

But the one thing that irked me every time I used it, which was a lot, was the cruise control. The system performs fine, but it is managed by four identical, adjacent buttons on the steering wheel, which cannot be distinguished by feel. After nightfall, especially, far too much attention must be diverted to finding the one you want. This tidy button array was obviously designed by someone who hasn't used a cruise control in the dark.

That's about it. If I had another load to take all that way tomorrow, I'd be happy to launch in the Flex.

Kevin Smith, Editorial Director @ 36,093 miles

Our Favorite Caption

October 23, 2009

Thanks to stpawyfrmdonut for this week's favorite caption.

Here are the others that ruffled our feathers:

Uh, I think we made a wrong turn at the corner of Hitchcock and Lilliput. (oldchap)
The Flex gets a 21 gull salute. (ergsum)
The Fjord Flex (ergsum)
Wish you had that white roof now, don't ya? (lowmilelude)
Let's get the flock out of here. (lowmilelude)
Great, another tourist trap...with lots of crap. (rick8365)
Talented gull leaves truck shaped deposit on roof of Flex. (rick8365)
Looks so good it hearse, drives so well it's almost fowl. (eidolways)
You call it a car. We call it practice. (eidolways)
With gullwing doors it'd be perfect. (mnorm1 )
The Seagull Rally (ergsum)
Nsync meets Flock of seagulls (stpawyfrmdonut)
Flex is number one in the pecking order. (mnorm1 )
And I ran, I ran so far away (gooney911)
We've lured him back! I told you Sync was gullible. (gooney911)
Re-billing Station (sherief)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

October 23, 2009

We haven't used a Flex photo in a while. This is from Dan's trip to Oregon. Are they dollhouses? dog houses? bird houses? I don't know.

We offer: A Flex of Seagulls

I know you can do better than that.

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Rear Tire Wear

October 27, 2009

Back in July, we wrote on how we needed to get two new front tires for our 2009 Ford Flex due to uneven wear that resulted from a lack of proper tire rotation. That was at 28,316 miles. Now, almost 9,000 miles later, the rear tires are looking like they'll need to be replaced soon as the tread has been worn down very close to the molded wear bars. Even so, getting 38,000 miles or so out of a tire seems pretty reasonable to me.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 36,919 miles

366 Days Later

October 30, 2009

Back on October 29, 2008, I wrote a post about our Ford Flex's quiet cabin at highway speeds. One year later, you wouldn't know that we've added about 27,000 miles unless you looked at the odometer. The Flex is still quiet and, impressively, there are no rattles or squeaks to be heard.

The only thing that seems a little different — and my memory could be faulty here — is that the Flex's ride quality doesn't seem to be quite as good on broken pavement as it used to. Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds suggested that the worn rear tires might be the cause, as there's not as much tread as there used to be to provide cushion and flex.

Speaking of tires, some readers commented on my last post noting how much we've been using the Flex. I believe the Flex's 37,000 miles (we started reporting on it in Sept. '08 with 1,700 miles on the clock) is a record for an Edmunds.com long-term test vehicle. There have been others with more total mileage, but none with as much of a rapid gain. Of course, it helps that we've driven back and forth to Oregon twice (Dan), to Colorado (Paul), and to the East Coast (Mike).

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Boxier than My Speakers

November 09, 2009

I recently used our Long Term 2009 Ford Flex to transport my ancient DCM Time Window 1A speakers. While ancient in design and construction these speakers still sound...well, better than almost any other home speaker I've ever heard (the 'almost' is the DCM Time Window 7 speaker, of which I also own two sets).

However, because this speaker design comes from the groovy 1970s they have a groovy exterior shape. Instead of being blocky, they're oval towers surrounded by an almond-like base and cap. I like the shape, but it's not condusive to lateral G forces when you lay the speakers on a flat cargo area.

In other words, every time I went around a corner the speakers would slide and roll, banging into each other and the Flex's interior panels. After just two turns I stopped and wedged my backpack (aka 'man-purse') in-between the speakers to secure them.

It worked, but as I was closing the rear hatch it occurred to me that the Flex's exterior shape is boxier than my speakers. Made me wonder what shape a 1970's version of the Flex might look like...

Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief @ 37,420 miles

Still Solid

November 13, 2009

It may not have the most recent updates — like the bowl — (completed in 02/03ish), I was surprised to find that the Streets of Willow Springs road course was plotted on the 2009 Ford Flex's navigation.

What didn't surprise me was how much I still enjoy the Flex. It's got some 38,000 miles on it now and 6 days, 852 miles, 46 gallons of fuel, a few hundred pounds of test gear later, I still want to own one. It has the best iPod interface available. (Camaro has the best non-nav iPod interface.) Sync is fast and intuitive with good graphics and enough options ( scale, etc) to keep me entertained and informed. The seats are comfortable. It's quiet. Fast enough. It holds everything a Vehicle Testing Asisstant could ever need (including a photographer).

Yeah, there are some broken trim pieces here and there, but to be fair, most don't have to haul around as many tires/jacks/cones/camera operators as ours does. Even so, the Flex is still near the top in my book. Good looks, great ride, holds a lot of stuff, has maps of racetracks. I'm sold.

Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant

Likes and Dislikes

November 16, 2009

I had our 2009 Ford Flex this weekend for a roadtrip/family visit/helping out a friend in need. Here's what I've come to like and dislike about it.

Likes:

  • That power tailgate! Every car with a cargo area should have this regardless of size! I like how it opens and closes so smoothly and quietly. A great way to get my dad, or really anyone, to say, 'Ooooh!'
  • So easy to connect my iPhone to Sync. Of course you have to be parked to do this, a pain when you have a perfectly capable passenger to do it for you but once it's connected, it stays connected.
  • Once connected through Bluetooth, the tunes from my iPhone automatically come on the sound system every time I get back in the car and my iPreciousss is deep in my bag. Feels so welcoming.
  • Easy-to-read controls and I especially like the fact that I could figure out how to reset the tripmeter without having to pull out the owner's manual for a change.
  • Despite our Flex's 19.2 mpg average, I liked that I really only had to gas up once during the 380-mile trip up north. If I didn't need a bathroom break or food, I would have tried to go all the way through without stopping once. Ford says the range in highway miles is 409.2.

Dislikes:

  • Doesn't have a lower gear other than 'Low.' PITA in traffic especially since brakes are kinda plush.
  • Doesn't seem to be a way to advance songs, go through playlists, etc. on the steering wheel controls or stereo controls even when iPhone is hooked up through Bluetooth. Only thing that works on the controls is volume.
  • When iPhone is plugged into the USB port in the center console, not only can you not skip to the next song, etc. on the stereo controls but you can't on your iPhone either. Best to hook it up to the USB port adapter located in the passenger footwell. That way your phone will charge and you can at least control the tunes through your device.
  • Cruise control's 'increase' and 'decrease' functions aren't too responsive.
  • Seat heaters have only two settings: 'lukewarm' and 'boiling.'

In any case, I was very appreciative of having the Flex for this special trip up north, especially when it came to helping out a friend in need. It definitely made it very easy to do that, providing ample space so she wouldn't have to worry about having to leave anything behind, soothing interiors and did I already mention that handy power tailgate?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 38,993 miles

Lights, Camera, Sunburn?

November 19, 2009

Let the sun shine in? Not if I can help it.

I'm a sucker for good lighting. I keep a string of lights in a backyard tree year round, and I even have purses whose interiors light up (strange but true). So it's easy to be seduced by the pretty azure lights encircling the Ford Flex cupholders, or the soft aqua glow of the gauges - though the color reminds me strongly of those metal school lockers from the '50s and '60s.

Mood lighting aside, the Flex has plenty of highly functional lighting to make driving a better experience. Dusk-sensing xenon headlights help navigate the road with confidence, and a strong bulb clearly illuminates the blind zone behind the car at night when using the rear-view camera.

But there is one kind of light I'd rather not see. And I'm not talking about the red and blue ones behind me.

No, it's the sun streaming into my eyes. Although it's been noted that the Flex has a massive visor, it's insufficient when the sun blazes through the driver's side window. A visor extender would fix that, but the Flex, with all its fancy-pants trappings, doesn't have one.

Visors without extenders are a pet peeve of mine, as I'm often driving at times when the sun is at just the right angle to make seeing difficult or to fry my left arm and half my face (not an attractive tan). Drivers in the desert or other warm climates know that the heat blazes right through the window, special coatings notwithstanding.

A little research offered two possible reasons why extenders aren't included in more vehicles. A writer claiming to be a former sunvisor engineer suggested that first, visor extenders don't work well with rollover curtain airbags: If the airbag inflates when the visor is down, you'll get bashed in the head.

The other reason, of course, is money:

'The primary reason those blade extenders aren't more common? Tooling costs. Tooling for the plastic clamshell that makes up the visor is typically about $300,000 US and a real pain to tool and develop, whereas if you do foam or cardboard it's alot cheaper. Trouble is, your choices for inclusion of features is more limited with the cheaper ones. Hard to make a business case for smaller vehicle runs.'

So there you have it. At least now, when I'm blinking and maneuvering to avoid the sun, I know why.

Joanne Helperin, Senior Features Editor @ 39,014 miles

I Don't Want to See It Go

November 24, 2009

Our Flex is very close to hitting the 40,000 mile mark, which has to mean that it will be leaving us soon. As Brent said a while back, this has to be a record for the long-term program. I like the Flex a lot. I'm always happy to take it when it's available, especially when I have more than just my family of 3 to transport.

I keep asking out loud to no one in particular, 'Can't we just keep it?' No one has answered me yet. What do you think; would you want us to keep it forever?

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 39,241 miles

Updating Sync to Handle New Phones

December 03, 2009

You may or not know that I recently got a new cell phone, an iPhone 3GS. Now, instead of carrying around two devices, a phone and an iPod, I need only one. Additionally, I get to see how the various cars we test interact with the newest version of the most popular smartphone on the market.

It didn't take long to find a hiccup. Our 2009 Ford Flex exhibited a little quirk when paired to this phone. But a 2010 Lincoln MKT I drove this week, essentially a dressed-up version of the same car, had no such problems with the same phone.

Can you spot the flaw in the photo below?

Continued after the jump.

That's right. The name of the person I'm calling (me) appears backwards in the call window. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but what it means is this: I have to say names backwards when I'm using voice commands to make calls.

'Call Tracy Edmunds,' does not work. I must say, 'Call Edmunds Tracy.'

Talking to my car and using voice commands is awkward enough as it is, but speaking as if I was doing morning roll call at the barracks is ridiculous.

This type of compatibility problem is unavoidable in a consumer electronics environment that produces new phones and portable music players all the time. The iPhone 3GS came out in July 2009, but we've had our Ford Flex since September 2008, and it was built weeks before that.

But the Sync system is designed to be easily updated. I decided to find out just how easy it is.

Step One is a visit the Sync website to set up an account for our Flex. All I need is an e-mail address and the 17-digit VIN number of our car. The VIN appears on the door jamb, but our Navi-equipped Flex can also display the VIN on the Nav screen. I also have to specify whether our Sync system is paired with a navigation system or not. It is.

Next I go to the 'Get Updates' tab after I log-in to my Sync account page. From here I get a list of updates our car doesn't have (as determined by the VIN number). The oldest ones are at the bottom, so that's where I'll start

Our Flex is missing Sync software Version 1.2 and Version 1.3. I'm not sure if I can start with V1.3 or not, but it doesn't matter to me because I want to see which one, if any, will solve my iphone 3GS compatibility glitch.

After selecting V1.2 for download, I'm sent to this screen, where I am walked through the process. First, I am instructed to insert a portable USB memory stick (with at least 10 Mb of remaining storage) into my computer. I also choose to print out instructions that will help me complete the process back in the car. This is a good idea for the first-timer.

With the USB stick in place, I hit 'next' and wait about 30 seconds for the downlaod to finish. For grins, I check the file size: almost 7 Megabytes.

This screen confirms that the file was successfully downloaded to the USB stick and instructs me to grab my printed instructions and the USB stick and take them to the Flex to upload the new Sync files.

The instructions are 6 pages in length, but most of it applies to stuff I just completed at my desk. It also walks me through every little step, as if I've never used my nav system before. But it's actually quite easy. Here's the condensed version of what to do.

1) Insert the memory stick into the USB slot in your car.

2) Start your engine (Ford warn's you this whole process could take 15 minutes, and they don't want the car battery to go dead. There may be other reasons, but they are not sepcified.)

3) Turn on your radio/nav system. If you're like me, you probably leave it on all the time, so this step probably isn't necessary.

NOTE: If your Sync-equipped car does not have a navigation system, these instructions will not apply. You'll need to print out the corresponding instructions from your Sync account screen as you go through the process.

Back to instructions for nav-equipped Sync vehicles...

4) Select the 'media' hard button on the center stack, and then go to the source soft button on the screen and toggle it to 'USB'.

5) Select the 'phone' hard button on the center stack, and then press the 'settings' soft button in the lower left-hand corner of the nav screen.

6) Select 'advanced' on the lower right-hand corner of the nav screen.

7) Scroll down through the menus to 'Install' and press it. A dialog box will pop up to confirm that you want to begine the installation. Preess 'yes'.

8) Don't touch anything else and wait. They say it could be 15 minutes, but my installation finished in 1 minute.

9) Continue to not touch anything if a screen pops up saying 'system rebooting'. This step only appears if you are way behind on your updates or if the update file is particularly comprehensive. Sync V1.2 is such a file, and the reboot step took a further 3 minutes.

10) After the reboot is finished, you should see this screen.

11) Don't yank out the USB stick just yet. The instructions say you should press the 'menu' hard button on the center stack to navigate away from this screen before doing so.

Your're not done yet!!

12) Go back to your computer. If you left it on the Sync screen, you're good to go. If you logged out, you need to go back to the Sync page and log in to your account.

13) Insert the USB stick into your computer and press 'Confirm Updates'. When you were in your car, a file was written to the USB stick confirming that the update was successful. This step updates your online Sync account so you don't see the version you just installed on your 'to do' list.

14) You may have to re-pair your phone to the Bluetooth system in your car. This will vary from phone to phone. Since my phone was having trouble with Sync, I re-paired it to the Flex.

Success! Sync Version 1.2 is what's needed to make my iPhone 3GS play well with our 2009 Flex. The whole process took about 15 minutes total, including the time it took to set up my online Sync account.

Version 1.3 is still on my update list, so I'll go ahead and do that, too. The file turns out to be much smaller, about 64 kilobytes. This shouldn't take long.

And so it is. The V1.3 upload takes less than 30 seconds, and a full reboot is not required.

So now our Ford Flex has the latest phone updates burned into its memory. But we'll have to remember to check back every so often because new phones and new portable media players are coming out all the time.

There are other sorts of updates available, too.

My Sync account lists an additional upgrade that 1) auto-dials 911 using my Bluetooth-paired phone in the event of an accident and 2) issues periodic vehicle health reports to my e-mail address (or Sync account). But the Sync website also says we have to go to the dealer to get this accomplished and possibly pay for the dealer's time. Apparently it takes more than a USB memory stick.

Well let you know how that one goes after we bring it in.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 39,550 miles

First Rain

December 07, 2009

Well, it has arrived — the first significant downpour in the Los Angeles area since, well, since I don't remember when. At any rate, I felt the Flex wiggle a few times on the freeway on the drive in this morning, so it got me thinking about tire tread-depth.

As Brent pointed out about a month ago, the rear tires on the Flex are darned near needing replacement, and the puddles on the freeway on this morning's commute made it even more apparent. Here are a couple photos demonstrating the reason why.

Here's a shot of a relatively new front tire (note distinct treads and wear bars still below adjacent treads) that were installed in July.

and here's a shot of the rear tire with the wear bars flush with the surrounding tread which has become relatively devoid of sipes

We know the tires had not been rotated at proper intervals causing the disparity in front/rear wear, but at this point (with the rainy season upon us), the Flex is in need of a new pair of shoes.

By the way, the new tires we got in July should have been put on the rear of the Flex. Most tire shops will intuitively suggest putting new tires on the front of a front-drive vehicle which is completely wrong. If you can afford to, replace all the tires at the same time, but if you can't, then insist the new tires go on the rear.

Why, you ask, would we recommend putting new tires on the rear of a front-drive vehicle — or any vehicle for that matter? Because while a front-drive vehicle uses the front tires for steering and propelling, most of the stability of the vehicle is derived from the rear tires.

For a vast majority of drivers, it's far easier to identify, comprehend, and control a mild case of 'understeer' than it is to do the same with 'oversteer.' Luckily, many newer vehicles are equipped with electronic stability control systems, but there's only so much ESP can do once hydroplaning occurs and it would be better to avoid a case of oversteer (with new rear tires) before it even begins.

By the way, we're not the only ones who know this and recommend it, either. Check out this more thorough explanation from Tire Rack.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 39,790 miles

Thanks for the Memory...Or Not

December 09, 2009

'Stop doing that,' I said to the Ford Flex as I got in for the 4th time last night. I had lots of errands to run and every time I got back into the Flex it defaulted to another user's seating arrangement. Even though I had reset the memory to my liking.

So, I pulled out the manual to see if I was doing it correctly. It reads:

'To program position one, move the driver seat, exterior mirrors and adjustable pedals to the desired positions using the associated controls. Press and hold control button 1 for at least two seconds. To program position 2, repeat the previous procedure using control button 2.'

That's exactly what I did. I set everything up to my liking. Then I held in the button until it beeped. The next time I got into the car, it moved back to mystery driver position.

Someone must have set the seat memory into the key, which is fine. I don't need my seat preference coded into the key because I don't drive this car very often. But I should be able to push the memory button once I'm inside the car and override it.

Instructions for setting up the key are a little more complicated. But that shouldn't render the interior buttons useless. Something is amiss. Could be me. Could be the car.

Anyone have a similar problem?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Holy Crap! 40,000?!?

December 10, 2009

I was driving the Flex back to the office after a long day of photography when I noticed the odo. 40,000? Are you kidding me? 40? 40,000?

I don't think I've seen a long-termer get racked up like this in a short amount of time. Ever. And I've been here almost 11 years!

I think it's safe to say we LOVE this vehicle for road trips. Or just love this car. Period.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer @ 40,072 miles

Oh No, Not Another Oregon Road Trip!

December 22, 2009

Oh Yes! Another 2,500-mile road trip, another grab for the keys to our 2009 Ford Flex. Would I like to take something else for a change? Sure. But the continuing emphasis on downsizing in the automotive world means our own test fleet is rather short on large family vehicles these days. The next biggest, the Volvo XC60, is unable to manage the job without a roof pod.

Besides, the Flex just might be with us for a full 100,000 miles — we're waiting for a response from one final decider before giving this plan the green light. It seems likely at this point, so our 2,500-mile trip could not be wasted. My family is not complaining, not one bit.

We'll try to keep things fresh for this third go-around.

Ever wonder what a BMW 745i would look like if attacked with a dozen cans of flat black spray paint? Now you know. Take that, Mr. Bangle!

The Flex's optional fridge/freezer really does the job. It holds four 16.9 oz. bottles like these, but just barely, and only if you invert two of them. Note to self: the 'freeze' setting means business.

We're headed west on Highway 46, crossing between Interstate 5 and Highway 101. The intersection in the distance is where James Dean met his end, and we're headed towards it just as he did because our destination for the night is Monterey, too.

Imagine a car turning left in front of you, bound for Fresno, as it approaches from the opposite direction. Now imagine you're in a puny Porsche Spyder with no modern safety principles applied to its design or construction. The intersection was narrower and un-lit back then, but the same scenario could play out again.

I'm also trying out Road Trip, a $4.99 iPhone app, for this trip to Oregon. It does the MPG and cost math in a snap. Today we went 363 miles on 16.65 gallons of unleaded that cost $2.939 per gallon. Our little app says that works out to 21.8 mpg and 13.5 cents per mile.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 42,468 miles

Arrival in Oregon

December 27, 2009

OK, so Donna beat me to it. But I swear I took this photo of our 2009 Ford Flex with Christmas lights on Dec 24th, the day we arrived in Oregon. Dad and I only got the wireless network set up in his house this afternoon, you see.

Ironically, the electric Mini couldn't actually power the lights that were draped across its flanks. For all its electric subsystems, the Mini E has no 110V outlet to power accessories like a Wii gaming system, a laptop charge cord or a string of christmas lights. But the Flex has such an outlet and, after we wrested control from the kids and unplugged the Wii, we actually drove the final 5 rural miles with these extra 'clearance lights' attached to make our grand entrance.

For those of you concerned about the worn rear tires on the Flex, fear not. We replaced them before departure. Stokes charged $145 each for exact replacement Hankook Optimo H725 tires. After that we paid $10 (each) for freight, $60 for mounting and balancing and nearly 10% in taxes, and our total for two new rear tires rose to $406.28. An oil and filter change added another $57.56 to our final bill.

The front tires have at least three-fourths of the original tread left and we're carrying low-profile Z-spec cable chains with us should they become necessary. There's little danger of snow here on the coast, but we're headed inland to Bend, Oregon in a few days where the white stuff is much more likely.

I mentioned the iPhone app Road Trip in my last post. I'm liking it thus far.

OK, I admit that mpg calculations are very easy to do yourself; divide miles driven by gallons added and you're done. But this well-designed app makes those calculations instantly in the background after you enter your raw odometer reading and the number of gallons purchased. Add in the price paid per gallon and you get cost per mile, too. Better yet, you don't need to keep a logbook in the car, fish around for a pen that hasn't dried out and a pocket calculator that has juice. Your iPhone or iPod Touch becomes the data entry point, the logbook and the calculator, all in one shot.

And if that wasn't enough, Road Trip gives you a bunch of geeky graphs.

Yeah, I think my $4.99 was money well spent. Refer to the above photos for the Flex's current fuel economy performance.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 43,004 miles

Going Nowhere

December 28, 2009

There's nothing wrong with our 2009 Ford Flex Limited, nothing at all. Got plenty of fuel, too. It's just that we're here on the Oregon Coast and the weather is great ... for the time being.

This is the view I have if I turn my head slightly to the left as I sit in the chair in front of Dad's TV. That's highway 101 down there.

Here's the entire 180-degree panorama, as seen from the balcony.

Yeah, there's no reason to go anywhere else at this particular point in time. And tonight we're having fresh Dungeness crab for dinner. And by fresh I mean hauled out of the ocean below this very morning.

The Ford Flex will simply have to sit in the driveway and wait until we're good and ready to move again. But that's not to say it didn't figure in the day's activities. The kids got these nerf dart guns, you see, and the Flex has an invitingly flat backside, and ...

We'll be back on the road in a couple of days, and we're headed towards some snow. I just might have to break out those snow chains, after all.

Happy Holidays.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 43,075 miles

13 Hours in the Saddle

January 04, 2010

Our winter Oregon trip in the 2009 Ford Flex is over. We're all home safe and sound.

You may be wondering what happened to the updates from the Bend leg of our trip. Well, they weren't necessary because, for a variety of reasons, that part of our trip was cancelled.

The night before we were to leave it snowed 6 inches in the mountain passes between the beach and Bend, with more forecast for the day we would need to leave. Tracy and the kids were in no mood to spend 10 hours in the car — slowed by snow an the likely need to fit chains — for what would amount to a one-day visit on the other end, no to mention the longer drive home — slowed by still more snow on rural two-lane roads — that would result. I was game for the drive, but since it was her sister we were to visit I wasn't going to force the trip on them for the sake of an interesting blog post or two. This is our vacation, after all.

Instead we stayed a couple of extra days at Dad's hilltop hideaway and then drove home. Everyone was anxious to get home at that point, so we decided to tackle the entire 816-mile return trip in one day.

Even though it nearly spans the length of California, our route was fairly straightforward: highway 101 south to interstate 580 east to interstate 5 south to highway 91 east to home. In other words, most of it is freeway. The first third took fully half the time, owing to stretches of two-lane in the mountains and persistent rain. But after that, we made good time — very good time.

Including a couple of fuel and potty stops, a drive-through lunch eaten on the road and a brief sit down dinner at Panda Express, it took us 12 hours and 51 minutes to get home. Not bad at all.

And the seats and the well-damped ride of the 2009 Ford Flex Limited made it possible, as all four of us arrived basically intact with no ill effects. This is really saying something because my wife has a hard time getting comfortable in most cars, but she had such no problems in the Flex. In fact she told me later that she would not have agreed to the straight-through scenario if we had been in any other car in our blog fleet.

Me? I can ride in almost anything, but if it passes the Tracy Test it's safe to say the Ford Flex Limited has excellent long-distance comfort. Certainly a more pleasant ride experience than this ...

And if you still think the Flex looks like a hearse, think again. THIS is a hearse.

Finally, a summary of our trip fuel economy.

The mpg figures in the high 'teens represent local trips near my parents' house; everything else is highway mileage. Our trip's best tanks, both in the 22's, could have been 2 or 3 mpg better had we kept our speed down on the long, boring parts of Interstate 5 though central California. But we were on a mission and, besides, anyone who has driven that strip of lonely asphalt knows you'll get run over if you don't go with the supercharged flow. Even so, our trip-long average of 20.4 mpg exceeds the two-wheel drive Flex's 19 mpg EPA combined fuel economy rating.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 44,099 miles

Our Favorite Caption

January 08, 2010

Thanks to vwthing1 for this week's favorite caption.

There were so many funny ones to choose from. We had a hard time this week.

Here are the others that had us doubled over with laughter:

The Flex left a few skid marks! (ergsum)
Not surprisingly, the motel that night was a dump! (ergsum)
Ford Flex: The Load Warrior (ergsum)
Meanwhile, after my colonoscopy... (zoomzoomn)
Must be an old logging road. (ergsum)
Take Holloway, the other route always gets backed up. (lowmilelude)
Crap! That was our turn! (thegraduate)
Ford tests new FecoBoost technology. (vwthing1)
Craption Contest....hahahaha!!!! (rick8365)
Road trips in the Flex are always a gas. (sherief)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

January 08, 2010

Happy New Year, captioners!

Dan Edmunds sent me this shot of the Ford Flex from his vacation.

We offer you: Been Driving All Night. I'm Pooped.

I know you can do better.

This is our first caption contest of the new decade. So, I want to ring the bell.

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Barely Showing Its Age

January 12, 2010

Last week I showed you the wear and tear on our M3's seatback bolsters. At the time the car had less than 15,000 miles. Certainly the seat in our Flex doesn't have a big bolster to rub every time you get in or out, but the fact that it shows very little wear is impressive at 44,500 or so miles.

More examples after the jump.

This is what the bumper guard and rear hatch area — places where cargo is drug in and out of the vehicle — look like after being cleaned up this morning. There's genuinely nothing to whine about here. There are a few nicks on the plastic panels inside but nothing major.

Even here, on the door sill, there are few scuffs. Ford has endowed the Flex with durable interior materials and it shows.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

Rock Chip

January 12, 2010

When I got into the Flex this morning, I noticed this star-shaped rock chip in the windshield by the driver side A-pillar. Bummer. It's about 1 inch in diameter and not in the driver's direct line of sight, so hopefully we can get it repaired instead of replacing the entire windshield.

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com

Surprise Rear-Seat Luxury

January 19, 2010

During my roadtrip to Sacramento, I loved all the conveniences of our 2009 Ford Flex — its Bluetooth so I could call my parents and let them know I was now passing Coalinga, its satellite radio so I wouldn't have to keep changing radio stations and the soft lights in the cupholders so I can safely set my cup of coffee down while driving. But the feature I appreciated the most had to be that the second row of passenger seats had their own seat heaters!

I had to pick my dad up from the hospital this weekend and it was really nice that we could get him all cozy for the ride back home. We had to put him in the passenger seat behind me because that's where the nurse wheeled him as it was closest to the wheelchair ramp. In any case, I was thrilled that he, too, could enjoy heated seats, since being a lover of them myself I know how awesome they are. And how often do backseat passengers get to enjoy such luxuries? I mean, besides DVDs.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 45,462 miles

Rear Wiper

January 21, 2010

Why are rear wipers always so small? This is not an issue specific to the Ford Flex. I just happened to be driving the Flex in all this rain.

I've never seen a rear wiper that actually clears the back window. It's like they're an afterthought.

Can you think of any car with a wiper that clears the rear glass as completely as the front wipers do?

I'm obsessed with wiper blades today. I just put three new ones on my Integra. And its back wiper is small, too.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Our Favorite Caption

January 22, 2010

Thanks to ampim for this week's favorite caption. You can always get me with a Star Wars reference. We also enjoy when you mention other posts.

Here are the others that stuck with us:

The Flex holds up well to all our cheap shots! (ergsum)
Ford Flex: Give It a Shot! (ergsum)
Inside Line decides to 'stick' with the Flex. (ergsum)
Darn! It must be armored or something! (eidolways)
I wish you hadn't done that, Dave. (eidolways)
No worries kids...the rear wiper has been deemed ineffective (rick8365)
On the highway, these will make us look MUCH faster (dougtheeng)
UnFORDgiven (ergsum)
Full shields to the rear! We're being attacked by Cling-ons!! (technetium99)
I told you, I WANT A BIGGER REAR WIPER! ARRRRRGH! (robert4380)
A look behind the scenes at real-world testing at Edmunds...(mrryte)
Edmunds, Dan Edmunds. (ergsum)
Edmunds staff finally takes out their frustration over the sunroof gap. (thejohnp)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

January 22, 2010

Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds has spent a lot of time with our Ford Flex. So, he's had plenty of opportunities to take caption contest photos.

He here is taking a shot or two or fifty at this favorite family hauler.

We suggest: Ford Flex Hits Target Market

OK, that's not funny. We'll leave funny up to you.

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

The Happiest Place on Earth

January 28, 2010

I had the Ford Flex throughout the deluge last week, and here's the reason. We had house-guests who flew from Portland to escape the rain and snow. D'oh! The plan was set in concrete with fly-or-die plane tickets so we were going to Disneyland come heck or high water. The good news is the Flex proved the perfect 6-passenger vehicle, once again, and even better, the Happiest Place on Earth proved to be the Emptiest (and Soggiest) Place on Earth.

Okay, here's the actual shot of six aboard the Flex, but after the storm had passed. Of course, those smiling faces were caused by the incredible amount of leg room, shoulder room, luggage space, and 5 sunroofs the Flex affords and have nothing to do with Southern California sunshine. The girls were too busy eating goldfish and pretzels to comment.

Ironically, the guy in the green shirt, Mark, is the go-to guy for anything related to microcars for the entire North-West region of the U.S. and he's hosted all the Great Pacific Northwest Microcar shows since 2004. Here's a link to the Vintage Microcar Club, and here's a link to an article on his Subaru 360 complete with flames. Needless to say, he was utterly disoriented by the scale of the 2009 Ford Flex. 'I bet I could haul my Messerschmitt back here,' he said, and I bet he could.

Here are a few shots from Disneyland. It was so empty we literally walked up to rides and sat down without a wait. In fact, we just stayed in our seats and rode again a couple times because there was no line of people waiting to take our seats. That (almost) never happens.

'It's not that bad, just a little drizzle...'

'Hey, it's starting to clear...'

'Quick, get inside Mini's house...'

...and finally, the rain relented. Does anybody else think a shot of a snow-capped Matterhorn at sunset with a silhouetted palm tree is three kinds of awesome at the same time?

Of course, we stayed until the girls had come down from their first-ever cotton-candy sugar highs which happened to coincide with the park closing (early) at 8:00 pm.

I hope you enjoyed the photos.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 45,534 miles

Rain Patterns

January 29, 2010

For now the rain is gone, and Blue Wave car wash is running double staff to satisfy the increase in demand. Before I washed the Flex, I found a couple interesting rain patterns that had been left behind.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 46,004 miles

Surprise Utility

February 01, 2010

Here's a little surprise I stumbled into this morning while fiddling with the Flex's seats. This might very well give the Flex the ability to carry a ten-foot-long piece of cargo (like, say, a 2x4 or rain gutter or any other piece of hardware sold in that length) without cutting it down. I haven't measured it, but it looks possible.

This release on the back of the seat is used to drop it forward as seen in the first picture. I hadn't ever noticed it until today, but I'm glad Ford thought of this need. It increases the Flex's utility — possibly into the world of the minivan.

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

Voyage to Vegas Notes

February 05, 2010

Despite the fact that our Flex has racked up nearly 50,000 miles, I had yet to spend any real quality time in it. That changed this week when I took it to Vegas, about a 600-mile round trip from my house in greater L.A. I averaged 22.4 mpg with the drive being mostly open freeway cruising running between 70-80 mph.

Herewith are some random cheers and jeers I had for this Ford, some of which you may have already seen noted by my colleagues.

Cheers:

— Great seats: Plush, wide and yet supportive enough for a four-hour stint.

— Nav system: Easy to use and clear graphics too.

— Sync system: Easy hook-up to my phone, a voice recognition system that knows what I'm saying, and a cool weather forecast function.

— Awesome highway cruiser. With the speed limit being 75 over much of the ride, I just set the cruise at 80. With the engine loafing along at 2000 rpm, the low levels of road and wind noise and the lack of vibration, it felt like we were going more like 50.

— Capless fuel filler. I was surprised by how much I appreciated this feature which eliminates the minor steps of removing and replacing a fuel cap. Didn't think I was that lazy!

— Plenty of cubbies for snacks, cell phone and wallet.

Jeers:

— Nav system Traffic: Showed the freeway (yes the portion I was on) as 'green' when it should've shown 'red' — it was very slow-moving traffic for a few miles.

— The cruise control: The buttons are all the same, so you have to glance at them to operate the system, and there's no 'cancel' mode.

As you can see, there's plenty good and not much bad to say about the Flex. Now I know why this car is so popular with the staff for road trips.

Note:
I did not see the Flock of Seagulls. The sign caught my eye so I had to shoot it as proof that, nearly three decades later, The Flock are still milking their crowd pleaser: 'I Ran'. Besides, I'll take 'Space Age Love Song' over I Ran any day.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 46,921 miles

IL Carpool Vehicle of Choice

February 10, 2010

Yesterday afternoon three of us Long Beachers formed a last-minute carpool home. After a quick look at the long-term car key board, we voted unanimously to take the Ford Flex.

With nearly 48,000 miles on its odometer, the Flex is still the vehicle of choice when it comes to group (even small group) transportation.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 47,900 miles

A Bad Romance

February 12, 2010

The last few times I've driven the Flex and was listening to Sirius radio, I heard a chime and looked over to see the screen telling me that "Bad Romance" was playing on Channel 1. Um, thanks?

Turns out this is the result of an experiment conducted by our own Mike Magrath. One day when he was waiting around at the test track, he decided to test the memory feature. He set our Flex's Sirius to alert us every time Bad Romance comes on the radio, along with a handful of other songs. You can set this feature to remember songs, artists, or both.

Well, it works. And it works and it works. That Lady Gaga sure gets a lot of air play.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 47,990 miles

An Olympic Journey Day 1

February 22, 2010

On July 2, 2003, Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics. Roughly around that day I said roughly the following, 'I'm Canadian, Vancouver is only a two-day drive away and no matter what I'm doing in seven years, damn it, I'm going to the Vancouver Olympics.'

Well, seven years later I indeed departed for the Olympics. Thankfully, seven years later I was doing the job I so-hoped to be doing seven years prior. This gave me a car for the drive, which turned out to be our extra-long-term Flex that's obviously ideal for taking myself, my buddy and our respective signficant others up the coast to Vancouver. As the American customs officer noted on the way back, we also brought our living room with us (pictured, and don't worry, I could still see out the back).

Day 1: Los Angeles to Medford, Oregon
Total Miles: 688

My route would be simple: a straight shot up Interstate 5 until we hit Canada where it turns into Provincial Road 99. We would leave Saturday after the opening ceremonies and although it should only take two days to get there, we would stay in Seattle Sunday night to avoid an exponentially more expensive stay in Vancouver. In between, we'd stop wherever felt about right.

As always, California's central valley is extraordinarily dull ... and smelly. Seriously, we left the recirc on the entire time because there's a good 200-mile stretch that reeks of cow. However, it's also home to that icon of Denmark and soup, Pea Soup Andersen's in Santa Nella. I had previously been to their other restaurant in Buellton on my Subaru Outback drive, so I was eager to ... wait, why the hell would you care about pea soup? I took a picture there. Danish flag. Windmill. Neat-o.

Once past Sacramento, I was further north in California than I had ever been previously. I found it looked an awful lot like Illinois (green rolling plains, a few trees, more cows) until we reached Redding and the beginning of the Cascades. As you may have heard, weather has been mild in Vancouver and throughout the Pacific Northwest. As such, the bad weather I anticipated throughout the mountainous portion of the journey proved to be nothing but clear skies and sun. The coldest temperature we experienced was 49 degrees in Weed, California.

Speaking of which, I was planning on stopping in Weed just to take a silly caption contest picture, but turns out the darn place is at the foot of Mt. Shasta and one cool place to stop for gas. Both the imposing Mt. Shasta and its little buddy Black Butte (top picture) are volcanoes, as are all the prominent mountains in the Cascades. I've been watching a lot of How the Earth was Made recently on History Channel, so I found this all super cool. You probably don't, though, so here's a picture of the Flex at a Shell near some volcanoes in a town called Weed with my friend Chris doing his passengerial duties.

With no delays and a steady high speed, we had no problem making Oregon on Day 1. We could've gone further, but since I was the only person legally allowed to drive the Flex, I was ready to call it a day in Medford, Oregon, after 11.5 hours.

More from my Olympic Journey throughout the week.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 48,687 miles

An Olympic Journey Day 2

February 23, 2010

After ending Day 1 in Medford, Team Flex set out into the wilds of Oregon with our sights set on Seattle. Unlike the pristine weather on Day 1 and actually throughout the trip, it rained for most of Sunday. Nothing torrential, just a steady rain interspersed with fog in the Cascades.

The Flex's windshield wipers are still holding up after almost 50,000 miles (not that they get used a lot), and despite Donna's complaints, I found that the rear wiper did the job well enough given the inherent design limitation of the back window. Would a double wiper be better? Perhaps, but then it would share something with a Camry wagon and that wouldn't be good for anyone.

Day 2: Medford, Oregon, to Lynnwood, Washington
Total Miles: 464 miles

The rain certainly provided us the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience, but the thing about Oregon I noticed the most was sheep. They were everywhere — in the green fields, on the green hills — and generally looked quite content. Along with the cows, horses, goats and three llamas, I think I'd choose Oregon for my place of residence if I were to be reincarnated as livestock. These are the things you think about while driving through the rain in Oregon with your three passengers asleep.

Our first stop was in Portland and specifically, Voodoo Doughnuts. On the Suzuki Kizashi press trip, they brought a couple boxes of these to our mid-way driver change at the foot of Mt. St. Helens (the non-blowed-up side) and I knew we had to stop at Voodoo. 'Great,' you're saying, 'A doughnut shop. I have a Dunkin Donuts or a Krispy Kreme or a Tim Hortons down the road.' Perhaps, but those aren't Voodoo Doughnuts. See that big Maple Bar? You can get that with bacon on it (though not the day we were there). See the Cap'n Crunch one? See the Oreo cookie one? The Butterfinger Chocolate cake one in the upper right? The purple one is the Grape Ape with grape drink powder on it. The white one has lemonade powder on it. You can also get one with Tang, plus an Oreo one with chocolate icing and drizzled peanut butter. Folks around Edmunds HQ thought my Olympic trip sounded cool, but they started planning their own Pacific Northwest trips when I showed them the picture below. I told them just press 'Voodoo 1' in the Flex's navigation address book.

Back to motoring. Since Portland is right on the Columbia River, we crossed into Washington munching on delicious doughnuts (I had the Grape Ape). We also got our first glimpse at Vancouver ... the Washington one, sure, but it was exciting nonetheless. The rest of the drive through the Evergreen State was uninteresting, especially me trying to pinpoint where in Seattle Frasier Crane's condominium building was located. Judging on the location of the Space Needle and downtown, I'd say it was located on a helicopter hovering over the hill I think is known as North Admiral.

We stayed north of the city in Lynnwood, but we headed into downtown for Valentine's Day dinner. Finding a parking spot wasn't easy, but when I finally did, I turned around to get something I forgot in the Flex. The top photo is what I saw: the unintentional perfect Seattle view. Well, except for Frasier's fake condo.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 49,151 miles

It Costs How Much?

February 23, 2010

Our 2009 Ford Flex went to Santa Monica Ford for scheduled maintenance today. Attached to our invoice was this list of recommended services. So what do you think these wipers are made of?

Even though we are in the dreaded Southern California rainy season, we declined the wiper replacement. Maybe next time. We did have the oil and filter changed. And all work was completed to our satisfaction within a couple of hours. Perfectly acceptable.

Total Cost: $47.59

Days Out of Service: None

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 50,627 miles

An Olympic Journey Day 3

February 24, 2010

On Monday morning, the Flex boldly went where no long termer had gone before: Canada. And since we've never had a hankering to visit Mexico or catch a raft to Cuba, it was also the first one of our cars to leave the country.

Despite repeated warnings of gigantic line-ups at the Canadian side of the border (as we saw on the way back), by leaving early we had no wait getting through. But a word of (what should have been obvious) wisdom: Do not stop to take pictures of your Edmunds long-term car at the border. This is a bad idea. It will most likely get you sent into secondary for what I can only assume is suspicious behavior. Even if you have a Canadian passport and even if you have in-depth answers to all their questions (what events are you seeing at the Olympics, where precisely are you staying), they are likely to give you a hard time. As the son of a Canadian customs officer, I was greatly shamed by this. But hey, at least we got a picture of the Flex at the border. Also, the Flex is officially the first long-term car to get searched by customs. So there you go.

Day 3: Lynnwood, Washington, to Vancouver, British Columbia
Total Distance: 127 miles

The Flex's trusty navigation system didn't blink an eye when we crossed into Canada and very quickly we were looking at spectacular downtown Vancouver. It's an absolute zoo right now for the Olympics, but normally, it's incredibly chill and has easily the most breathtaking natural backdrop for a major city on this continent (more pictures tomorrow).

I parked the Flex in our rented apartment's parking garage and said goodbye for the next four days. There is no parking at Olympic venues, so we'd be relying on walking, a private couch bus to Whistler (for luge), and the new Skytrain Canada Line to Queen Elizabeth Park (for curling) and Richmond (for speed skating).

In case you care, I've included some pictures from the venues.

Left to right: The view from the luge grandstand, Whistler is hidden by the fog — This is the end of the track, you can see the wall they added after the Georgian luger was killed. — This is the view from turn 9. You can walk almost the length of the track and watch from anywhere.

Left to right: Yep, here's this guy. — The view from the gondola that goes from Whistler village, stopping at the Sliding Centre and on up to the top of the mountain.

Left to right: The Canada Line features a big window in front so you can see where you're going and they light the tunnel. Super cool. — Here are the pipers ushering in the curlers at the Vancouver Olympic Centre. — Here is Shawn White getting his gold medal at Thursday victory ceremony.

Left to right: After getting off at Aberdeen station, there is a 1.3-km walk to the Richmond Oval along the Fraser River. Thank goodness it was so nice outside. — Here is the Richmond Oval. — Here is Canadian Christine Nesbitt doing her victory lap after winning the gold medal.

The Torch, behind the unexplainably ugly temporary fencing. What are they thinking? If they needed to protect it, why not come up with something more elegant than this?

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 49,278 miles

An Olympic Journey Day 7

February 25, 2010

With our time at the Olympics sadly over, Team Flex saddled up for our return journey back to the United States. But first, I thought we'd check out one of Vancouver's most visit-worthy landmarks to let everyone get a full appreciation of the city's beauty.

Day 7: Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Oregon
Total Distance: 509 km

Stanley Park juts out from downtown Vancouver into Coal Harbour, an isthmus of trees surrounded by water with the city's skyline on one side and mountains on the other. As you may have noticed on TV, the weather in Vancouver was great and we only needed sweatshirts as we walked around the park's Brockton Point. It's here where you'll find a collection of totem poles, plus a lighthouse and awesome views of the entire area. There's also a constant stream of seaplanes taking off and landing.

Oh, and there was randomly a Chevy Volt in the parking lot. The gent driving it was wearing a Chevy shirt, but there was no show or circumstance regarding the visit. It seemed like he was just driving it around. I thought it looked nice in that color.

Sadly, though, we had to depart Vancouver. After a brief lunch stop at Harvey's (more of an Ontario thing, but I managed to find one of six in Vancouver), we set off with Portland as our ultimate destination. Unfortunately, it never dawned on me that we'd be driving through Seattle at rush hour. What should have been a 4.5-hour drive turned into a 6.5 hour drive. Oops.

As a parting shot, see if you can spot the flame in the photo below.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 49,593 miles

An Olympic Journey Days 8 & 9

February 26, 2010

And so we come to the end of my Olympic Journey. This was the trip that saw the Flex become our first car to break through the confines of the United States, but it also saw it become the first to go from 0 miles to 50,000 in our 'care.' Other cars have seen higher odometers, but they were all used cars.

Given the Flex's odometer that oddly goes to a decimal point, it's rather difficult to stop right on 50,000.0, but darn it, I did it. It gave us something to do as we counted down the miles to 50 grand. When we finally struck the big 5-0-0-0-0-point-0, here's where we were ...

I was expecting us to hit the milestone next to some sheep pasture or some non-descript mountain curve where I could take an ironic picture of where we were when this momentous occasion happened. Instead, we were at the picturesque foot of Mt. Shasta and right back in Weed, or rather, 4 miles north of it. How about that.

Day 8: Portland, Oregon, to West Sacramento, California
Total Distance: 582 miles

Day 9: West Sacramento, California to Los Angeles
Total Distance: 381 miles

The rest of our journey back went without a hitch, traveling from Portland to Sacramento, and then from Sacramento to Los Angeles. On Day 9, it seemed that in the week we were gone, all of California's cherry trees had blossomed. They just kept going for seemingly hundreds of miles along I-5. I would've turned off the recirc to see if we could enjoy a pleasing whiff, but I just knew there would be a 1,000-acre expanse of farting cow around any given corner.

So what did I learn from this journey? That I need to make it again, mainly, though obviously when the Olympics haven't turned Vancouver into Canadian Mardi Gras. The drive is easy and you get to pass over beautiful terrain and through three of the finest cities in North America — Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. If you live on the west coast, it really is a must-do, and I'd love to take the coastal 101 route at some point as well.

As for the Flex, truth be told, I was yearning for something different by Day 8. I was getting bored (my left leg was pawing to use a clutch) and tired (my arms grew weary of no telescoping wheel). One problem no longer exists for 2010, and the other could only be corrected by not bringing along girlfriends and 1.3 metric tonnes of stuff.

Having said that, though, my passengers couldn't have been happier. It was reported to me that the entertainment system couldn't be easier to use, and I was happy that it didn't restrict sound quality too badly given that only the front speakers are working. I still think the refrigerator is grossly expensive, but I certainly enjoyed having a chilled Red Bull delivered to me from the back seat without having to refill an ice-filled cooler every day.

Here are some facts and figures from the trip.

Grand Total Distance: 2624.8 miles or 4,224.2 km
Total Fuel Consumed: 122.836 (do your own liter conversion)
Final Fuel Economy: 21.37 mpg
Flex-Reported Fuel Economy: 22.1 mpg (damned lying Flex)
Total Fuel Stops: 8
Total Pee-Related-Only Stops: 0 (well done Team Flex!)
Total Lady GaGa Alerts: 6 (Surprisingly low. I guess we didn't listen to Sirius that much)
Total Voodoo Doughnuts Eaten: 11.5 (we just couldn't do it Captain! We don't have the power)
Approximate Number of Cars Passed (aka Getting Flexed): 1,004

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 50,630 miles

Our Favorite Caption

February 26, 2010

Thanks to ergsum for this week's favorite caption.

Here are the others that lifted our spirits:

Smokey and the Bandit (ergsum)
Bong in 60 Seconds (ergsum)
The Flex has an active Spliff (stpawyfrmdonut)
Weed CA, Elev. 3467'...It Just Seems Higher. (rick8365)
It's a HIT! (vt8919)
Let's hope the motel doesn't have roaches. (vt8919)
There it is, Weed. You'll never find a more wretched...Dude, what was I saying? (technetium99)
It's 5 o'clock somewhere. And it's 4:20 somewhere else. (vt8919)
Edmunds #1 rated road TRIP vehicle (flyusmc)
Officer...'No you were not going 70 you were going 5...' (flyusmc)
Huh. I thought the city would have been a little higher than 3,467 feet. (stharward)
Fast Times at Riswick High (ergsum)
If it were up to us, weed never leave (mnorm1)
This thing drives smoooooth, man. It's just smoooooth. (eidolways)
Now where's the closest Voodoo Doughnuts, again? (questionlp)
Weed: The New Flex-Fuel (questionlp)
Stupid GPS, always leads me to pot holes (sm42)
Welcome to Weed, Glaucoma free since...well, we really can't remember. (ergsum)
It's made the 7-11 run in less than 12 parsecs. (sherief)
Does it do burnouts? (funkymunky)
Tested on a closed course, right? (sm42)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

February 26, 2010

Automotive Editor James Riswick sent me this photo from his travels to Vancouver and back. For some reason he had to stop repeatedly because he had Olympic-sized munchies.

We suggest: Dude, Where's My Flex?

I know you can do better.

We'll post our favorite caption this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Ford's Nav vs. iPhone

March 01, 2010

I recently got an iPhone and like every other new iPhone user, I am convinced it's the best thing ever, and always the best option for any task. Ok so maybe I over stated a little, but I have been impressed with the GPS and map functions of my iPhone. This weekend when I had our Ford Flex I decided to do a little comparison test. On one side my iPhone and on the other Ford's navigation. Obviously the OEM system starts with a lot of advantages, it's got a bigger screen, it's mounted in the dash, and it can give audible cues. (Some iPhone apps may do this too, mine does not)

Round one was Saturday night. The goal was a route from my house to an art gallery about 25 miles away. I will admit the tech geek in me wanted the iPhone to win, but with all of its disadvantages I thought that would be unlikely. The Ford made it easy for the iPhone and claimed that no such address existed. Round two was Sunday afternoon but unfortunately for the Ford the result was much the same, once again the Ford claimed the address I was looking for didn't exist. In both cases my iPhone had no problem finding the address and providing an adequate route. And before you ask, no, neither of these were new buildings; both were around when the Flex's nav was programmed.

So the iPhone is obviously better right? I'm not sure I would go that far but I would say that it is probably time for our Ford Flex to get a software upgrade for the nav system.

Seth Compton, Field Producer @ 50,862 miles

Doesn't Smell Like Riswick

March 04, 2010

And that's pretty amazing - to me anyway.

Not that James, or the other people on his road trip stink (I happen to think Canadians are odorless), but I've taken enough long trips in enough vehicles to know that after a week or so on the road, some cars just start to smell bad.

Remember our Dodge Caravan? After six months it's interior reeked like cheap, leathery ass. And that Kia Rondo we had; diapers and lemons. Oh, and don't forget our 2002 M3 that smelled like a box of crayons.

What gives? Why do some cars absorb every micron of stench while other cars, like our Flex, just shed stink? Whatever Ford did, they should build that in to all their cars - and so should everyone else.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 50,891 miles

Editors' Favorites Number Four

March 09, 2010

Yep, the Ford Flex made it into the top five. This might not have happened were it not for three of our editors who picked it as their number-one favorite long-term vehicle. That's high praise for a family hauler. But given that this is the first Edmunds.com long-termer to be given a 100,000-mile test and first one the first to leave the country, it's safe to say this isn't your typical family hauler.


Is It Flexible Enough?

March 18, 2010

As I pulled into my driveway yesterday evening, my neighbor came over to ask about the Flex. He is looking for something to replace his SUV that he bought before he had any children. His family is growing and he needs something that will pass the wife test and entertain his two kids.

I explained how everyone on our staff enjoys the Flex and how it is a great road trip car. It has enough room for plenty of kids and all the stuff that gets carted around with them. But I suggested that if he test-drives one, he also makes sure that his wife test-drives it, too.

At 5'4', I have trouble reaching some things in the Flex. I have to move the seat really close to the front to be able to drive comfortably. I swim in the Flex. And I've seen this guy's wife, she can't be more than 5'2'.

So, although the Ford Flex is a versatile family vehicle, it may not suit smaller sized humans.

Have you driven a Flex?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Trip to San Francisco

March 18, 2010

Another month, another road trip for our 2009 Ford Flex. Or at least that's what it seems like. After James' Canadian odyssey, my recent weekend getaway trip to San Francisco is comparatively pretty minor. And as expected, there weren't any surprises; the Flex continues to be a great road-trip vehicle thanks to its low levels of noise, comfortable seats and useful features.

A few pictures and captions of the Flex in San Francisco (it seems like our Flex is turning into our own version of a travelling garden gnome) follow after the jump.

Fisherman's Wharf. I don't believe there's any fishing going on here anymore, unless you count fishing for tourist's dollars. Street-parking the Flex in San Francisco was tolerable; The Flex is certainly big, but its parking sensors and back-up camera are very useful for squeezing into tight spaces.

Driving on Filbert Street in the North Beach area. The church is St. Peter and Paul church.

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

On the bridge itself. It's a bit weird to watch the navigation screen and see nothing but water. (Unlike our departed submersible Mazda 6, however, the Flex's display is actually accurate.) The bridge is almost 2 miles long.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 51,886 miles

Still a Looker

March 23, 2010

Friends, neighbors, strangers in parking lots, there's no shortage of people who ask, 'How do you like your car?'

Some know the deal and are used to seeing you with different test cars. Some have no idea that the car is not yours, it's just a make or new model they find interesting.

I drove our 2009 Ford Flex this past weekend, and I swear, I was stopped and asked about the Flex more times and than I've been asked about anything in the last six months.

That's a pretty high compliment considering there's always a river of notable test cars flowing through Edmunds.com's garage.

Impressive for a vehicle that's nearly two model years old.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 52,165 miles

One Step Closer to 100k

April 01, 2010

We are 700 miles closer to our goal of 100k on the 2009 Ford Flex. It just returned from a two day gambling mission in Laughlin, Nevada. The slots were tight but a 3-hour heater on the tables more than made up for them.

Any trip you can walk away ahead is a good trip. And this was a great one. The Flex seats were as comfortable and supportive on the drive out as on the exhausting drive back. It is easily among the most comfortable cars in our long term fleet.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 52,848 miles

A Tiring Task Made Easy

April 05, 2010

This weekend, I had to mount some tires on rims as part of my Miata restoration project. The tires in question are old — 20 years old. Understandably, no tire shop would touch them. But in the interest of accurate display, I needed to have the 'correct' BFG T/A R1 tires on the car. What to do?

I loaded the four thoroughly used tires I got from a fellow racer and some bare rims into our 2009 Ford Flex and hauled them to another friend's race shop, where he agreed to let me have access to his mount and balance machines so I could do it myself.

I was done in 20 minutes. It all went smoothly because the sidewalls were remarkably free of cracks and the rubber was still pliable due to indoor storage in a dark, climate-controlled space.

Still, I don't dare do anything with these old BFGs but use them for static display. They're not going to see any track time. But that's no problem because my buddy was kind enough to loan me a mounted set of Toyo 15' Spec Miata race tires, plus a spare, should I want to lap the car.

In all, I had 8 mounted wheels and tires and one extra unmounted donut to haul home. The Flex's cargo sapce and fold-flat third row made easy work of it. Four of them fit standing up behind the tumbled second row while the rest fit flat in the back for the short ride home. The rear fridge/console was a bit of a pain, however, as it sticks up above the floor and gets in the way. I don't think I'd order one equipped this way.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 53,367 miles

Get the EcoBoost V6 for Towing

April 12, 2010

The time finally came when my restored 1990 Miata racecar was done and ready to be towed to Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca to be put on display as part of the Miatas at Mazda Raceway track event. But I needed a tow vehicle to get it there.

I had originally planned on using our long-term Dodge Ram 1500 pickup, but it was unavailable because Josh was moving over the same weekend. Our 2009 Ford Flex Limited was another candidate, but it lost out because it does not have a factory hitch (and the upgraded oil cooler than comes with it) and it lacks the general sauce of a 2010 Ford Flex with Ecoboost.

But we know people, and I was able to get my hands on an EcoBoosted 2010 Ford Flex with the factory class III trailer tow package for what was essentially an impromptu tow test. Its 4,500-lb tow rating would provide plenty of capacity for the job, as the Miata and trailer weighed just over 3,500 pounds. The whole rig came within 500 pounds of overall capacity when I factored-in the associated tools, luggage, spare track tires, EZ-up, and the all-important Ken, my crew chief, riding with me inside the Flex.

This Flex has middle-row buckets, but no center console. I was able to fold the middle row seats forward and stack my spare race tires flat on the floor, two-high. I put them here for two reasons: I wanted their mass to sit as far forward as possible, and; the floor is wider here than it is in the hatch area. This space becomes really handy without a rear console.

The class III tow package is more than a 2-inch receiver hitch and a 4,500-lb tow capacity. You also get built-in 4- and 7-pin trailer sockets that are pre-wired. For me, trailer hookup was a simple plug-and-play affair.

The package also comes with an engine oil cooler and a trailer sway control algorithm in the stability control system. It comes with a sub-harness that will allow you to easily connect a third-party electric brake controller (I didn't).

Here are a few towing impressions:

Power: The EcoBoost V6 has plenty of it for this job. If anything, the 355-horsepower twin turbo engine feels more potent when you ask it to do something difficult — like tow a trailer up and over a steep mountain grade like the Grapevine here in southern California — than it does normally. I could easily make passes on two-lane roads and up hills. When the road ahaed was clear, the cruise control was able to maintain uphill speed without much downshifting. This Flex EcoBoost felt stouter with a trailer than many of the cars in our long-term fleet do in everyday use.

Transmission: The downhill speed control setting in the select-shift 6-speed automatic is activated by sliding the lever from 'D' to 'M', but without touching the steering-mounted shift buttons. (The same feature is activated via a thumb button in our standard Flex.) The transmission and engine computers learn your desired speed from your use of the brake pedal and make adjustments so you can step off the pedal and avoid riding the brakes as you maintain your target speed. It worked really well here on 5- to 6-percent downgrades, even with the trailer pushing relentlessly from behind. As you'd expect, it doesn't quite keep up on extremely steep grades. The route out of the Laguna Seca recreation area, where the racetrack I visited is located, is a winding 16% affair where manual use of the brakes and a manual downshift to 2nd gear is necessary. That's really steep; I can't fault it for that.

Suspension: I'd loaded my trailer to produce a decent amount of stabilizing tongue weight, the rear didn't feel overburdened. It didn't bottom or wallow. It didn't ride low or drag through driveways. And because I had the proper amount of tongue weight, the trailer sway control software never fired-off once.

Steering: With my trailer clamped-on, the 2010 Flex went down the road nice and straight. At one point I had to deal with 30 mph crosswinds. No problem. I could do this all day. It tows real nice.

Fuel economy: This was mostly a highway-speed exercise driven at 60-65 mph, so even though I hate focusing on highway fuel economy ratings in general, I'm going to do it here anyway. The 2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost is exclusively an all-wheel drive machine, and its highway rating is 22 mpg. On the outbound towing leg I was able to get 15-16 mpg with no wind, even with a couple up-and-down climbs thrown in. On the way home, 25-35 mph cross- and headwinds dropped that to 13-14 mpg. My overall trip average was 14.5 mpg over 777 miles of towing. Without a trailer, the in-car meter read 22.2 mpg after about 100 non-towing miles driven at the same speed.

I do have a complaint, however. The back-up sonar cries mercilessly (and loudly) whenever you back up with a trailer back there. Yes, you can turn it off using the menus, but that process is cumbersome when you're trying to shut it off RIGHT NOW. I much prefer the stand-alone button found in our Dodge Ram - one press and you get silence.

But that's the only gripe I could come up with. Turns out a 2010 Ford Flex with the EcoBoost V6 is quite towing-capable and performs well within its published limits. I wouldn't try towing 4,500 pounds with 6 or 7 folks on board, however, because the weight of passengers and their baggage should be deducted from the tow rating in such cases.

I liked the Flex before. I like it even more now.

PS: Here's why I did this...

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ No additional miles on our LT Flex. Sorry.

Out of Lock

April 14, 2010

Oh noes, with over 50,000 miles on the odo, the white lock/unlock images are starting to wear off of our Flex's key fob.

In this close-up shot, it's still easy to see which is which. But in low light, it's getting difficult to tell the difference. Not a biggie, just thought I'd point it out.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

0 Miles To E for 21 Miles

April 19, 2010

Yesterday I was feeling a little crazy. Reckless even. But the 11 am showing of How To Train Your Dragon was sold out, so I was forced to Plan B.

Instead of the movie, I drove our long-term Ford Flex 21 miles with 0 range. It was intense. Spine tingling. When I finally stopped for gas I was physically shaking and my mouth was dry. What a rush.

Good times.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Front Brakes are Warped

April 20, 2010

It's slight warpage, but the front brake rotors on our long-term 2009 Ford Flex are warped. Lay into them and the steering wheel does the shimmy. We'll keep you posted.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

Slide, Baby, Slide

April 22, 2010

Magrath posed this question a while back and had me mock up our Flex with a sliding door. The Photochop isn't perfect, I know - the rear seat perspective is off - but you get the idea. The doors on the Flex are pretty wide, and in a city where nine out of ten parking spots are marked 'Compact,' my passengers have been limited to the narrowest of body types. Pop on this slick slider and maybe I can have more rotund friends.

What do you think? Too much like a minivan, or should I have at it with my 211-piece Craftsman Mechanics tool set (laser-etched, of course)?

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

Worst Shifter in the Entire History of the World

April 26, 2010

Above is a picture of the shifter in my wife's 2009 Mazda CX-9. It is a great shifter. Best in the affordable full-size crossover class. Notice how Mazda has given the driver control of the transmission with a manual gate, and it has even gone so far as to get the manual shift direction correct; push for a downshift and pull for an upshift.

Above is a picture of the shifter in long-term 2009 Ford Flex. It is a lame shifter. Worst in the affordable full-size crossover class. Notice how Ford has given the driver absolutely zero control over the transmission. There is no manual gate and no ability to downshift or actually choose what gear you want. And don't point to that L position. It's worthless unless you want the Flex's V6 banging on the rev limiter. Not sure why it is there at all.

What's really amazing about this shifter comparison is that the Mazda CX-9 was designed when Ford owned Mazda. Heck, they probably use the same 6-speed automatic transmission. (Anyone out there know if that's true?) So the same company is responsible for the best and the worst shifters in this class. Go figure.

Scott Oldham, Edmunds.com Editor in Chief

The Fridge is a Rip Off

April 28, 2010

When we bought our 2009 Ford Flex, the refrigerator in the second-row center console was a $760 stand-alone option. That always struck me as a gigantic rip-off given the fact you could buy a full blown fridge for way less.

For 2010, the back seat fridge is no longer a stand-alone item. Instead, it is included in the elegantly named Rapid Spec - 303A package that is only available on the Limited. In this $3,600 package you also get 20-inch chrome clad wheels, the Multi-Panel Vista Roof and heated second-row bucket seats. Now, everything but the fridge can be had as a stand-alone option. Using those prices, the remainder is $459 for the fridge. That still seems like a rip-off.

Especially when you consider this nifty gadget I recently experienced during the 2011 BMW X5 launch in Miami. This BMW Electric Cooler/Carrier plugs into the cigarette lighter and was big enough to hold six to eight cans/bottles of whatever, plus enough vertical space to add various other items on top. Compare that to the built-in Ford fridge, which is awkwardly shaped and struggles to stuff in four Red Bull cans. You can also take the BMW one with you. The price for the BMW Electric Cooler/Carrier? $161 according to the eBay.

So now that the fridge comes in a package, it's a little less of a rip-off. But really, a portable cooler like this BMW one makes a lot more sense.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Seats Are Very Easy To Fold

May 01, 2010

Got me a new addition for my garagemahal, free shelves from photographer Scott Jacobs'.

As I expected the shelving unit fit easily in our long-term 2009 Ford Flex, and as I expected the Flex's four rear seats folded flat very easily. But notice how the armrest/console/frig between the second row bucket seats is in the way and could have been easily damaged. And it is not removeable.

It didn't really affect this day of heavy hauling, but it could be a problem when you're transporting larger, sharper or dirtier cargo.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Taking Us Out To The Ballgame

May 03, 2010

A little more than a week ago my New York Yankees came to town, so we fired up our long-term 2009 Ford Flex and headed for Anaheim.

My 'Suit up kids, we're going to the ballpark!' was enthusiastically greeted with cheers and requests for cotton candy. Angel's Stadium is about 60 miles from our home and I was glad to have the Flex for the trip. The more I use the Ford for freeway travel the more I like it.

Although once we got there, the Flex's lack of a cargo cover was a bit of a bummer. We had to hide some valuables under seats for them to be out of sight.

After the game, the late night drive home was comfortable and drama-free, which is exactly what you want. Kids crashed. Wife happy.

Sure the Yanks lost, but it was fun family outing and the Flex was the perfect vehicle for the job.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Vanity Run Amok

May 03, 2010

On Friday I gave Manager of Vehicle Testing Mike Schmidt a lift to pick up another test car. Before I drove away in our long-term 2009 Ford Flex, Mike noticed there was still an Edmunds vanity plate mounted to the Flex's front bracket.

"We used the Flex in a photo shoot," he said. "Do you want me to take it off?"

I was in a hurry to pick up my daughter from school, so I told him no big deal, we'd take it off on Monday.

Turned out to be a really busy weekend for me, and I put approximately 200 miles on the Flex, mainly just running around town. Several times on Saturday morning I saw people look directly at the boxy SUV, and a couple of guys even pointed at it. Wasn't until late that afternoon that I remembered the Edmunds plate.

I haven't noticed the Flex getting that much attention lately. Do you think people are still checking out the Flex's unique shape, or were they simply pointing out the Edmunds logo?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 54,611 miles

Power Cubby

May 10, 2010

I rode shotgun a bit in our extended long-term Flex over the weekend and noticed this little storage cubby plus power point combo by my left leg. The storage space is triangular and measures about 2 inches at its widest point (next to the power point) and about 5 inches from one end to the other. There's a matching cubby (sans the power point) in the driver's footwell, too. Would be a good spot for a tin of mints, a parking pass, a little Stig doll. Most cell phones would probably fit in there, though I probably wouldn't store mine there if this were my car. I tend to fall victim to the 'out of sight, out of mind' trap, especially when it comes to cell phones. Any Flex owners use this cubby regularly?

Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 54,887 miles

Land Bizjet

May 13, 2010

I had to go to Vegas this week for a quick conference, and as my bizjet G650 was in the shop getting fitted with anti-SAM flares (below), I decided to take our long-term 2009 Ford Flex instead.

The Flex is a terrific road trip car, with a comfortable, controlled ride, and spacious interior. The Navi is excellent, and the Sync and satellite radio keep you from getting too bored.

The only problems I had were a severe shudder in the steering wheel during hard braking from speed due to the warped rotors, and some instability due to some hellacious crosswinds (probably due to the vehicle's large size).

I stayed at The Palms Casino, which was just OK, but the view from Ghostbar is outstanding!

Let's hear about the Flex, and also tell us about your fav Vegas hotel.

Albert Austria, Senior Engineer @ 55,470 miles

Lucky Numbers?

May 17, 2010

Okay, so it's not an even-Steven milestone. It's not even a mathmatical milestone, but it's kinda cool. Anybody into numerology? What does this mean?

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 55,555.5 miles

Pad and Rotor Change Interrupted

May 19, 2010

With 55,660 miles on the clock, our 2009 Ford Flex still wears its original front brakes pads and rotors. And there's enough meat left for another 10,000 miles, at least.

But a brake pulsation has been dogging us for the last 5,000 miles or so. The rotors haven't been warped by excessive heat, it's more of a cold judder issue.

Either way, the brake pads need replacement and new or turned rotors must be installed. New Motorcraft rotors cost only $48 apiece at my local dealer, and a full pad set is $111. I can do the whole job myself with genuine parts for around $200 and less than an hour of my time.

Sounds good, right? Three bolts and 5 minutes are all it takes to remove the pads and have the caliper hanging from the spring with a zip-tie. One more bolt to go and the suspect rotor will be history. This is easy.

*record scratch*

But then I get well and truly stuck.

The bolt looks like a Torx-head bolt. 'No problem,' says I, 'I have a complete set of Torx sockets.' The T-30 is too small. Let's try the T-40. Nope, too big.

Maybe there's such a thing as a T-35? It's possible my set skips over one or two of the lesser-used sizes. I'll pop down to the auto parts store (In my wife's car - the Flex is on jack stands) and buy the one I'm missing. The racks have umpteen sets that include all manner of Torx drivers, but none of them have an intermediate bit between T-30 and T-40.

Right there in the store, I consult my iPhone and check the Snap-On online tool catalog and find the same thing. Then it's off to the Torx entry on Wikipedia (I know, I know), which reveals an utter lack of anything Torx between T-30 and T-40.

Along the way I discover there's such a thing as a Torx Plus bit, but the pictures are fuzzy and I can't tell if this is what the Flex has. The sizing is similar, too, with IP-30, IP-40 and nothing in between. They don't seem to sell these here in the hallowed halls of Pep Boys, either. It looks like a special order from Snap-On or some other online tool outfit. But is Torx Plus the right one? And if so, which of these do I buy? I can't exactly attempt a test fit.

This is ridiculous. The use of a non-standard bolt in a place where it's arguably unnecessary to have a bolt at all smacks of an attempt to prevent DIY service. They're not going to wear me down. I'll figure out which bit I need, buy it and finish this job.

But not today. Chalking it up to experience, I put the old pads back in the calipers and reinstall the wheels and tires. I'll try again once I identify and obtain the correct Torx-like bit.

Anyone have a Ford Flex shop manual? Anyone know what type and size of fastener this is?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 55,719 miles

DIY Oil Change

May 25, 2010

With over 55,000 miles on the clock, our 2009 Ford Flex has had its oil changed many times. But we've never done the job ourselves ... until now. The above video says it all, but here's a summary of the lessons learned.

1) Don't be tempted by the discounted price of those 5-liter (5.28 quart) jugs of oil. The tallness of the jug makes them very hard to pour without spillage. Same goes for the sheer weight of the thing and the way the oil glugs out of the spout. Also, if your car takes, say, 4 quarts of oil, it'd be very easy to overfill. Save yourself the trouble and stick with 1-quart bottles.

2) The genuine Ford Motorcraft oil filter I bought has a weird fluted end that isn't compatible with the socket-style oil filter wrenches I have in my tool box — they don't slip on. So I was forced to use one of those hateful band-type wrenches. As you'll see above, it was a royal pain in the butt, made worse because the last oil-change mechanic really king-konged the old filter on there. Even though I'm sure Ford (or Snap-On) sells a special service tool that fits, I won't be buying another filter with a fluted end like that again.

3) The oil drain plug is nearly horizontal, so the escaping oil really jets out of there. You'll need to brush up on ballistics theory to place the drain pan in the right spot to avoid a driveway tragedy. But even after the oil slows to a dribble, the pan is still too far away from the filter drip zone to collect both streams at once. I had to re-install the drain plug before I could attack that filter.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 55,568 miles or thereabouts

Tour de Cali

May 25, 2010

Our long-term 2009 Ford Flex Limited was conscripted into domestique duty this past weekend, hauling cycling fans to several stages of the 2009 Tour of California. With the race shifting from February to May, lofty roads that would have normally been closed due to snow were now open to the race, and our Ford Flex.

Ford's boxy but cool hauler is available in front- (FWD) or all-wheel-drive (AWD), and in normally aspirated or turbocharged form (which requires AWD). Our 2009 Flex Limited is the front-wheel-drive, non-turbocharged version. That may not sound all that sexy knowing that there's a twin-turbo-all-wheel-drive model in the offing (and now a new Titanium trim), but for the vast majority of folk, this drivetrain is all they'll ever need. Hauling a day's worth of spectating equipment up over 7000 feet on the Angeles Crest Highway and crawling down several fireroads in search of unique viewpoints, there wasn't a moment where we really needed more power or traction.

On our way up to Inspiration Point for one of the King of the Mountain (KOM) stages of the race, the Flex was an adequately swift sherpa, even if it needed to downshift more to keep pace on some of the steeper grades. There is some torque steer with the front-wheel drive, but you only notice that when loaded down and getting hard on the gas to merge into traffic from a stop. Such a launch will often inspire a small weave in the steering wheel, one of the few clues to the Flex's front-driven wheels.

Skipping the turbos and all-wheel drive in the Flex will save you a few mpg at the pump (the EPA says 17/24/20 [city/hwy/combined] vs. 16/22/18), but it will also save you some coin up front. In SEL trim ($31,875), a FWD Flex will save you roughly two to five grand versus the AWD ($33,725) and EcoBoost ($36,720) models.

If you live where it snows, or do lots of towing or family-of-six travelling, you'll probably love the added traction and grunt of the AWD and EcoBoost versions of the Flex. But if you read back through our long-term posts, you'll find few mentions of wishing for more grip or power. Much like the cyclists who clawed their way over multiple passes, the FWD Flex may not be the swiftest way over the mountains, but it still easily gets the job done.

Paul Seredynski, Executive Editor @ 56,152 miles

Yep, Still A Great Highway Cruiser

May 28, 2010

I did another long drive in the Flex yesterday. And once again it proved to be a great highway companion. Quiet, comfortable, a long fuel range and a respectable stereo with an up-to-date satellite radio subscription — can't ask for much more than that.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

An Ideal Location For Reusable Bags

June 01, 2010

The more I drive our long-term Ford Flex the more I've come to appreciate the space behind the Flex's third-row seats. To keep grocery bags from spilling their contents in most cars' trunks you need to either use one of those stretchable cargo nets (which never work very well) or buy some sort of cargo management accessory.

But the Flex's deep well behind the seats is ideal for grocery bags, especially the reusable kind. You can line up about five of them, no problem, and they all sit nice and snug. I will point out that minivans typically have this feature, too, so it's hardly an exclusive. But I like the shape and depth of the Flex's space a little more. Along with the power-operated tailgate, it just makes grocery shopping that much easier.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 56,557 miles

Leather Seats Still Look Good

June 03, 2010

Twenty-one months and 56,000 miles isn't exacty an extreme test of durability. Even so, I'm liking the way our Flex's leather seats are holding up. They still look good without any major signs of wear. The black interior also likely helps out; we've had some long-term cars over the years with light-colored leather and they were more prone to showing wear and dirt.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

The Forgotten Keypad

June 04, 2010

I had forgotten that our Flex has Ford's distinctive keypad feature for locking and unlocking the doors without a key. Unless the pad is illuminated it's hard to spot since it's a black, flat touchpad. (Incidentally, it's also frustratingly difficult to take a picture of without getting an annoying reflection of the background.)

But the touchpad is great for times when you don't want to carry around the key or any personal belongings (i.e., the beach, hiking, the gym). Just press the 7-8 and 9-0 buttons together to lock and then a specific five-digit code to unlock. You can also program in custom unlocking codes.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Fits Even More Stuff

June 07, 2010

It's Sunday evening. My wife asks me if we can go buy some house plants at Home Depot and then head over to Target. Sure, dear, it's not like there's a NBA Finals game on or anything. Good thing I have a DVR. And good thing I had the Flex; she neglected to mention she was planning on buying a towering Kentia palm.

I was planning on just shoving the thing in horizontally and dealing with the resulting mess. But then my wife, being smarter than I, suggested wedging the pot at an angle into the Flex's rear cargo well.

It worked great. Yes, you too can live the domesticated dream with your Ford Flex, nifty house plants and multiple packs of Pampers.

My daughter liked the drive home, though. 'Daddy, I'm in a forest!'

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @58,831 miles

We Like It But You Don't

June 11, 2010

I was dropping my daughter off at school recently. A fellow parent saw me pull up in the Flex."What's with the mom mobile? I thought you were going to be driving a Miata," she said.

"Hey, don't hate the Flex," I told her. "Simply a change of plans. What, you don't like it?"

"Well, I know you've said the Flex is great and all," she said, "but it's just kinda ugly. It's like it doesn't know what it wants to be ... other than maybe a hearse. I just couldn't own one."

Well, whatever floats your boat. But it seems that the Flex isn't floating as many people's boats as I would have thought. I recently asked our crack Edmunds data team to dig up sales figures for the Flex versus its General Motors competition. And the results are, well, ugly for Ford. They follow after the jump.

2009 Total Sales (first full year of Flex)
Flex: 38,623
Traverse: 91,074
Acadia: 53,821
Enclave: 43,150
Outlook: 13,115
GM total: 201,160

It's a similar story for January to May of 2010. I've also added the Lincoln MKT here. I'm sure there are many explanations for why GM is selling so many more Lambdas. But styling could very well be a big part.

2010 YTD
Flex: 16,453
MKT: 3,440
Traverse: 40,900
Acadia: 29,462
Enclave: 21,686
Outlook: 2,614
GM total: 94,662

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

Uh, Ford?

June 14, 2010

You might want to cancel this batch of stickers.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 57,351 miles

Gauges

June 16, 2010

Last night was my first time in the Flex in quite a few weeks. I really took a shine to the cabin — I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

I was especially struck by how premium the gauges look. The metallic accents help a lot with this, but mostly I think it's that classy-looking fillet of wood within the binnacle that seals the deal.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 57,590 miles

Non-Painstaking Parking

June 23, 2010

Our 2009 Long-Term Ford Flex is long. Actually it's 201.8 inches (or 16.8 feet) long. That's great when you want to stuff six people in it and provide them all with a modicum of legroom, but not so good when you need to squeeze into curbside parking (particularly if curbside parking isn't all that common).

That was the situation I encountered recently after circling the Acedemy of Science in San Francisco. The parking structure was full, and street parking was not to be found. At least not until I spotted an open space that seemed only slightly longer than the Flex. I'm not sure if the photo above fully communicates it, but trust me — the space between the Prius in front of me and the GTI behind was very tight.

I'll happily take some credit for maneuvering the big crossover into such a small spot, but in truth it was the second time I'd managed to squeeze the Ford into tight street parking in two days.

That's because the Ford's rear camera makes such parallel parking feats relatively easy. You can move right next to the vehicle behind you without actually hitting it, so if you cut the wheel correctly when first backing up you can get the Flex lined up almost perfectly with the curb while taking full advantage of whatever open space you've got.

That's not to say it's always easy parking the big people mover, but it's not nearly as difficult as it would be without the rear camera. If you can't spring for Ford's automatic parking assist system, this feature makes a reasonable (and cheaper) substitute.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 57,923 miles

Our Favorite Caption

June 25, 2010

Thanks to ergsum for this week's favorite caption. He has quite a few in the honorable mention section, too.

Here are the others that made us bark (bad pun):

It's got a lot of trunk space. (ergsum)
Now we're getting to the root of the problem! (carnage)
Don't worry, its bark is worse than its light. (ergsum)
The Flex was parking up the wrong tree. (ergsum)
Finally! A square peg for a square hole. (firstwagon)
Ford Flex, now available with BarkAssist. (thegraduate)
The Ford Flex RedWoody (rayray633)
Cover me Wedge, I'm going in! (technetium99)
Welcome to Sync. I'm sorry, I can't do that, Karl. (eidolways)
Ecosystem vs. EcoBoost (rayray633)
'Alright, we put the butter on the sides, now just drive forward slowly.' (eidolways)
Jenga!! (snipenet)
I'd rather be at the Beech. (sherief)
Do-it-Yourself Country Squire kit. (actualsize)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

June 25, 2010

How many times has the Flex been in the caption contest? Because it's everyone's favorite road trip car, it gets lots of interesting photo opportunities. Karl sent me this photo from his vacation.

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

West Coast Run — Cargo & Oil

June 28, 2010

As I was preparing our Long-Term 2009 Ford Flex for a family trip up the West Coast I realized the third-row seat wasn't in the 'stored' position. I'd used the Flex to move floor-standing speakers and Ford GT parts in the past, but this was my first time using it for a family vacation and I wasn't sure it would have enough space.

But after pulling the necessary levers and dropping the rear seats down I was more optimistic. Twenty mintues later the Flex was loaded for a 10-day road trip, for a family of four, and there was still nothing stacked higher than the lower window edge, meaning no hit to visibility. Sweet!

One item that did catch me off guard was an oil change warning only a few hundred miles out of Los Angeles. I know our own Dan Edmunds changed the oil at 55,568 miles, and I know we're using blended synthetic 5-20 oil. So getting this warning at just over 58,000 miles suggests two things:

1. The oil sensor wasn't reset when it was last changed, or

2. The oil sensor is wrong

Either way, I wasn't going to worry about an oil change during my trip. The car is supposed to have a full service at 60,000 miles, so until then we'll all just have to see this message every time we start the Flex.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 58,120 miles

West Coast Run — S.F. Fun

June 29, 2010

I admit it — when I'm in certain cities I'm a push-over for the touristy stuff. That means Empire State Building in New York, Diamond Head in Honolulu, and Lombard Street in San Francisco.

Plus it seemed particularly appropriate to test out our Long Term 2009 Ford Flex's namesake, given the crossover's long size and Lombard's tight curves. Would the Flex even fit?

Of course it did fit with nary a tire scar or unintentionally trimmed hedge. The car was actually quite easy to maneuver and park in San Francisco's notoriously tight quarters. Power wasn't an issue either, despite our long-term car pre-dating the Ecoboost engine option. Low-end torque was enough to power up the steepest S.F. grades, even from a dead stop.

I did get an unplanned tire spin at one point after trying to go from brake pedal to gas pedal fast enough to avoid rolling back into the car behind us. The brakes where also up to the task in terms of feeling confident and capable, though the steering wheel would pulse if they heated up because of the warped rotors we've already reported.

And unlike so many crossovers today, with small or strangely-shaped greenhouses, the Ford Flex allows for a great view from any seat. That means the kiddies in back could see all the great city sights whenever we crested one of San Francisco's many hills and I took the chance to point out Alcatraz or the TransAmerica Pyramid.

BTW, did I mention that other tourist attraction in the S. F. area? Yup, I get a thrill driving over it, too.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 58,412 miles

West Coast Run — HWY 1

June 30, 2010

We weren't trying to do that whole 'take the coast all the way up' thing on this road trip, for two good reasons. First, because we've already done that; and second, because it adds a lot of time to the trip. But we did manage to make it out to the coast, north of Fort Bragg, where Highway 1 actually turns east and you can't keep riding along the ocean, even if you want to.

And when you're out along this stretch of the Northern California coast it can be pretty desolate, with long distances between fill-ups (or even any sign of civilization). Our long-term 2009 Ford Flex was averaging about 330 miles on a tank of fuel before it hit 'E' on the gauge (which means it probably had at least another 20 miles before actually being empty). Given that I wasn't exactly hypermiling, and that it typically took around 17 gallans to fill it up, that works out to about 20 mpg while carrying four people and their stuff at highway speeds.

Not bad in terms of fuel efficiency, but I did pine for the EcoBoost several times while trying to pass trucks on the 101 when the road went down to just two lanes. It was particularly frustrating to know that I could be getting the same 20 mpg out of that engine with an additional 90-plus horsepower and torque for passing.

In fact the only thing that engine costs you...is money, upfront ($3,000). It's far from necessary, as the Flex absolutely gets the job done with the base engine. But the extra oomph comes in handy when there's a long truck and a short passing zone up ahead.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 58,586 miles

West Coast Run — Tree Me

July 01, 2010

If you saw our caption contest from last Friday you already know our long-term 2009 Ford Flex was driven into a tree — literally — on this road trip. Actually, the above photo would have made a decent caption contest image too.

Anyway, you know the Flex made it in but what you don't know is if it actually made it out the other side...

Okay, okay — it made it out, and without any unintended wood siding to boot. We folded in the mirrors for good measure, but I think we could have left them out and still been alright.

Probably the most entertaining aspect of this adventure wasn't driving our long-term Flex through the tree but watching the folks in the Chevrolet Tahoe try to do it in front of us. The guy got scared about 7/8 of the way in and started wondering if he should back out! It took a lot coaxing from a fellow group of tourists standing on the other side to convince him he should keep going. We were sitting behind him just wishing he'd get out of the way, and we didn't care which direction he chose (though I was secretly hoping for backwards — ha!).

There are a couple of these 'drive-thru' trees in the Redwoods, but this one is at Leggett if you're interested. Just don't try to back out!

Or do, but call me first so I can watch!

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 58,611 miles

West Coast Run — Wild Thing

July 02, 2010

The ultimate destination for this West Coast Run was the beautiful Redwood Forest. I was hoping to find the antithesis of Los Angeles without leaving California, and I did just that outside of the little town of Orick (population 654).

A row of cabins that formerly served logging mill employees have been completely refurbished. We're talking three bedrooms, two baths, DirecTV, microwave; even WiFi. They also include a single-car garage, so if you're driving a vehicle you don't want to leave out, like our long-term 2009 Ford Flex, there's a safe place to store it.

The best feature of these cabins is that they're smack in the middle of a meadow where Elk are almost constantly grazing. We stayed three days and in that time we saw the herd at least once a day, and usually two or three times at various locations around the cabin (front, side, back).

I never actually put the Flex in the garage because the Elk never bothered it, or anything or anyone else. This is good because explaining the Elk bite marks in your paint is probably a converasation you don't want to have with your insurance agent.

This was the only location on our trip where we really had to completely unload (and later reload) the Flex, and the remote power rear liftgate, plus wide cargo opening with low liftover, made it fast and easy. That's what you want when there are a couple dozen Elk wandering by, as you'd likely rather spend your final moments in the Redwoods watching them — versus futzing with release latches. After loading the Flex for our departure I manged to sneak out back and snap this shot off the rear deck before check-out time.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 58,867 miles

West Coast Run — Glare

July 05, 2010

Our return from the West Coast Run was, like many fast-track trips through California, nowhere near the coast. It was on the 5 freeway, through the lovely Central Valley. While not as flat as Kansas, the scenery is similar in its monotony. As such, I found myself constantly turning to our long-term 2009 Ford Flex's navigation screen to get some reassurance that we were, truly, moving south through the state — versus being caught in some sort of never-ending Twilight Zone time-space loop.

The navigation display definitely helped, as I could see the Flex moving south along the 5, slowly inching toward Los Angeles on the touchscreen.

And then the afternoon summer sun came in through the passenger window. Suddenly all I could see were finger smudges, dust, and the odd hair.

I didn't think anything could make the Central Valley look good.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 59,223 miles

No Ladder Necessary

July 07, 2010

The average American woman is 5 feet 3 inches tall. The step-in height of the average SUV is 5 feet, 4 inches.

That first statistic is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I made up the second stat, quite honestly, but it feels accurate to me. In terms of height, I am the average American woman and getting into the average SUV nearly requires that I haul out a ladder for entry and a parachute for exit.

So that's why I like the Ford Flex (and yes, I know it's not an SUV, or a minivan. It's sui generis, and I like it).

I drove it to Seal Beach to meet a friend for dinner, and it was very nice to step into a vehicle that big without an alley-oop, and leave it without a geronimo.

Inside, of course, the Flex is like somebody's condo, what with refrigerator, entertainment system and storage unit. And I do agree with our managing editor, Donna DeRosa, on this point: Retrieving something from the floor of the Flex's second row nearly requires a Folding Helping Hand Long-Reach Pick-Up Gripper.

But that's a minor shortcoming. Pun intended.


Bike Hauler It Ain't

July 09, 2010

I bought a new bike last week. I did it for two reasons — 1. It was my son's birthday and 2. I had our long-term 2009 Ford Flex, so I figured carrying the bike home would be a no-brainer.

Well, it was a no-brainer, but not a no-strainer, as I had to hoist the bike up, tip it over and slide it in. But then the pedal got caught on the folded third-row seat so I had to lift it again, slide it around and reposition the pedal, all while trying to avoid any scrapes or scuffs to the Flex's interior panels.

Sure, I could have dropped the third-row seats down to avoid catching the pedal on the back of them, but then the angle would have been more extreme between the third-row and second-row seat backs. Not sure that would have actually made getting the bike in/out any easier. Good thing it was a smaller bike with (if I remember correctly) 26-inch wheels versus the larger models the store had for adults.

I finally the got the bike loaded, but considering the shop was about a half-mile from my house I almost wished I'd just rode it home and walked back for the car. Bottom line, the Flex is great for people-moving and passable for small to medium cargo carrying. But bikes are best carried on dedicated bike racks or in the open bed of trucks.

Karl Brauer, Editor at Large @ 59,543 miles

Broken Windshield

July 12, 2010

Yep, that's a poorly photographed star in our 2009 Ford Flex's windshield. Right up alongside the driver's A-pillar.

It was there when I got in the Flex on Thursday night, and hasn't spread.

Maybe the Flex is old enough now to get a decent deal on new glass?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 59,734 miles

Turning 60 In a Wagon

July 14, 2010

Just turned the big 60 in the Flex recently. After a recent oil change it's humming along nicely, cracked windshield and all.

Ed Hellwig, Editor @ 60,016 miles

What's That Button For?

July 14, 2010

I flipped open the center console of our Flex recently and noticed this oddly labeled button. Hmmm...foot lights? That's a new one.

After RTFM, I was informed that the button controls the Flex's ambient lighting feature. By pushing the disturbingly large button, you can choose among 7 different colors for the cupholders and footwell lighting. So yes, footlights indeed.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com @ 60,032 miles

The Problem With Rear Seat Captain's Chairs

July 15, 2010

Encountered a slight problem with the Ford Flex yesterday. Needed a vehicle to pick up four people at the airport. Take the Flex right? Wrongo.

You see, once you add four people to the Flex, you're not left with much in the way of cargo room. With no center seat in the second row, that fourth passenger has to sit in the third row.

That leaves one folded seat and the rather small cargo area left for luggage. Think you could fit four suitcases in that cargo area? We took the XC60 instead, worked fine.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com @ 60,045 miles

The Wife Test

July 19, 2010

Recently my wife parked her year old Mazda CX-9 and spent a few days driving our long-term 2009 Ford Flex. It was my idea. I wanted to find out which three-row crossover she preferred.

After three days in the Flex, my wife's review was short and sweet. "I'll keep my Mazda," she said. "That Flex feels like a boat."

When I asked her what she meant by that she said, "It's all floaty and the brakes don't feel as good as the Mazda's. I feel more in control of the vehicle when I drive my car."

Wow, what a woman. She could not be more right. Fact is, her sportier Mazda is more firmly sprung than the Flex and it certainly feels more secure and smaller on the road. The Mazda also has a firmer brake pedal than the Flex and its brakes reward the driver with more immediate bite.

Maybe next week I'll have her review the Viper.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Family Truckster Redux

July 21, 2010

A family reunion. To many folks, those words send shivers down their spine. Thoughts of the the second cousin once removed with terrible breath, the drunk uncle wiping out the dinner table as he passes out or that kid that keeps sticking his tongue out at you every time you look at 'em are enough to make you want to run screaming from these events. How can you be related to these people?

It was this kind of mission I was about to hit the road for. Four days of family at our cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The true comforts I had were the fact I was in the Flex, quite possible THE most liked car in the Long Term fleet rotation, and my lady was coming with me for moral support.

Packing my stuff into the Flex, I immediately thought that this was like the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, sans biting dog and dead relative. It's slab sided chunky proportions were akin to the rakish lines of that Metallic Pea beauty, just moments away from taking a summer road trip. I'm not the only people to think this. The fine folks at Auto Tech Plastics have created an appliqué pictured above for your own Wagon Queen enjoyment. To quote Eugene Levy, 'You think you hate it now, wait till you drive it.'

Though I doubt I'll get 'Honky Lips' tagged on the side of the Flex, I'll definitely get plenty of family fun out of the weekend.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer @ 60,180 miles

In Raider Nation

July 26, 2010

There is more to this picture of our 2009 Ford Flex than initially meets the eye. Click on the image to enlarge it and take a closer look. This displaced fan is about 450 miles from the infamous Black Hole but try telling him that. Welcome to Raider Nation.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 61,211 miles

Packin'

July 28, 2010

The Flex is leaving for a nine-day Wyoming adventure on Thursday. Much bloggage upon its return.

Josh Jacquot, Edmunds.com Senior Editor

Back In SoCal

August 09, 2010

After 3,000 miles, 10 fuel stops, lots of dirt, rain, cows and canyons, the Flex is home. Photos, numbers and observations in the days to come.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

A Few Images From the Road

August 10, 2010

As promised, here are a few images from the Wyoming road trip. I've got nothing on Walton's spectacular Oregon road trip documentation, but then I suppose central Wyoming has nothing on Southern Oregon. Above is a shot that's not even from Wyoming. This is in Provo Canyon (Highway 189) just Northeast of Provo, Utah. It's a good bypass around the more congested I-80/I-15 route through Salt Lake City. Scenery ain't bad, either.

In fact, this is largely how much of the Wyoming portion of the trip looks. There's a whole lot of nothing out there and after years spent in LA traffic, nothing is actually quite refreshing. This is Interstate 80 in Southwestern Wyoming. Those are giant windmills on the horizon. Lots of them.

Above is my tribute to family haulers — past and present. And to modern tires, which I very much appreciated on this trip. One fact I can't ignore as I make road trips lately is how good modern vehicles truly are.

This was obvious as we traversed the 100-degree Mojave desert at 80 mph in climate-controlled comfort while ignoring the signs warning us to "Turn off air conditioning to avoid overheating." The kid, fully engrossed in a Barney DVD, was tucked safely in her five-point harness in the second row. Our luggage was secured with tie-downs and we were surrounded by airbag protection.

We were, when measured by the standards of even 20 years ago, neurotically safe. So much so, in fact, that we wondered out loud what our daughter is going to remember about road trips of her childhood. After all, the wife and I both have memories of inter-state trips where we were sat on the parcel shelves of sports car ranging from Porsche 911s to Opel GTs. There weren't even real seats back there, to say nothing of a child seat or seat belts. And we're still around to relive the novelty of it all.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

Wyoming Road trip Fuel Data

August 11, 2010

More of Wyoming. This is the 145-mile stretch between Casper and Laramie. And again...Nothin'.

Here are the data concerning fuel consumption over the entire 3,115.6 miles driven: Total combined economy for the trip (which only included about 200 in-town miles) was 21.8 mpg. Our best tank was 23.9 mpg and our worst was 17.8 mpg.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

DIY Brake Pad and Rotor Change

August 13, 2010

By now you've heard all about the front brakes on our 2009 Ford Flex Limited. Amazingly, the front brake pads have lasted over 60,000 miles, and there's still a bit more meat left. But the rotors have developed too much 'disc thickness variation' or DTV. It's not warping from overheating — we wouldn't have surpassed 60k with such hard use. No, this moderately-driven family-mobile has a classic case of cold judder, high spots on the rotor built ever-higher by gradual pad material transfers.

One way this can happen begins with rotors that start off with imperceptible high spots, and then spend their lives in a driving pattern that's dominated by long freeway drives with infrequent brake use. You know — road trips. Our Flex is the go-to road trip vehicle around here, so it's been on more than its fair share of them.

Anyway, over time the retracted pads can start to lightly brush the tops of those high spots, and a minute amount of pad material transfers to the disc. The high spots get a little higher and the deposition cycle repeats. Then, at some point, the driver lightly applies the brakes on a freeway off-ramp and gets a handful of steering wheel shake for his trouble. Some of the deposits wear off, so the shaking doesn't persist around town. But the high spots got a little higher in the process, so the same thing happens again — easier this time — over the next long-haul open-road stretch. The subsequent shaking while braking gets more noticeable over time. We've been living with this on-and-off for the last 10,000 miles or so.

But we've had enough. It's time for new pads and rotors. Yeah, rotors can be machine-turned on a lathe, but when you're done they're thinner and have less remaining thermal mass. If the price is right, I'd much rather install new ones. Doing it myself allows me to divert the labor savings into the cost of new parts. And I can't turn a rotor myself, but I can bolt-on a new one. Besides, 60,000 miles is a good run for a rotor.

On top of all that, changing front pads and rotors is deceptively easy on most mainstream cars — easy enough to be enjoyable. Our Flex is no exception. Jump to the next page to see my Ford Flex brake pad and rotor change walkaround.

Sliding calipers like these have two pins on which the caliper slides. Usually, it's only necessary to remove the bolt that screws into the lower one.

NOTE 1: For reasons you'll see later, do one side from start to finish before doing the other side.

NOTE 2: Since you're doing one side at a time, do yourself a favor and turn the steering wheel so the caliper faces out.

With the bottom bolt out, the caliper pivots up on the upper one. The rubber hose gains even more slack while we do this, so there's no need to disconnect any hydraulic lines. The hose issue is THE reason why we're removing the lower bolt and pivoting the caliper on the upper one.

NOTE: If you get to a point where you think you have to disconnect a hydraulic line, you're probably doing it wrong. Seek professional help.

The sliding half of the caliper pivots so far up that we don't need to hold it up. In cars where it won't go quite this far over-center, a tie-wrap (or a friend) can be used to hold it out of the way.

At this point, the pads are just sitting there, nesting in the retaining clips. Pulling them out is easy work.

If we were only changing the pads, We'd put the new ones in right now. But we're changing rotors, too, so we're going to wait and do the pad part later. For now, close the padless caliper and make sure to keep anyone and everyone away from the brake pedal from this point until it's all done. Not even a little bit.

The slider bolt (yellow) is back in place, but it's only spun in a couple of turns. Now it's time to break out the big socket to remove the two bolts that secure the entire caliper assembly. These will be tight — about the same as lug nuts. Here a 1/2-inch-drive breaking bar provides adequate leverage.

The first bolt is out. Now we have to remember to support the weight of the caliper with our free hand as we remove the other one.

We don't want to lay this thing on the ground, because that would make it necessary to disconnect a hydraulic brake line. Big no-no. Instead, hang the caliper from the spring using a chain of tie-wraps. An upper control arm works on cars that have those.

With the caliper out of the way, it's time to attack the rotor. Ford uses a Torx-head bolt to keep the rotor in place when the caliper is off. This isn't a critical part once the car is in service, but it keeps the assembly line workers safe when the car is on the line between the 'rotor on' and 'caliper on' assembly steps.

This bolt can be difficult because of the heat cycles and the rust that can build up after 60k miles of use.

In this case, my T40 Torx didn't fit at first, so I thought it was a T-35. I was wrong. The T-35 I bought was too loose. A solid rap with a mallet seated the T-40 in the bolt head and it came off easily.

Once that bolt is out of the way, the rotor comes off easily.

The new rotor simply slides over the studs. And look, there's no place for that retaining Torx bolt. Spin on one of the lug nuts instead, finger tight.

Time to cut the tie wrap, remembering first to support the caliper so it won't fall and ruin everything.

Then we re-seat the caliper, re-install the two large caliper retaining bolts and snug them down fairly tight. We'll torque them for good a bit later.

Now we can finally re-open the caliper and get back to installing our new pads.

New pads almost always come with new clips. These are the points where the pads slide back and forth during use, so it's important to replace them. There are no retaining screws — they easily snap in place. It takes seconds.

The ears of the pads nestle onto these runners. It's a sliding surface, so the places where the pads will make contact need to be coated with the supplied graphite-based grease. It can be applied to the clip or the mating ears of the pads. Either way works.

Here are the new and old pads. There's a little meat left, but not enough to keep them. Meanwhile, the new pads have two slots to the originals' single one. No biggee. These are still the correct pads. Ford engineers could have made this small running change for any number of reasons.

Thankfully, the new pad backing plates have riveted-on shims, so there's no need (in fact, no possible way) to smear the space between with more graphite lubricant. And the surface you're looking at even has a rubberized coating of some sort. Noise-wise, they've covered all the bases. For the DIYer, this is about as easy as it gets.

The new pads slot into place as quickly and easily as the old ones came out.

But the dual pistons shown here need to be pushed back in. They're sticking out because the old pads were thinned by use. The new pads are of course much thicker.

Don't laugh, this works. Sure, we could buy a piston retractor tool for a good piece of change, or we could pry the pistons back in like this.

The soft wood makes it easier to avoid nicking the rubber seals, and the width of this two-by-four allows both pistons to be pushed in at once. They have to go in together because, if one were pushed in singly, the other would pop out.

This is also why it is important to do one side of the car at a time. If both sides of the car were in this condition, the pistons on the other side of the car would pop out when the pistons on this side of the car were pushed back in.

The brake fluid in those pistons is being pushed back into the master cylinder reservoir through tiny passages, so the going is slow. It takes a couple of minutes. Steady pressure and patience are the key. In this example, a second plywood shim was added near the end to fill the ever-increasing gap.

While the pistons are being pushed back, the brake fluid level here will rise. Check often. This is more of a concern when the second brake is being done, because the combined fluid volume of two calipers is what will likely push this over the brink.

Overflowing will certainly be a bigger potential problem if the fluid level was ever topped off to the 'MAX' mark during the course of those first 60k miles. This is why the brake fluid reservoir shouldn't be topped off like that. The fluid level naturally goes down as the pads wear. Let it be. It's not leaking out. As long as it doesn't go below 'MIN', everything is cool.

Here, no fluid was added over the 60k miles these pads lasted. And so when both sides were done the fluid level came right back up to the 'MAX' mark, but no farther.

If the level does push past the 'MAX' mark, a turkey baster works best to remove some. Don't forget to permanently remove it from food preparation service — buy a new one for the kitchen.

The pistons have been fully retracted and the seals are undamaged. Almost done.

The pistons have been retracted far enough, so the caliper slips over the pads with little drama and no effort.

Time to re-install and re-tighten the slider bolt.

Lastly, it's time to torque the caliper mounting bolts good and tight. Why do this now? It could have been done when the caliper was re-mounted, but there's something to be said for going through the torquing ritual at the end, to avoid second-guessing and make sure it gets done.

Done. Time to straighten those wheels, remove that lug nut and re-mount the tire.

And torque those lug nuts, of course.

Now it's time to move on to the other side of the car and do it all over again.

How much time did this take?

If I hadn't been stopping to take pictures, this entire job (both sides) would have taken just under 30 minutes. Few actual tools are involved. The T-40 Torx bit is the most exotic one here, but a torque wrench is a must for those caliper bolts. But any DIYer who so much as rotates their own tires should have one of those. If you don't have one, get one!

How much did this cost?

A set of Ford Genuine front brake pads cost $66.63, plus tax. As for the rotors, I had a choice at my Ford dealer: Ford Genuine rotors for $83.30 each or Ford Motorcraft factory-approved replacement rotors for $48.85 apiece. Since saving money is part of what DIY is all about, and since the Motorcraft ones still wear a Ford label, I went the cheaper route. Once I got them home, I noticed the Motorcraft rotor boxes wore the 'Made in China' label. Not sure if the same is true of the 'Ford Genuine' ones. I never saw the box.

Total parts cost: $164.03, plus tax. In this area that's 9.25%, so my total was $179.20.

Why go with Ford parts and not cheaper aftermarket stuff? Ford knows more about their vehicles than the replacement market does. They know their own brake system's noise, dust and wear susceptibilities better than any outsider could. And these factory parts lasted for over 60k miles — well above average, in our hands, no less — so that tells me that the Ford Flex brake engineers did their math right.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 61,180 miles (when I did the job)

The Joy Of The Road

August 13, 2010

Here's another shot of the Flex from the Wyoming road trip, this time just off Interstate 80 between Rock Springs and Rawlins at the Continental Divide. It was at this location that one of the fathers of modern interstate travel, Henry Bourne Joy, decided he wanted to be laid to rest.

It seems appropriate, given that our Flex has visited both coasts via interstate travel, to have a shot of this 'memorial to a memorial.' Joy was a true visionary and one of the folks primarily responsible for our ability to drive across our great country.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

Our Favorite Caption

August 13, 2010

Thanks to questionlp for this week's favorite caption.

Here are the others that lit our wire:

This brings Eco-Boost to a whole new level (mopar910)
The Flex gets its fuse on. (ergsum)
'... no Escalade, No Ford Escape, just-a pyromania...' (wshuff)
The Pinto Package! (snipenet)
Ford sales are skyrocketing! (ergsum)
'You're all clear, kid, now let's *blow* this thing and go home!' (ergsum)
'Explosive Engine Power' (hybris)
FLEXplosive! (ergsum)
Ford Flex: It's da bomb! (sherief)
Flex Fuel. (sherief)
Ford Flex, a lot of bang for your buck. (ergsum)

What was your favorite?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption

August 13, 2010

Happy Friday the 13th.

Senior Editor Josh Jacquot sent me this photo of our Ford Flex from his road trip to Wyoming. Looks like he had a hot time in the old town.

What is your caption?

We'll post our favorite this afternoon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

In Odd Company

August 16, 2010

This guy parked next to our 2009 Ford Flex over the weekend. Maybe you've seen the Rally Fighter before, maybe you haven't. The lux interior and side decals are worth the jump. Check them out.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 64,871 miles

Name That Car

August 16, 2010

One never knows what he might run into at a Wyoming small-town parade. Bonus points for anyone who can identify the bizarre machine pictured here with the Flex.

More after the jump.

This shot should help. Here's a hint: Chevy power. Originally built in the '60s.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor.

What is the Plural of Moose?

August 16, 2010

We just broke the 65,000-mile barrier in our 2009 Ford Flex. There wasn't an opportunity to take a photo at exactly 65k so we had to wait for a safe place to pull over. This was as safe as we could find.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 65,071 miles

That Grinding Feeling

August 17, 2010

Mike Schmidt brought our 2009 Ford Flex back from Napa yesterday morning (the wine-growing region, not the auto parts store), looked me straight in the eye and said "your new brakes are grinding."

To be honest, he said "the brakes" but I knew I was the last one to tear them apart, so I self-supplied the "your" part.

Yes, I recently put new front brakes on our 2009 Ford Flex, but two long road trips in rapid succession means they already have over 4,000 miles on them. I finished the job one day before Josh left on his road trip to Wyoming. As soon as he returned, Mike headed north on another long drive. Our Flex is in high demand.

I am happy to report that I didn't screw up. Those new front brakes are working great and keeping quiet.

However, Mike was right, too. This morning I confirmed the deep grinding noise he heard when slowing at parking lot speeds, and it is brakes. Happily, for me, the noise is coming from the rear of the car.

In the above photo, you're seeing the following in thin geologic slices, left to right: rubber piston boot, piston face (notched), inner pad backing plate, rotor (rust-colored), outer pad friction material, outer pad backing plate, caliper fingers. What's missing? The inner pad friction material, that's what. From another angle I can see that there is some, so I don't think we're quite at the metal-to-metal stage, but what's visible amounts to far less than 1 millimeter.

So if I'm guilty of anything it's failing to check the rear brakes while I was working on the front ones. They don't often wear out at the same time, like smoke detector batteries can, but a quick look at the other end is always a good idea.

You know what this means, don't you? That's right, a rear brake pad and rotor replacement DIY post is around the corner.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing at 66,169 miles

DIY Rear Brake Pad and Rotor Change

August 18, 2010

Here's why our 2009 Ford Flex started emitting brake-grindy noises. You're looking at the inside pad from the right-rear disc brake. Sure, there's some material left, but these pads run into the rivets that hold the friction material in place before they go into full metal-to-metal mode.

Thing is, these rivets are the only pad-wear indicator. The Flex's rear brakes don't have the usual scratchy clip that's designed to emit an obvious high-pitched squeal while doing no harm to the rotor. OK, these rivets make a sound, but it's a subtle grinding, and the grinding is the rotor crying out for help as it's being torn to shreds by the rivet heads. By the time you hear it, it's probably going to be too late. Pads that look like this mean bad news for the rotor.

Regular visual inspections can of course avoid this, but you have to remove a wheel because you can't see the inside pad (this one) through the spokes. And on this car the inside rear pads wear much quicker than the outside ones. We've learned that it's something that Ford Freestyle owners often complained about, and since the Flex is more or less riding on the Freestyle's chassis, it shares this quirk. Furthermore, when the rotor gets trashed as ours was, the hidden inner face will be the one that suffers the damage. The visible outer face doesn't show it.

Why does the inside wear out quicker? Probably has something to do with the self-adjusting parking brake that's built into the rear calipers. It's designed to keep the piston face close so the foot-operated parking brake pedal always grabs early, within a few clicks. But this may keep the inner pad too close, where it can rub ever so slightly all the time. On top of this, the caliper has a bulky and semi-rigid parking brake cable attached to it, which may impede the free sliding action of the caliper. That's my theory, anyway.

But enough of that. Let's see how I got this pad out and restored the rear brakes to fighting shape.

Here's what it looked like before work started. The white arrow indicates the solid rear rotor. Yellow indicates the steel backing plates of the pads. The single green arrow shows the friction material that remains on the outer pad. The absent green arrow on the other side is our decimated inner pad, too thin to make out.

Like the front, the lower slider bolt is the first thing that comes out. A 13mm socket does the trick.

Once again, the caliper body easily pivots on the upper slider, which we left untouched in the last step. There's a little more resistance because of the parking brake cable, which we also left attached.

But this one won't pivot over center and stay put by itself, so it has to be held up with our free hand for the next couple of steps.

With the caliper body out of the way, the pads come easily out of their grooves with a little wiggling.

Close the caliper once more and loosely reinstall the lower slider bolt. (Sorry for the focus fail, but it's my only shot!)

It's time to remove the entire caliper so we can get at the rotor. These two bolts have to come out. A 15mm socket and a breaking bar does the trick.

With the two mounting bolts out, the caliper comes off easily. We don't have to hang it from tie wraps like we did in front because the attached parking brake cable acts like a leash and steadies it while it sits on the lower control arm. Gravity is working with us in this case.

A single T-40 Torx-head bolt is the only thing holding the old rotor in place. Like the front, our T-40 bit is a snug fit — the bolt head seems like a T-39, which doesn't actually exist. A rubber mallet settles this dispute and rams the bit into the bolt head. A 3/8-drive ratchet does the rest.

Bolt out, rotor off. Done and done.

Now we can see the scored inner face of the rotor. Can it be turned? Maybe, but as I said last time, I like to spend some of the money I save by doing it myself on new parts. The grooves are deeper than they look here, and the front isn't exactly smooth either. I'd lose 2 or 3mm by turning this one. The minimum recommended thickness for this part is 10 mm.

The new rotor looks like it's wrapped in simple brown paper, but it's not. Cortec makes a treated paper that acts like those little desiccant packets that come with cameras. It doesn't work quite the same way, though. Instead of absorbing moisture directly, this paper emits vapors that attract a thin molecular layer of protective ions to the metal surface within.

We often hear about auto factories trying to 'go green' all the time. This effort extends to the parts that come from outside suppliers for final assembly. This product prevents rust without the need for an oil-based rust inhibitor or the brake-clean solvent needed to wash it off later. The part can go straight onto the vehicle.

All of this applies equally to DIY and service mechanics, too. There's no need to spray chemicals around and make more oily shop rags. Bolt it on and go. This greener anti-rust strategy is by no means universal, but it is gaining ground. Sometimes brown paper isn't just brown paper.

The dark hue of our new rotor is most likely a sign of an iron phosphate coating, a complimentary rust-inhibiting treatment. Between this and the treated paper, our new rotor was oil-free and completely dry. There's no need to spray and inhale brake-clean solvent fumes with this one.

This new rotor has a place for that Torx retaining bolt, so we'll reinstall it. This step is optional, but we tend to hate having extra parts laying around.

The front rotors we installed in our last episode didn't have this hole, primarily because we bought the less-expensive of two Ford Motorcraft options, saving $40 per front rotor in the process. The absence of the hole was one reason why it was cheaper. The fact that it was made in China was another.

There are two replacement rotor choices in the rear, too, but for some odd reason they're both priced at $83.30 each. With no savings to be had, I went with the 'genuine' rotor instead of the 'preferred value' one. This Mexican-made rear rotor looks very much like the factory part.

If you look close you'll notice the use of the Torx bolt does keep the lug studs from contacting the inside edges of the rotor's holes. That was true of the old rotor before it was removed.

Next, the caliper bolts to go back in and get tightened. We'll torque them later.

Now we can re-open the caliper, retract the piston and load those new pads.

Here's our piston, but it looks a bit strange. That's because these rear calipers have a cable-operated mechanism that applies the piston via the parking brake pedal. The self-adjusting ratcheting mechanism within prevents the piston from retracting too far in order to keep the pads close enough to apply the parking brake within 3 or 4 clicks.

In normal braking situations, however, it's still a hydraulically-actuated piston like any other.

What this means is that this piston cannot simply be pushed in like we did at the front. This type has to be screwed in as it's pushed, and that's why those notches are there. A special tool engages them and makes the job easy — if you have the tool.

Fortunately, the tool that's needed is cheap at Harbor Freight Tools. This set cost just $9.87, and it has an assortment of adaptors to fit a variety of rear calipers.

The tool expands between the piston and the fingers of the caliper. As the screw is turned by a T-handle, the tool simultaneously spreads and screws the face of the piston clockwise. With this tool, it's all over in a few minutes. As we showed in the front pad change, we have to monitor the brake fluid level's rise in the reservoir as we go and remove some if it goes much beyond the 'MAX' mark. But these smallish single pistons don't move nearly as much fluid as the large dual pistons in the front calipers, so the fluid level didn't rise above 'MAX'.

In this photo, the piston has to be turned a little bit more because it's important to stop when one of the two notches points straight up and is centered in the caliper 'window'. We'll see why a few steps later on.

Eight new clips (four per caliper) came with the new pads. They're symmetrically shaped top-to-bottom and inside-to-outside. Match the shapes like-for-like and remove and replace each one, one at a time. Short springy fingers hold them in place, so make sure they snap-in and seat properly. Apply a little high-temp graphite grease to the fresh grooves. These pads didn't come with any, but it's sold in single-serving packets at auto-parts stores.

Here's one of our new pads. Yeah, the old ones show some wear.

Once again, Ford sells two replacement rear pads. Ford genuine pads cost $96.63 for a rear axle set, while the 'Preferred Value' ones cost $66.63. Our Ford contact didn't respond to our 'what's the difference' question, but the guy behind the parts counter told us the cheaper ones aren't as quiet. That's usually where the cost is in a brake pad, so we went with the pricier ones.

The box says the pads were 'Made in Italy', by the way. How chic.

This is probably where the noise-reducing money was spent: our new Italian pads have riveted-on shims with a rubberized outer surface. What's more, there's an adhesive backing that seems intended to keep the pads from moving around. This must be some heat-resistant goo.

Pre-installed shims and a peel-and-stick backing reduce this pad's prep time to near zero. We like that.

The pads slip easily into place. We're trying to stay clear of the sticky backing as much as possible, but we don't have to be fanatical about it.

As we close the caliper, the need to center the piston grooves in the 'window' becomes clear. The pads feature a small protruding pin. On the identical outer pad, this serves no purpose, but the pin on the inner one (opposite the one we can see) must engage with the slot in the piston face (opposite the one we can see) so the piston can't rotate as the parking brake is applied. This is what makes the self-adjusting parking brake mechanism work.

With the caliper fully closed, it's time to reinstall and tighten the caliper slider bolt.

Finally, the two main caliper mounting bolts get re-torqued.

All done. Well, almost.

Press the brake pedal a few times to bring the pads fully up to the rotors before driving off. Same goes for that parking brake pedal — press it on and off a couple of times to bring the parking brake into adjustment.

Think this takes a lot of tools? Think again. Aside from the obligatory floor jack and jack stands, this is all it takes. The black contraption above the hammer is our new $10 Harbor Freight caliper spreader, the one that can screw-in a piston with a self-adjusting parking brake mechanism as it presses it home.

Total time: less than 30 minutes per side.

Total parts cost: $263.23, plus tax. Yeah, you're remembering that right: the front brake parts were cheaper. In back, lower-priced rotors were not in the catalog, and we made a decision to go with slightly more-expensive rear pads. Still, this is cheaper than paying someone else to do it. And it's infinitely more satisfying.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 66,193 miles

Power Back Door is Not a Guillotine

August 19, 2010

Our long-term 2009 Ford Flex has a power back door. I haven't driven the Flex recently because it has been on many field trips, so I couldn't remember the location of the activation switch.

Most power back doors of course have the switch logically placed on the bottom end of the tailgate, so you can stand clear of the closing door. But Ford puts the Flex's inside the cargo area. Uh, OK.

JKav showed it to me and said the door moves pretty slowly and it shouldn't be a problem.

So you probably won't decapitate yourself. But don't quote me at your product liability trial.

Albert Austria, Senior Engineer @ ~67,000 miles

Making My Life Easier

August 23, 2010

We've had our 2009 Ford Flex since September 2008 and even though it has been THE road trip car for our staff, surprisingly it seems like no one, besides me, has actually used it as a moving van, at least according to the long-term blog. I moved over the weekend and the Flex was a nice little supplement to the U-Haul I rented. It carried my precious mid-century wood desk which wouldn't fit in the already jampacked U-Haul. Obviously that power cargo door came in really handy during the move when hands were too busy carrying boxes to reach for keys. And hurray for fold-flat seats!

But something I found out about my new place, turns out the garage I was so excited about having barely fits cars the size of our Flex. The Flex's sensors and beeps helped me with easing the car into the spot oh-so carefully and it was a good thing that I could fold in the mirrors, too. For some reason the above picture makes the space seem bigger than it is but I did have to fold in the right side mirror. This was just a one-time thing and I will never try to fit a car this big in that garage ever again.

Besides that, the Flex made my least favorite thing to do in the world — moving — so much easier, whether transporting moving boxes and furniture or serving as an errand runner to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Flex, I owe you one.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 66,433 miles

Missing Piece

August 24, 2010

What's left to say about the Flex? Well, I noticed the little trim piece behind the driver door handle is missing.

Here's how it looks on the passenger side, nice and smooth.

I wonder what happened to it.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

Tall Cold One

August 25, 2010

Nothing's more annoying on a hot day than a car with a wimpy air conditioning system that takes forever to cool down the cabin. You won't have that problem with the Flex.

Aaaaah... so refreshing.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 66,485 miles

Two-Thirds of the Way to 100K

August 27, 2010

Our trusty 2009 Ford Flex Limited has made it two-thirds of the way to 100,000 miles, and it shows no signs of letting up. At this point, at least, if feels like it's going to breeze right past this mental milestone.

Which is a good thing because we like having it around. It's firmly entrenched as the go-to vehicle for any trip of any length, and it's great around town, too.

But please answer us this: Would you like to keep reading about this one? Do you want to see how it holds up all the way to 100 kilomiles, a true long-term durability test? Or are you tired of reading about it? Would you rather we sold it and used the money to buy something else?

Here's some stats to help you out:

We bought our Flex just over two years ago. Mileage acculmulation has averaged about 32,000 miles per year. Unless someone takes it on an extended sea-to-shining-sea cross-country road trip, as Mike Magrath is threatening to do once more, we figure that September 2011 is the very latest it'll hit 100,000 miles.

Should it stay or should it go?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 66,666.6 miles and counting

ABS Pulsing

August 30, 2010

While driving the Flex this weekend, I noticed that even under moderate braking, like at a stop sign, that unmistakable, ABS-fluttery feeling through the brake pedal and the subtle 'Bv-v-v-v-vp' sound that it also makes — not a full-blown brake-assist ABS freak out mind you, but just a little buzz as if the front tires were on wet leaves.

It's not That Grinding Feeling Mike Schmidt noticed that Dan resolved with the rear pad replacement. Nor the original cold judder problem that Dan fixed with the front pad/rotor replacement either. No, this is something new.

We'll put Dan on the case again to see what's up and post our findings later.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 66,950 miles

You Can Take the Girl Outta Michigan...

August 31, 2010

I spent last week on vacation in Michigan, loafing at my parents' house and borrowing cars and bumming rides from every member of my immediate family.

The Motor City 3 were all respresented, as one would expect in the Detroit area, plus one Honda owned by my rebellious older brother.

Came back to California and climbed right into our long-term Ford Flex.

It was just like bringing back a piece of home.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 67,075 miles

Like an Old Couch

September 03, 2010

Yesterday, Scott blogged that our 2009 Audi A4 Avant was holding up nicely. The seats, he said, looked fresh, 'even the bolsters look new.' And it's true, they do. But that's an Audi Wagon. It goes back and forth from school to shopping plazza to beach to work to home. It's a fancy purse and as such, it's wearing like a fancy purse.

Our 2009 Flex, however is a workhorse. It's not a mining half-wagon, it's all van all the time and we use it.

And still, look at that seat! It doesn't look new because it's got over 60,000 miles of butt on top of it — it's broken in. The leather feels better than it did when new. Like an old jacket or a comfy leather chair, the Flex just keeps getting better, tougher, more unique as the miles pack on.

It's got witness marks and history on that seat, but not a single tear, pull or inch of faded leather and that's what really counts, right?


Different Perspective

September 03, 2010

I had the Flex a night this past week. A friend was in town and we decided to pick her and a few others up for dinner.

I guess I've been in the Flex so much that the 'cool' stuff is just normal to me. My friends, however, thought that the rear sunroofs were really something special. As we drove through the Wilshire corridor, they were pointing out the various sky high condos through the rear sunroofs, wondering aloud what the famous people must do on their roof top decks.

I'm in these cars a lot so I might be a little jaded, but it's the perspective of others that really remind me that the Flex has a lot going for it. Even if it's just hearing your friends ooh and ahh at the big city views through the sunroof.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

Paint Chips

September 07, 2010

Ignore the reflection of my garage door in the hood of our Ford Flex, and instead concentrate on all the little white spots where the paint has chipped off of our loyal six-seater.

Not terrible, for sure, but noticeable wear.

At nearly 70,000 miles, seems only reasonable that the Flex is starting to show some age spots.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 67,480 miles

Mount Whitney Road Trip

September 08, 2010

There aren't a lot of cars I want to drive that can carry five guys and all their gear for a three-night road trip to the mountains. Sure, there are the minivans and the giant SUVs. But I wanted something that handled the road well and didn't look like it was taking a sledge hammer to nature. So I was lucky enough to get our 2009 Ford Flex Limited for the trip to climb Mount Whitney, near Lone Pine, about 190 miles north of Los Angeles.

I have a high school friend who comes out from the East Coast each year to climb in the Sierra and this year my brother is joining us. Together with my dad and my son, throw in two golf bags and you've got one full Flex. Even with all that stuff it didn't feel like it was staggering around on the road. Coming through the high desert we hit high winds but the Flex held its position on the highway. But when it came to making the climb from Lone Pine (elevation 3,700 feet) to the Whitney Portal (elevation 8,400 feet) it seemed to be working hard and didn't want to downshift. That was okay with me since it was still delivering about 23 mpg, according to the onboard computer.

Everyone loved the Flex and they all immediately started poking and probing all the features. To them it was a complete novelty. Right away they were excited about the sunroofs since we'll be winding along some mountain roads with peaks towering over us. They also liked the refrigerator box in the center row where we stashed our water and energy drinks for the climb. My son sat solo in the third row seat so we could fold down the seat to allow room for the golf bags. I noticed that the Flex is really quiet at 75 mph and could even hear someone when they were speaking from the third row seat.

On Friday we are going to climb Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer's Route. Before then, we'll spend two days of climbing and acclimatizing to the altitude. So we'll be up and down the mountain roads in the Flex until then. I can't close without including at least one picture from our trip. This one was taken from the area near Big Pine on the Seven Lakes Trail.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 67,821 miles

Mount Whitney Road Trip - Day Two

September 09, 2010

Sometimes, it's the small things. This morning, climbing up to the South Lake Trailhead, north of Bishop, I happened to glance at the nav screen on the 2009 Ford Flex Limited and saw it was 30 degrees. I had no idea it was going to be so cold. As we continued to climb to 9,800 feet, we saw the temperature rise and fall. At the parking lot I took this picture with the temperature at 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

I know it isn't exactly high tech, and many cars these days show an exterior temperature reading. But it helped to be psychologically prepared to step out into near-freezing temperatures. I left the motor running while we ran around to the back and got out our boots and jackets. It's also interesting to see how the navigation system was trying hard to predict what the next street would be. Accurately, it found none. And that was the whole point.

I shot this picture because I saw the mountains behind me reflected in the windows of the Flex. They were just beginning to catch the sun . . . and bring a little warmth to the day. The other picture is of Long Lake, elevation 10,800 feet, a favorite with fishermen.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 68,080 miles

Mt. Whitney Road Trip - Day Three - Hot Brakes

September 12, 2010

With all the cool technology in the 2009 Ford Flex Limited you think they would have provided more gear choices than just 'D' and 'L.' Coming down from the Mount Whitney Portal to Lone Pine you descend 4,700 feet on a winding mountain road over only 14 miles. There are sheer cliffs just off the road and in many places no guard rail. When I put the Flex in low it feels like it's in second gear which provides too much engine braking. So the alternative is just to leave it in D and pump the brakes to hold the speed down to a reasonable level. When I got back down to town and parked at our hotel I could smell the hot brakes.

My other gripe with this shifter is that it's hard to tell when it's in gear since the lever doesn't line up with the letter D. Several times I thought it was in gear and put my foot on the gas only to hear the engine rev in neutral. This is the kind of thing that probably wouldn't be a problem once you got used to it. But I definitely would miss having more gear choices for steep descents. Since the Flex has a six-speed transmission, I'd like the chance to use more gears. For mountain driving it's a great feature.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 68,116 miles

Mt. Whitney Road Trip - Summary

September 13, 2010

Four days and 800 miles in the 2009 Ford Flex has made me a real believer in both this impressive vehicle and Ford's new direction. I found that it hit a real sweet spot in size and fuel economy. As you'll see on the next page, we stuffed this baby full of gear and guys and it took it all in stride and still delivered a great driving experience.

Besides its retro good looks, which makes a nice contrast with the unusual setting in this photo, the Flex is loaded with new technology. What I liked was that the technology is under the surface. You almost have to dig for it, like in the case of the hill descent feature activated by the push button on the shifter (which I initially missed). But there were other design features I liked, which I'll describe on the next page.

First and foremost, I was totally sold on the 3.5-liter 262 horsepower V6. I'm a fuel economy freak so getting 23 mpg (according to the on-board computer) while carrying five guys seemed like a great achievement. But honestly, despite very severe grades into the mountains, I never felt at much of a loss for power. The only thing that bothered me was that, in Ford's quest for fuel efficiency, they tuned the six-speed transmission so it didn't like to downshift until you really needed it. The driving experience was also excellent. Good road feel and an extremely well insulated cabin.

The flexibility of the seating was really amazing. While the third row seats were adorned with all kinds of straps and instructions for folding them, it all worked. And check out how much stuff we took. It would have been hard to do much better unless you wanted a minivan.

The ice box in the center row turned out to be more of a gimmick than a really useful feature. It takes up a lot of space and doesn't hold much. Also, while the power rear tailgate was great, I wish there was a button in the rear to close it. I had to keep digging the key out of my pocket to close it.

The rear backup camera was essential on this trip since my rear visibility was nil. Often, I had to make three point turns on tight mountain roads with trees and rocks eager to put a scrape in the bumper. I avoided any such encounters even though the visibility over the hood is limited.

I wouldn't buy Flex since I really don't need such a big vehicle. But for families wanting to avoid getting a minivan or a large SUV, this is an outstanding alternative. I was a little amazed to notice that there aren't more of these on the road. I guess it's taking some time to get the word out.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 68,459 miles

Touch Me

September 14, 2010

I love the touchscreen in the Flex. Touchscreens are the best kind of interface for the navigation in our long-term fleet, hands down.

Sure, the sun can blow out the screen. Yes, it can get all schmoozed up with finger grease or be crazy expensive to repair if it breaks. But compare this system to the silly one in the Volvo XC60, whose buttons are located behind the steering wheel, or the slow rotary-knob-controlled version in the Honda Crosstour and the Flex's ability for quick input stands out for its simplicity and ease of use.

At least that's my opinion. Do you have a better in-car system?

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

Let's Go to a Crash

September 16, 2010

We took the 2009 Ford Flex Limited out for a crash test.

Don't panic. We didn't crash the Flex (it's too pretty for that). What I mean is that four Edmunds staffers took the Flex on a four-hour round-trip drive to Adelanto in California's high desert to visit Karco Engineering, a test lab and automotive research center. If you ever get the chance to go, the people there are great, and the crash tests are fascinating. Just don't mock the test dummies' thermal underwear and bad shoes and watch out for the rattlesnakes that hang around, looking for a chipmunk snack.

The trek put a little over 250 miles on the wagon (including my commute to and from the Edmunds mothership in Santa Monica), and the route put the Flex through a variety of conditions. We had some stop-and-go freeway driving through downtown Los Angeles, wide-open freeway along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, a climb to an elevation of 4,190 feet at the Cajon Summit on Interstate 15 and a stretch on straight-shot Highway 395 (where it's easy to speed, but where the CHP trolls in search of the unwary).

While I like the Flex overall, I didn't love its performance in the Cajon Pass. I felt like I really had to stomp on the gas to keep the vehicle at freeway speed while making the climb to the summit. (If you crave more power, you might want to look at the Flex with EcoBoost). Our version of the Flex doesn't seem to like steep and fast.

But aside from that, the Flex made the four of us very comfortable. The navigation system did its job admirably (although it did alert us to an accident that was no longer there). Satellite radio allowed the front-seat passenger to catch up on a little current music. There was plenty of room for the second-row passengers, two Edmunds guys who appreciated legroom and a quiet passenger cabin so they could go over the cars they've owned, cars they've sold and cars they wish they could buy. The cup-holders got a workout: Starbucks on the way out and water (lots of it) on the way home.

Only one problem, and it can be chalked up to operator error. Before setting out, I had stocked the Flex's little fridge with an array of soft drinks (including a medio litro of Coca-Cola from Mexico — real sugar, not corn syrup). But I missed the part about turning it on. Duh.


Those Cold Cali Mornings

September 17, 2010

Nearly 70,000 miles on our 2009 Ford Flex, and two things that continue to impress backseat passengers are the car's wide, comfortable seats and rear seat heaters.

Soon as my daughter jumped in this morning, she exclaimed, "Ooooo, heated seats!"

Those 64-degree school mornings can be a bit chilly, you know.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 68,716 miles

See Ya Later, Tailgator

September 20, 2010

At the risk of overblogging my kid, I feel compelled to post this shot taken Saturday morning while I was hanging out at my friend's (we'll call him Mike Schmidt) garage sale.

Early Saturday morning I loaded up the long-term Ford Flex and hauled some junk over to the Schmidt house. Emma was dozing in a second-row seat when we arrived, so I unloaded without her enthusiastic assistance. When I walked back across the street a few minutes later, she had already set up shop in the Flex's spacious cargo hold.

I think the pic nicely illustrates how much room the Flex offers. And the dinginess of the carpet shows just how much it's been used.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 69,086 miles

2009 Ford Flex Sparks Spark Woody

September 21, 2010

Chevy Europe is going to unveil this Spark Woody (commence giggling now) at the 2010 Paris Auto Show. That's nice, except they totally ripped us off ...

Seriously, doesn't it look like Chevy just used some vinyl contact paper?

'Mais oui, vee shall glue zee vinyl paypair (pauses to drag on cigarette, adjust beret) and zen add surfboard (pauses to drag on cigarette) and vee shall have as vee say 'concept voiture.' C'est bon.'

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

Dealer Service Shuttle

September 22, 2010

This morning we used our 2009 Ford Flex as a chase car when we dropped our newest long-term car at the dealer.

Here's a shot of our Flex waiting in the dealer's service lot.

Care to guess what car just joined our test fleet?

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 69,156 miles

Hot Bath

September 27, 2010

Our 2009 Ford Flex was looking a little grubby, so I took it to our regular car wash late this morning and asked them to give it a thorough scrub-up.

I'm sure you've already heard all the whining from the West Coast during the past few days about our unusually hot weather, but I when I saw the Flex's ambient temperature gauge was reporting over 100 degrees in Santa Monica, I felt bad for the guys detailing the Flex.

Working on the black interior of a black car on what is likely the hottest day of the year is a total drag.

I tipped them double and quickly scurried back to my air-conditioned office.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 69,486 miles

Clean Screens Make Me Happy

September 28, 2010

I'm no clean freak, but there are some objects in my life that I absolutely must keep clean. Dirty sunglasses, TV screens, computer monitors and camera lenses make me batty. After hopping in our extra-long-term Flex last night, the sunlight hit the touchscreen, exposing all of the built up haze and smudges, making it all but unreadable. I gave it a quick wipe with my fingertip, but that just moved the crud around. I waited until I got home to use something I was sure would work.

I bought this stuff when I early adopted my home plasma TV about a decade ago. Monster Screen Clean is alcohol and ammonia-free and made for cleaning sensitive monitors. It's thicker than normal glass cleaner, almost a gel consistency like Purell hand sanitizer. This keeps the cleaner from running down into the monitor's crevices and potentially damaging the electronics. It also came with its own microfiber towel.

The screen is now clean and clear, but I am starting to notice some permanent wear on the screen after almost 70,000 miles of use. I'm guessing that any number of cleaning products meant for monitors and laptops would work just as well. Sprays might be a little inconvenient, but I ran across a few single-use wipes when I googled 'laptop screen cleaner'. If I owned a car with a touchscreen-equipped car, I'd probably have a few of those packets in the glovebox.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor @ 69,496 miles

Audio Review

September 28, 2010

Our 2009 Ford Flex Limited is one of the most popular vehicles in the long-term fleet for many reasons: It has tons of room and seats seven people, is loaded with the best technology Ford had to offer at the time (which is still better than what some automakers offer over two years later) and is just a cool car. Check out the dozens of long-term blog post on the Flex over the past two years and you won't find a single one on the vehicle's standard Sony premium audio system.

There are plenty of positive posts on other tech in the Flex: its near seamless Bluetooth hands-free system and iPod integration, smooth power liftgate, helpful Sirius Travel Link feature, toasty heated rear seats, integrated keyless entry and that it even does text messaging. But none on the Sony sound system, until now. And it's not to sing its praises.

The Setup
The 2009 Ford Flex Limited's Sony system packs 390 watts powering 12 speakers. These include a 5x7-inch midwoofer in each front door, a 1-inch tweeter at the bottom of each A pillar, a 3-inch speaker in the center of the dash, a 5x7-inch two-way coaxial speaker in each rear door, another 3-inch speaker in each C pillar and a 8-inch subwoofer in an enclosure in the passenger-side wall of the rear cargo area.

The Sound
As with every long-term car we sound-check, I sat in the Flex, with the engine running and while parked, and listened to my list of test tracks. These songs allow me to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also use several non-audio tracks to test for staging/imaging, linearity and absence of noise. If you want to know more about this testing procedure — and what those fancy audiophile words mean — check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

The Sony system in the Flex has an almost opposite personality sound-wise than the vehicle does utility-wise. If you've followed our posts on this vehicle over the past two-plus years — or at least click the links above — you know that the Flex not only features plenty of practicality (except maybe when it comes to fuel economy) and a ton of useful tech, but it also has the kind of style that can win over everyone from moms with kids in tow to testosterone-fueled young men. The Sony sound system, on the other hand, simply does a decent job of providing good if not great sound.

In every category and on almost every test track, the system scored slightly above average, with the highest scores in the staging and imaging categories. (A center-channel speaker and A-pillar tweeters usually help in regard to the latter, and though the system has surround processing that adds some spaciousness, it also has an artificial sound.) Yet the notes from my listening session are filled with comments like 'clean but sterile sounding' and 'sonically accurate for the most part but lifeless.'

It's almost a given that all but the best car audio systems have trouble handling the top and bottom end of the audio spectrum, and the Sony system fit this pattern. Bass from the 8-inch subwoofer way in the back was flabby and distorted, while the highs were overly bright and had a biting quality. The brutal bass beats in Oukast's 'Ain't No Thang' were weak, and trebly acoustic guitars and high-pitched female vocals were brittle. Otherwise, through the midbass to lower-treble range of the frequency spectrum, the Sony system was tonally correct, if a bit tedious.

The Sources
In the same way that the Flex provides a wide range of transport for many different occasions — people mover, cargo hauler, road trip land yacht, cool nighttime cruiser — it also audio sources aplenty. The in-dash head unit provides a place to park six CDs or DVDs and tunes in AM, FM and Sirius radio. It will even play DVD movies when the car's not moving. And since our Flex has the optional navigation system, 10GB of the nav's 40GB hard drive can hold over 2,000 MP3 or WMA Files.

You can also plug an iPod or any USB-based portable music player into the USB port in the center console (or the aux-in plug), or load it with a USB drive holding MP3 or WMA music files. Plus, the Flex has Bluetooth audio if you want to wirelessly stream music from a compatible media player or smartphone, and audio from the vehicle's optional DVD rear-entertainment system can be piped over the audio system.

As for iPod integration and control over other media brought into and embedded in the car, it doesn't get much better than Sync. Ford's voice-activated infotainment technology isn't perfect, but it works better — and is also more affordable — than almost every other automotive device-integration/interface platform available. It makes accessing music on an iPod, USB drive, smartphone, disc, hard drive or radio easy, safe and intuitive.

What We Say
The Sony system isn't going to win over many audiophiles. And maybe won't make music lovers want to sit in the car and wait for a song to end once they've reached their destination, like the best sound systems. But that it does a decent job and is included in the price of our 2009 Ford Flex Limited makes it another reason to love this vehicle — even if you only like its sound system.

The Scores
Sound: C+
Source Selection: A
iPod Integration: A
Cost: A+

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

Happy 70th, Flex.

October 19, 2010

Somehow, the 70,000 mile mark sneaked up on our Flex without celebration, so here's a belated happy 70th for our Ford. Having not driven the Flex in ages, I'd almost forgotten what a well-sorted vehicle this is. Smooth, quiet and with incredibly comfortable seating, the Flex is also easy to handle despite its size. Furthermore, at 70k miles it's still free of extraneous noises and still looks great inside and out. If I was married and had kids, this roomy wagon would be my top choice for a family car.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 70, 367 miles.

Flex Across America Challenge

October 20, 2010

70,000 miles, 24 states and 1 Canadian province. This is the map for our Flex Across America, and although most of those states were checked off on one Mike Magrath road trip, I'm throwing down the challenge right now to check off the rest of these states before we hit the sell-by tally of 100,000 miles.

Since I got British Columbia, I figure that's good enough to wipe out Hawaii. And if someone gets D.C., that's good to substitute Sarah Palinland. But other than that, I say we owe it to the Flex to hit every state in the Union.

But I have a challenge to you dear readers: We need reasons to go to these unchecked states. What should we see? Where should we stop? I'm looking for the sort of places like Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland or Snow's BBQ in Lexington, Texas. I suppose it doesn't have to be food joints that'll surely kill you, but you'll get bonus points for that.

Challenge thrown. Flex out.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 70,386 miles

Tour of a Dirty Flex Part II

October 21, 2010

Yesterday we had a look at some of the Flex's not-so-finer points in the midst of a few weeks without being washed. But a closer look reveals some respectable details — like the front seats, which despite time and neglect still look pretty darned good.

As a family hauler the Flex tends to accumulate kid accoutrement — like this Wii game, or yesterday's rotting fruit. Gross.

There's no shortage of adult accoutrement, either. The center console is full of, well, junk. And it's the only part of the Flex I've run across that just doesn't work right. The latch has been broken for more than a year.

It might look a little beat in these photos, but I still find myself drawn to its utility and the genuine ease of use and high functionality of SYNC.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

Tour of a Dirty Flex

October 21, 2010

I'm not sure what I can say about the Flex that hasn't already been said in the previous 277 posts, so let's just do a quick walk around to look at its condition at about 70,000 miles. Clearly, the engine needs a scrub. I'll add that to my list when I clean this thing up.

The engine is amazingly filthy. Think I'll add this to the list next time I get the it washed.

I'll admit that it's been a long, rainy week here in L.A. and that most of our cars didn't get their ritual Monday wash, but this is just gross. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

And here's a dirty wheel with a little curb work, which annoys me. But look carefully (and underneath all the grime) and the Flex is holding up remarkably well for a car with this many miles driven by so many different people to so many locations with so much indifference for its care.

Tomorrow the tour continues.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

Hey, There's a Clock Down There

October 25, 2010

The Flex has an analog clock built into its center console. Who knew?

It's too low to be truly useful, and it's redundant with the clock in the navigation screen. Maybe that's why I never noticed it.

Josh Jacquot, Senior editor

Best Soccer Dad Battle Wagon - Flex or Odyssey?

October 28, 2010

Recently got some miles in the Flex. Wanted to see how it matched up on the Odyssey, as the Wife has been lobbying for something of the Odyssey/Pilot genus. I'm ambivalent. The Odyssey is great and all, no question. It'll haul the kids, the grandfolk, bikes and boards, tents and stoves. And at the end of its shelf life, when the kids are embarrassed by it, I can pull the seats and press it into service as a crusty beach wagon.

But it's a minivan. Not a van. Not like Jeff Spicoli's. Not like The Mystery Machine or the A-Team's Vandura. A van leaks oil and spits fire from its side pipes. It shoots rockets, hauls amps and drums, and features characters from Robert Plant lyrics airbrushed on the panels.

A minivan does...none of those things. It emits a polite hum from a tightly-sealed V6. Plays DVDs. Holds cups, not hookahs. The Flex, though, is something else. Great design, fine style. Soccer dad without the stigma (or not). But the trade-off for that great look is less headroom. Not enough clearance to freak out when 'Jungle Boogie' streams the airwaves. And definitely not enough canvas for painted tributes to Norse legends.

Readers, which is it: Flex? Or Odyssey? Or...(click on B.A. Baracus)

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

Time For A Change

October 29, 2010

Our longterm 2009 Ford Flex is trying to tell us something... but I'm not sure what.

This alert lit up straight away upon startup. There's no missing it.

Sir, yes, sir! Right away, sir!

Jason Kavanagh Engineering Editor

Precious Cargo Hauler

October 30, 2010

I don't know what we're going to do once our 2009 Ford Flex goes away. It helps us with our moves, makes our family road trips so comfortable and is the popular subject of many a caption contest.

And when I had to transport my brand-new 42-inch TV home, our long-term fleet didn't offer many options as desirable as the Flex. That gaping maw of a rear cargo area with its power liftgate and fold-flat seats. Pfew! I just sat in the back with the TV to steady it during the drive while another editor took the wheel.

BTW, premature Black Friday sales FTW!

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

Maybe In Khaki

November 02, 2010

Two EZ-Ups. Two large tables. Seven chairs. Three coolers, cups, plates, multiple jugs of juice, tea and water. One doomed, burro-shaped pinata. And this was before several foil pans of hot food went in. Just another rager at the park for the Kid's birthday with all her five-year-old pals.

I was skeptical that the Flex could haul it all, but it did. At 83 cubic feet, the Flex's cargo hold approaches the volume of an Odyssey with just its third row folded flat (91 cubes). The Flex also felt confidently composed at speed with that load (and nope, I didn't leave the wooden folding table floating up there on the window).

So are the rumors of the Flex's death greatly exaggerated?

Hard to say.

Ford sales were up 46 percent in September, but the Flex didn't contribute much - just 2,204 units sold during the month, fewer than even the anemic Expedition. The automaker also announced net income of $1.7 billion during the third-quarter, but nary a mention of the Flex in the company line. Instead, models like the Edge, Focus, Taurus and Mustang shouldered much of the third-quarter success. Year to date, Flex sales are down 8 percent compared to 2009.

Maybe it's too expensive. Fuel economy underachieves. The polarizing design is too boxy, too different, too weird. Maybe if they offered it in khaki. Whatever. It's still a great car, as our record total of blog posts - and reader praise - can attest. All the dads at the toddler toga admired its style and utility, particularly the second-row chiller box and its contents, reserved to ease the burdens of my fellow weary travelers.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

A Stern Experiment

November 03, 2010

I'm sure there are other people like me, sitting in the Venn-diagram intersection of NPR adherents and Howard Stern listeners. But I'm not a bona fide Stern fan. When he ascended from terrestrial radio to Sirius Satellite in 2006, I wasn't willing to pay $13 a month to follow him. I missed the show, but I got over it. Or so I thought, until last night.

I assumed that the satellite packages in some of our long-term test cars excluded premium channels, such as the Howard Stern Show. But there he was, at Channel 100, on our 2009 Ford Flex Limited.

I listened to the show's rebroadcast on my way home and found that 45 minutes just wasn't enough. In an unvarnished effort to get more listening time, I drove around with a list of made-up errands for another half hour. I'm now fully informed on the latest David Arquette-Courteney Cox separation news. And I also know way too much about some other very sordid, unimportant topics.

It was a good experiment for me, though. I've realized that although I like the show and its blend of pop culture, politics and unadulterated trash, I wouldn't spend my own money to get it — or to get satellite radio in general. I can find lots of other things to do with $156 a year.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @71,138 miles

Hooray for Hollywood

November 05, 2010

Another day, another crew sign.

Welcome to L.A.

Kelly Toepke, News Editor

DOA

November 08, 2010

I got into the Flex, turned the key and there was a noticeable slow turnover. It gave me pause for thought. Didn't matter, I drove home thinking if the battery was low, I'd be able to charge it with an hour long commute in Friday traffic.

Once I got home, I searched to make sure no lights were switched on in the cargo area I wasn't aware of or some other kind of battery draw was happening. Didn't find a think amiss. Hopefully the long time in traffic was enough to bring the battery to life.

We were headed out to the movies a little later that night, still the same slow turnover, but nowhere near as rough as the first. Maybe the drive home helped? After the movie the same thing. Ok, something is definitely not right, the morning might be interesting.

Saturday morning, I turned the key and nothing. Stone cold battery is stone cold dead. I thought this would happen. We had to run errands so we took her car. When we got back home mid afternoon, I tried again and it almost started. A little sun driven warmth helped, but It was time to hook this sucker up.

We jumped it, ran it at a high idle for some time, then drove to the office to hook up to a charger. Hopefully that'll bring some life to it, but after 71k miles of hard use, it might need a new battery or something wrong with the alternator. We'll let you know happens.

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

New Battery and Oil Change

November 09, 2010

After the drained battery that Scott Jacobs experienced this past weekend, I thought that the Flex would need a jump-start. Luckily, the battery had just enough juice left in it to start up one last time. I took the car to Santa Monica Ford for service, and since the 'oil change required' warning had been on since last month, I asked them to take care of that as well.

All the Flex needed was a new battery, which cost $130 with labor. The oil change and tire rotation cost $46, and the car was ready a few hours later. The dealer also included a friendly 'reminder' on our windshield to come back in 3,000 miles for an oil change. For the record, the Flex's owner's manual says the intervals are actually at 7,500 miles.

Total Cost: $186.93 (Includes tax and waste disposal fees)
Days out of Service: Half Day

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Associate @ 71,293 miles.

Still Stylish or Just Out of Fashion?

November 10, 2010

It has been more than two years since we bought our black on black on black on black long-term 2009 Ford Flex, but it has been almost six years since we've seen the controversially styled Flex. Remember, the shape debuted at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show as the Fairlane Concept (dig those rear suicide doors).

And six years in car styling can be several lifetimes.

Is that the case with the Flex? Or does it still look fresh? One thing's for sure, the Flex still looks unique all these years later. Maybe the fact that it has failed to start a styling trend after six years says everything there is to say about it. After all, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flatery? And, well, nobody has imitated it.

What do you think? Is the Flex still stylish or just out of fashion?

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

Which Would You Choose?

November 11, 2010

In the next month or so the Ford Flex will be getting some stiff competion from...Ford. That's right the blue oval bunch will be selling the new three-row Ford Explorer alongside its three-row Ford Flex. Hmmmmm, which would you choose?

Me? Well, I think I'm on Team Flex.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

What I Hauled This Weekend

November 15, 2010

I kept the cargo area of our long-term 2009 Ford Flex very busy this weekend. As usual the Flex handled every situation I could throw at it.

Go the next page for more pictures of cargo hauling fun.

Four slot mags (15 x 8.5) I bought off of Craigslist last summer. The kids and I took them to the polisher. With any luck my 1976 Pontiac Trans Am will be wearing them soon.

A quite large play kitchen I'm glad to get out of my family room.

My prized concours-quality Green Machine. Notice it fit without having to fold-down the second row seats.

A six-foot ladder.

The May 1980 issue of Car Craft.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief at 71,486 miles

Easy Fuel Spill

November 22, 2010

I am so dizzy with gasoline fumes right now. I've got the windows down and the fan up but I can't flush the stank of gas out of our 2009 Ford Flex.

The fuel was going in really slow at my local 76 station. Reaaaaly slow. After more than 7 minutes, I was still standing there, watching the pump's readout tick reluctantly past 15 gallons. It holds a couple more than that, and I had run it really empty, so I thought nothing much of it.

A few moments later I started to hear the distinctive splatter of liquid on concrete as a pool of gas began spreading on the ground. There had been no click at the pump handle, no kick through the hose; gas had simply begun to overflow and run out as if it were supposed to do that.

I'm not sure why it happened. I guess the back-pressure buildup that's supposed to kick off the handle didn't occur properly at this particular pump's meager flow rate. I don't think the capless Easy Fuel system had much to do with it, though the system does seem intolerant of any fuel added after the first click. Trouble is, here that first click never happened.

*shrug*

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 71,924 miles

Priced for Sale

December 01, 2010

As you've probably read in this blog, we considered running the Flex's mileage up to 100,000 miles to show that it could go the distance. But then we decided we've proved our point without going all the way to the century mark. Now we're left with a 2009 Ford Flex with a whopping 72,000 miles on it that we have to sell.

Pricing for this car for sale was tricky since it was, basically, an outlier. True Market Value (TMV) was a good guide but it didn't give the full picture. We had to factor in the psychological effect of shoppers seeing the 72,000 miles, their jaws dropping and stammering, 'How — How many miles...?' So to get another view of the market value we took our Flex to used car giant CarMax and had them appraise it. Their offer was pretty disappointing.

Carmax offered just $14,000 for this car that stickered for $42,000 two and a half years ago. While we feel that they hit us pretty low, it did sober us up. We also checked AutoTrader.com but it was hard to find true comparison vehicles. We knew it was important to stay under $20,000 but didn't want to go begging. Finally, we decided to list it for $18,900.

While the high miles are a shocker, it's still a lot of car for the right buyer. And who might that be, you ask? Well, with the rear entertainment system, the third row seat and the cargo space, this makes a nice family hauler. In many cases, around-town miles don't add up quickly. If someone bought it, put on 6,000 miles a year for three years, it would then be a five-year-old car with 90,000 miles or an average of 18,000 per year. That's a lot more palatable than the current 28,800 miles per year.

High miles are a turn off for many buyers. But those miles don't tell the whole story. If you bought the Flex and put a piece of electrician's tape over the odometer so you couldn't see the mileage, you couldn't tell the difference. And you'd have a whole lot more money left in your bank account compared to buying a new, low-mileage Flex.

Philip Reed, Edmunds senior consumer advice editor @ 72,000 miles

Our Favorite Caption (for the last time)

December 03, 2010

Thanks to oldchap for this week's favorite caption.

Here are the others that made us hoot:

The Flexodus (ergsum)
So they loaded up the Flex and they moved to Beverly (Hills, that is) (blackngold1000)
Flex, I am yer father. (85se)
Flex, I'm yer pappy. (wshuff)
Goin to the last roundup. (altimadude05)
Happy trails to you! (jacton)
Tex-Mex with the Ex Flex (ergsum)
Awwwl my Flexes drove through Texas... (lowmilelude says)
Drive faster, I hear banjos! (tatermctatums)
You had me at howdy (stpawyfrmdonut)
We'll miss you, pardner. (shaddai)
Ford Flex for sale: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (ergsum)
Well this means no more hearsing around! (ergsum)
It's time to put the Flex out to pasture, pardners! (ergsum)

And a little ditty Sung to Willie Nelson's 'On the Road Again'
I've been sold again -
I can't believe that I've been sold again.
After so many miles I thought you all were my friends
And I can't believe that I've been sold again. (robert4380)

What was your favorite?

To the winner:
You can select one of these three prizes:

- Audi jump drive
- set of mini cones (for your own autocross)
- Audi Q5 model car

Send your choice and your address to dderosa (at) edmunds.com

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

You Write the Caption (for the last time)

December 03, 2010

Our 2009 Ford Flex is for sale. Let's give it a fond farewell in its last caption contest.

Picture provided by Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt.

We'll post our favorite this afternoon. And remember, we have prizes.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

One Important Detail

December 06, 2010

If you're going to try to sell a two-year-old car with 72,000 miles on it, you better make sure it looks sharp. We took our 2009 Ford Flex Limited to the car wash and had them detail the interior for $100. Two guys crawled all over it for an hour, vacuumed it, shampooed the carpets, cleaned all the surfaces and got the finger prints off the glass. I wouldn't have thought it would make such a difference but it did. Before the detail there was a generally worn look to the interior with scuff marks around all the doors where people had kicked the plastic getting in and out of the car. Afterwards, all the surfaces gleamed with not-too-much ArmorAll-type protectant.

Sunday night it rained and when I got to work a red sunrise was lighting up the sky. I shot some new pictures to post on the AutoTrader ad. It was listed all weekend without bringing any calls, texts or emails. I guess everyone's mind is on a different type of shopping right now. At least the Flex is ready when the time comes. If someone looks at the interior, I think it will sell itself.

Philip Reed, Edmunds senior consumer advice editor @ 72,200 miles

Farewell Road Trip

December 10, 2010

By now you all know our 2009 Ford Flex is headed out of the long-term fleet to make room for something fresher. I, for one, will miss having it around.

A sudden business trip popped up in San Diego, so I decided to take the Flex for one last jaunt before the 'for sale' process gets well and truly underway. OK, San Diego isn't that far away, but this round trip still amounted to another 200 miles.

In short, our 2009 Ford Flex drives like it always has. Steering, brakes, ride comfort — it's all pretty solid, much like it was the first time a drove it back in September 2008. The interior still looks great, too, especially after Phil Reed had it detailed in preparation for sale.

The new owner will have about a year of rubber left — the tires are getting down there but they're not far gone enough to toss them out just yet. The windshield star crack at the a-pillar was repaired and stabilized, but it's still visible. And the wonky center storage box latch still lacks the spring it lost over a year ago. We could fix this kind of stuff, I guess, but I've found it's not a bad policy to have something minor to point out as a car's biggest flaw. Besides, we'd pay more to fix that latch than we'd receive in incremental value.

Fare-thee-well, Flex. I'd like to take you back to my driveway, but I don't want a car payment just now. My family will miss you. You've made the twice-annual trip to Oregon quite pleasant on more than one occasion.

Which brings up a relevant question: which long-term car do we take this year?

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 72,487 miles

A Quick Sale

December 13, 2010

As described in an earlier post, we knew that having 72,000 miles on a two-year-old Ford Flex Limited could be a problem. But as I explained in the ads, if a buyer didn't drive a lot of miles, then in a few years it would be at a normal level. I don't know if my little tutorial helped or not but I got several responses to my Craigslist ad.

Friday afternoon I got a voice mail message from a woman named Angela to say she was coming to see the Flex and bringing a cashier's check. I wondered if the check was for the full asking price. Earlier we had contemplated listing it for $18,500 but, partially based on reader comments, I boosted the asking price to $19,500. After all, we were basically trying to improve the offer we got from CarMax for $14,000.

I had dealt with Angela on the phone but she arrived with her husband, Sean. We took a test drive and they told me they had rented a Flex while on vacation and fell in love with it. They were impressed with all the options and, sure enough, Angela said she drove less than three miles to work. The Flex would an around-town vehicle.

Finally, Sean said, 'We really like the car but we're wondering if you are flexible on the price.' I asked what he had in mind. He said, 'Well, I have a check in your name for $18,000.' I said I certainly hoped it wasn't in my name and he quickly said, 'No, no — your company's name.'

This was obviously a trick to coax me into selling the car at the lower price. I was a little annoyed so I said, 'You know, I wish we had discussed this ahead of time.  I feel uncomfortable doing business this way.' Sean seemed apologetic and said, 'Just tell us what you had in mind.' I said I wanted $18,500 for the Flex. 'No problem,' he said. He pulled a roll of bills out of his pocket and peeled off five big ones. We shook hands, shot this picture and they took the car's title and left.

In retrospect, I might have been a little overly concerned about the mileage. When Angela saw the car, she was so happy with the way it looked, and all the options, that that trumped her fear of mechanical wear and tear. The last thing she said as she left was, 'I never thought I'd be able to afford this car.'

Philip Reed, Edmunds senior consumer advice editor @ 72,459 miles

From the Archives

February 23, 2012

I was just editing the Edmunds model review for the 2013 Ford Flex and it made me a little sad. 'Awww, I miss the Flex.' It's like an old friend that's moved away, or in the Flex's case, a car with an immense amount of miles sold to a nice couple somewhere.

I also got to thinking that two years ago, I was just returning from my journey up the coast to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. We've all done a lot of cool things with a lot of cool cars here on the long-term blog, and sometimes it's nice to reminisce about them. I know I like to crack open an old Car Magazine now and then to re-read some epic drive story. My Olympic trip wasn't what I'd call epic, but there was a town called Weed, Voodoo Doughnuts and an intensive vehicle search by Canadian customs.

An Olympic Journey Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 7

Days 8 and 9

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ Memory Lane

Wrap-Up

If you haven't made a cross-country road trip in the U.S., you're missing out. A Cannonball Run between shores is an epic adventure. Hollywood knows it, which is why we've had the Griswolds' Wagon Queen Family Truckster and the Clampetts' Olds Model 46 Roadster. Inside Line needed one, too, so we added a 2009 Ford Flex.

Our long-term test of the 2009 Ford Flex began like any other. Generate a list of the most noteworthy vehicles from the coming year. Narrow it to a short list of potential purchases. Sell off a car or two from the previous test year and use the proceeds to buy a new Ford Flex. There was no consideration given to trim level. The Ford Flex EcoBoost wasn't available in 2009 so we went straight to the Limited. But our first road trip in the Flex made it clear this durability test would be different than any before it.

Why We Bought It
Ford introduced the Flex as an all-new vehicle in 2009. Not to be confused with the Funkmaster Flex, this SUV was designed for all tastes. Ford's interpretation of minivan utility without the minivan stigma was successful. Our first drive of the Flex left a strong enough impression to earn it a place on our short list. The Flex offered more than just style. Its ride comfort, on-road stability and infotainment system deserved equal praise. We liked it. But there was more.

Time had finally tipped the balance of our editorial brew from single and child-free to more family-friendly in nature. For better or worse, the responsibility of wedding bands and soiled diapers forced our hand. Not to mention it left us with baggage. And we needed a car big enough to carry it all around. Rather than follow our hearts to another two-seater, we acted rationally. The addition of a Flex would accommodate our maturing households while maintaining the SUV-to-sports-car harmony within our test fleet.

We saw the Windstar and Freestar falter years earlier. What did the future hold for Ford's newest family mover? There was one way to find out. We purchased a 2009 Ford Flex Limited and introduced its 12-month/20,000-mile test on IL's long-term blog pages.

Durability
We drove the Flex everywhere. Its popularity as a road trip car spun the odometer at such a rate that we extended the test. For the first time in a long-term test, we set our sights on 100,000 miles. We drove it to visit family in Wyoming and Oregon. We drove it to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. We even drove it cross-country, twice. By test end our Flex had covered 24 states and one Canadian province.

Associate Editor Mike Magrath was first to request the Flex for multistate road trip duty. And he had to ask permission, being that such a trip would surely use up all of the new car smell. Magrath began, "My college roommate is getting married. Flights are expensive. Why don't I drive the Flex? South Bay to Back Bay. How about it?" He can be persuasive sometimes.

After 6,000 miles Magrath had many impressions and shared a couple anecdotes. "On the Flex as a bed: I tried sleeping in the Flex one night. I was hoping the backseats, folded flat, would make an acceptable bed. They don't. It was like sleeping on the floor of a dog's kennel. On the refrigerator: It's a neat idea but the execution here is a little lame. It keeps things very cold, but if you're going to give me a button that says freeze, the damn thing better freeze."

Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds spent more highway time in our Flex than anybody else. In fact, he chose the Ford for his 2,500-mile family vacation to Oregon on three separate occasions. Edmunds justified his choice, "It has plenty of room for the four of us to stretch out, still more room for our stuff and there are plenty of toys to keep the miles from wearing us out. We'll put the navigation system, satellite radio, Sync iPod connection, Bluetooth connection, rear DVD screen and built-in cooler to good use." Edmunds added, "For me, the Flex is a good candidate to replace our personal minivan when it finally wears out."

We spent two-and-a-half years with the 2009 Ford Flex. With time our goal of 100,000 miles faded away, as we reluctantly decided to sell the Ford to buy another long-term test car. But after 72,000 miles of ownership the Flex proved quite affordable to keep on the road.

Basic service averaged $52 at each suggested 7,500-mile interval, which included a handful of do-it-yourself undertakings. Add in tire replacement and brake jobs and over its lifetime the Ford cost us a total of about $73 per month to maintain. We should note that without some DIY the cost would be somewhat higher. The only time our Flex spent out of commission was in a body shop after being struck by a careless motorist. All told, this was a very positive maintenance experience.

Total Body Repair Costs: $815 (paid by at-fault party)
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 29 months): $520
Additional Maintenance Costs: $1,600
Warranty Repairs: Replace brake light actuator, Sync update
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace four tires, front brake pads and rotors, rear brake pads (twice) and rotors and battery
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 6 for routine service, 4 DIY services
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2 for brake light actuator and Sync update
Days Out of Service: 14 days in the body shop
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None

Performance and Fuel Economy
Performance at the track had no bearing on our decision to extend the Flex test, but we tested it anyway for supporting evidence. Between its first test at 1,000 miles and its final test more than two years and 72,000 miles later, the Flex got better.

Acceleration to 60 mph improved by 0.3 of a second. The Flex needed 8.0 seconds (with 1 foot of rollout) to reach 60 mph from a stop and completed the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds at 87.3 mph. Deceleration from 60 mph to a standstill shortened by 9 feet, to 120 feet, by test end. Slalom and skid pad results increased to 60 mph and 0.76g, respectively.

Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton complimented the Flex following testing. "It has smooth, crisp upshifts every time with linear power in each gear and no dead spots or dips. The long-travel pedal doesn't inspire confidence but the stopping distances do. Stops are some 25 feet shorter than the last Ford Edge we tested."

Our 2009 Ford Flex Limited held its own in the fuel economy department, averaging 20 mpg throughout our test. That was commendable considering it was at or near full passenger and cargo capacity most of the time.

Best Fuel Economy: 26.7 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 11.2 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 20.1 mpg

Retained Value
We wanted $18,500 for the Flex when it came time to sell. This seemed like a fair price between the $14,000 offer given to us by Carmax and the Flex's $23,966 Edmunds TMV® private-party resale value. Some time passed before we got a bite.

Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed recounted, "Friday afternoon I got a voicemail from a woman saying she was coming to see the Flex and bringing a cashier's check. The woman arrived with her husband. After the drive he said, 'We really like the car but we're wondering if you are flexible on the price. I have a check in your name for $18,000.'" Reed continued, "I said I wanted $18,500 for the Flex. He pulled out a roll of bills from his pocket and peeled off five big ones. We shook hands, they took the car's title and left."

We bought the 2009 Ford Flex in July 2008 for $37,658. This was discounted from its original MSRP of $42,080. And after 29 months and 72,000 miles it was gone. We absorbed 51 percent depreciation on the transaction.

True Market Value at Service End: $23,966
What It Sold for: $18,500
Depreciation: $19,158 or 51% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 72,459

Summing Up
Say "long-term Ford Flex" around these parts and two things come to mind. First, we wished the telescopic steering was an option on our 2009. Second, it was extremely comfortable to drive over long distances. Onboard features such as Sync and real-time traffic and weather solidified its role as our go-to road trip car. Until the Flex, we had not considered a 100,000-mile test.

We never achieved the six-figure odometer milestone but that didn't take anything away from the Flex. Its interior aged well. Its reliability was unquestioned. There wasn't much more we could ask. As a daily driver it sometimes felt oversized. But as a long-distance cruiser, the 2009 Ford Flex was second-to-none in our long-term fleet. This was a great car. We'll miss it.

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.