2009 Ford Flex Limited: 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 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.
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.
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.
Source Selection: A
iPod Integration: A
Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology