2009 Ford Flex Limited: 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