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.