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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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...
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?
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.