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.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ Memory Lane
An Olympic Journey Day 1
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
October 05, 2008
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.
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.