2009 Ford Flex First Drive

2009 Ford Flex First Drive

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (5)
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2009 Ford Flex Wagon

(3.5L V6 6-speed Automatic)

Finally, Some Flex Time

Think you know everything about the 2009 Ford Flex? Oh yeah? Did you know that the sarcophagus-shaped crossover thingy was named after a battery-powered Braun shaver? Did you know, in fact, that this is the third in a line of recent Ford vehicles (after the Fusion and Edge) named for shaving products?*

Further, have you noticed that some major Ford executives are conspicuously light on body hair? Coincidence?

The above is not actually true (except, creepily, for the lightly haired execs). We mention this because we reckon we've mentioned just about everything else about the non-minivan Flex over its long gestation. We've described its minivanlike size. We've explored the way vintage vacuum cleaners inspired its door panels. We've admired it. We've ridiculed it. We've sat in every one of its seating positions. We've even looked under the hood for no really good reason.

The only thing we hadn't done to this point is actually drive the 2009 Ford Flex. Now we have, although under the limited time constraints of a manufacturer-sponsored cattle drive of media representatives.

So, well, it drives nicely.

Oh, you wanted more detail on that? OK. The experience of driving or riding in the 2009 Ford Flex is more serene than you might anticipate, given Ford's previous family-truckster efforts. Not that we're naming names -- such as Windstar, for example.

The triumvirate of truckster nastiness -- noise, vibration and harshness -- has been dealt a mighty blow by Ford engineers. Or at least it's sustained a bothersome gash. The Flex's standard 262-horsepower 3.5-liter Duratec V6, which has a history of sounding and feeling a bit grainy in the upper rpm range, doesn't upset the calm of the cabin except at wide-open throttle. Otherwise, it's happy to hum away in the background, drawing no more attention to itself than a refrigerator compressor.

The six-speed automatic transmission (another major Flex component also used in the two-row Ford Edge utility) shifts smoothly and solidly. As in the Edge, the transmission (jointly developed by Ford and General Motors) has no facility for manual shifting. This omission is likely to upset almost no potential buyers.

Limited Appeal
By pure dumb luck we ended up driving a Limited version of the Flex. (There are also SE and SEL models.) It comes with the big 19-inch wheels as standard equipment, although you're more likely to have seen the 20-inchers that will be optional on the Limited a few months after the vehicle goes on sale this summer.

It's the Limited -- and only this version -- that gets laminated front door glass in addition to the laminated windshield with which every Flex is equipped.

The result is an impressive absence of wind noise. Plus whatever slap, roar or sizzle the 20-inch Hankook tires might make is almost entirely blocked from the cabin.

The Inside Lines
Devoid of any gimmicks or crazy whirly-cues, the interior seems restrained and yet contemporary. The simple upright center stack has a silvery finish that calls to mind a current Volvo. A band of woodlike material along the upper dash warms up the joint a bit, and its largely uninterrupted span gives the interior a sense of spaciousness.

While the diamond-pattern, perforated leather upholstery of the seats in our Limited model doesn't really suit our particular aesthetic sensibilities, it indicates an effort to give the interior some distinction. Materials quality is at least on the level of the GM Lambda three-row utilities (Acadia, Enclave and Outlook), and it's a far cry better than the bargain bin that is the Dodge Grand Caravan's interior.

Actually, we don't have too many bad things to say about the rear of the cabin, either. Ford has given the second-row passengers all of the extra room that came along with this stretched Taurus X platform and its 5-inch-longer wheelbase.

The third row is not a horrible place to pass time either, certainly not compared to the torture chambers that pass for third rows in some midsize SUVs.

Not on Crack
When we first heard Chief Engineer Gary Boes say that the Flex has only as much body roll as a BMW 3 Series, we said under our breath, "Whatever." After driving the Flex on a loopy little road in and around Greenwich, Connecticut, we're still saying, "Whatever," but we at least see where he's coming from.

As if the styling isn't enough to differentiate the Flex from workaday crossovers and stroller-toting minivans, Ford has been eager to make the driving experience something unexpected. And, indeed, for a big ocean-going passenger liner of a vehicle, the Flex is pretty damn composed through bends. It's not that the Flex ever lets you forget its claimed 4,661-pound heft. It's just that the horizon line outside the windshield isn't bobbing and lurching the way it normally does in a six- or seven-passenger vehicle.

Of course there is a price to be paid for this body control. The ride is quiet and rarely jarring, but it is noticeably firm by family vehicle standards. Since the suspension settings for the MacPherson strut and multilink independent rear suspension are common across all Flex models, the SE with its 18-inch tires might theoretically have an advantage in ride quality.

Quicker Than Stationary Things
There was a time when a 9-second jaunt to 60 mph was more than quick enough for a family truckster. But we live in an age where an otherwise lifeless Toyota Camry can crank out a 6.6-second sprint. Nine seconds is now slower than a top-of-the-line minivan.

It's not that the Flex is really too slow for its lot in life -- 9 seconds is probably quick enough. In fact, we suspect that these days, many owners of new minivans would give up some spunk for a little more fuel economy. But the Flex's relative lack of thrust is a little incongruous with its tied-down suspension.

Should you want to humiliate a Honda Odyssey in a boulevard drag race, you're going to have to wait until next year when the twin-turbo, direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 sneaks onto the Flex's options sheet. The 340-hp so-called EcoBoost mill should make the Flex the undisputed badass of the day care circle drive.

That Explains a Few Things
We're not sure that we have anything to say about the look of this particular ribbed consumer product that we didn't say in our First Look.

Still, we did find out that in addition to a potentially unhealthy fascination with old vacuum cleaners, Chief Designer Rich Gresens also once sold Saabs and designed a concept vehicle for noted Swiss weirdo Frank Rinderknecht of Rinspeed.

This crazy scuba-gear-colored, hovercraft-carrying, no-door-having Rinspeed X-trem makes the Flex look as outrageous as a 1991 Toyota Camry.

The Tally Sheet
One thing that we haven't addressed with any depth previously is pricing. Sure, we noted that the base price of the 2009 Ford Flex will be $28,995 (including $700 destination charge). Naturally this price is for the front-wheel-drive SE. Paint this bad boy white and it'll look like one of those plumber's vans from Europe.

So come along with us as we belly up to the Flex options sheet like it was a dee-luxe buffet. To start, we want the Limited version with all-wheel drive because, well, because we do. With this highest-end trim level you get a power tailgate, memory seats, power-adjustable pedals, HID headlamps and silly multicolor changeable interior ambient lighting along with the exterior shiny bits that will captivate simple-minded rubes. That's going to run $37,255 with the destination charge, just to start.

We'll add the towing package ($570) because we plan on buying something that weighs up to 4,500 pounds sometime soon. We're going to throw in the second-row heated reclining seats for $870. And because we firmly believe that when an automaker offers a true compressor-driven refrigerator in a vehicle the shape of an overturned refrigerator, you're obligated to get it. The 5-quart fridge nestled between the rear seats costs $760.

Why stop there? We're going to need the $55 all-weather floor mats for reasons too depressing to get into here. We'd check the box for the DVD rear-seat entertainment center for $1,020. We dig the multipanel Vista Roof, too. So add $1,495. And what would the Flex be without the $395 contrasting roof color? Make ours "White Suede." We'd also order Sync for $395. We're going to want roof rack side rails ($100). Oh, and we want the navigation system with included back-up camera ($2,375), too. By the way, Ford hasn't yet priced the optional 20-inch wheels and they won't be available until late summer at the earliest.

Let's see, that'll be $45,190. Ouch. Well, maybe we'd take back the nav system and maybe rear-seat passengers don't really need warm butts. But we're keeping the fridge, dammit!

Comparison Shopping
Altogether this is about $5,000 more than a loaded Honda/Dodge/Chrysler/Toyota minivan. If you went hog wild, you could crank up the sticker of a GMC Acadia to $45,000 or so. A well-equipped Toyota Highlander Limited or Mazda CX-9 is in the low $40Ks. You'll have to work at it to get a Honda Pilot to top $40,000.

At least 70 percent of the vehicles listed above are really good. Based on our limited exposure, the 2009 Ford Flex seems competitive in terms of mechanical sophistication and available comfort and convenience items. But ultimately, you don't have to drive it to realize the Flex's appeal has as much or more to do with how it looks than how it functions.

But just so you know, it functions fine.

* Credit to Car Space member traveler73 for pointing out Ford's odd obsession with naming its vehicles after shaving products. What's next, the Venus?

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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