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.
If you haven't made a cross-country road trip in the U.S., you're missing out. A Cannonball Run between shores is an epic adventure. Hollywood knows it, which is why we've had the Griswolds' Wagon Queen Family Truckster and the Clampetts' Olds Model 46 Roadster. Inside Line needed one, too, so we added a 2009 Ford Flex.
Our long-term test of the 2009 Ford Flex began like any other. Generate a list of the most noteworthy vehicles from the coming year. Narrow it to a short list of potential purchases. Sell off a car or two from the previous test year and use the proceeds to buy a new Ford Flex. There was no consideration given to trim level. The Ford Flex EcoBoost wasn't available in 2009 so we went straight to the Limited. But our first road trip in the Flex made it clear this durability test would be different than any before it.
Why We Bought It
Ford introduced the Flex as an all-new vehicle in 2009. Not to be confused with the Funkmaster Flex, this SUV was designed for all tastes. Ford's interpretation of minivan utility without the minivan stigma was successful. Our first drive of the Flex left a strong enough impression to earn it a place on our short list. The Flex offered more than just style. Its ride comfort, on-road stability and infotainment system deserved equal praise. We liked it. But there was more.
Time had finally tipped the balance of our editorial brew from single and child-free to more family-friendly in nature. For better or worse, the responsibility of wedding bands and soiled diapers forced our hand. Not to mention it left us with baggage. And we needed a car big enough to carry it all around. Rather than follow our hearts to another two-seater, we acted rationally. The addition of a Flex would accommodate our maturing households while maintaining the SUV-to-sports-car harmony within our test fleet.
We saw the Windstar and Freestar falter years earlier. What did the future hold for Ford's newest family mover? There was one way to find out. We purchased a 2009 Ford Flex Limited and introduced its 12-month/20,000-mile test on IL's long-term blog pages.
We drove the Flex everywhere. Its popularity as a road trip car spun the odometer at such a rate that we extended the test. For the first time in a long-term test, we set our sights on 100,000 miles. We drove it to visit family in Wyoming and Oregon. We drove it to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. We even drove it cross-country, twice. By test end our Flex had covered 24 states and one Canadian province.
Associate Editor Mike Magrath was first to request the Flex for multistate road trip duty. And he had to ask permission, being that such a trip would surely use up all of the new car smell. Magrath began, "My college roommate is getting married. Flights are expensive. Why don't I drive the Flex? South Bay to Back Bay. How about it?" He can be persuasive sometimes.
After 6,000 miles Magrath had many impressions and shared a couple anecdotes. "On the Flex as a bed: I tried sleeping in the Flex one night. I was hoping the backseats, folded flat, would make an acceptable bed. They don't. It was like sleeping on the floor of a dog's kennel. On the refrigerator: It's a neat idea but the execution here is a little lame. It keeps things very cold, but if you're going to give me a button that says freeze, the damn thing better freeze."
Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds spent more highway time in our Flex than anybody else. In fact, he chose the Ford for his 2,500-mile family vacation to Oregon on three separate occasions. Edmunds justified his choice, "It has plenty of room for the four of us to stretch out, still more room for our stuff and there are plenty of toys to keep the miles from wearing us out. We'll put the navigation system, satellite radio, Sync iPod connection, Bluetooth connection, rear DVD screen and built-in cooler to good use." Edmunds added, "For me, the Flex is a good candidate to replace our personal minivan when it finally wears out."
We spent two-and-a-half years with the 2009 Ford Flex. With time our goal of 100,000 miles faded away, as we reluctantly decided to sell the Ford to buy another long-term test car. But after 72,000 miles of ownership the Flex proved quite affordable to keep on the road.
Basic service averaged $52 at each suggested 7,500-mile interval, which included a handful of do-it-yourself undertakings. Add in tire replacement and brake jobs and over its lifetime the Ford cost us a total of about $73 per month to maintain. We should note that without some DIY the cost would be somewhat higher. The only time our Flex spent out of commission was in a body shop after being struck by a careless motorist. All told, this was a very positive maintenance experience.
Total Body Repair Costs: $815 (paid by at-fault party) Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 29 months): $520 Additional Maintenance Costs: $1,600 Warranty Repairs: Replace brake light actuator, Sync update Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace four tires, front brake pads and rotors, rear brake pads (twice) and rotors and battery Scheduled Dealer Visits: 6 for routine service, 4 DIY services Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2 for brake light actuator and Sync update Days Out of Service: 14 days in the body shop Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
Performance at the track had no bearing on our decision to extend the Flex test, but we tested it anyway for supporting evidence. Between its first test at 1,000 miles and its final test more than two years and 72,000 miles later, the Flex got better.
Acceleration to 60 mph improved by 0.3 of a second. The Flex needed 8.0 seconds (with 1 foot of rollout) to reach 60 mph from a stop and completed the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds at 87.3 mph. Deceleration from 60 mph to a standstill shortened by 9 feet, to 120 feet, by test end. Slalom and skid pad results increased to 60 mph and 0.76g, respectively.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton complimented the Flex following testing. "It has smooth, crisp upshifts every time with linear power in each gear and no dead spots or dips. The long-travel pedal doesn't inspire confidence but the stopping distances do. Stops are some 25 feet shorter than the last Ford Edge we tested."
Our 2009 Ford Flex Limited held its own in the fuel economy department, averaging 20 mpg throughout our test. That was commendable considering it was at or near full passenger and cargo capacity most of the time.
Best Fuel Economy: 26.7 mpg Worst Fuel Economy: 11.2 mpg Average Fuel Economy: 20.1 mpg
We wanted $18,500 for the Flex when it came time to sell. This seemed like a fair price between the $14,000 offer given to us by Carmax and the Flex's $23,966 Edmunds TMV® private-party resale value. Some time passed before we got a bite.
Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor Phil Reed recounted, "Friday afternoon I got a voicemail from a woman saying she was coming to see the Flex and bringing a cashier's check. The woman arrived with her husband. After the drive he said, 'We really like the car but we're wondering if you are flexible on the price. I have a check in your name for $18,000.'" Reed continued, "I said I wanted $18,500 for the Flex. He pulled out a roll of bills from his pocket and peeled off five big ones. We shook hands, they took the car's title and left."
We bought the 2009 Ford Flex in July 2008 for $37,658. This was discounted from its original MSRP of $42,080. And after 29 months and 72,000 miles it was gone. We absorbed 51 percent depreciation on the transaction.
True Market Value at Service End: $23,966 What It Sold for: $18,500 Depreciation: $19,158 or 51% of original paid price Final Odometer Reading: 72,459
Say "long-term Ford Flex" around these parts and two things come to mind. First, we wished the telescopic steering was an option on our 2009. Second, it was extremely comfortable to drive over long distances. Onboard features such as Sync and real-time traffic and weather solidified its role as our go-to road trip car. Until the Flex, we had not considered a 100,000-mile test.
We never achieved the six-figure odometer milestone but that didn't take anything away from the Flex. Its interior aged well. Its reliability was unquestioned. There wasn't much more we could ask. As a daily driver it sometimes felt oversized. But as a long-distance cruiser, the 2009 Ford Flex was second-to-none in our long-term fleet. This was a great car. We'll miss it.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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