2013 Ford Flex
Base price: $30,885 – $39,230
As tested: $48,950
MPG: 17 city/24 highway
- Unique styling
- Refined, roomy inside and out
- Excellent safety features, crash test results
- Expensive with EcoBoost
- Polarizing style
- Some eco-look interior pieces
By Jim Prueter
It’s no secret that I’ve had a serious crush on the boxy Ford Flex since it arrived for the 2009 model year. Back then, I hailed Flex as a compelling alternative to driving a minivan or larger, traditional SUV.
Flex, of course, is the squared-off wagon-looking vehicle that evokes a love-it or hate-it reaction. In my case, it’s love. What Ford did was reinvent the family station wagon, popular in the ’50s and ’60s, with a look and design that excels in both form and function.
Flex is the slowest-selling vehicle in the Ford stable with just 27,428 sold last year, down from a little more than 34,000 the previous year. It also attracts the most loyal Ford purchasers (with more than 70 percent of Flex owners buying another Ford product) and “conquest” buyers (one out of every two customers who buy a Flex have never previously purchased a Ford). Flex sales peaked in 2009 at just 38,717 units and have declined steadily since. But Flex remains one of the most versatile, comfortable alternatives to driving a minivan or SUV for those who need a family hauler. Ford hopes the 2013 model will revive its anemic sales, high gasoline prices notwithstanding.
For 2013, Flex, which arrived this spring, has been freshened, most notably with a new single chrome bar grille fitting between two narrow black grille pieces, replacing the previous model’s chrome three-bar grille. Also gone is the huge 9-inch signature blue oval badge from the grille, replaced by oversized F-L-E-X lettering on the leading edge of the hood. You have to search the vehicle closely to find the small blue Ford oval on the lower corner of the rear liftgate.
While the overall look of the Flex remains instantly recognizable, the entire front end has a new, more rounded look including new headlamps and a restyled lower fascia with restyled air intake and fog lights. In back there’s new dual chrome exhaust tips and six all-new wheels types, including three 20-inch selections. A new appearance package, including a two-tone black roof, 20-inch machined wheels, leather seats, and other premium interior upgrades, is available on Limited and SEL models.
Along with other interior, safety, and technology improvements, there are changes for Flex under the hood. The base 3.5-liter V-6 gains 25 horsepower, bringing it to 287, and a slight improvement in fuel economy to 18 city/25 highway mpg for front-wheel drive versions and 17 city/24 highway mpg for all-wheel drive. The optional EcoBoost V-6 engine with 365 horsepower is unchanged for 2013.
Addressing concerns of Ford customers, the frustrating MyFord Touch and Ford SYNC systems have been reworked for ease of use. The touch-screen-based information, control system, and graphics have undergone a major overhaul that fixes most of the gripes. Graphics use bolder text, the information is more user-friendly, and the nagging touchscreen lag and voice recognition we’ve complained about all seems to have been fixed with the latest upgrade. In addition to the simplified interface and quicker performance, the phone compatibility, support for tablet computers and audiobooks, navigation maps, and destination entry have all improved significantly. There are also new twin LCD screens in the dash that replace the outdated analog gauges on past Flex models.
The interior has been upgraded with a new instrument panel gauge cluster, featuring a single analog speedometer and push-button starting system. The remarkably roomy interior, with its three-row seating that accommodates up to seven passengers, remains exceptionally comfortable and decidedly un-SUV-like. And while we’re impressed with the overall fit and finish, we think the piano-black effect on the center stack looks cheap and inconsistent with the rest of the otherwise high-quality appearance of the interior.
Flex still offers keyless entry, a refrigerated console for the second row, active park assist (automates the parallel parking process), and adaptive cruise control. For the first time, Flex is offering Ford’s new inflatable rear seatbelts, which were first offered on the recently redesigned Explorer. When deployed in a crash, the belts expand to protect an occupant’s body and help reduce injury.
We drove both a front-wheel drive and AWD Flex Limited with the EcoBoost V-6 engine that delivered a smooth, controlled, and well-tuned ride in a quiet cabin. Ford beefed up the brakes for 2013 and added electric power steering to the EcoBoost-powered models. Engine performance was excellent, with immediate power for getting up to highway speeds and highway passing. But if you’re looking for a high-mileage fuel-sipping family hauler, then Flex isn’t the car for you. We averaged a little more than 18 mpg during our testing.
Flex comes in three flavors — SE ($30,885), SEL ($33,225), and Limited ($39,230) — a choice of two engines, and either front or all-wheel drive. The 2013 model has not been crash tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the U.S. Department of Transportation as of this writing. However the very similar 2012 Flex earned a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.
Its design, while clearly not for everyone, is still fun and definitely unique. Ford says that 20 percent of Flex sales are in California, where most styling trends begin. Could it be that Flex is still catching on with the rest of the country? We remain fans and think it a terrific, fun vehicle, though under-appreciated.