06.01.2010: Road Test 2010 Text & Images: Iain Shankland
The first time I actually got to see the Flex in person was at the 2008 Canadian International Auto Show. Superstar designer Chip Foose was introducing his version of
Road Test 2010 Text & Images: Iain Shankland
The first time I actually got to see the Flex in person was at the 2008 Canadian International Auto Show. Superstar designer Chip Foose was introducing his version of the Flex along with the Foose F-150. My wife decided right then and there that the Ford Flex was going to be her next vehicle. Did Chip (the man who she says puts the “magic” in magic markers .. have you seen this man draw!?) influence her decision or was it the funky look of the Flex? I don’t know, but I’ve never known her to make a decision on a vehicle in anything less than 9 or 10 months of constant point-counterpoint objections!!
The next time I got close to one was at the official launch of the Flex at Ford’s manufacturing plant just outside Toronto a couple of months later.
Is the Flex the vehicle that is going to save the Ford motor company in North America? On looks alone I wouldn’t bet against it. I love the look of it –it’s like the box the toy came in instead of the actual toy. Based on the number of transport trucks passing my door – all loaded with Flex’s – I can only assume American’s must love them too. There’s one little problem though… Ford already have the Taurus X (now discontinued) and the Edge on the showroom floor – do they need another CUV that has the exact same engine and transmission? I’ve driven the other two and came away quite impressed with them, what can the Flex do that the other two can’t?
Apart from the most obvious – the look – the Flex is more like the Taurus X than the Edge. The Edge offers seating for five, while the other two give buyers that option of a six or seven passenger configuration. Size-wise, the Flex is HUGE when compared to many other CUV’s on the road. It’s bigger than the Ford Explorer and I’d hasten to say that it’s fairer to be compared to a mini-van (Honda Odyssey/Dodge Grand Caravan) than a CUV/SUV. Since Ford binned the Windstar/Freestar a couple of years ago, that’s probably what they intended the Flex to replace. It makes sense – no one wants a mini-van, they all want SUV/CUV vehicles.
Sliding behind the wheel, I notice that the steering wheel is huge and very thick – a weird combination of a sports car/school bus steering wheel!! Getting in was very easy – almost a sit-down instead of a step-up that I was expecting. The dials are much better and more legible than the Edge. Starting the engine, the dials glow a very pleasant blue color. So far so good! After adjusting the power seat and mirrors, I press the memory button and get the confirmation that it’s stored. Why can’t all memory systems work like this? No rooting through the owner’s manual, no guessing – it just logically works.
It’s an ugly wet day, so I instinctively reach for the wiper stalk with my right hand and miss. My wife snickers (she drove it from Ford to our home). Ahh yes - the “Ford Wipers” located on the end of the turn signal instead of on the right like 99% of all other manufacturers. What was I saying about logic a moment ago?
On the road, the driver gets a commanding view of the road – somewhere between a car and 4x4 pickup truck viewpoint. It’s a perfect position because you see over all the cars and can still see through the window of most SUV/trucks ahead of you. The steering is light but not over-boosted. Power is acceptable, with the six-speed automatic transmission obviously geared for fuel economy.
I was caught out a couple of times when I was overtaking a slow moving vehicle on a two-lane highway. Expecting the usual leisurely but brisk acceleration, I punched the throttle only to have the Flex take off like a scolded cat!! The usual 80 – 100 km/h overtaking maneuver turned into an instantaneous 130 km/h move! Shocked and stunned would be an understatement. Ford are now offering the all-new 3.5 liter EcoBoost V-6 engine… in the Flex, so more get-up-and-go should be even more exhilarating with that option.
The Flex is very quiet on the highway making long distance drives very pleasant and relaxing. Even with its brick-like shape, the wind noise was extremely muted. The seats don’t look particularly outstanding in the comfort department, but in reality they are very deceiving. Not once did I notice a hint of discomfort – quite the opposite really.
The test vehicle had leather seats, so the very much appreciated seat heaters worked a charm – we had plenty of chances to use them as we had below freezing temperatures the entire week. The heating system was less than ideal however. Upper body heat was plentiful, but the foot/lower area was not particularly great. The climate control is very easy to understand and use at a glance, with separate controls for each front occupant and in the case of the test vehicle – the rear passengers also get their own temperature control – if the driver lets them.
The audio system was a hit-and-miss affair… neither of us liked the Sync system. Unless you spring for the SatNav system, there is no screen to take full advantage of its options. Even after perusing the owner’s manual and the Sync manual I couldn’t figure out how to load or even access the hard drive. Loading CD’s into the 6-disc changer is easy enough and plugging my MP3 player in and accessing that was simple enough too, but to be honest I’d give it a pass. Chrysler does a much better job with the MyGig system.
The USB plug is inside the centre console/armrest of the Flex and therefore nice and easy to access, but any time we hit a bump, the player would move minutely and the connection was severed requiring us to listen to the same songs all over again. I gave up on it and just used my CD’s. The Flex comes with Sirius Satellite radio and its own dedicated button. Having mostly used XM radio in the past we thought we’d give Sirius another shot – for about 20 minutes. Why people would want to waste money on a subscription to satellite radio just bogs my mind – its crap.
The sound quality from the optional Sony sound system (390-watts, 7.1 Surround Sound and 12 speakers) was spectacular on some CD’s and less than ideal while listening to others, so I can’t honestly say whether it’s worth spending the additional funds on it. It certainly sounded much better at very high volumes versus lower levels.
The suspension on the Flex is soft and willowy during highway cruising, but when I made a point of really pushing it into corners and on-ramps it surprised me by hugging the corners much better than expected. I’d never compare it to a Mustang, but it held its own against my wife’s Mazda5 which is a little sportier than most cars. The intelligent All-Wheel Drive system worked flawlessly taking us through some deep snow drifts without any fuss or wheel spin. The system can deliver torque to all four wheels even before the wheels start to slip, and can send up to 100% to either axle.
Like the front seats, the second row seats are unexpectedly comfortable. Folding them for maximum cargo capacity is very easy – just lift a lever and the back tumbles forward laying flat. To return it to its upright position just lift the back into its previous position. The seats can move fore and aft up to 5 cm to give the middle row passenger more legroom, or to give third row occupants a little more room too.
Ford claim second row passengers have just under 18 cm of knee room and 112.5 cm of legroom and I wouldn’t argue those numbers. In either case, the second row space is cavernous with copious amounts of leg and foot space as well as plenty of headroom too. Sitting in the second row seat with the driver’s seat all the way back, I could easily cross my legs back there without touching the back of the seat! Because the front seats sit high there is tons of room under the seat – if you need that much room – i.e. Krusty the Clown - but otherwise most people won’t even take advantage of it.
The centre armrest/cooler is a mixed blessing – it can hold up to seven cans, but sits too high when using the Flex for moving cargo/big items. What could have been an enormous flat floor turns into an enormous floor with a big lump in the middle that you might damage with sharp objects (the wife really didn’t like the placement and was less than willing to consider the other alternative which would be the bench).
To be perfectly honest I think I’d get the Flex with a second row bench seat instead, which gives the added bonus of room for one more passenger. With a completely flat floor there’s more than enough room to put a family cooler on the floor and still keep the rear passengers happy.
Entry to the third row seating is as simple as it could possibly be – push a button on the side and the seat folds, and tumbles out of the way for easy entry. Floor space to get in and out is exemplary, as is the actual deed of doing so. It is as easy if not easier than 99% of all vans I’ve ever gotten in or out of. Once seated, the foot and leg space is adequate when the second row seat is all the way back in its track.
Headroom is more than adequate for adults and with the additional sunroofs back there you don’t get any feeling of being cramped or claustrophobic. The seat angle is quite good, but thigh support is a little on the short side (not an issue if you are used to driving a GM sedan). Leaving the last row is just a matter of reaching for the button and climbing out. No twisting or banging of head on ceiling required - superb!
Cargo capacity is outstanding and what you’d expect from the sheer size and shape of the Flex. With all the seats in the upright position for maximum passenger accommodations, the cargo area is 425 liters – 46 cm x 1,000 cm x 1,000 cm (depth x width x height). There is additional space under the third row seats approximately 30 cm x 1,000 cm x 15cm.
Folding the third row into the floor is just a matter pulling a couple of straps and tugging it into the floor – very easy and effortless. This opens up a good sized space 1,223 liters measuring 1,220 cm x 1,016 cm x 86 cm and with all of the seats folded for maximum storage the space is a very impressive 2,356 liters - 2.1 meters x 1,000 cm x 86 cm. Folding the front passenger seat forward will give you just shy of a whopping 3 meters (3,032 cm to be exact) inside the vehicle for long items.
I liked the Flex far more than I expected to. It’s more than just a funky looking vehicle – it’s very practical and has obviously been well thought out by the Ford designers. Surprisingly, my wife was less enamored with it than I was! While she still loves its quirky look, she felt it was too big for what she needs and has changed her mind about buying one.
Too bad, ‘cause I think it would be a great vehicle even though it is quite big for us. I would highly recommend the Flex to anyone that needs a minivan - or better still – to replace any SUV on the road today. It also offers respectable fuel economy for such a large and useful vehicle. With the new EcoTech V-6 engine, I’m going to have to book another week with the Flex in the near future.
Very comfortable seats Finally a CUV that is better than a mini-van Perfect family vehicle
Doesn’t take much to balloon the price Poor floor heating – bordering on non-existent
Immediate Competition: Honda Pilot, Mazda CX9, Toyota Highlander
By The Numbers…
Pricing for the 2010 Ford Flex SEL AWD: Base price: $36,999 Cdn As tested: $44,129 Cdn Destination & Delivery: $1,300
Please visit your local dealer for the latest prices and incentives. For more information visit: www.Ford.com or www.Ford.ca
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