Ford refers to the Flex as a crossover – although it doesn't fit the conventional passenger car/SUV crossover mold. But it does bridge the gap between minivan and station wagon so that may be an apt description.
In some guises it can also be equipped with all-wheel-drive, allowing it to wander into SUV territory in that respect. Regardless of the label, this is a big, commodious seven-passenger vehicle with a distinctive – very distinctive – design.
When Ford unveiled the Flex to a stunned audience in 2008, the boxy shape was – and continues to be unique. Nobody before or since has produced anything similar.
While it hasn't been a huge sales success, it does appeal to folks looking for a very roomy vehicle, perhaps mostly to those who wouldn't be seen dead driving a minivan.
The Flex is available in SE, SEL, Limited and Titanium trim levels, the latter two with all-wheel-drive. All models received a mild mid-cycle makeover for the 2013 model year.
While they don’t exactly scream new, the changes are evident when new and old models are parked alongside each other. The front end gets a new grille and, instead of the usual prominent Ford oval, F – L – E - X is spelled out across the width.
The headlights are new and a trio of bars and a single wide bar span the distance between the fog lights. The slab sides remain, but out back there are now dual exhaust outlets.
The interior has also been revised for 2013 with a new steering wheel, seats and trim. Sync is standard and combined with the newest version of MyFordTouch, with a pair of 4.2-inch screens in the instrument panel in front of the driver and an eight-inch screen atop the centre stack. The twin LCD screens replace multiple buttons and knobs.
The new system is a definite improvement, but it's still less than intuitive and at times, slow to respond. While the system does respond to voice commands, I prefer to use the controls on the steering wheel to control the climate, navigation and entertainment functions.
While the Flex is all about the exterior shape visually, it is all about the interior packaging when it comes to daily use. Like a refrigerator or freezer, a boxy shape is just the trick when it comes to creating the maximum amount of room.
The first row of seats features the usual pair of roomy buckets. The second row is a real treat with absolutely massive amounts of head and legroom and. Unlike many tree-row vehicles, the third row has enough space to accommodate adults.
There are 566 litres of space behind the third row, 1,224 litres with it folded and a cavernous 2,355 litres with second and third row seats folded.
My loaded test vehicle had electric motors to stow the 50/50 split third row seats at the touch of a button located inside the big hatch door. They can also be raised into position with the same switch.
Getting into that third row is relatively easy thanks to second row seats that flip, fold and slide out of the way. But the second row is the star here due to its limo-like 1120 mm of legroom. The seat back is split 40/20/40 and in my test vehicle a refrigerated centre console served to keep beverages or sandwiches cool.
EcoBoost V-6 engine
Another area where the Flex excels is in the availability of Ford’s EcoBoost V-6 engine. This twin-turbo, direct-injection unit belts out prodigious amounts of power, behaving like a V-8 in the process while sipping fuel like a six.
With a whopping 350 lb-ft of torque available from only 1500 rpm up there is no need to bury the throttle or downshift when accelerating, passing or climbing hills.
The standard 3.5-litre V-6 produces a respectable 285-horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. But the EcoBoost unit boasts 355 horses and that impressive 350 lb-ft of readily available torque.
As is usually the case, my fuel-consumption numbers bore little relationship to those supplied by Transport Canada. Part of this is due to the hilly real-world, real estate I drive on, but the main difference is my heavy right foot. An additional factor in this case is that the Flex is no flyweight at 2173 kilos.
Mixed road manners
The Flex's six-speed automatic transmission performs flawlessly and the AWD system apportions power appropriate to the level of grip.
There is the ability to select a "sport" mode and use the paddle shifters if you are so inclined, which you might be because this process results in more aggressive shifts at higher rpm, altered steering and the sudden appearance of a tachometer in the LCD display
The suspension has been revised for 2013 with more emphasis on handling but the ride/handling equation remains decidedly tilted to the ride side. But, with its lower centre of gravity, the Flex feels more carlike than taller SUVs and exhibits less tendency to lean in the corners.
My tester had low profile 20-inch tires and, while the short sidewalls allowed the electric power steering to respond immediately to inputs, the lack of absorption meant sudden surface changes were passed along immediately and harshly.
Ford interiors are always well done with excellent fit, finish and material quality. The Flex also gets kudos for exceptionally low levels of road and wind noise. Changes for the 2013 model include additional sound deadening in numerous areas from shock absorber towers and behind the instrument panel to the rear wheel wells.
Built in Oakville, Ontario, the Flex remains a valid alternative to more traditional vehicles for those who want lots of room but don’t want to drive a conventional wagon or minivan.