Sunday, September 26, 2010

2009-2010 Ford Flex SEL & Limited AWD

I'm still trying my best to get 2 reviews a week. Today is yet another crossover review.

Introduction: The Ford Flex was introduced in 2009 as Ford's replacement for the Freestar minivan. Unlike most crossovers, the Flex is Ford's attempt to combine the minivan and the SUV. Much of the whole design came from the 2005 Ford Fairlane concept, the differences between concept and production vehicle are minor. Initially Ford anticipated 100,000 units of sales for the Flex, unfortunately Ford hasn't come close to meeting this. Still Ford wants the Flex to live on despite its modest sales now offering incentives.

This is the first of the new Fords I've come across. I was glad it wasn't a minivan but I wasn't so sure about it as a crossover. I thought it looked interesting so at the minimum it seemed creative.

Performance: The Ford Flex is given 2 engines the standard 3.5L V6 which this review will be focusing on. The other engine is the Ecoboost 3.5L twin turbo V6, the same engine available in the Taurus SHO. The standard Duratech V6 produces 262 hp and 248 lb.ft of torque. On acceleration the Flex is capable of getting from 0-100 km/h in about 8.5 seconds. Considering how big and heavy it is, this is reasonable performance. The engine is particularly quiet on highway drives and overall is pretty smooth. Fuel economy isn't great but what did you expect from a vehicle this big. Despite being the base engine its a good one.

My Score: 8/10 - Reasonable performance, quiet and smooth.

Handling: There are small differences when you choose SEL and Limited, the SELs get 18 inch wheels while the Limited gets 19 inch wheels. Despite having rims this large, ride quality doesn't actually suffer. Due to its weight, its not able to take corners as quickly as cars can. If you push it, you'll feel the understeer very early. It does well for a vehicle that's heavier than 4500 lbs much to my surprise which might have to do with how short it is compared to SUVs of the same size. Steering is weighted well making it a pretty easy vehicle to drive. Its certainly nicer to drive than any minivan.

My Score: 7/10 - On the whole its pretty good at handling but its weight means it also suffers from major understeer in a corner.

Interior: One of the things you'll notice inside the Flex is how spacious it is. First things first, a lower range model will have the 6 seater arrangement, while a higher one will have a 7 seater arrangement. Both are fine, the 6 seater is just the easier one for getting people into the back as its layout is much like a minivan's with space in between the 2nd row unless you decide to have the 2nd center console added. With 7 seaters to enter the back you need to fold a seat, fortunately Ford thought of this and decided this should be done with a single push of a button. To put return the seats in position is very easy and straight forward, no muscle required. To fold the 3rd row its not electrically done like a Explorer but its still pretty easy by pulling the straps as indicated on the seats. The 3rd row is spacious enough for medium sized adults and since the Flex can still carry cargo they don't sit so close to the tailgate. The tailgate itself is rather heavy, but Ford again thought about this and made opening and closing easy with the use of a button. I didn't really find much difference between the cloth and leather seats, of course the leather is softer and smoother but neither is a bad choice. Driver control layout is much as what you would expect from a Ford, everything is pretty much where you'd expect it to be. Visibility isn't great I'm afraid, the D-pillars are particularly large but most Ford Flexs come with rear parking sensors which will help. Interior materials are of modest quality, none look or feel particularly awful. Build quality is very good, the Ford Flex is assembled in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. The most impressive thing about this interior is just how user-friendly it is, Ford hired someone who has made a crossover very easy to live with, everything annoying on most crossover interiors seems to have been addressed in the Flex.

My Score: 10/10 - I've never come across an interior that should be complicated to work out, made so easy with little effort to understand how everything is done. The overall interior is good, this just stands out as excellent interior design, because its so well thought out.

Styling: This appears to be the Flex's biggest problem when it comes to its sales. It does look a bit like its been shaped from a tetris block. Much of the exterior tries to emphasize how square it is. Some people think it looks particularly ugly, I'm not one of those. I think it looks alright, it just looks even better if you bought the rather expensive Titanium package where it looks a bit like a Range Rover. It may be polarizing, but I'd rather have a vehicle that tries too look different than your typical minivan.

My Score: 7/10 - Its a bit square but its more interesting than the shapeless blobs that many cars are.

Value for money: Sales for the Flex aren't as hot as Ford wanted so when it comes to value its going to start off well with employee pricing discounts. The Flex's target is primarily minivan drivers who don't want a boring vehicle to drive but still want much of the capacity and flexibility of a minivan. On this front the Flex does well, the interior is much easier to work out than any minivan I've encountered. The problem with most minivans, they require muscle to get their full use either by removing heavy seats or operating a rickety contraption that's in the floor. Unlike many crossovers it has room for full passenger capacity and some room for luggage like a minivan. The only places where the Flex does scare off people is the price and the styling.

My Score: 8/10 - A bit pricey if no discounts are available and it depends on how it looks to you, otherwise its the best alternative to a minivan.

Overall: 40/50 - A very good crossover, with a clever interior. If all crossovers were done like this, perhaps the minivan might be extinct.

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