2009 Ford Flex
Crossover takes boxy design to the extreme
New York, NY–Certain vehicles make a statement: think Ferrari, Lamborghini, the Dodge Viper and even the Pontiac Solstice. And now, the 2009 Ford Flex joins that group.
The statement is obvious for some of the abovementioned vehicles - they shout performance/wealth/freedom when they're driving down the street - but the all-new Flex is open for interpretation.
For some the boxy ride screams "overgrown lunchbox on wheels." For others it may look like a laudable cubic step away from full-size conformity. Either way, when compared with other three-row family haulers, of the crossover or minivan variety, the Flex's angular design is a cold-water shock to the system.
Designing for the future
"We did have a lot of pushback, or perhaps nervousness, about its shape," said Peter Horbury, Ford's North American design chief, while riding along in the Flex at a recent preview event in New York. "Although there are always (consumer) studies, there's professional gut feel involved - we're designing for the future, not now."
Related: Ford Flexes its muscles
The Flex's key styling cues, outside of its overall boxy proportions, are what Ford labels "character groove lines," horizontal slats along the four doors and rear hatch that are meant to evoke the feeling of the classic "woodie" wagons, but in a modern design.
Bright modern interior
The interior is more sophisticated than radical, with a blend of bright modern accents, and traditional luxury. Real wood accents the steering wheel of the Limited model. The Limited also allows the driver to choose from seven interior lighting hues to illuminate the front cup holders and footwells.
The available Sync system is a marvel that lets you control your stereo and iPod without ever touching either one (after your iPod's been synced, that is). It will also read out text messages, and you can even reply with 20 standard texts of your own, all without touching your phone - if you take the time to learn Sync's ins and outs.
Yet what's most surprising to those who remember Ford Tempo interiors nearly 15 years ago is an overall quality feel that could easily do a Lincoln proud, at least in the Limited trim. Even in the pre-production models we test drove, there were no squeaks, rattles or quality snafus.
High-end options include a rear backup camera, part of the $2,500 navigation system package, rear DVD screens and a massive rear sunroof ($1,700) that allows for lots of mood-enhancing natural light/vitamin D.
Considering the thought that obviously went into making the second row buckets user friendly, the Flex was obviously designed as a six-seater, although a second row bench is also available.
The second-row dual captain's chairs fold with the touch of a button, and the seats move back and forth so they can be adjusted for adult-size legroom in both rear rows. Unfortunately, if you opt for the no-cost second row bench, you lose both of these capabilities to gain one more seat.
Up front, the passenger seat folds flat, while the third row disappears into the floor minivan style - in a similar fashion to the handy Stow 'n Go system in Dodge/Chrysler minivans - although not the second row does not.
Speaking of the seats, the driver's perch seemed fairly comfortable in my first hour-long stint behind the wheel, yet after a similar length of time in the back seat both front and second row buckets needed to be continually adjusted in search of comfort.
Fridge adds to functionality
Ford's interior design team's biggest party trick is a small, but useful, refrigerator/freezer which uses a compressor to chill the air just like a beer fridge. This cooling system sets it apart from other automakers that offer chilled storage areas cooled by the vehicle's air conditioning.
The fridge slides in between the second row buckets, so again you're out of luck if you opt for the seven-seat version. The bin holds about seven cans of soda, so it won't replace the long-weekend cooler, but the temperature can also be set as a freezer, which cools beverages quicker on short trips.
A new backlit keyless entry keypad, embedded in the all-black pillars, no longer mars the Ford's doors with buttons, but ensures you'll never lock yourself out again. In my opinion, other carmakers should swallow their corporate pride and copy this feature.
Good fuel economy for boxy design
Under the skin you won't find many differences between the Flex, Edge and Taurus X. The same 3.5-litre V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission propel all three, making 262 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque in the Flex. The rear suspension has been modified slightly to tackle the Flex's higher 2,041-kg towing capacity.
The front-wheel drive Flex is rated at 12.6 L/100 km in the city and 8.4 on the highway, with the AWD version coming in at 13.5 city, 9.2 hwy. Fuel figures are competitive with other three-row, non-hybrid crossovers in the class.
Its boxy shape suggests it would use more fuel in real world use, but on the other hand, we all expected lots of wind noise on the highway from this stretched Rubik's Cube-on-wheels' profile, and it was surprisingly subdued.
All-wheel drive optional
List prices are neck and neck with the Taurus X, its ultra-conservatively styled fraternal twin, with the Flex starting at $34,999 for the front-wheel drive SEL, the Limited starts at $40,999; all-wheel drive is a $2,000 option for both models. Unfortunately, Canadians may build the Flex in Oakville, Ont., but we don't get the best price: south of the border the entry-level SE model starts at less than $30,000.
The 2009 Ford Flex may be boxy and, to some, even a bit foxy, but inside it's packed with innovative features fit for a family looking for a practical hauler. The Flex is a daring design move by one of the most conservative automakers in the business.
Here are the salient points and overall rating of this new model, as established by our reviewer:
Summary - 7.5/10
- A design that's definitely outside the box for Ford
- High-quality interior; quiet for its size and shape
- A fridge, push button second-row folding seats and integrated keyless touchpad
- Hard to get comfortable in front and rear seats
- Second-row bench loses flexibility with captain's chairs
- No sub-$30,000 base model as in the U.S.
A 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold for $1.3 million. Do you think classic cars were made better than modern rides?
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- Yes, the quality of cars from the 1960s and '70s is the best
- No, modern technology makes cars better today
- Maybe, it's hard to say since most Canadians get a new car every 10 years