Like its Detroit rivals, GM and Chrysler, Ford needs some popular products to revitalize its sales and profit figures. One possible answer to that quandary is the new Flex, which went on sale in early summer 2008.
Unlike most new unibodied "crossover" vehicles, which mix elements of a traditional sport-utility vehicle with those of a regular passenger car, the Flex eschews curves. Instead, it flaunts a boxy shape that Ford calls "provocative." Though it's not quite as squared-off as a Honda Element or the first-generation Scion xB, the Flex clearly does deviate from the contemporary-wagon norm.
Built on a 117.9-inch wheelbase and measuring 201.8 inches long overall, Flex is far bigger than an Element or xB. In fact, it's roughly equivalent in dimensions to the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe and Toyota Sequoia SUVs, though not nearly as tall.
In addition to fuel economy, Ford is promoting the Flex's available contemporary technologies. They include the recently-launched Sync system, voice-activated navigation with Sirius Travel Link, Sony premium sound, and even "EasyFuel" capless refueling.
Ford also offers a "class-exclusive" compressor-driven, refrigerated console. Mounted between the second-row captain's chairs, it can cool up to seven 12-ounce cans or two 20-ounce bottles. A rearview backup camera also is optional. Flex SEL and Limited models can get a multi-panel Vista Roof with four glass panels.
Under the Flex hood, Ford's 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops 262 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, mating with a six-speed automatic transmission. "Intelligent" all-wheel drive is available, capable of sending up to 100 percent of engine torque to either the front or rear axle.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives the front-wheel-drive Flex a fuel-economy estimate of 17 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. With all-wheel drive, the figures drop to 16/22 mpg. Regular-grade gasoline is used.
Flex comes in SE, SEL, and Limited trim levels, with seating for either six or seven occupants. Aluminum wheels hold 18-inch tires, except for 19-inch on the Limited.
Even though an average-sized person might be able to see over the top of the Flex, this is one big automobile. For that reason, the V-6 engine produces surprisingly assertive response, after just a moment of feeling a trifle heavy and ponderous. Automatic-transmission reactions also occur without fuss, suffering only the tiniest hint of truckiness. Exceptionally quiet running, the Flex accelerates energetically from moderate speeds. Stopping power and brake-pedal feel are good, too.
Exterior size is a benefit when it comes to passenger space, but a detriment when trying to parallel-park. The Flex is not an easy car to judge while parking, and determining where the wheels are takes a certain amount of guesswork. On the road, however, it stays neatly on course. Over-the-shoulder visibility is curtailed somewhat by headrests and pillars.
For a vehicle of this size, the Flex handles impressively well - not unlike a considerably smaller wagon, in fact. Ride quality also is satisfying, as the suspension absorbs most trouble spots, yielding a generally comfortable experience.
Passengers, as expected, enjoy voluminous space inside the Flex. Front seats are cushiony and well-formed, as well as supportive. Second-row occupants have ample leg space, and even the center position is reasonably comfortable. As in most vehicles, the third row is best accessed by the young and/or agile. Third-row seats fold down easily. Gauges are somewhat small, but easy enough to read.
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