Ford Flex is a new model that represents a sixth entry in Ford's already extensive lineup of people and cargo-carrier vehicles, joining Escape, Edge, Taurus X, Explorer, and Expedition on the showroom floor.
All Flex vehicles have three rows of seats, with a standard 2-3-2 layout or optional 2-2-2 layout. Under the skin, and in all functional aspects, Flex is identical to Taurus X. This makes it a passenger car, as opposed to body-on-frame truck, and gives it the basic stance and driving characteristics of a conventional car.
Three-row seating makes Flex larger and roomier than Escape or Edge. Its passenger-car platform makes it lower and more carlike than Explorer or Expedition. Those choosing Flex do so for a variety of reasons: They need something roomier than Escape or Edge. They don't either want or need the higher seating positions and trailer towing capabilities of Explorer or Expedition. They want something more distinctive and stylish than Taurus X. The tradeoffs are Flex being larger and thirstier than Escape or Edge, less rugged than Explorer or Expedition, and marginally more expensive than Taurus X.
A generation or two ago, Flex would have been called a station wagon. Those with longer memories might think of it as a modern version of Ford's venerable wood-sided Country Squire, with Taurus X being a slightly lower-level Country Sedan. In official releases, Ford is careful to refer to Flex as a crossover, which at this stage could mean just about anything. In an interesting attempt to set things straight, Ford design chief J Mays recently went ahead and called Flex a station wagon, which surely sent PR personnel scurrying but went a long way toward clearing the air. Call it a station wagon, for that's physically and functionally what it is.
The most direct competitors for the Flex are the Chevy Traverse, Saturn Outlook, GMC Arcadia, and Buick Enclave (all built on GM's Lambda platform), plus the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. These competitors are quite different from the Flex in a variety of ways, so it's a good idea to shop them all to understand what each has to offer.
Projecting ahead, it's reasonable to assume Flex's ultimate success in the marketplace will depend less on the vehicle and its merits than the future price of fuel. Flex is a large and spacious vehicle that most would casually look at and assume to be pretty thirsty. Appearances aside, let's review at the numbers.
On recommended 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline, official EPA city/highway ratings for a front-wheel drive Flex are 17/24 mpg. An all-wheel-drive Flex comes in at 16/22 mpg. In a combination of city and highway driving, and driven as a station wagon might normally be driven, we observed averages in the 20-23 mpg range. Our test Flex AWD, driven steadily at 70 mph on a flat road, delivered instant readouts of 27-28 mpg. All this suggests that due to an advanced engine management system, sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission and comparatively tall gearing, Flex is more fuel-efficient than its size and mass might suggest. The question then becomes whether you can live with real-world fuel consumption somewhere in the 20-23 mpg range. If yes, Flex represents a stylish, elegant, comfortable and versatile choice.
The 2009 Ford Flex comes in three trim levels. All come with a 262-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. A choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive is available.