2013 Ford Flex: Crossover adds power, styling, alternative fuel

Dan Jedlicka

The 2013 Ford Flex looks distinctive, but its boxy styling clearly signifies this is mainly a conservative family vehicle. But owners can stare when others try stuffing lots of people and cargo into a less-roomy vehicle. The Flex, which has front- or all-wheel drive, features three seating rows and can handle seven people when all seats are in an upright position.

The Flex has a long 117.9-inch wheelbase, which helps the ride, and weighs from 4,471 to 4,839 pounds, which takes away some of its nimbleness. Still, it feels like a typical carlike crossover vehicle.

Rivals include the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia,Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.

With the third-row seats in their upright position, there’s enough room for, say, a large family’s weekly supply of groceries, although the cargo opening is high. Move those seats completely out of the way and the cargo area becomes spacious.

The third-row seat is mostly for kids or for shorter adults on brief trips. In any case, it’s fairly easy to enter that seat because rear door openings are wide and the second-row seat slides forward to assist entry and exit.

List prices start at $30,885 for the base SE front-drive model, which has a power driver’s seat and rear parking aid. In the middle is the SEL. Its features include a power front passenger seat and heated front seats. It begins at $33,225 with front-drive. Then there’s the equipment-loaded Limited, which starts at $39,230 with front-drive.

The Limited has a keyless start and remote engine start, with leather seats, a premium sound system and convenient power hatch. It also has adjustable pedals, a good idea because some tall drivers with long legs will find—as with all Flex models—the driver’s seat doesn’t move back quite far enough. But front seats are supportive, and there’s a power driver’s seat and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel.

The SE isn’t offered with all-wheel drive and the SEL and Limited cost more with that feature. The most expensive Flex is the Limited with the “EcoBoost” turbo engine and all-wheel drive. It stickers at $45,440. If Flex buyers plan to carry heavy loads, the EcoBoost engine is the way to go.

All models have a responsive six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift control.

The Flex is loaded with comfort, convenience and safety equipment, including lots of air bags. The quiet, tasteful looking interior is even available with a refrigerator in a console between the second-row seats.

The interior has been made quieter, and major gauges in the revised dashboard are easy to read. However, the tachometer is small, but at least is put in a spot where it can be quickly read near the speedometer out of the corner of an eye. Climate control system controls are moderately large and fairly easy to use. There are plenty of interior storage areas and handy dual front cupholders. Rear windows roll all the way down.

Ford has given the Flex’s nicely geared but somewhat heavy steering a qucker ratio. It’s also revised the suspension and upgraded the brakes, which have nice pedal action. “Curve Control” technology results in safer cornering.

The suspension is on the firm side, but is supple and won’t tire out occupants on long drives. Handling is good as long as a driver doesn’t try to use the Flex like a sports sedan.

Besides the air bags, safety items include new adaptive cruise control with collision warning and a brake support system. Also offered are a back-up camera and a blind-spot information system. The inflatable rear seat belts are a nifty idea.

The standard 3.5-liter V-6, which was in my test Flex, has 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. It likes to rev and has a high 7,000 r.p.m. redline. Both city and highway performance are good. Ford’s spec sheet says this engine provides 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on highways with front-drive and 17 and 23 with all-wheel drive.

The base 3.5 engine has 25 more horsepower than last year’s V-6, but delivers slightly better fuel economy. It just needs regular-grade fuel.

The 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 in the highest-line Flex, which has all-wheel drive, delivers a rousing 365 horsepower and 350 pound/feet or torque. Its economy ratings are 16 city, 23 highway. Ford recommends premium fuel for this engine.

Ford has made the boxy Flex look a little sharper by giving it a more attractive front end. The $395 optional white two-tone roof made my test Flex look more attractive. And its 20-inch polished aluminum wheels went nicely with its polished dual chrome exhaust tips. Keep in mind, though, those wheels are a $995 option.

The hood smoothly glides up on twin struts and has inner insulation to help keep things quieter. The under-hood area is nicely designed, and fluid filler areas can be easily reached.

There’s much to like about the Flex, and I’d guess most buyers don’t mind it lacks sexy styling.

Pros: Carlike. Cosmetically and mechanically refreshed. Roomy. More power. Available all-wheel drive. Many comfort and safety features.

Cons: Third seat mostly for kids. Driver seat should slide back more. High cargo opening. Narrow front passenger footwell.

Bottom Line: The boxy styling won’t make neighbors jealous of the Flex crossover, but its functionality might.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for nearly 45 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

Article Last Updated: August 7, 2013.

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