Ford Flex, 2013: New minivan standard for saddle shoes on wheels

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Now in its fourth year, the Ford Flex has undergone substantial changes for 2013. While its long, flat roofline remains, the front and rear grille, tailgate and insignias have all been changed.

The interior of the Flex has also been substantially amended. The new Ford signature SYNC/MyFord Touch electronic dashboard and driver interface, already in siblings Focus, Edge and Explorer, has been added.

Additionally, horsepower has been increased from a base of 262 to 285. Manual-shifting capabilities for the six-speed automatic have been added and there’s a more modern three-spoke steering wheel. There’s also the EcoBoost edition with 365 horsepower and all-wheel drive.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

I first drove the Ford Flex for a week four years ago in Missouri. Like other uniquely designed new vehicles (Nissan Cube, Scion XB come and Volkswagen Beetle come to mind), the Ford Flex’s rectangular shape (201.8 inches long, 68 inches wide) and its signature two-tone exterior mean one thing.

The 2013 Ford Flex. Images © James Raia/2013
The 2013 Ford Flex. Images © James Raia/2013

The long box on wheels doesn’t get too far down the road without unsolicited stares or comments. This time, I drove the EcoBoost edition. It’s a cavernous beast, for sure, and thus there are plenty of potential problem areas for wind rush. Few were experienced.

It’s not luxury driving with no influences from the outside world — like when 18-wheelers pass. But the Ford Flex is a sanctuary for its category. Roll up all the windows, crank up the stereo or CD player, and it might as well be the only vehicle on the road.

Because of its long wheelbase, the Flex offers a smooth, steady drive. But because of its size and weight, a few times while approaching stoplights or stop signs at medium speeds, the brakes seemed soft and I had to apply harder pressure than anticipated.

The second and third rows of seats lay flat when not in use, offering a cavernous back cargo area, good for lots of suitcases, groceries, etc. The front passenger seat also folds forward and flat, further expanding the superior cargo area.

The second row features independent seats with a mini refrigerator-sized space between the seats. Skis, lumber, fishing pools will all fit length wise without issue. And the space is ideal for a “mini fridge,” too. There’s a reason. A small refrigerator is available as an option.

In addition to its shape and overall size, the Flex grabs attention for its color scheme. With its off-white roof, the Flex has the appearance of saddle shoes on wheels.

As its name suggests, my Flex used flex fuel or Ethanol E85 — as an option. It’s an alcohol-based fuel made up of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent petroleum. The E85 is not required but it is substantially cheaper — and not always readily available.

In the Sacramento area, I researched and found nine locations for E85. At the Propel station where I purchased fuel, only credit cards were accepted since the E85 was sold in a leased mini service area as a boutique location of a large, full-service Shell location. The E85 was 70 cents per gallon less than the higher-octane gasoline recommended.

Likes:

Smooth ride.

Spacious interior with panoramic view.

Unique styling stands out in the crowd.

Strong acceleration for segment.

Nimble maneuverability for its size.

Dislikes:

Some Ford marketing material references the Flex as a six-passenger vehicle, other manufacturer information touts it as a seven-passenger vehicle.

Automatic rear door opener should be on the door as well as key fob.

More E85 locations needed.

Facts & Figures: 2013 Ford Flex

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, unavailable.
Airbags (8).
First aid kit: No.
Fuel economy: 16 mpg (city), 23 mpg (highway).
Government Safety Ratings: NHTSA, Frontal crash (Driver, passenger, not rated); Side crash (front, rear seat), not rated; Rollover, four stars; IIHS, Frontal offset, good; side impact, good; rear impact, good; strength, good.
Horsepower: 285
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $43,850.00
Manufacturer’s Web site:
Price As tested: $49,790.00
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“Regardless of which model suits your fancy, Flex delivers good handling and refined overall behavior. This is a large, comfortable people mover that merits attention in its class.” — Consumer Guide

“The Ford Flex is a compelling alternative to a minivan or large SUV because it offers smart styling, generous interior room, and a pleasant driving experience.” — Automobile Magazine

“The 2013 Ford Flex has the space, the versatility, the features and the driving dynamics to make it a top choice among large family crossovers.” — Edmunds.com

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“There aren’t many family size vehicles worthy of consideration for single drivers or two-person families. But the Flex joins the Honda Odyssey as one of the keen choices despite its lack of strong gas mileage.”

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