It is 0-dark-400 and five degrees below zero as I exit my garage on a recent Saturday morning. A golden full moon dances above the northwest horizon as I point this week’s Ford Flex down the long ribbon of interstate that will deposit me in southern Massachusetts later in the morning.
I’ve washed the top layer of winter crud off the silver Ford’s flanks so you can once again recognize this wagon’s unique styling statement — a bold presence that really tends to grow on you the longer you admire the details and the scope of the big Flex. For the next four hours and 40 minutes I’ll have plenty of time to contemplate the pluses and minuses of my second Flex experience in six months.
The Flex is one component of a strategy that recognizes a) Ford has not been very good at selling minivans, and the segment is sliding downward anyway, and b) Ford needs a car-like family-style wagon to attract buyers migrating out of Explorers and Expeditions.
In that context, the Flex is a big success.
At 202.3 inches long the Flex is exactly as big as the latest minivans. With three commodious rows of seats inside, there is room for six or seven occupants — just like most minivans.
But at over 4,700 pounds the Flex weighs more than any minivan and as much as the truck-like Explorer. This girth has two effects. Combined with the lengthy 117.9-inch wheelbase, the Flex displays a supple ride, a very comfortable ride that makes long highway jaunts like my adventure to Massachusetts pass very quickly. Path accuracy is superb and the car tracks down the highway without confusion.
The trade-off, however, is that the Flex lacks some of the handling agility that some buyers have come to expect with several recent crossover wagon renditions. Chevy’s new Traverse (and GMC’s Acadia) is similar in dimensions but feels much lighter on its feet and responds to driver inputs much faster than the Flex. And compared to Mazda’s similar CX9 the Flex is almost ponderous.
After an unplanned stop in Kennebunk I decide to skip adding fuel. This decision seems prudent as a later stop in Wakefield has Shell gas for 25 cents a gallon less than on the Maine Turnpike.
None of the aforementioned rivals has the Flex’s look-at-me styling. This is a box that has character. That doesn’t mean that everyone thinks that the Flex is pretty, yet the two-tone body with four glass roof panels, sleek side strakes, and big wheels filling the openings, give this wagon distinctive lines that few other cars can brag about.
Huge doors make ingress and egress simple — as long as you are not in a crowded parking lot. The big doors wrap under the threshold sills too, leaving a clean metal surface to drag your pant leg over — a blessing for sure in the dead of winter.
The Flex proved to be aptly prepared for winter Downeast as its optional AWD system never stuttered when I needed it. The car felt sure-footed despite wearing all-season tires as the all-wheel-drive hardware reacts quickly to wheelspin at any corner. Go heavy on the throttle and you can feel just as much power pushing the big Ford as there is pulling, making the Flex a confident companion as the white stuff flew all around.
Sharing its basic mechanicals with the shorter Edge sport utility wagon and the similarly themed Taurus X wagon (which is going to be discontinued when the new Taurus arrives this summer) the Flex is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 making 262 horsepower. A six-speed automatic is used whether you get a front-drive Flex or the AWD setup.
Here again, the Flex’s generous proportions enact a penalty. Fuel economy is a projected 16/22-mpg; my best mileage was just over 22 mpg with most of our miles together returning only 20 mpg. Some previously tested Explorers have achieved better mileage — with V-8 engines.
As I near Boston, traffic volume increases dramatically — as does the pace. Most drivers are very attentive and actually displaying appropriate lane discipline, even the old sport driving his dirty red Miata, top down, at five degrees. Near Brockton, close to my final destination, a car coming up the on-ramp doesn’t yield to traffic already on the freeway. The resulting collision collects two innocent drivers, wrecking one into the median and the other over the guardrail as other cars careen every which way. Everyone walks away with nothing more than coffee stains and darker pants.
Statistics tell us that drivers in the Northeast are among the most harried and most aggressive in the whole country. Too many drivers take for granted the physics of our modern vehicles while disregarding the rules of common courtesy as well as the road. What does that say about our culture?
Life with the Flex is not at all stressful. The car is spacious, comfortable, and can be equipped with amenities that will make any family’s long-distance travel an enjoyable and memorable affair. Can’t you just picture the Kodak moments?
In some ways, the Flex is really the replacement vehicle that Ford needs for the outdated Town Car. Huge cargo hold, roomy back seat, and a smooth ride ensure that this wagon should be the livery vehicle of the future.
With better fuel economy — Ford says the upcoming Eco-boost engines will help in that regard — and a bit less weight, the Flex would be a solid pick. As it is, the Flex deserves at least a look-n-see.
Next week: Hummer H3T
Just the Facts: Ford Flex
The midsize/full-size Flex crossover comes in three trim levels with front or optional AWD. Base SE starts at $28,995, SEL starts at $32,770, with the loaded Limited AWD starting at $37,255.
Maximum cargo space is 83 cubic feet with second- and third-row seats folded. Front passenger seat also folds flat.
Standard power is a 262-hp 3.5-liter V-6 backed by a six-speed automatic. EPA estimates are 16/22 with AWD.
Standard items include: 18-inch alloy wheels, wiper activated headlamps, outside temp display, steering wheel audio controls, keyless entry, middle row bucket seats and fog lamps. Options include Ford’s Sync system navigation, power liftgate, rear camera, four-panel moonroof system, 20-inch wheels, two-tone paint and heated second-row seats.