The Ford Flex muscled its way into dealerships for the 2009 model year, standing apart from other three-row offerings with its still-in-the-cargo-box styling cues. It’s shape actually goes back further, to the ’05 Detroit Auto Show, when Ford rolled out a Fairlane concept billed as a “minivan with desire.” Fortunately, Ford dropped that trope but also dropped the concept’s suicide doors. As Mick and Keith said, you can’t always get what you want.
But you can get what you need, and most of it is often found in a base model car. Let’s see what Ford’s seven-passenger rectangle has to offer frugal shoppers.
Under the flat-as-the-Prairies hood lives a 3.5-liter Duratec V6 that’s been around since forever, making 287 horsepower. It’s older technology so the Flex’s fuel economy stinks, rated at only 16 mpg in the city. However, its advanced age helps to lower some maintenance costs, meaning basic items such as the oil filter are cheap to buy. Just make sure to get the water pump done before the warranty runs out.
The base model front-drive Flex SE only offers a bench in the middle row; it’s not until higher-level trims does one have the choice of second-row buckets. This means a flop-and-fold ritual is required to access the third row. Second- and third-row ventilation registers gives backseat royalty the chance to play first-class airliner. Ford claims a full 20 cubic feet of space behind the third row, expanding to a cavernous 43 cubes when the third row is folded and the Flex is configured as a five-passenger conveyance.
Hooks in the cargo area for grocery bags are the example of a thoughtful detail that’s often sorely overlooked by other manufacturers. Another example of design kindheartedness? Ample and sturdy bottle holders reside in the doors for second-row riders. In fact, there are a total of 10 cupholders. Hey, this stuff matters in a seven-passenger ride aimed at families.
Pilots finding themselves in the operator’s station will discover a steering column which adjusts for reach and rake, a backup camera, and a reverse sensing system. Sync is included, but a jumbo in-dash touchscreen such as the one found with Sync3 is not. My sole gripe? Satellite radio is a $185 option. At least there are AUX and USB ports from which to source tunes. A CD player sticks around for 2018, too.
The sideview mirrors are heated on the base SE and the rearview mirror is of the automatic-dim variety, no doubt thanks to the wonders of economies of scale.
Squared off styling is a love it or hate it proposition, and is likely why Ford made the sensible decision of offering another three-row crossover in its showroom. I liked the Flex styling when it appeared all those years ago and still like it today. A monochrome roof and tailgate in the SE gives the Flex a solid appearance. The whole car is a fantastically derivative in a segment filled with “me-too” jellybeans. Dual exhaust tips poke out of the rear bumper and 17-inch painted aluminium rims help keep a lid on tire costs come replacement time.
Blue – not True Blue or even Bright Regatta Blue Metallic, just Blue – is my color of choice, as it is off the grayscale but still allows the bold F L E X badging to show itself on the leading edge of the hood. It’s a great styling detail harkening back to when the Blue Oval would affix chrome F O R D letters to the snout of their full-sized trucks.
Speaking of throwbacks, Ford stubbornly sticks to including a keyless entry keypad — a retro detail offering drivers the option to punch in a numbered code to unlock the doors even though every owner has a fob in their pocket with which to gain entry to their Flex. I think it’s tremendous. More than once I intentionally locked my keys in a keypad-equipped Ford so another person could pick up the car later on, such as when I have to drive myself to the airport for a Nothing O’Clock departure time.
Is it perfect? No. The absence of satellite radio in a 30 grand crossover is annoying, and Ford could be doing a better job of updating the interior by peppering it with a few more USB ports. For $30,300 – and much less than that when subtracting generous lease and financing incentives – the Flex remains a solid effort.
Not every base model has aced it. The ones which have? They help make the automotive landscape a lot better. Any others you can think of, B&B? Let us know in the comments. Naturally, feel free to eviscerate our selection.
The model above is shown in American dollars with American options and trim, absent of destination charges and available rebates. As always, your dealer may sell for less.