Traveling in a Family Way: 2009 Ford Flex
Crossover, Minivan, SUV, Station Wagon, or All Four?
At first glance, some might think Ford's timing for creating this giant people mover was unfortunate, as the Flex is a great big, boxy vehicle that straddles many vehicular categories, introduced at a time when all many Americans could talk about is the high cost of gas at the pump. But after spending some quality time with it, the many great features this vehicle offers will help many people see past its great size.
I describe it as looking a bit like a Mini Cooper on steroids: Ford describes its provocative shape as a "two-box" and wraps distinctive horizontal grooves all the way around the vehicle from its bold grille to its wide brushed-chrome liftgate to emphasize its powerful appearance. It's not your imagination, this vehicle is as big as it looks; Ford stretched its Taurus X platform by five inches and moved the wheels outward to create a limousine-like experience offering impressive interior space for all its passengers.
The inside is nicely executed, with comfortable materials and textures. Ford has an entire team of women engineers developing eco-friendly materials, and the seats are constructed using an eco-friendly foam mixture that includes soy oil. They've also incorporated specially laminated windshield and sideglass to silence interior noise. A feature I especially appreciated is one that many people won't notice right away: the vehicle's doors wrap under the sides of the entries, which makes it easier to step in and out of the car, and also means I won't get dirt on my pants and legs when I lean into the backseat to strap my kidlet into his carseat. I hate finding dirty smudges on my shins!
It's certainly roomy inside. Both of the second-row seats automatically flip and fold forward with the touch of a button to allow easy access to the third row, and third-row seats turn and tumble with a simple tug and a pull to create a nice flat floor. Even the front passenger seat folds flat to help carry long items, such as a ladder or lumber. The rear hatch lowers with the touch of a button, but is sensitive enough to retract with just a bump to my shoulder. While it might make my five-year-old cry if he's in the way, it's not likely to send him to the hospital. Five powerpoints (plus a 110-volt plug), four cupholders, and four bottle holders mean everybody can be plugged in and hydrated, regardless of where they're seated. The optional second-row refrigerator (yes, a real refrigerator, not an ice chest) will cool seven soda cans or keep ice cream frozen for your entire journey, no matter how long the drive.
This boxy barge is full of features to love: The new "Easy Fuel" capless fuel filler system means you never have to touch a dirty gas cap again. The multi-panel vista roof option on the SEL and Limited models offers your passengers four large sky-view openings. The next-generation navigation system offers real-time traffic reporting, and tracks fuel prices via station credit card uploads to easily navigate travelers to the cheapest gas station. And a keyless entry system hides in the black door pillars until a finger's touch illuminates it for access.
Latch anchors and tethers are located in each of the middle-row buckets and in the back rear seat, so Mom can safely buckle in three little ones, and still transport three other full-size people in wide, roomy seats with best-in-class head- and legroom. Additionally, Flex offers a full array of standard safety equipment, including dual front air bags, headliner-mounted side curtain air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, Ford's AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control, and tire pressure monitoring system. Finally, Flex features the SYNC hands-free Bluetooth connectivity system to help drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel to reduce distractions.
Ford's entering a very competitive market segment, with the redesigned Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander at one end and GM's family of large front-wheel-drive-based crossovers at the other end. But Ford is especially hoping to appeal to those families out there who need both room for seven and Class 3 towing up to 4500 pounds. And despite its big boxy shape, Ford carefully worked its design to offer the superb aerodynamics needed to promise fuel economy of 17 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.
Suggested retail starts at $28,295; adding the trailer towing package, white two-tone roof, Vista roof, rear refrigerator, perforated leather seats, voice-activated navigation system with reverse camera, and dual headrest DVD entertainment system brings the price to $45,715.
Don't let its boxy shape and giant size deter you: Flex was designed to shatter today's image of the common people mover, and offers a list of features that will set the vehicle and Ford apart in the marketplace.
By Brandy Schaffels