2013 Ford Flex SEL AWD review: Ford Flex wraps clever tech in boxy, retro style

This interface is familiar to us and features a four-quadrant layout with persistent touchable shortcuts at the screen's four corners for the phone system or navigation or vehicle information depending on the option chosen, climate controls, and audio and entertainment sources. The phone options bear further exploration here because, in addition to the standard hands-free calling system with Sync's excellent voice command, MyFord Touch adds the options to have incoming text messages read aloud while you drive, for canned SMS responses to be fired off to incoming callers and texters, and for a Do Not Disturb mode to prevent any of that from distracting you while you drive.

Navigation isn't standard, but can be added by purchasing a navigation SD card from your dealer and popping it into an SD card slot. Our vehicle was not thusly equipped, but again, you can get an idea of what to expect by checking out our review of the 2013 Ford Escape , which uses an identical system.

The MyFord Touch home screen splits the interface into 4 quadrants that correspond to the 4 persistent shortcut buttons in its corners. Josh Miller/CNET

Peek into the center console and you'll find a pair of USB ports, which allow MyFord Touch to read USB storage for MP3s and photos when parked. However, there's another trick that you can pull off with those USB ports. Plug in a USB 3G/4G dongle from your wireless data carrier to transform you MyFord Touch-equipped vehicle into a rolling Wi-Fi hot spot with in-car sharing and connectivity to the Internet -- great for road trips if you can afford the data.

Although the Flex is available with a Sony premium audio system that features eight speakers (one of which is a powered subwoofer) and 450 watts of total amplification, our model was only equipped with a midtier, seven-speaker premium audio system of unspecified branding and unspecified output. Audio quality is good, but not stellar. Having heard the Sony system in other Ford vehicles, it seems like the sure bet for drivers who like it loud.

Engine bay
The Ford Flex's standard power train starts with a 3.5-liter V-6, direct-injection engine that generates 287 horsepower and twists its crank to the tune of 254 pound-feet of torque. Drivers who need a bit more pep in their step can option an EcoBoost variant of this engine that is force-fed air via a turbocharger and bumps its output to 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, but to do so, you'll need to also step up to the more expensive Limited trim level.

The Flex comes standard with a 3.5-liter V-6, but a turbocharged engine is also available. Josh Miller/CNET

Regardless of the engine the power must pass through a six-speed automatic transmission on its way to the wheels. This gearbox features a Sport program that is activated by pulling the shift lever one position beyond "D" and a manual shift mode activated by small rocker switch on the side of the shift lever. Don't bother with either; they're essentially worthless on a vehicle the size of the Flex.

All-wheel drive is available for the 3.5-liter naturally aspirated model and is standard on the EcoBoost. Ford's system is able to shuffle 100 percent of torque to either axle to keep the Flex moving in the right direction, rather than the 50/50 split that we're used to seeing on most crossovers. This system also features Ford's Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control technology, which we saw on the 2013 Escape. Curve Control helps to rein in excess speed when entering a curve with measured automatic braking. Torque Vectoring Control helps to shift power laterally along the drive axles to enhance grip when exiting the corner.

The six-speed automatic features a Sport mode. Unfortunately, there's nothing "sporty" about the Flex. Josh Miller/CNET

Fuel economy for our 3.5-liter AWD SEL model is estimated by the EPA at 17 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 19 combined mpg. I was unable to get a final estimate because a certain Ford Country Squire lover and host of CNET ON CARS became enamored of the Flex Wagon and disappeared with it, never to be heard from again.

In sum
The bottom line on the spec sheet included with our big green pickle came to $41,935. That includes the $35,175 base price for the 2013 Ford Flex SEL with AWD and an $825 destination charge. The as-tested price also includes $3,000 for the Equipment Group 202A package that adds a number of options, $650 to add an Auto-Fold feature to the second row of seats, $100 for the second-row center console, and $195 to add airbags to the second row's seat belts. Finally, there's also a $1,595 charge for the panoramic glass roof, and $395 to paint the roof white.

For that price, you're above the entry point for a Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which easily trounces the Flex's 14 city mpg with a Hybrid Synergy Drive-augmented 28 mpg, but to match the Flex's price, you'll be stuck with an entry-level Hybrid model that can't necessarily compete with a loaded-up Flex SEL where convenience and driver aid tech are concerned.

There's a lot of Flex hanging out behind the driver's seat, so you may want to consider the suite of full driver-aid tech. Josh Miller/CNET

To get the most out of the Flex, it is my opinion that you'll need to step up to the Limited trim level, which starts at $41,180. (Whether you spring for the EcoBoost, an extra $3,150, is entirely up to you.) Add $2,500 for its 301A Equipment Group which, along with the features standard on the Limited, gets you the rear camera, the BLIS system with Cross Traffic Alert, Ford's amazing Active Park Assist system, and Adaptive Cruise along with pretty much every other cabin tech option you could want for a total (including destination charge) of $44,505. At this point, you're dangerously deep into Infiniti JX35 AWD price range, but I think that if you're looking for a vehicle this large, it's money well spent.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Ford Flex
Trim SEL AWD
Power train 3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, 19 mpg combined
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation Available, not equipped
Bluetooth phone support Ford Sync standard
Disc player Single-slot CD
MP3 player support Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, 2x USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audio SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio system 7-speaker premium audio
Driver aids BLIS blind-spot monitoring with Cross Traffic Alert, rearview camera with proximity alert
Base price $35,175
Price as tested $41,935

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    2013 Ford Flex SEL AWD

    Part Number: 101420572
    Pricing is currently unavailable.

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    • Regional specs shown for US. AU specs are unavailable.

    • Trim levels SEL
    • Body style Wagon
    • Available Engine Gas
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