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Ford must install standard cloaking devices on its Flex large crossovers. A week ago, I was commenting that I never see them on the road. Now, they're everywhere I look. Selective perception aside, you'd think I'd have a hard time missing something as large and monolithic as the boxy Flex.
The 2015 Ford Flex Limited's design is highly geometric. The crossover's long and upright silhouette is further accentuated by horizontal character lines that stretch down its flanks and across the grille and tailgates. The Flex looks, simply put, like a shoebox on wheels. Some people dig it, some find it endlessly bland. Personally, I think it looks like someone at Ford stretched a first-generation Scion xB to seat 7-passengers. With its optional contrasting roof, it looks like the world's largest Mini Clubman .
Personally, I'm a fan of the rectangular style, but I must admit that the looks had to grow on me over the course of a week's testing. Even if it's not your box of tea, there's little denying that the upright and crate-like Flex's boasts plenty of room on the inside for people and their things.
For starters, the flat roof allows for plenty of headroom on all three of the crossover's rows (around 41 inches for the first two rows and 38.7 for the third), which is good if you plan on cramming adults back into the third row. (Legroom, however, becomes a more precious resource on that third row, but with 33 inches available, I was able to comfortably fit my 5-foot-9-inch frame into the space for a short trip.)
Adding to the spacious feel is the optional Vista roof, which adds three small skylights to the Flex Limited's roof behind the normal front sliding moonroof. The Vista roof's glass is fixed and doesn't open, but there are a trio of shades that can be drawn if one wishes to block out the sun. I say leave 'em open; the skylights let much needed light into the Flex's cavernous (and dark) cabin.
One of my favorite features is the optional PowerFold third-row seats. At the touch of a button, the two rear seats can be individually or simultaneously folded into a variety of positions. The seats can simply fold forward or tuck into rear cargo area, forming a flat-floored, 82.3-cubic-foot cargo hold from the front seatbacks to the rear hatch.
The power seats also feature a "Tailgating" mode that flips the bench backward, creating a place to sit when hanging out at the rear of the vehicle. Yes, in this last configuration it can be bit tricky to get in and out of the seats and when in this mode you sort of end up sitting atop the folded headrests, but the Tailgate mode is a nice bonus feature for those who camp, picnic or (of course) tailgate.
The Ford Flex comes standard with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that outputs 287 horsepower, but our model steps up to an Ecoboost version of that mill. Twin-turbocharging and direct-injection bump the output to 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. That engine is mated with six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters (that most Flex owners will never use). The Ecoboost model also makes the Flex's on-demand all-wheel drive system a standard feature. (Naturally aspirated Flex owners have a choice between front- or all-wheel drive.)
An EPA estimated 16 city and 18 combined mpg, the Ecoboost AWD Flex loses only a single mpg when compared to the less powerful naturally aspirated AWD model. The 23 highway mpg estimate is the same for both models.
The large crossover's handling is focused on comfort, but doesn't feel sloppy. The Flex's ride is remarkably quiet, though wind noise is notable at higher speeds -- you'll have that with such an upright windshield smacking into the air. Fortunately, the wind noise is easily drowned out by the Limited's standard 12-speaker, 390-watt Sony premium audio system.
The Ford Flex debuted back in 2008 (as a 2009 model) and has only seen minor refreshes since then. Being an eight-year old vehicle, it's no surprise that the Flex's tech offerings are a mixed bag of dated and fresh features, but overall, living with the Flex's tech from day to day is a decent experience.
For starters, there's the MyFord Touch infotainment and navigation system, which is simply too sluggish for my tastes. Whether inputting addresses or simply changing sources, every step of every interaction with the system seemed to take a bit longer than it should have. If I were driving and entered a tunnel, the map screen would go blank for 2 to 3 seconds while the software redraws the map in nighttime colors.
Though slow, the Ford system does boast a solid feature set with a gamut of digital media sources on par with its competition, accurate traffic data when navigating, and most importantly, the power of Ford Sync voice command. Sync is really this system's saving grace, because it allowed me to just speak an address and get back to the business of driving while the sluggish routing software worked out my intentions on its own time.
The Flex also features Ford's Smartgauge hybrid instrument cluster, which is as good as it ever was and remains one of my favorite gauge clusters on the road. The system flanks a large, easy-to-read speedometer with two smaller color displays. The displays each correspond one of two small directional pads on the steering wheel, putting a host of vehicle information on the left screen and duplicating the most important infotainment functions on the right. What's most impressive is how well-organized and low distraction this setup is.
The 2015 Flex is available with Ford's semi-autonomous parking system, which measures available parallel parking spaces and can steer the crossover into a spot while the driver controls the steering and brakes. This is, however, an older generation of the tech and cannot reverse-perpendicular park like the some of the latest Ford models. Even so, I find this feature to be indispensable on a vehicle as long as the Flex. Sure, I can do a pretty good job of manually parking with the standard rear camera, but the parking assistant just makes everything so effortless and idiot-proof.
The same package that includes that parking assistant also rolls in a lane-departure alert system, which uses cameras to detect when the Flex is drifting out of its lane without signalling and vibrates the steering wheel. This is an alert system, but there is no intervention.
The package also includes adaptive cruise control, which maintains a preset speed on the highway, but can slow to keep a safe following distance behind a lead car. But this isn't a full-speed system; it deactivates at speeds below 15 mph, so you can't use it to creep through traffic.
We've also got blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and park distance sensors, rounding out a driver-aid tech suite that hits the high points but isn't as fleshed out as I'd like a $50k crossover to be.
The 2015 Ford Flex starts at around $29,100 with an $895 destination charge for the base SE model. However, close to fully loaded with the Limited trim upgrades, the Ecoboost engine, the driver-aid equipment package and more, our example rolls off of the lot at $49,845 before incentives, which pushes the limit of what I think the Limited is worth. Sticking to the middle of the Flex's price range (which could mean skipping the Ecoboost powertrain) yields a much better value.
But comparing the Flex to its peers is tricky, because it's so unlike the rest of the seven-seaters on the market. The Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander and their cohort are all traditional SUVs with traditional SUV driving feel. The Flex's handling is the most car-like (dare I say, minivan-like?) of the lot and is sure to appeal to drivers uncomfortable with the idea of literally climbing up into a "utility vehicle."