by Roger Biermann
Not quite an SUV, but also not quite a true wagon, the Ford Flex tries to do a lot of things all at once. Unfortunately, this lack of focus means it fails to hit the mark in a lot of ways. However, it gives the modern crossover lover a way of buying an old-school wagon without completely defying convention. With a starting MSRP of $30,575, you get the basic front-wheel-drive model with a 287 horsepower V6 engine. What you don't get are any real safety features or modern infotainment amenities. The more powerful turbo V6 is highly recommended if you regularly pack your Flex to capacity, and this does give it slightly more power than many of its competitors. Despite this, rivals like the Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, and Chevy Traverse all deliver similar performance at a similar price while still being cheaper to run and more pleasant to drive. Perhaps it is a good thing, then, that the Flex has reached the end of its lifespan and will not be seeing another release next year.
The Ford Flex enters 2019 utterly unchanged from its previous edition, with Ford discontinuing it completely at the end of 2019.
Ford clearly tried a new approach to wagons with the design of the Flex. Sadly, the designers seem to have missed the mark, producing something that looks rather uninspiring. 17-inch alloys sit within the reserved arches of this almost perfectly square vehicle, with a horizontal grille up front bordered by equally blocky halogen headlights. Foglights rest low in the large bumper on the SEL and Limited trims. Sometimes, quirky cube-based designs work, but this time something just doesn't quite sit right. At least the design makes for practical internal space.
The Flex is unremarkable in terms of its dimensions. With a length of 201.8 inches, a width of 80.1 inches (88.8 inches including mirrors), and a height of 68 inches, it looks at home beside rivals like the Dodge Durango and Chevrolet Traverse. The 117.9-inch wheelbase is equally average for the segment. The basic SE weighs in a 4,439 lbs, which is marginally lighter than some bulkier rivals like the Durango. The SEL weights 4,439 lbs with front-wheel-drive and 4,637 lbs with all-wheel-drive. The Limited maxes out the wagon's weight at 4,828 when equipped with the EcoBoost turbo engine.
Nine color choices make up the palette for the Flex. The SE is available in Agate Black, Oxford White, Magnetic, Blue, and Ingot Silver. Stone Gray is added to the standard palette when you move up to the SEL and Limited trims, but premium colors are added with a $395 price hike: these comprise Burgundy Velvet, Ruby Red, and White Platinum.
The Flex performs about as well as it looks. The base engine with front-wheel-drive takes its time getting up to speed thanks to a slow-shifting gearbox and unimpressive output from the standard V6 engine. The stronger turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 changes that, however, launching the hefty wagon to 60 mph in around 6.5 seconds. Sadly, this speed is only really useful on the highway or over long stretches of very straight road, due to the vehicle's middling handling dynamics. By comparison, the Chevy Traverse hits the same mark in 7.1 seconds, while the Dodge Durango can achieve the feat in an impressive 4.6 seconds, albeit in the vastly more expensive, V8-powered SRT guise.
All three variations of the Flex have a maximum towing capacity of 4,500 lbs, which isn't particularly impressive for the segment.
Two engines are available to the Ford Flex. As standard, all three trim levels come equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 287 hp and 254 lb-ft to the front wheels. All-wheel-drive is offered on the SEL and Limited models. This gives the wagon enough power to move around town and even on the highway at adequate speeds, but it isn't going to let you hustle anywhere.
The turbocharged V6 option, still displacing 3.5 liters, produces a much more impressive 365 hp and 350 lb-ft. This transforms the sedentary wagon into a bit of a speed demon, delivering impressive amounts of low-end torque to really get its large mass moving down the highway. You'll surprise smaller, nimbler cars as you easily pass them on the highway or hop between intersections in town.
Regardless of the engine and drivetrain combination you choose, a six-speed SelectShift automatic gearbox comes standard with at each trim level.
While the wagon may have a fair amount of power at its disposal, especially when equipped with the optional turbocharged V6 engine, it just doesn't seem designed to handle it with any real degree of grace. Although the Flex has impressive acceleration, the indecisive automatic transmission and lazy base engine can take away a lot of the joy that this usually provides.
Both the brakes and steering get the job done, with the brakes stopping the bulky wagon from 60 mpg in 120 ft, but neither really inspires confidence. Neither provides any real feedback and while this won't be too much of a problem during everyday town driving, it becomes an issue when exploring new roads or moving at higher speeds where confidence is all about feeling what the Flex is doing beneath you.
The handling is equally as middling, with the Flex not leaning too hard into turns thanks to its lower height, but also not taking them well at any significant speed thanks to its lumbering weight and expansive dimensions. And for a car that rides relatively low, the wheels don't grip the road as well as we would expect.
Sadly, the suspension is far too stiff for a cabin of this size, causing even the smallest of road imperfections to rattle the passengers. Combined with seats that aren't very comfortable, to begin with, this makes the Flex one of the least comfortable rides in the segment. Furthermore, the cabin does little to dampen exterior noises, especially those made by the vehicle itself.
The Flex gets quite average fuel consumption for the segment in its optimum guise. The least efficient setup is also the most expensive, being the Limited trim equipped with the turbo V6 engine and all-wheel-drive. Over the city/highway/combined cycles, this model gets a lackluster 15/21/17 mpg as rated by the EPA, which is on par with the fire-breathing V8 Durango. The more efficient standard V6 engine with front-wheel-drive allows the Flex to achieve 16/23/19 mpg, which is two mpg less than the Durango's most efficient engine/drivetrain option in each cycle. With an 18.6-gallon tank, the Flex can cover up to 353 miles between gas station visits.
The interior of the wagon is huge, but that's about all it has going for it. The build quality leaves much to be desired, with plenty of hard plastics and mediocre materials used throughout. This is further exacerbated by seats that aren't particularly comfortable, which quickly become unbearable over long drives. The infotainment and features list is pretty basic, and yet the controls are anything but simple. Overall, the interior of the Flex really gives away its age, now more than a decade old. So, if you want a blast from the past that seats seven, the wagon might appeal to you, but look elsewhere if you are expecting something more contemporary.
With its massive interior and three rows of seats, the Ford Flex is capable of seating seven with room to spare, though whether or not you could add the adjective 'comfortably' is another matter. The seats provide plenty of room for passengers of just about any size, but they are far from luxurious. Cheap materials and poor build quality combine to produce seats that are tolerable at best. On the plus side, the front seats are quite adjustable, especially on higher trims, and visibility isn't a concern. Wide-opening doors and well-placed seats make entering and exiting easy, but the low ground clearance of the car means that high curbs can make it difficult to open the doors.
A lot of hard plastics are present throughout the cabin, with little to no soft-touch surfaces. This can be especially aggravating to the driver as their seat is somewhat encroached upon by the door panel and large center armrest. The seats on the SE and SEL trims are upholstered in basic cloth as standard, with the choice of Dune or Charcoal Black for color. Optional on the SEL, and standard on the Limited model, is leather-appointed seating, but only the same color palette is offered. The instrument panel and door panels feature a wood-appearance trim, while the Limited presents a Yoho maple woodgrain trim.
With a whopping 20 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seats, you could easily pack the entire family's luggage for a weekend away with room to spare. And if you don't need the rear seats for passengers, you can fold them down to add an extra 23.2 cubic feet of space. Being able to fit five passengers and 43.2 cubic feet of cargo is an impressive feat indeed. Then you find out that you can fold down the middle row as well, opening up a total of 83.2 cubic feet of space. With this much room, you can easily move furniture and appliances without needing to hire a trailer.
Inside the cabin, you will find 10 cup holders, a large tray underneath the center console, and door pockets in all four doors large enough to store your water bottles, iPads, and other odds and ends. The glove compartment is average-sized and the center armrest up front is large enough to store a small carry-on's worth of items.
Standard features on the Ford Flex SE comprise 50/50 split fold-down third-row seats, 60/40 split fold-down second-row seats, a six-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar, a four-way manual passenger seat, power accessories, keyless entry, single-zone climate control, four 12-volt power outlets, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The mid-tier SEL adds a 10-way power driver's seat, a six-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless ignition, and a remote start system. The final set of features comes with the Limited trim and comprises blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sense wipers, driver-seat memory, a 110-volt power outlet, and a power liftgate. Available extra features include parking assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, climate-controlled front seats, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
The infotainment system in the Ford Flex is a bit disappointing for a family-oriented car. Standard fare comprises a 4.2-inch SYNC LCD display, a single USB port, and a six-speaker sound system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 playback capability. The SEL improves upon this with a larger eight-inch SYNC 3 touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Applink, a second USB port, and SiriusXM. The top-tier Limited model comes with all of the above but gets a 12-speaker Sony audio system, as well as navigation software with SiriusXM Traffic. No extra infotainment features are offered with the optional packages, although a portable DVD system is available as a standalone add-on.
J.D. Power has awarded the Flex a score of 79 out of 100 for dependability. Despite this average score, the car has only been recalled a few times. Once in 2017 for oil leakage from the turbocharger, and once in 2019 for loose alternator and starter cables. A bumper-to-bumper warranty spanning 36,000-miles/36-months is offered, while the powertrain warranty and roadside assistance services are valid for 60,000-miles/60-months.
The NHTSA has not evaluated the Ford Flex for safety, but the IIHS has, giving the wagon an overall rating of Good. It only scored an Acceptable for small front overlap, which is a common fault on vehicles this old.
AdvanceTrac with roll stability control and traction control, a rearview camera, MyKey technology, an SOS post-crash alert, and six airbags come standard: front, front side, and side curtain. This offering is only improved upon with the top-tier Limited trim, which adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sense wipers. Available add-ons include parking assist, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control.
There aren't many things that the Ford Flex does right, but at least those few that it does, it does extremely well. The interior is enormous, easily fitting up to seven full-sized adults or. And even fully loaded, the wagon offers a staggering amount of cargo space. Inside, it offers a fair number of features, but the bulk are reserved for the top-most trim or optional packages. Also, those provided are now extremely dated and clunky to use. Safety features are also sorely lacking, which is quite astounding in a car that boasts family-focused appointments.
The car's performance is merely adequate with the base engine equipped, though. Opting for the more potent turbocharged V6 will give quite a bit more power, helping to make this cumbersome beast feel less lethargic. It also handles better than higher SUV-style vehicles thanks to its lower overall height, but it still isn't as low as a traditional wagon, nor does it have the kind of dimensions, weight, or tuning to ever be considered athletic.
Calling the Flex a good car would require stretching the truth to the point of breaking. It is still a functional vehicle, and the cargo space it provides is very tempting. But, there are so better options out there.
With a starting MSRP of $30,575, the Flex SE is on par with segment rivals like the Chevrolet Traverse and Dodge Durango. Stepping up to the SEL trim will cost you $33,290, while the highest trim level, the Limited, will set you back $38,790. That's not too bad considering that some rivals can cost up to $60k, but you will need to put aside some extra cash if you want to have some of the more advanced features that only come with the optional packages. A fully decked-out Flex Limited could cost you upwards of $45,000.
Three models with two engine choices are available to Ford Flex buyers. Standard on the SE, SEL, and Limited trims is the 3.5-liter V6 engine, which delivers 287 hp and 254 lb-ft to the front wheels. All-wheel-drive is available on the SEL and Limited, but only the top-tier Limited model gets access to the 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 engine that delivers 365 hp and 350 lb-ft to all four wheels. Rowing the gears on every model, and with all engine and drivetrain combinations, is a six-speed SelectShift automatic gearbox.
Standard on the SE trim are 17-inch alloy wheels, a rearview camera, AdvanceTrac with RSC, fold-down second and third-row seats, four 12-volt power outlets, grocery bag hooks, a six-way power driver's seat, a 4.2-inch LCD infotainment display, and a six-speaker sound system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 playback.
The SEL adds to the basic offering with a larger eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an extra USB port, and SiriusXM. A 10-way power driver's sea, and six-way power passenger seat are installed and the front seats receive heating functions. Dual-zone climate control replaces the standard single-zone and a remote-start function is added on top of the basic keyless entry.
The top-of-the-range Limited trim receives extra safety features in the form of blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rain-sense wipers. An improved, 12-speaker Sony audio system is installed, and navigation with SiriusXM Traffic is made available. The standard manual liftgate is replaced by a power variant, and a 110-volt power outlet is added to the interior.
3.5-liter V6 Gas
3.5-liter V6 Gas
3.5-liter Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
3.5-liter V6 Gas
As a relatively spartan vehicle, the Flex offers quite a few packages to customize each model. Notable options include the Equipment Package for the SEL ($2,400) and Limited ($2,900). The SEL variant adds a 110-volt power outlet, a power liftgate, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, first and second-row leather-trimmed seat appointments, driver-seat memory, and a seven-speaker premium audio system. The Limited variant adds park assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, 10-way powered front seats with climate control, a heated steering wheel and power fold-down third-row seats.
If you are set on buying a Ford Flex, then you would be best served by opting for one of the upper trims. The SEL delivers the bare minimum that any buyer should be willing to settle for in a modern car, but only the Limited really offers the safety features that would make this an appropriate family vehicle. Furthermore, it wouldn't be a bad idea to consider some of the packages on offer. But this can quickly add up to make the car more expensive than rivals offering the same for much less.
This is an interesting comparison considering that the 2019 model Ford Flex is the last of its kind, while the Ford Explorer has been completely redesigned for 2020. It's no surprise then that the Explorer offers far more of the features that many buyers are expecting as standard, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a driver information display and better-adjustable seats. On top of this, the newer SUV also comes equipped with advanced safety features like rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure mitigation, pedestrian detection and the like. Even with all this new tech, it manages to be almost as spacious inside as the Flex, but it isn't that much more comfortable, with materials still being a bit on the low end of the quality spectrum. The ways in which the Explorer bests the outdated Flex increase as you go up the trim levels and add packages, but much like its old uncle, this causes the price to skyrocket quickly. Overall, the Explorer seems like the better bet as it will certainly see more support going forward than the now-discontinued Flex.
Where the Flex fails across the board except for choice areas where it excels, the Honda Pilot is an amazing all-round while still managing to lead the pack in certain aspects. Its 280-hp V6 engine isn't as strong as the Flex's turbocharged option, but it's still plenty punchy, and pairs well with some very engaging driving dynamics and an excellent suspension setup that makes it one of the most comfortable rides available. Naturally, the Pilot isn't as spacious inside as the enormous wagon, but it is much better appointed, both in terms of higher-quality materials and more advanced tech features. While the Honda SUV's cargo space might be quite a bit smaller than the Ford's, it is still more than adequate for day-to-day use, and its fuel efficiency is significantly better than the wagon's. It's pretty clear that the Honda Pilot is the better investment here... unless you prefer antique cars.