Based on the same platform that underpins the incredibly successful—but more mainstream—Explorer, the Ford Flex greets the world with audacious, Midcentury Modern lines that have been enhanced for 2013 with more interesting lighting graphics and fascias that enhance its visual daring.
Other changes for the new model year include the integration of the company’s oft-lambasted MyFordTouch infotainment interface, which is really cool looking but bug-prone and hard to use when on the move. More successful are the revisions to the basic 3.5-liter V6 engine, bolstering horsepower from 262 to 287. Torque benefits from the addition of variable cam timing as well, but not to the same degree; twist increases from 248lb-ft to 254.
The extra muscle is noticeable from behind the wheel, while fuel economy doesn’t appear to have suffered at all. Available as an option is the 365hp EcoBoost twin turbo, but even without it the Flex feels more dynamically rewarding than even the Sport version of its Explorer sibling, due to its slightly lesser mass and much lower center of gravity. The Flex rides even better than the smoothly progressive Explorer, while also showing more responsiveness to the helm and much less float and sway in corners.
Inside, the great, airy design is undermined—as on so many Fords—by subpar materials (like the sticky vinyl covering half of the so-called “leather” seats) and some silly faux wood, which clashes with the more intriguing plastic textures inspired by leading apparel designers when the Flex was under development. No doubt some corporate suit, afraid of offending Mr and Mrs Midwest Mainstream, nixed taking this audacious people carrier concept through to its logical conclusion. And based on sales figures, it’s coastal contemporaries that have embraced the Flex, not the heartland, making it one of Ford’s best sellers in the design bellwether that is California, while it languishes in more conservative climes.
Regardless, the Flex stands as a terrific, practical machine for modern family hauling, with lots of room and pleasing dynamics. And though Ford hasn’t addressed every last minor issue, at the least they have stayed the course and made modest investments in just about the most radical crossover on sale today.
EPA ratings: 17/23; 19mpg combined
Price as tested: $39,195
Here is what Ford has to say.