Sure, it’s a refresh on Ford’s largest crossover. But even excusing the snazzy new front end styling, more is going on beneath the surface. For the 2013 model year (we know, it’s not even 2012 yet), the Flex receives a full-fledged makeover for its base engine, picking up a newly more powerful 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Inside, it gets Ford’s latest MyFord Touch software that will be trickling across Ford and Lincoln’s lineup. It features a smoother, faster interface than the edition featured in Ford’s 2011 and 2012 products. Finally, the Flex’s schnoz gains a significant update, looking more like a concept car with rounder lines, projector-beam headlights, and a new grille that foregoes the traditional Ford badge in the middle. We wonder how the market will respond, but judging from the vehicle’s lackluster sales through most of this year, it’s bound to help move the needle in a different direction.
Who It’s For
The Flex is for people who think outside the box, which is a little ironic because they drive a box. In all seriousness, it’s as much an image vehicle as it is a family vehicle, slab sides, two-tone color coordination and all. It’s a bit evocative of past station wagons Ford has produced, and it’s futuristic, too, with a concept car-like front end and a build-it-if-you-dare audacity. It competes with the likes of GM’s Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave. And it also goes up against strong Japanese competition like the Honda Pilot and minivan alternatives. The Flex fills many rolls, but with its low-slung, boxy styling and the fact that the Ford Explorer fills the same market, the Flex is left to its own devices to carve out a unique niche.
You know about the fact it was only designed using a straight edge and a ruler. Other cool features in the Flex include:
- Seven-passenger seating that provides a minivan-like seating arrangement.
- An available EcoBoost twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine that puts out 355 horsepower.
- A revised 3.5-liter base engine that jumps 20 horsepower to 285.
- An all-new interface for MyFord Touch and Sync that is both quicker and easier to use than the 2012 version.
What We Think
Replacing the unloved Ford Taurus X in the Blue Oval portfolio for the 2009 model year, the Flex has never really escaped from that car’s shadow, still going unnoticed and under-appreciated in the marketplace. With the recent launch of the completely revamped 2012 Ford Explorer, which is largely based on the same underpinnings, Ford did the Flex no favors. The new Flex looks fantastic, and we’re fans of the updates. Ford turned a box with an innocuous nose into something with a little panache. It’s retro and trendy, and anyone with a family and enough cashflow should consider it as a legitimate compromise between minivan practicality and crossover style. It fills the roles quite well. But as was the case with the earlier Flex, winning beauty pageants doesn’t equate into taking leadership on the sales charts. If Ford’s marketers can better express what the Flex does and for whom, it has a chance of reversing its current misfortune. But if they can’t, we see no reason why this retro-futuristic box of awesome won’t stay the way it has been: a wallflower, a spectator in a world of participants.