2013 Ford Flex

First Drive: 2013 Ford Flex Review

Ford's quirky crossover remains as odd as ever.

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: March 27th, 2012

If you're like us, you're wondering why Ford needs three crossover SUVs. There's the five-seat Edge, the seven-seat Explorer, and the boxy seven-seat Flex. We get the Edge and Explorer, but the Flex appeals to a crowd that just likes to be...different. Apparently Ford's doing something right, though, since 20 percent of Flexes get sold in California, which isn't exactly a small market.

The Flex is certainly different, and for 2013, the differences consist of refreshed exterior styling, updated interior trim, more power for the base engine, and an updated MyFordTouch multimedia suite. We traveled to the snowy Pacific Northwest to sample the updated Flex.

  • On The Road

    Flex comes with two powerplants—a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 285 horsepower (up 23 from last year) and a turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6. Power gets to the ground via either front-wheel or all-wheel drive (available with SEL and Limited trims, standard on Limited EcoBoost models) and a six-speed automatic transmission.

    We spent our afternoon behind the wheel of a SEL with all-wheel drive, heading from Oregon's scenic coast back to Portland by way of the mountains, with the latter part of the trek taking us past rolling fields and putting us into suburban traffic.

    The only way to get an EcoBoost engine in the Flex is to spring for the Limited EcoBoost, which comes standard with AWD, and since we were behind the helm of an SEL, we had the base motor sitting under that long hood. The 3.5 gives gamely at the office, but it's tasked with hauling a fair amount of mass around, and it shows. A slow throttle response doesn't help.

    Steering response is much improved from past Flexes we remember, it's generally precise with a good amount of feel, although there is some looseness just off-center. The ride is stable—as one might expect from a vehicle this size—and the handling is competent, although you never forget the Flex's size, and body roll does creep in. The Flex drives like you might expect it to, and the experience is never unpleasant, though it's never engaging either.

  • Inside The Box

    The biggest interior change are the updates to MyFordTouch, which are supposed to address consumer complaints about the system. Ford claims that Bluetooth-enabled phones will pair faster, and we were able to verify that our smartphone did pair quickly, but we were unable to compare it to the previous version. Otherwise, the changes to MyFordTouch seem subtle, as do most of the other interior changes (the most obvious exception being the new steering wheel).

    Not surprisingly, there's ample headroom and legroom up front and in the second row, and our six-foot-one tester fit (though just barely) in the third row. One reason that seven-seat crossover buyers might choose the Flex over the Explorer while touring the Ford showroom is that the Flex is about five inches longer in both wheelbase and overall length, and that means more cargo and passenger room.

    One key new feature is the available rear seat-belt airbags, which look and feel a bit different than the norm, but are easy to get use to wearing. Thankfully, we never tested out the airbag part of the equation.

    For those that are wondering, a refrigerated center console remains available.

  • On The Outside

    The Flex now has a standard dual exhaust and six new wheel choices, including three new 20-inch designs, but the biggest change is a new front grille that replaces the famous Ford Blue Oval with a "Flex" badge. The sharp edges are now slightly rounded, as well. Buyers can choose from a body-color roof or go with a two-tone motif, and three new paint colors are available.

  • Safety & Fuel Economy

    The big safety news is the rear seat-belt airbags, and other available safety features include a rearview camera, a blind-spot warning system, and a cross-traffic alert system.

    Fuel economy numbers measure out to 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway on base Flexes with AWD, and 18/25 with FWD. EcoBoosted models check in at 19/23.

  • Features & Prices

    Depending on trim (base SE, mid-level SEL, and top-line Limited/Limited EcoBoost), available features that we haven't already mentioned include satellite radio, a navigation system, a power liftgate, power-adjustable pedals, remote start, heated front seats, a panoramic vista roof, and more. Base SEs start at $30,855 before destination, SELs clock in at $33,225 before delivery, Limiteds at $39,240, and Limited EcoBoosts at $43,850. Our SEL tester with AWD had the Rapid Spec 202A Package (rearview camera, 110-volt outlet, power liftgate, blind-spot alert, cross-traffic alert, power-adjustable pedals, driver seat/pedals memory system, leather upholstery, uplevel sound system, remote engine start) to along with 20-inch wheels, the panoramic vista roof, a navigation system, a 40/40 auto-folding second seating row, the seat-belt airbags for the second row, a black roof, and the Titanium Appearance Package (unique trim inside and out, alloy wheels). That took a vehicle that started at $35,175 and brought it to $43,650, including $825 for destination.

  • Wrapping up

    The Flex remains as quirky as ever, with some improvement in the fun-to-drive arena. It's the crossover for those who want/need to be a little different, and as a bonus, it has plenty of space. It's not cheap, but that won't stop it from selling well among a certain crowd. Which would be music to Ford's ears.

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• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2013 Ford Flex, click here: 2013 Ford Flex.