|Drive It: Ford's 2009 Flex... for Skiers|
|Drive It: Ford's 2009 Flex... for Skiers|
|LIFESTYLE - Adventure|
|Written by Lori Knowles / SkiPressWorld.com|
|Saturday, 04 July 2009 13:12|
Next in our Cars-for-Skiers series: Ford's new Flex... The title on the Ford press release announcing the Flex says: “Provocative Ford Flex Dares To Be Different.”
I have rarely, if ever, driven a vehicle that was so polarizing. Love it or hate its look, everyone had an opinion about the Flex, based solely on its styling.
My wife and kids were ready to buy our tester based on looks and a one-hour drive on country roads. Trust me, my wife is a tough sell.
Two of my in-laws hated the look, and never even got close enough to see the inside. No conquest sale there, fellas! But, dear skier, do you know the real Flex? The car/truck/minivan/SUV behind the glitz and glamour? Can you make it past the style and see the substance? I did, and was truly impressed with what Ford hath wrought. The Flex is more than styling, more than sheet-metal attitude.
The Look Of Love
But first, that styling.
Personally, I love the look of the Flex. It’s a bit retro, harking back to the Woodie station wagons of Ford’s past. Grooves down the side, available metal panel between the taillights, white roof, squared off profile… it’s all a bit nostalgic.
Or… it’s a Mini Cooper on steroids!
And Ford’s sales numbers are going through the roof, with the company taking first place in Canada through June of this year. They sold almost 1,000 Flexs (Flexi?) in June alone!
Either way, the styling works for me, mainly because of what it’s not: another pseudo-SUV/crossover/whatever, pretending to be ready to cross creeks, dash up to mountaintops, and pick up the kids from the daycare in deepest Botswana.
And it’s not a minivan, either, although why people hate minivans is beyond me. They’re merely the most efficient method of transporting a family around.
But I digress.
No, Ford’s Flex is cool, neat, different. Fun. Interesting, without being impractical. In fact, it’s totally practical, where form follows function remarkably well. Especially for skiers!
Point: the Flex is higher than a car, but less tall and tippy than an SUV of similar capacity. Ingress and egress are easy-peasy. Slide in, get comfy, off you go.
No dirty pant legs, either, as the door edges fold under the rocker panels. Neat! And worth copying, GM, Honda, et al.
Point: the squared-off roof creates oodles of space for a limo-like second row, and a commodious third row as well. And even some luggage space in a deep well behind that! As much or more room than the big boy SUVs, and available AWD, too.
Granted, it’s not a minivan when it comes to folding those rows down to get lots of cargo space. They fold flat, but stay fairly high, creating space with a relatively high liftover. Not as bad as the big boy SUVs, however. And the third row splits 50/50 when it folds, so you can carry skis and that little brother who can be so annoying.
Point: the Flex’s overall feel is more car than truck. A good thing, in my mind. Visibility, ergonomics, and tactile responses made me think of big station wagon, not lumbering SUV. That might just keep you out of a ditch this winter!
The Inside Story
Most people who dislike the styling of the Flex will never get inside to see what they’re missing.
My tester had the most comfortable seats this side of a Volvo. Hey, who owns Volvo? That’s right, Ford — for now. Second-row legroom is huge, and the third row can accommodate actual full-sized humans, not just sprouts. The second row comes as two bucket seats and a big console, or, as with my tester, a 60-40 split folding bench seat. The bench offers more seating capacity for big skiing families.
The leather interior was sumptuous, the seats folded and flipped for access easily, and everyone who rode in it came away extremely impressed.
I had the Flex during the Ontario high school ski championships, and had an opportunity to ferry lots of coaches and competitors around, and all commented on how impressed they were at the quality of the interior.
So was I.
Ford has hit a home run here that may be a game saver for the company. If they keep this up, the imports will have their hands full!
The Skiing Scoop
To be ski specific, the Flex offers ABS, and roll control that uses a yaw sensor to determine what action needs to be taken by other systems in the vehicle to keep your shiny side up. AWD is an option I’d heartily endorse. A full complement of air bags, air curtains, seat belt pretensioners and reinforced structures keep occupants safe in the event of a collision.
Cargo space is flexible enough to handle lots of people and luggage, including skis down one side and passengers down the other. However, my bro in law noted that one feature his Explorer had was the ability to put skis down the middle while still keeping space for two rear seat occupants. True that.
There are tech toys galore to amuse and amaze all of your captive audience for those long road trips to exotic ski locales: nav system, Sync voice activated hard drive music system, DVD entertainment system, heated front AND second row seats, all optional or included on the two trim levels available.
And possibly the biggest sunroof, moonroof, glass roof going: The aptly named Panorama roof gives you a regular sunroof up front, two fixed glass panels over the second row, and a huge single glass panel over the third row. Pass the sunscreen!
While you’re at it, pass the ice cream from the optional second row console refrigerator. How cool is that? Although the comment was made that the cost of the fridge would buy a lot of ice and a good sized cooler.
Before I get to the drive, two problems the interior had, in my eyes:
1. The wheel was too far from the seat, and power pedals didn’t solve the problem. Not a problem for the simian-armed amongst us, but with stiff après ski legs, a telescoping wheel would be nice.
2. There is this bump, Doctor, in the driver’s footwell. Short drivers won’t notice it, but if you put the seat back far enough for a tall driver and you’ll find this tumour on the floor that interferes with your feet as you enter and exit the vehicle. It’s not a big deal, but it still bugged me.
So, what’s the Flex about?
The Flex is not about ripping arcs on twisty roads. It’s definitely NOT about 0-100 kph times. Nor is it about pretending to be an off-road bounder barely constrained by streets and highways.
No, the Flex is about cool.
The cool way the car looks, and the cool way the car drives.
The ride and handling trade off is biased towards a smooth, effortless flowing feeling, regardless of load or quality of the road. It’s not going to pull Gs like a sports car, but it is competent, unflappable, and confidence-inspiring.
Road and steering feel are superb. You know what the car is doing, and it seems to shrink as you drive it. Only when you look in the rear view mirror do you appreciate how much vehicle is following you around.
So, what’s not to like? Aside from the two issues with the driving position, the annoyances are pretty minor. Where did they put the rear window wiper control? And why is the rear wiper offset? Why is the trademark white roof a $500 option?
OK, that’s about it for quibbles.
How Green Will My Mountain Be?
The fuel economy was about 13 l/100 kms for my week, a combination of city, country, and highway driving. This is a bit higher consumption than the EPA rating, as it almost always is, but I was impressed with the carrying capacity combined with the mileage. Lots of people, stuff and skis hauled, not too much fuel used.
Overall, the Flex is a great alternative to an SUV. While not as practical as a minivan, it’s style sets it apart.
For those brave enough to embrace it, the Flex will set them apart from the crowds and assure they will always have something to talk about at the gas station.
Along with those polarizing looks comes a useful, flexible, smooth as silk vehicle that fills a variety of niches.
It’s a rare car that so effectively combines cutting edge style and utility. The Flex does. The question then becomes: Can you handle the style?
If you can’t, Ford’s Lincoln brand has re-skinned the Flex as the MKT, but that’s another review!
Ford has produced a stellar vehicle in the Flex, without a government handout in sight! Import intenders should really give the Flex a try. They will be impressed. I was, and so were all of my friends who actually got inside.
Peter Gilbert is a freelance wheels writer and regular contributor to Ski Press.
Peaks and Valleys
Peaks: Styling, composure over the road, interior fit and finish, flexible cabin, techno toys
Valleys: Styling, minor ergonomic quirks, a touch underpowered
Mountain ratings: (out of 5) Fun to drive: 3; Engine and transmission: 4; Driver’s and passenger’s environment: 5 ; Luggage capacity and utility: 5; All-weather-ability: 5 with AWD; “Green” appeal: 4+; Ski friendliness: 5; Value: 4; Overall rating: 4 out of 5
Bottom line: 2009 Ford Flex AWD SELBase price: $36,999.00Options: $5,850.00Convenience package(includes power liftgate, memory seats and mirrors, 110V inverter) $1,300. Panoramic Roof, $1,750. Sync, $500. white two tone roof, $500. leather trimmed seats, $1,200. Sony audio, $500.Total price, including transportation and handling charge of $1,350: $44,199.00
Features include: 3.5 L Duratec engine(262 hp, 248 lb/ft of torque) and 6 speed automatic transmission, ABS, AWD, Personal Safety System of airbags, air curtains, seatbelt pretensioners, etc. Roll Stability Control, tire pressure monitoring system, air conditioning, dual auto temperature control, reverse sensing system, 10-way power drivers seat and 6-way power passenger seat.