2018 Ford Flex
Introduced for the 2009 model year and facelifted for 2013, Ford’s sizable, defiantly squared-off crossover continues to stand apart from the crowd. The futuristic, space-age design isn’t quite as distinctive as it used to be, but the Ford Flex remains a practical, family-friendly utility vehicle.
The 2018 Ford Flex is a carryover, with little change evident from 2017.
2018 Flex SE, SEL, and Limited trim levels offer a choice of two V6 engines:
Standard is the long-lived 3.5-liter V6, rated at 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque and paired with Ford’s familiar 6-speed automatic transmission. With front-wheel drive, the base engine serves well enough. Because the Flex is no lightweight, optional all-wheel drive extracts quite a bit of its performance potential.
Optional is an Ecoboost twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 that develops 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet, also working with a 6-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard on a Limited with the optional EcoBoost engine, adding $8,200 to the retail price of a regular front-wheel-drive Limited with the standard engine.
Three-row seating is standard, providing seven-passenger capacity. At 117.9 inches, the Flex wheelbase is almost 7 inches longer than that of a Honda Pilot.
Ford offers some valuable active-safety technology for the Flex, but most features are optional, and only for the most costly trim levels. The Limited model, for instance, comes with blind-spot monitoring. Adding forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, coupled with adaptive cruise control and a power-folding third-row seat, means paying $2,900 additional.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave Flex Good scores for most crash-tests, with an Acceptable rating in the challenging small-overlap frontal-impact test.
All Flex crossovers have a rearview camera. Also standard is a system that can apply front braking to the outside wheel, intended to provide a more secure feeling when zipping through corners.
Ford’s optional MyKey system lets parents set limits on a youngster’s driving habits. MyKey can restrict vehicle speed, stereo volume, and various entertainment features. Additional Flex options include a panoramic sunroof, second-row captain’s chairs, a power-folding third-row seat, a heated steering wheel, and a towing package.
Flex SE ($30,300) has a 3.5-liter V6, 6-speed automatic, front-drive, three rows of seats, a second-row bench, Bluetooth-enabled and voice-controlled SYNC infotainment, 17-inch wheels, CD player, cloth seats, heated power mirrors, rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera. All-wheel drive is not available on the base model. (Prices do not include $895 destination charge.)
Flex SEL ($33,000) adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen, SYNC 3 infotainment, remote start, keyless ignition, heated power front seats, 18-inch wheels, woodgrain trim, and dual-zone automatic climate control. All-wheel drive adds $1,950.
Flex Limited ($38,510) gets 12-speaker Sony audio, perforated leather seat trim, power front seats with driver’s memory, navigation, power liftgate, 19-inch wheels, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. All-wheel drive adds $1,950.
Only the Limited is available with the optional twin-turbo, 365-horsepower EcoBoost V6 engine. Priced at $8,200 including all-wheel drive, the EcoBoost version has an MSRP of $45,105.
A $1,495 Limited appearance package adds Shadow Black exterior details, deluxe leather-trimmed seats, and 20-inch wheels.
Not many vehicles brandish a body that’s so idiosyncratic. In stark contrast to the battling curves that have served as the main trend for recent crossovers, the Flex relies almost solely on angles and dead-straight lines. The boxy profile is highlighted by a pattern of grooved ribs reaching down its flat bodysides. Roofs can be black or body-colored, and the front end has been likened to a computer’s USB port.
Hints of several other makes, from Mini Cooper to Range Rover, might be discerned when viewing a Flex. Still, taken in total, this Ford is in a league all its own.
More sedate than charming in its current form, the Flex cabin benefits from a simple and effective control layout, centering on a large touchscreen. Touch-sensitive controls, arranged in a stack, work efficiently. In base models, the standard infotainment screen measures only 4.3 inches.
Quiet operation adds to the premium feel of the Flex. Upper trim levels get leather seating surface in the front and second rows, along with a power liftgate.
Comfort and usable space score highly, thanks to the boxy profile. Headroom is especially appealing. Adults can expect excellent seat comfort in front and second rows, whether the latter has captain’s chairs or the standard fold-down bench. Amply-padded second-row seats can accommodate occupants who are quite tall.
Easing into the front seats is no problem, facing abundant knee and shoulder room. Side bolsters are soft, but effective.
Third-row seats are usable, too. For short treks, at least, even those tall riders can manage. For enhanced storage, the split rear seat folds in two matching sections. Cargo volume totals 20 cubic feet behind the third row, growing to 83 cubic feet if both the second- and third-row seatbacks are folded down.
Comfort heads the list of Flex benefits. Specifically, ride comfort. Overall, the suspension is effectively compliant, though a fast-moving Flex can bound a bit in tight corners. Even the available 20-inch wheels don’t mar its smooth ride quality.
Standing tall and riding high, the Flex comports itself well. Considering that a heavyweight Flex tips the scales at around 4,600 pounds, handling is significantly better than expected.
Steering feels crisp, with even effort throughout its range. Brakes have plenty of stopping power.
Acceleration is adequate with the standard 287-horsepower V6, helped by a fuss-free automatic transmission. Still, a bit more energy would be welcome. That’s the job of the more exuberant twin-turbo V6, optional on the Limited, which provides some lusty sounds as well lively response to the gas pedal. Paddle shifters are included with the EcoBoost engine.
In either configuration, Flex borders on fun to drive. Both engines do a credible job of handling the Flex’s heft.
Gas mileage is well below average, trailing several three-row rivals. Base models with front-wheel drive and a V6 are EPA-rated at 16/23 mpg City/Highway, or 19 mpg Combined. With all-wheel drive, the estimate dips to 16/22/18 mpg. The twin-turbo V6 version is EPA-rated at 15/21 mpg City/Highway, or 17 mpg Combined.
Despite its age, the Flex remains a solid competitor in the large family-vehicle category, helped by an impressive standard-feature list. While substituting for a minivan in utility, a Flex is priced more like a classy Lincoln. That’s almost logical, since the family-oriented Flex boasts a fair number of luxury-car touches. Advanced safety features are costly, too, offered mainly for Limited trim.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.