Friday, September 14, 2012

Flex fits a certain niche in Ford's lineup

Sacramento, California – Not long ago, I did a review of the Ford Flex that was, well, less than flattering.

I caught hell for it from various folks, not coincidentally all of whom worked in some capacity for the Ford Motor Co.

It wasn’t that I did not like the Flex.  I was mystified by its existence – a massive, gas-guzzling vehicle among other Ford cars that were sending out the precise message Ford wanted to send: We make affordable, dependable vehicles and put a very high priority on gas mileage.

As for the 2013 Flex – freshened for the upcoming model year – I confess that my feelings about the vehicle are pretty much unchanged.

HOWEVER, let me say that the Flex is an outstanding vehicle for a target audience of large families, heavy cargo carriers and folks who regularly head out on the open road for long recreational trips.

If that’s what you dig, this Flex is for you.

My tester was a 2013 SEL AWD, a six-passenger (other Flex models can take up to seven) with a 3.5-liter V-6 (285 horsepower) and a starting price of $35,175.  Gas mileage was advertised at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.  My baby was dressed up in extras that pushed the bottom line on the sticker to $41,935.

That’s a pricey meatball, but the comfort, convenience and safety perks were luxury level enough to justify the cost.  Seriously! Extras on mine included a panoramic vista roof, a very nice touch.

Make no mistake about it: This is a very big vehicle.  It fills up a parking space, and the unique exterior styling makes it downright imposing … that’s imposing in an impressive way.  It’s sort of like a Range Rover on steroids.  Ford calls it a crossover, but I find that impossible.  Think SUV all the way.

On the roll, it’s actually quite smooth, but on a freeway merge ramp, you must really sink your right foot deep to the floorboard.  Ditto at the top of a steep hill.  Interior quiet was surprisingly good.  The brakes brought the big brute to a stop much quicker and firmer than I expected.

If you, the wife and kids routinely take six-hour drives on the roadways, this is the way to roll.  The Flex is like a rolling living room, without the extra size and hassle of a motor home.  If you haul a lot of kids and groceries from place to place (or sporting event to sporting event), the Flex is your cup of tea.

If you commute in a crush of daily urban gridlock and park in tight downtown lots, I would not opt for the Flex.

For some reason, Ford installed those annoying turn signals where you can’t tell if it’s going to blink once, twice or 50 times, and the steering column-mounted turn signal baton actually moves around in different positions. I never mastered it.

For my money, the Flex is better now than it was before.  Yet it’s still a niche vehicle in Ford’s otherwise economical, fuel-sipping fleet.

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