By Nick Yost
It's sometimes perplexing when you go Ford Flexing.
People see this large, angular crossover vehicle and they smile. Then, they say something like “Nice looking,” or “Cute,” or simply “Cool.”
How cool can it be for goodness sake? We're looking at two boxes, a great big one for the passengers and a smaller one in front for the engine and allied equipment. Add four wheels and that's about it.
Sure, it's got a Mini-like two-tone paint job, some creases on the hood and some character marks – I believe they call them strakes – along the sides. But that's about it.
When it comes to design, this trucklet practically shouts “Minimalist.”
And yet, I understand what the admirers are saying. I, too, was attracted to the new Flex, and I'm not sure I can explain my own reaction any more than I can explain theirs.
Maybe the answer is really simple. Maybe we feel attracted to the Flex because its design is refreshingly clean and honest and spare. The Flex doesn't pretend to be something other than what it is – a versatile cross between a traditional sport-utility vehicle and a van that can carry up to seven adults and 20 cubic feet of luggage or a maximum 83 cubic feet of cargo. It simply looks like the box it came in because that is the most efficient design.
In any case, the Flex has more surprises for folks who take it for a drive. It's big – about 17 feet long and 6 feet wide – but once you get used to gauging its length and width you find that it drives more like a car than a truck. The steering is responsive, the ride is comfortable and it handles better than you would expect it to.
Sure, there is some body roll in the corners but that's because it is relatively tall and it's heavy – 4,500 pounds for the front-wheel-drive version I tested. The base price is $32,235 but the one I tested was $34,815.
The 262-horsepower V-6 power plant has been criticized for a lack of power, but I found it adequate for all my needs and it interacted smoothly with the six-speed automatic transmission. The EPA estimates fuel efficiency of front-wheel-drive Flexes at 17 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. I averaged about 19 mpg during a week of mixed suburban and highway driving.
I must admit, though, that the vehicle was never full of people or cargo, so I'm not sure how adequate or efficient the engine would have been under full-load conditions. Those concerned about the power should wait for the 2010 Flex. It will be available with Ford's new EcoBoost engine, a 3.5-liter, twin-turbo charged V-6 power plant that produces 355 horsepower.
Inside, as expected, the Flex offers plenty of room for five adults to get comfortable in the first two rows. The surprise is the third row, where two more adults of average size can actually relax.
The model I drove was the mid-range SEL and it came with a generous amount of standard equipment, including dual-zone climate control, 12-speaker premium sound system with Ipod connectivity, leather upholstery, 10-way power driver's seat, 6-way power front-passenger seat, power-adjustable pedals and lots of storage space.
Options included a convenience package which added a memory function for the power driver's seat, exterior mirrors and adjustable pedals and a power liftgate ($895); Sync, the voice activated communication and entertainment system ($395); a seven-color programmable ambient lighting package ($895) and the two-tone paint ($395).
That was probably a little more than I would actually need, but for those who want to go all out, a fully equipped Flex Limited would also have a rear-seat refrigerator, a Vista Roof, navigation system with rear-view camera, a rear DVD entertainment system and even all-wheel-drive.
The Ford Flex is not the vehicle for everyone, something Ford freely acknowledges, but it may be exactly the right one for a family that needs size, versatility and a unique personality.
See other Nick Yost automotive reviews by visiting http://www.examiner.com/x-2270-NY-autos-examiner.