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2013 Ford Flex: Refinement of the "roadtripper"

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When Ford introduced the Flex at various American auto shows a couple of years ago, people started to wonder what was up with the Dearborn-based automaker. After all, this new vehicle’s bold design was not unanimously popular – to the extent that many feared for this unusual crossover’s future.

Fortunately, these fears were quickly set aside. I’m still not sure whether it’s because the public warmed to the vehicle’s funky looks or whether they were won over by its general characteristics and road capabilities. Whatever the case, the Flex has become one of the most popular models in its category. Yet, its success has not made Ford regret discontinuing the Freestar minivan. Truth be told, the Flex is simply a lowered minivan with conventional rear doors.

Ford decided to update the 2013 model with esthetic enhancements as well as improvements to the interior cabin and mechanics.

Goodbye, oval
Since time immemorial, Ford products have born the brand’s signature blue oval. In fact, until now, their only product to shirk the oval was the Mustang, which featured the galloping horse emblem instead. But now the Flex has dropped the company’s logo. When they redesigned the front treatment, they replaced the three chrome bars with a single one and moved the Flex name to the edge of the hood. OK, so it’s not the design innovation of the century, but it certainly improves the vehicle’s image as it lightens its overall appearance.

The rear section has also been revised. The lower portion of the hatch still features a large brushed aluminum plate, but they’ve raised the centre strip ever so slightly to match the front of the vehicle. The oval badge is still present, but it’s now located on the Flex’s lower right hip. Everything else is pretty much the same on the outside, aside from the new choice of wheels.

The updates don’t stop there, however, as the interior has also been revamped. The indicator dials are new, the dashboard has been modestly refreshed and the steering wheel has been redesigned. Some people are sure to appreciate the return of the minifridge in the centre console between the front and back seats. Ford seems to have understood that constant evolution is the only way to remain competitive.

Ford is especially proud of the changes to the MyFord Touch system. It’s still not perfect, but the system is now simpler and more intuitive. Meanwhile, security has been enhanced with inflatable rear seatbelts, an industry first. Adaptive cruise control allows the Flex to follow another vehicle at a set distance.

All about the way it drives!
As previously mentioned, the Flex failed to blow the public away with its appearance when it first launched. But once auto journalists had the chance to take it out for a test drive, the verdict shifted to overwhelmingly positive. Turns out that its road handling, quiet ride and engine performance won people over, despite the vehicle’s non-conformist looks. Occupants have no trouble getting comfy inside. Even third-row passengers can enjoy a certain amount of comfort.

I tested the Flex in Oregon, as part of a media presentation of the new model. The roads were very windy and a navigating error on my part led my down some “more than secondary” gravel roads. That said, the Flex rose to the occasion, regardless of road conditions, speed or driving style.

My test vehicle was equipped with a 3.5L V6 EcoBoost producing 355 horsepower and 350 lbs.-ft. of torque, as well as an AWD system. The other engine option is a naturally aspirated V6 that offers 285 horsepower (20 horses more than the previous version) and 255 lbs.-ft. of torque. Ford has paired both with a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with gear shifters right on the steering wheel.

In all, the facelift has not proven overly drastic, but the updates definitely align the vehicle to today’s tastes. Plus, the technical improvements add some refinement to a vehicle that was already holding its own in that regard. If you’re looking for a comfortable, reliable ride for long distances, the Flex should meet your expectations. It’s definitely one of the best choices out there for road trips.

Evaluation

Test model 2013 Ford Flex
Trim level Limited AWD EcoBoost
Price range $30,499 - $44,399
Price as tested $44,399
Warranty (basic) 3 years / 60,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years / 100,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 13.1 / 8.8 / N/A l/100km
Options AWD
Competitive models Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca, Toyota Highlander
Strong points
  • Comfort guaranteed
  • Choice of engines
  • Very spacious
  • Good road handling
Weak points
  • Not everyone likes its looks
  • Electronic systems take some getting used to
  • Some controls are hard to figure out

Editor's rating

Fuel consumption 4.0/5 In progress
Value for price 4.5/5 Comfort on wheels
Styling 3.0/5 What do you think?
Comfort 5.0/5 Best in category
Performance 4.0/5 All right, but not exceptional
Overall 4.5/5 If you can accept the way it looks, you’ll find that it has a lot to offer
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