2014 Ford Flex

Call it a full-size station wagon if you will - though Ford would prefer not to, opting for the less-homely crossover designation instead - the Flex effectively fills the family-vehicle hole left by the departed Freestar minivan in the Blue Oval's lineup. Along with space for up to seven passengers and all of their gear, the Flex boasts an available 355-horsepower EcoBoost V6 and love-it-or-hate-it sheetmetal that sets it apart from the crowd.

Recent Changes
For the previous model year, Ford gave the Flex a refresh that included a more powerful standard V6, several interior tweaks and an extra dose of funky styling for what is already an extremely funky vehicle.

Overview
The Flex is the stylistic extrovert of Ford's range of people-haulers thanks to a striking, boxy-chic body with more horizontal lines than a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Ford recently made the look even more unique by adding an unusual chrome bar that spans the length of the grille and flows into the headlights on either side.

The interior is a highly functional space that offers the choice of a fixed second row-bench seat - which affords seating for seven - or a pair of sliding second-row captain's chairs that reduce passenger capacity to six but can be moved forward to extended third-row legroom. Behind that third row lies 20 cubic feet of cargo space; fold it down and there's 43.2 cubic feet to be had, while also folding the second row unlocks a cavernous 83.2 cubes.

All Flex models except come standard with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone users to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. It can also read incoming texts aloud to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, and allows the use of Ford-approved apps like The Wall Street Journal news and Pandora radio.

The Flex can be equipped with MyFord Touch, an infotainment system that builds on SYNC by letting users control everything from navigation to climate control to the sound system with voice commands. MyFord Touch also replaces conventional sound system knobs and buttons with a center-mounted eight-inch touchscreen, dual 4.2-inch displays in the instrument cluster and touch-sensitive controls in the center stack. Many consumers report that the system is a "love it or hate it" item, so those interested in the Flex are advised to try before they buy.

Powertrain Lineup
Under the hood, the Flex features a choice of naturally aspirated or twin-turbocharged "EcoBoost" V6 motors.

The base 3.5-liter V6 gained 20 additional horsepower as part of the recent refresh for total of 285 ponies in addition to 255 lb-ft of torque. With front-wheel-drive, it returns 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, while opting for all-wheel-drive reduces mileage slightly to 17/23 mpg.

Power-hungry buyers can choose a twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that produces 355 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. This motor comes only with all-wheel-drive, a pairing that's good for 16/23 mpg.

Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which comes with a pair of paddle shifters in EcoBoost equipped-flexes.

Trim Level Breakdown
The Flex is available in SE, SEL and range-topping Limited trim levels.

The Flex SE is equipped full power accessories, A/C, a power-adjustable driver's seat with manual recline, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system with an AUX input, cruise control, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, SYNC and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The SEL adds dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power heated driver's seat and six-way power heated passenger seat, EasyFold 2nd row seats, MyFord Touch, foglights, heated exterior mirrors, 18-inch wheels and a brighter exterior thanks to some chrome accents.

The Limited jazzes up the exterior even more with larger, 19-inch polished wheels and extra chrome accents, a navigation system, heated and leather-trimmed seats in the first two rows, HID headlights and LED taillights, a power liftgate, a blind-spot warning system, a 12-speaker Sony-branded sound system, a rearview camera, a wood-trimmed steering wheel and a 110-volt power outlet.

The options list is long, featuring niceties such as a refrigerated second-row console, 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, a DVD entertainment system, perforated leather upholsterym, radar-based adaptive cruise control and nulti-panel vista roof.

Occupant Safety
All Flexes protect their passengers with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Extra-cost safety items include a blind-spot monitoring system and second-row inflatable seat belts.

Key Competitors
The Flex squares off against rival three-row crossovers like the Mazda CX-9, the Honda Pilot and the GMC Acadia, none of which can match the Ford's unique looks (whether that's good or bad is, of course, a matter of personal taste).