Call it a full-size station wagon if you will -- though Ford would prefer not to, opting for a full-size crossover moniker instead -- the Flex effectively fills the family-vehicle hole left by the departed Freestar minivan in Ford's line-up. For the latest model year, Ford has given the Flex its first refresh and added a dose of funky styling to the already-funky CUV.
Though it will likely continue to live in the sales shadow of the Explorer, the exterior changes to the Flex conspire to give it far more visual oomph than its relatively conservative sibling. Ford concentrated its attention on the front-end of the crossover, adding a new grille with a central bar rendered in chrome that flows into redesigned headlight clusters on either side. Though still containing a healthy amount of chrome, the look is perhaps less gauche than the shiny mug of the Edge.
Notably, Ford ditched the grille-mounted blue oval badge, making "Flex" lettering the only identifying mark on the front-end. A standard dual-exhaust setup along with new paint and wheel options round out the exterior alterations.
Under the hood, the base 3.5-liter V6 gains 20 additional horsepower for a total of 285 while also managing to return one mpg more in both highway and city cycles (18/25 mpg). Torque is also up by 7 lb-ft feet.
Unchanged is the optional (on some trim levels) 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine with twin-turbochargers and direct injection, though its 355 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque should be more than enough for most buyers. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, while the EcoBoost gains a SelectShift function with paddle shifters.
Other changes found in the refreshed Flex include a redesigned center console and a new instrument panel with a centrally-located speedometer, as well as the most recent version of MyFord Touch.
Push-button start, rain-sensing wipers and an available refrigerated console in the second row are also new. Optional tech features include Ford's "BLIS" blind-spot monitoring system, "ACC" radar-based adaptive cruise control and inflatable seatbelts for the second-row seats.
Those looking to make even more of a visual statement can opt for the new Appearance Package, which adds a two-tone treatment to the roof and mirrors, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, leather seats and unique door trim panels.
This boldly-styled people-mover features a standard seating capacity of six, with an optional split bench seat in the second row upping that number to seven.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Flex is available in SE, SEL, Limited and range-topping Titanium trim levels.
The Flex SE is equipped with the usual creature comforts such as power accessories and A/C, while the SEL adds Dual-Zone Electronic Automatic Temperature Control, 10-way power heated driver's seat and six-way power heated passenger seat, EasyFold 2nd row seats, a six-CD Sirius Satellite radio and a brighter exterior thanks to some chrome accents.
The previously range-topping Limited jazzes up the looks even more with larger, 19-inch polished wheels and even more chrome accents, heated and leather-trimmed seats in the first two rows, HID headlights and LED taillights, Ford's Sync Bluetooth- and digital audio device-interface system, and a Power Liftgate.
For those seeking nothing but the best wrapped in a sleek and stylish package, the Flex Titanium is for you. This trim level adds to the Limited trim package with charcoal black leather-trimmed 1st and 2nd-row seats with Grey Alcantara Suede inserts. The steering wheel gets perforated leather with painted alloy metallic accents, as well as cruise and audio controls built-in.
The interior gets extra style with a circle check applique pattern on the dash and door inserts, along with illuminated scuff plats made of stainless steel. The outside of the Titanium gets a dose of black for the headlamps, tail lamps, mirror skull caps, roof and black chrome on the liftgate and grille. The Titanium rides on 20-inch polished aluminum wheels.
The options list is long, featuring niceties such as an interior refrigerator, second-row footrests, Ford Sync in-car communications and entertainment system, cap-less fueling, a 2,300-song MP3 player, voice-activated DVD navigation system, ceiling-mounted CD/DVD player, programmable ambient interior lighting and a Multi-Panel Vista Roof.
Because of the car's mission in life, safety is a huge part of the equation too, as the Flex sports Ford's AdvanceTrac with RSC electronic stability program across the range, along with six airbags (not counting optional inflatable rear seatbelts).
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).