2012 Ford Flex Limited Review

Ford Flex EcoBoost

We’ve been reviewing a lot of press cars here at RFD lately. This isn’t one of them. Out of the various choices on the market, this is the one my fiancee, Elana, plunked down her own cold hard cash to buy. I advised her on the options for what she wants and needs, but ultimately the choice was hers, and this is it. I approve.

You don’t get a Flex as a sporty crossover. The Mazda CX-5 that Josh reviewed is good for that. The Flex is the same length as a Chevy Tahoe, and seven inches shorter. Most of that is the Flex’s lower ride height, while the Tahoe towers over traffic like the truck based body-on-frame SUV it is. But the Flex doesn’t drive like a truck at all – it drives like a Tahoe sized car. It’ll lean in the turns some, but not as much as my 2002 Focus, which weighs literally a ton less. Thanks to its 3.5 liter V6 EcoBoost motor, it has no problem getting up to speed, and the all wheel drive means there’s no drama, just motivation. Yet it still swallows the family and belongings, too. Could the Flex be an enthusiast’s car after all?

Ford Flex

Specifications

Trim: Limited
Transmission: 6-Speed Auto
Engine: 355-hp 3.5 Liter, V6 EcoBoost (twin turbo)
Drive: All Wheel Drive

Exterior: Ingot Silver
Interior: Dune

Purchase Price: $28,500

Hauling People

Ford Flex interior

My media contact with Ford called the Flex “a living room on wheels,” and she’s absolutely right. There’s leather everywhere. The front seats are heated and provide support in all the right places. They’re not particularly bolstered, but in this the kind of car you expect comfort, not Recaro sport seats. As Elana says, “They’re designed to be comfortable while you run all over God’s half acre getting shit done.”

The best part is the enormous second row, which has even more room than the front. It is the most roomy, comfortable back seat I have ever sat in, including a Chevy Tahoe. Elana has two boys who will be growing a lot over the next few years, so this was an important consideration. They were already getting cramped in the back seat of the Focus. We don’t want that happening in the Flex. Fortunately, it won’t. The second row gets its own independent climate controls. These can be managed by the back seat passengers, controlled from the front, or shut off completely if the kids twiddle the knobs too much.

Ford Flex rear controls

The third row seats aren’t nearly as roomy, but that’s OK. I fit, but I wouldn’t be comfortable back there for a long trip. It’s still a whole lot more usable than my BRZ’s back seat, and barely smaller than the back seat of the Focus. More often than not the third row will remain stowed away, but it can be deployed to separate the boys if they can’t occupy the second row together without starting World War III.

I do have to ding the comfort rating a little bit for the driving position. A tilt/telescoping wheel and pedals that move back and forth let me find pretty much any driving position I want, which is great. But the wheelwell intrudes into the driver’s footwell enough to give me trouble finding a comfortable place to put my left foot.

Hauling Stuff

There is a seemingly endless variety of storage areas, large and small, scattered throughout the Flex. We’re still finding them all. Elana’s sons play all of the sportsball ever, and there’s plenty of room for all of the assorted gear and equipment that go with it. I generally pack and travel very light, because my motorcycle and BRZ don’t have a lot of space. But when we took the Flex to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this past weekend to check out the 24 Hours of LeMons race, we never even opened the pod bay door, Hal power liftgate. I just tossed a suitcase and my camera bag in the footwell behind the passenger seat, and we were good.

The Flex can tow

Speaking of LeMons, I spotted this sister ship in the paddock, which had clearly towed up one of the competitors’ cars. One reason Elana chose the Flex is because unlike many large crossovers, this one is rated to tow up to 4,500lbs. That could be a rally car or LeMons car of our own. The Subaru Outback can only tow a maximum of 3,000lbs, and as much as I like Subarus, the Outback fell out of contention on this point alone. After seeing the Flex in action as a tow vehicle, I have no doubt that the Flex is more than capable of hauling our future race car.

Hauling Ass

ecoboost

I enjoyed the 310hp four-cylinder 2.3 liter EcoBoost motor in the Mustang. Though I’m surprised they don’t squeeze more than 355 ponies out of the larger 3.5 liter V6 (365hp in the new ones), I’m amazed at how quickly this two ton brick takes off when I put my right foot down. It has more power than my BRZ and Focus combined, and there’s no hesitation when I ask to unleash it. The turbos spool up faster than the accompanying downshift that launches me to warp speed. That’s not a criticism of the transmission, which shifts smoothly and intelligently, never hunting for gears. It’s just how fast the boost builds. With some practice and planning, a tap or two of the paddle shifters could fix that. Traction control, when it kicks in, is unobtrusive, and the all wheel drive sends the power to wherever it needs to go. No drama. No mad skids. Just a whole lot of quick, efficient get up and go.

This is no BRZ, so I’m not expecting handling that’ll hold off Porsches on the track. With that in mind, it’s rather good, especially considering the size, weight, and especially the height of the Flex. It doesn’t like to be chucked around corners, but when driven reasonably smoothly it can handle the twisty bits quite well for what it is. It’s perfectly good for emergency maneuvers, and can even hustle down a country back road if your control inputs are smooth, but you can tell it doesn’t want to do it all the time, while a sports car begs you for more. Ford says the Flex has anti-rollover protection as part of its traction and stability control system. I don’t comprehend how a braking system, designed to limit two-dimensional movement, can affect the third dimension of height, but I certainly don’t claim to know everything. It certainly doesn’t feel likely to go Suzuki Samurai on me (should they have called it the Suzuki Seppuku?) so whatever they’re doing, it’s working.

At a weight of 4,781lbs you don’t expect the Flex to stop on a dime, but it still does quite well. Its 255/45/20 tires help, as do the large four wheel disc brakes. This particular Flex came to us with warped front rotors, despite its Certified Pre-Owned status and our request for it to be checked out, but braking power isn’t affected. We’ll likely replace them in the spring if they don’t get any worse.

The Return of the Station Wagon

nhms

The Flex is made to carry up to seven people and their stuff in comfort, and it excels at that job. The Flex handles better than any two ton living room on wheels has any right to, and with the EcoBoost motor it accelerates better, too. It’s worth pointing out that while the Flex is rather uncommon on the east coast, I saw no less than four of them at NHMS. I’d never seen that many of them in the same place in my life, including dealer lots. It may say something about the type of car the Flex is that multiple people who will go to a race track drive them.

The SUV craze started when people didn’t want to be seen in station wagons and minivans, but a big tough truck instead. The Flex has aspects of SUVs like all wheel drive and a tall seating position that people like about them, but it comes full circle back to being a full sized wagon again. Yet it’s so much better than the last full sized American station wagons, like the Ford Crown Victoria and the Chevy Caprice. Instead of floating down the road, it makes its way assertively. It has many more luxuries, like an automatic hatch (useful when your hands are full), third row seats that stow and deploy themselves at the touch of a button, and automatic parallel parking. And it does it with a sleek, tough, modern appearance instead of the cheesy fake wood paneling of the old LTD Country Squire.

Bang For The Buck

logo

This particular example scored much higher on this scale as a Ford Certified Pre-Owned car than it would have as a new car. Though a basic 2015 Flex SE starts at $29,100, getting all wheel drive requires a step up to an SEL, starting at $34,050 so equipped. As I described in Buy Used, Or Buy New, I couldn’t build a new Flex Limited on Ford’s web site for under $42,000. The $13,500 savings is almost enough to buy a Fiesta to bring along as an escape pod. By giving up on buying a brand new car, she gained a gently used, well equipped car in excellent condition for slightly less than a brand new model with no options.

And despite its age, the car is in excellent condition. With the exception of the older style front end and a bit of weathering on the tailgate’s blue oval logo, it’s difficult to tell this isn’t a new car without looking at the odometer. I can certainly recommend Ford’s CPO program as a good way to save a lot of money if you’re willing to settle for a not quite new car. That’s how Elana got a whole lot more car for only slightly more money than I paid for my new BRZ. I have no regrets about buying the BRZ, but I’ll strongly consider the CPO route myself once it’s time to buy a new daily driver for myself.