2013 Ford Flex Road Test Review
The 2013 Ford Flex offers a family-friendly combination of luxury, performance and style
Scores High: High-tech features, aggressive styling, advanced crash protection, massive interior space
Scores Low: Price can skyrocket with options, Sync remains quirky, only driver’s window is one-touch
Total Car Score Analysis
Now into its fourth year of production, the Ford Flex’s Total Car Score has consistently placed it at the top of the Large Crossover and SUV segment. It’s always offered family shoppers a compelling mix of style, functionality and high-tech features. But Ford has been on a product blitz in recent years, so making the already good Flex even better is almost expected of today’s Blue Oval brand.
Speaking of Blue Ovals, the 2013 Ford Flex is one of the few Ford products to not feature the company’s famous emblem somewhere between the large wagon’s hood and front bumper. In a nod to the Flex’s distinct and growing brand image Ford instead chose to promote the word “FLEX” in large letters along the hood’s leading edge while eliminating all other “Ford” indications (a Blue Oval does make its traditional appearance on the rear hatch). Other styling enhancements for 2013 include new headlights, a smoother front-end that flows into the hood and fenders, six new wheel designs and standard dual-exhaust outlets. Buyers seeking a more distinctive Flex can order the new appearance package on SEL and Limited models that features a painted roof and exterior mirrors, 20-inch wheels, a unique gauge cluster and upgraded leather seats.
The changes to the Flex aren’t just skin deep. The base engine makes 25 more horsepower for 2013 (now totaling 287 hp and 254 pound-feet of maximum torque). This engine also gains 1 mpg in fuel efficiency ratings, bringing them to 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined for front-wheel drive versions (17/23/18 for all-wheel drive). The optional EcoBoost engine now offers 365 peak horsepower (up from 355) and 350 lb-ft of torque and comes standard with all-wheel drive. Its mileage ratings are 16/21/18, but both engines benefit from new electronic power-assisted steering that reportedly increases fuel efficiency by 4 percent. This new steering system is hard mounted and features a quicker ratio, giving the 4,800-pound Flex a surprisingly responsive -- and even nimble -- feel. Electronic steering can go either way in terms of providing the driver with effective feedback through the steering wheel versus feeling artificial and numb. The difference is largely based on the skill of engineers in tuning it. Thankfully, Ford got it right with the Flex.
They also got it right in terms of cabin noise, as the Flex is even quieter than before at highway speeds thanks to increased sound insulation in areas like the dash, rear wheel liners and hood insulation. The six-speed automatic transmission puts the V6 engine just off idle at 65 mph, and even with the optional 20-inch wheels road and engine noise is effectively muted. The cabin remained quiet when driving our Flex over the wet and snow-packed roads in Oregon’s Pacific Coast Mountains.
Those same snowy roads gave us the opportunity to test out Ford’s new Curve Control technology that uses the Flex’s brakes to keep it from sliding offline through a corner. Curve Control’s activity was usually undetectable as we navigated the slippery twists and turns in the mountains above Portland. But when we dramatically induced the safety system by purposely entering a corner too quickly it was heartening to feel the effects of Curve Control bring the Flex back in line with where the steering wheel was pointed. When combined with the optional all-wheel drive, Curve Control makes the 2013 Ford Flex one of the more capable all-weather vehicles available (despite its low-profile, non-SUV-like appearance).
Interior Design and Function
As a large, three-row crossover Ford’s Flex needs to have enough interior room to carry up to seven passengers comfortably. It does, with the most second- and third-row legroom in the segment and an easy flip-and-fold system for stowing the rear seats to create a flat load floor. Ultimately a minivan still offers better access to the back seats, but the Flex makes loading seven people about as easy as a hinged-door vehicle can get.
Once loaded up all passengers benefit from wide, flat seats with excellent leg and back support, along with plenty of room in all directions. Multiple power points, a large center console and a long list of options further the Flex’s appeal as a multi-purpose vehicle for people- or cargo-hauling (as does the 4,500-pound tow capacity).
Primary Features and Options
The big Flex news for 2013 is the redesigned gauge cluster that incorporates Ford’s high-tech SYNC interface as standard equipment on base SE models (starting at $30,885). The voice-activated base features of SYNC includes phone dialing through a Bluetooth-connected phone, but to take full advantage of SYNC it must be combined with MyFord Touch, which requires stepping up to the SEL version of the Flex (starting at $33,225) to get voice-activated music selection, turn-by-turn navigation directions and touchscreen-operated climate and audio settings.
Other major options include Ford-exclusive inflatable seatbelts ($195) for second- and third-row passengers, second-row captain’s chairs ($750) and multiple sunroofs ($1,595) on SEL models. Step up to the Limited trim (starting at $39,230) and you get all-wheel drive as standard equipment. The more powerful EcoBoost engine is also available on the limited, but it moves the starting price up to $44,645. You can also order a refrigerated second-row console ($795), and if you want adaptive cruise control, power-operated third-row seats, Active Park Assist, Collision Warning, heated-and-cooled front seats and 20-inch wheels you can get them in a $2,980 package. But adding all this will quickly push a 2013 Ford Flex Limited’s price to $50,000, and it still won’t have more than a single one-touch power window (the driver’s).
It’s Perfect For…
Moving a lot of people and cargo has been easy with modern SUVs and crossovers, but doing it in style, and with even a modicum of performance and personality, has been more difficult (and usually much more expensive). The 2013 Ford Flex effectively splits the difference between non-premium (and non-engaging) three-row crossovers and the premium branded models that costs thousands more – as long as you go easy on the Flex’s option packages.
For family car shoppers looking to step outside of the norm, without stepping into a car payment that rivals their mortgage payment, the 2013 Ford Flex is a worthy alternative. It’s unique style and high-tech features would make it appealing even if it wasn’t a fully functional people mover boasting cutting edge safety technology. But it’s all of these things, as reflected in its history of earning a segment-leading Total Car Score.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Ford Flex Limited with 3.5-liter EcoBoost and All-Wheel Drive
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $44,645
Options on Test Vehicle: Navigation, xenon headlights, SYNC, MyFord Touch, Blind Sport Warning System, HD Radio (all included), second-row inflatable seat belts ($195), Refrigerated Console ($795), second-row 40/40 reclining seats($750), Multi-Panel Vista Roof ($1,595), Option Package 303A (includes Active Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning, PowerFold third-row seat, 8-way power front seats with heating/cooling, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, 20-inch polished wheels -- $2,980), Destination ($825)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $50,990
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The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.