William “the Refrigerator” Perry was big even when he was little. By the time he was eleven, the future NFL defensive lineman weighed north of 200 lb; during the peak of his career he was more than a third again as tall and heavy.
Fitted out in full football armour, this modern gladiator’s size might have fooled you into thinking he was imposing but slow, a Maginot Line on legs. Instead, Perry was an accomplished sprinter, capable of running the hundred meter dash in eleven-odd seconds. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, even if that cover appears to be bound in oak and lined with lead.
So it is with the Ford Flex, a vehicle that reminds some onlookers of a hearse, some of an old-fashioned Vista Cruiser, and nearly everybody of a brick. It is big, square, heavy, and blunt. It is a refrigerator knocked on its side and fitted with 20-inch wheels.
But walk on the throttle and this big lug proves it can dance. The snails spool on the twin-turbo V6, the all-wheel-drive hooks up, and the Flex lunges forward to 100 km/h in less than six seconds. That’s VW GTI territory. Touchdown! Oops. Really shouldn’t have spiked my keys there.
It’s certainly an impressive performance, but there’s a problem. Several problems, actually. If you look at the Flex’s current performance in the sales charts, it’s the exact opposite of blistering. So far this year, Flex sales are up considerably, but it’s still nearly outsold by the Expedition, another big lummox from the Blue Oval.
Meanwhile, Ford sells ten times as many Edges and six times the number of Explorers. The funky Flex is certainly interesting to look at, and the performance numbers are there. So what gives?
First, let’s take one more brief gander over the bodywork. When it first arrived, the Flex’s squared shape gave off a pleasing retro-style and they’ve somehow infused a frisson of Range Rover into the mix. Even my kid, who is three, thought so – she pointed out a Range Rover Sport that was parked nearby and said, “That car is similar. It’s not the same, but it’s similar.” The headlights, the script on the nose, the imposing angularity – the recipe’s not far off.
However, it’s the visual bulk of the Flex that many people (mostly women) seem to find off-putting. Too much station wagon, too much hearse. Families seem fine with buying a jacked-up Canyonero to haul around a single child the size of a thanksgiving turkey, but the Flex’s heft didn’t garner the same positive reaction. Most of the people who liked it were guys, and specifically car-guys. Ford’s version of an AMG wagon? Maybe.
See also: 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum First Drive
Inside, the Flex shows what happens when you build your house right to the property line on all four sides. Big the Flex may be on the outside, but it is properly vast on the inside too. This is minivan territory, though with a lower roofline. The mid-row seats are the best, though even the third row are pretty good, and the front seats have a delightfully old-school vibe; this is a futuristic vision of a big comfy cruiser from a bygone age.