First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
2009 Ford Flex. Click image to enlarge

Manufacturer’s web site

Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2009 Ford Flex

Sidebar: Ford’s Oakville Assembly Complex

New York, New York – When I first saw the Ford Flex as a concept at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show (where it was introduced as the Fairlane concept) I must admit that I didn’t get it.

“Another truck? Doesn’t Ford have enough of those? And what’s with the Hanna-Barbera styling?” were the uncharitable thoughts that occurred to me.

Later, at another event, I got cornered (literally) by then Ford of Canada President Bill Osborne, who looked me straight in the eye, and said, “So, Paul, what do you think of our new Flex?”

First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
2009 Ford Flex. Click image to enlarge

“Well, Bill… May I call you Bill?” I began.

“That would depend on what you think of our Flex,” he replied, eyes narrowing.

Put it this way: After I’d finished my brief conversation with Mr. Osborne about the Flex, we parted company, and I didn’t give it more thought until the official launch in New York City.

By which time, it transpires, the Flex has evolved from a puzzling concept (at least, to me!) into an interesting, appealing, clever and fresh take on the crossover class. Although Ford is hedging its bets by presenting the Oakville, Ontario-built Flex as a niche vehicle, I think it’s going to be a big success that could find buyers across many market categories.

First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
2009 Ford Flex. Click image to enlarge

You might wonder what prompted my conversion. First, the Flex looks great. Turns out there’s nothing “over the top” about it, even though its key individual design elements (the grooved side panels, the aluminum-look hatch, the straight lines, wrap-around lights, the prominent grille) may seem risky. The fact is, as a whole, the Flex design is completely integrated and works wonderfully.

Second, the exuberant exterior is not let down by the interior. Open the door and you’re immediately drawn into the detail and quality of its component parts. The look and feel of the surfaces and materials, the operation of its controls and the availability of an unexpected array of amenities (like a compressor-driven fridge between the seats) speak to a determined effort on the part of Ford designers and engineers to get it right. I don’t want to gush too much, but inside the Flex is a great place to be.

Finally, the powertrain and ride are more than adequate. No disappointments here. Power is just fine, the suspension is sporty but comfortable, and driving the Flex is engaging but relaxing.

First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
2009 Ford Flex. Click image to enlarge

So what is a Flex? It’s six or seven passenger crossover built on an extended (by 12.5 centimetres) Taurus/Freestyle platform. Because of the extra length, occupants in its three-row seating have plenty of legroom in all positions, and especially in the second row (where you’ll find available Rolls-Royce style carpeted foot rests; it’s that spacious). The rear seat folds into the floor when not required, significantly expanding the cargo area.

It’s kind of an SUV from the outside (although lower, wider and cooler than you may expect), with the space and functionality of a minivan inside. If you’d like to get out of a minivan, but want the room and practicality in a more stylish package, the Flex will be an obvious option. Or if you want a fresh take on an SUV-style vehicle that drives like a car, and doesn’t use as much fuel as a truck, the Flex will also work. And you know the Flex will be the subject of all manner of TV-show makeovers.

It will tow 4,500 pounds, as well, so chances are you can easily haul your boat or trailer.

First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
2009 Ford Flex. Click image to enlarge

Flex’s 265 horsepower is supplied by Ford’s 3.5-litre Duratec V6 engine (as found in the Ford Edge), connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. Two versions – SEL and Limited – are offered, in either two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations. Pricing ranges from $34,999 for the FWD SEL to $42,999 for the AWD Limited.

Standard equipment is very generous, and includes Ford’s AdvanceTrac vehicle stability control, side curtain airbags, dual zone automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, tilt steering column, heated power mirrors, heated seats, power driver’s seat and Sirius satellite radio. Second row seating consists of a choice between two bucket seats or a bench seat (no charge option).

The Limited version includes leather seating surfaces on the first two rows, 19-inch alloy wheels (SEL receives 18-inch alloys), power adjustable pedals, HID headlamps, power liftgate, Sony audio and chrome exterior trim.

First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
2009 Ford Flex. Click image to enlarge

Optional extras include the contrasting white or silver roof, navigation system with rear backup camera, panorama sunroof, DVD entertainment, remote start, chrome roof rails, Sync media system and 20-inch wheels (seen on the accompanying images, but not available until 2009).

Notable Flex features are sills that are “built into” the base of the doors, which make it easier to enter and exit the vehicle, the black A-, B-, and C-pillars and tinted glass which gives the impression that the roof is floating above the vehicle, a touch-pad that locks and unlocks the doors, and the aforementioned fridge – very handy on a long trip.

Speaking of a long trip, we got to drive the Flex for a few hundred kilometres on a route that started in New York City, meandered through tony neighbourhoods of Connecticut, and returned to Manhattan along local turnpikes. The Flex is agile, stable and extremely quiet; put the windows up and you pretty much insulate yourself from the busy world outside.

The engine is quite powerful and the transmission shifts smoothly, although the return to first could be abrupt when accelerating from a near-stop. Instrumentation is easy to read, and controls simple to operate. Appearance throughout the cabin is top-notch, both in design and execution.

First Drive: 2009 Ford Flex  ford first drives
2009 Ford Flex. Click image to enlarge

My only issue behind he wheel concerns the lack of a telescoping steering column. Our Limited models were equipped with power adjustable pedals, but I never could get my short legs, long torso and medium arm length properly situated. Tilt and telescope would be my preference.

Fuel economy for the FWD Flex is rated at 12.6/8.4 L/100 km, city/highway, and for the AWD Flex it’s 13.5/9.2 L/100 km, city/highway on regular fuel. Look for Ford’s new “Ecoboost” gasoline turbocharged direct injection (GTDI) 3.5L V6 engine in the Flex for 2010. It produces more power, but uses less fuel.

So if you’re reading this – Bill – I like it fine.

At a glance: 2009 Ford Flex

Available: July, 2008

  • SEL FWD: $34,999
  • Limited FWD: $40,999
  • SEL AWD: $36,999
  • Limited AWD: $42,999

    Selected options:

  • Rear console refrigeration system – $650
  • Two-tone roof – $500
  • Vista Roof: $1,700
  • Navigation system with rear backup cmera: $2,500
  • DVD Entertainment: $1,200
  • Class 3 towing package – $500

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Ford Motor Company of Canada
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