Test Drive: 2016 Ford Flex

Just how flexible is the Ford Flex?

The short answer: Very. Now for the longer: The Ford Flex is spacious, with all that space sensibly planned to the inch – and as modular as an Ikea bedroom. Indeed, if you crossbred the modularity of a Honda Fit and proportions of a Mini Clubman, then gave the offspring the growth hormone Vladimir Putin insists he does not feed middle distance runners, you would make the Ford Flex. Of all the crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) I’ve driven, it drives closest to a car (that’s a good thing) and is the most flexible.

The timing of this 2016 Ford Flex AWD Limited review was intentional.

Last week, we took two unrelated trips out of the city, both of which entailed transporting important goods. The first was a family move. My in-laws have sold their country getaway. Among the only ones getting much use out of it were me and the readers of these car reviews.

I was told there was a “heap of boxes”, packed and ready to be transported back to the city. They contained kitchen appliances, dishes, books, games and those sundries that seem to spontaneously generate in vacation properties, from binoculars to wasp traps. However, the promised “heap of boxes” turned out to be just eight of them. The Flex wasn’t taxed in the least. The three rows of seats fold six ways from Sunday, providing assorted combinations of volume for freight. For this trip, the third row and one mid-seat down – the 40 in a 60/40 split – rendered more than enough space. Without blocking any vision, I still could’ve driven three passengers.

The second trip required less space but the cargo was even more important to the family, requiring the comfortable and safe transport of our puppy and substitute third child. A five-month-old yellow lab, Orson is already huge. So he already has a full-size crate (if you’re not a typically deluded dog person, you’d call it a cage) that’s 71 by 107 cm when collapsed to a height of 15 cm.

We were visiting a friend’s beautiful summer home in Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes region. Picture a windblown Group of Seven painting with a kick-ass barbecue. The place is dog-friendly but full of interesting and often expensive, yet technically chewable, books and knick-knacks. Hence, bringing the puppy’s crate. Such a huge piece of carry-on should be a bitch to pack, so to speak. Not so.

A Second Opinion: 2016 Ford Flex Limited Test Drive

With the back row down, it was easy to secure the crate and create a den for Orson. The collapsed seats created a raised but flat floor above the seat well, while the collapsed crate provided a slightly higher platform for the puppy to lie on during the drives. All this flexible space is spacious. Despite Orson’s girth, we rarely saw his head in the rearview mirror. Moving the crate in and out of the trunk was easy too. There was plenty of leftover space on both sides, so the sharpish metal bars didn’t threaten to scratch in the plastic inner walls. Again, we could’ve transported much more back and forth without needing to resort to the towing hitch or roof rails.

Yes, very flexible – but flex is also a verb.

So let’s move from the applied math to the actual stats. The Flex’s cargo volume with the second and third rows down is 2,355 L; with the just the third, 1,224; with all benches up, there’s still 426 counting the spacious rear seat well. Between the two aforementioned trips, we twice drove Orson to the off-leash doggie beach in Toronto’s delightfully seedy port lands. He rested comfortably in the seat well. The floor space was longer and thinner but not unlike the dimensions of his crate.

In this case, flex can be short for flexible but it’s also about muscle. The Flex Limited trim sports a hefty and responsive 3.5L six-cylinder twin-turbocharged, direct-injection engine, which achieves 365 hp at 5,500 cycles and 350 lb-ft of torque at 3,500. It doesn’t just flex, it bulges. Better still, you can put it in sport mode and paddle between gears for an extra surge without feeling guilty because it doesn’t require premium.

1,726 mm tall, the Flex is not as far up from the ground as tippier CUVs. The view rides above compacts and sedans but not much else. The upside of being lower is the Flex drives more like a car than most SUVs. True, the turning circle is a rather wide 12.4 meters, making quick escapes a challenge, but the exceptionally long wheelbase of nearly three meters spreads the centre of gravity well, inspiring driving confidence with a decent grip. In the city, flex the engine’s muscles for quick passing and use the Sport mode for launching quickly off lights. It’s almost like driving a power sedan. The Flex AWD is rated to drink 15.7 L/100km in the city and 11.2 on the highway but, during its trial, you can bet Transport Canada wasn’t flexing accelerator the way I do in the city.

One more point regarding the use of space: that long wheelbase allows plenty of room for passengers in either back row. Some competitors assume only small children will ride in the very back. This different looking CUV remains practically tall throughout. Speaking of different looking . . .

People say it’s ugly but I disagree.

In my opinion, most other CUVs and SUVs are the ugly ones. Worse, they are generically so – looking dully similar. Even if you don’t like it, the Flex is at least not afraid to try something wholly unique. The French have a word that loosely translates to ugly-beautiful for someone who is not conventionally pretty. Think Shelley Duvall or Frida Kahlo. The Flex is jolie laide: ugly or even hideous to some but compelling and attractive to a specific connoisseur.

If you’re among those who think the Flex is boldly striking and classy, you’ll agree it also represents good value for money. Mostly. Another definition of flexibility could be how this vehicle is priced. The entry-level SE trim starts at about $30k, while the all-wheel drive Limited starts at $45,099. That higher price includes the bigger engine and wheels, power liftgate, navigation, superior sound system, blind-spot warnings and rearview camera with built-in warning beeps of its own. It’s a decent package.

(In fact, the warning beeps are so effective, I was gobsmacked to notice there was a scratch on the back left bumper. This was a new car with barely 1,700 km on the dial. So I assumed I must’ve been the one to cause the scratch. So why hadn’t the system warned me? Had I run down an errant Pokémon, only visible on an app I will never download? Turns out, a previous driver hadn’t reported it.)

However, our tester was stuffed with some delightful extras, bringing the final price up an impressive $11,000. When you’re buying something roomy and flexible, it’s a given that you need to satisfy several riders. So Ford combines packages into “Equipment Groups”. Group 303A totals $6,800 but includes some essentially Canadian comforts and safety features: heated steering wheel, de rigueur between November and April; active park assist, which automatically parallel parks, saving a 20-minute workout in narrow downtown streets; adaptive cruise control with (very panicked sounding) collision warning; power tilt-telescopic steering column; power fold third-row seats; 10-way power heated and cooled captain’s seats.

Another lovely if expensive feature is the multi-panel vista roof, an additional $1,750. The voice-activated touchscreen navigation system is great but $800. Siri and your iPhone do it for less. The vain-sounding “Appearance Package” puts 20-inch painted high-gloss black wheels where there were 19-inch ones, plus that coal black roof, but disappears $900 from your wallet.

Finally, if you’re packing more people and freight than I had to on my two trips, consider the cargo versatility package, another $600. The roof rails and tow package provide extra cargo real estate for that huge engine to ferry. And the all-weather rubber floormats simply make life easier for anyone who ever goes outside.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Traverse
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe
Mazda CX-9
Toyota Highlander

2016 Ford Flex Limited
2016 Ford Flex Limited
Base Price $45,599
Optional Equipment $10,850
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,690
Price as Tested $58,239
Optional Equipment