Used Vehicle Review: Ford Flex, 2009-2018

Vehicle Type

Unique looks, flexible interior, and a “do anything, anytime” demeanour.

Full-size crossover utility

History/Description

Ford launched the Flex for model year 2009 to much fanfare, and it went on to become one of the most instantly recognizable affordable utility vehicles on the scene. With blocky and squared-off styling, all-wheel drive (AWD), plenty of space and flexibility, and nothing less than Ford’s latest in connectivity and safety tech, this Ontario-built sports ute went on to find homes in thousands of Canadian driveways.

The three-row crossover offered up room for seven occupants and packed features including Ford Sync, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a rear-view camera, dynamic cruise control, remote start, premium audio systems, automatic lights, and plenty more.

All said, Flex attracted many shoppers with its blending of unique style, friendly flexibility, and availability with a full range of modern feature content. Note that model year 2013 saw an update that gave Flex’s standard V6 engine more power and added new looks and feature content, inside and out. If it’s in your budget, a 2013 or newer Flex may be the way to go.

Engines/Trim

Look for SE, SEL and Limited trim grades as basic, mid-line, and loaded, respectively. Other trim grades and special edition models were available too, including the Flex Titanium, and an available Flex Sport Appearance Package.

All units got standard V6 power from either a naturally aspirated 3.5L V6 with 262 or 287 horsepower depending on the year, or a 3.5L EcoBoost twin-turbocharged V6 good for 355 horses. The Flex packed AWD as standard on models with EcoBoost power, and AWD was available on models with the lower-output V6, too. Front-wheel drive was standard.

What Owners Like

Flex owners tend to rave about the unique looks, flexible interior, and a “do anything, anytime” demeanour. From family hauler to mobile office, numerous owners have found appeal in the Flex for a wide range of reasons. Power output from the EcoBoost V6 is highly rated, as is Flex’s all-weather confidence on models with AWD. Feature favourites include the powerful heated seats and so-called “limousine-like rear legroom” enabled in part by Flex’s long wheelbase. On most aspects of comfort, versatility and looks, this machine seems to have hit the mark. Highway cruising comfort and cargo space are also commonly praised.

What Owners Dislike

Some owners wish for more conventional styling and better fuel economy, especially with the higher-output engine. Others wish for an easier time parking – citing Flex’s long wheelbase and relatively thin windows as possible challenges to effective manoeuvring in tight quarters.

Here are some owner reviews.

Pro Tip

Watch the ongoing costs, remembering that Flex has at least two features that may add considerably to them.

First, the 3.5L EcoBoost engine can be thirsty, especially if driven by heavy-footed drivers. Though it’s big on torque output and relatively thrifty given its output, this punchy engine can still put the fuel away in a hurry when pushed – so be sure to check fuel economy ratings before you buy.

Second, note that large wheels come with large tires that are pricey to replace. When it’s time to buy Flex’s summer or winter tires, costs go up dramatically on larger tire sizes, so be sure to check the replacement costs (and the condition of the vehicle’s existing tires) before you buy – especially if the model is running on 20-inch rims. Knowing the costs ahead of time can prevent unpleasant surprises

For lowest running costs, we recommend a lower-grade model with the standard 3.5L V6, and avoiding the big wheels.

Here’s Your Test Drive To-Do List

Read This First

Here’s a great discussion on context, and how to understand reliability information posted online by owners of a given vehicle. Though numerous owners have reported problems with their Flex, this discussion reinforces the importance of noting the sample size, noting that people go online to complain about their vehicles and not to praise them, and shows what’s arguably the norm in the Flex owner’s community: a group of happy owners who have experienced few if any problems, many of whom say they’ll buy another Flex in a heartbeat.

Check the PTU

The Power Takeoff Unit (PTU) is the mechanical heart of Flex’s AWD system. Based on owner complaints about PTU problems in this and similar applications, shoppers are advised to consider a pre-purchase inspection of this component to be mandatory ahead of their purchase of any AWD-equipped Flex.

The PTU should be inspected for signs of fluid leakage or problems with its venting system, and fluid levels should be checked, too. Changing the fluid in this component pre-emptively – especially if you’re unsure when or if it was last changed – is a great idea too. Failing to properly maintain, inspect, and care for this component on a regular basis can lead to a pricey failure.

According to numerous owners, regular fluid checks and more-frequent-than-advised fluid changes can go a long way towards keeping this component ticking. Here’s some reading, and some more.

Soggy Carpets

Press your hand, or a dry rag, into the carpeting of the Flex you’re considering, paying attention to the outer front corners of the vehicle’s floor – for instance, the front driver and passenger footwells. Note any dampness, or unpleasant smells that could indicate the formation of mould or mildew. Some owners have reported water leaks in heavy rain, possibly caused by a blocked, pinched, or improperly routed sunroof drain tube. Here’s some more reading. As this issue can be somewhat complicated to have repaired outside of warranty and may require removal of some interior components, shoppers are best advised to confirm that the vehicle they’re considering isn’t suffering from a water leak, before they buy.

Overheating

If you encounter an engine overheat situation, you’ll get a warning in the instrument cluster. Pull over as soon as possible, and follow instructions in the owner’s manual. Overheating may be caused by a bad cooling fan module, according to owners in this discussion. The fan module may be a do-it-yourself repair for mechanically inclined owners, though a dealer is likely the best bet for repair, if needed.

EcoBoost Warnings

Some owners of the EcoBoost-powered Ford Flex (and other models) have complained of issues, up to and including engine failure, caused by several factors. Issues with timing chains and associated hardware, fluid leaks, improper coolant installed at the dealer, and turbocharger failure are rare against total sales volume, but worth noting. Here’s some more reading.

Signs of trouble with the 3.5L EcoBoost engine may include a rattle or scraping sound from the engine at cold start-up (pop the hood and start the vehicle’s engine, listening closely, and insisting that the seller ensures the vehicle is cold and hasn’t been driven for several hours before you arrive).

A Check Engine Light (CEL) referencing a misfire code can be another trouble sign, too. This engine should also be inspected for signs of coolant or oil leakage from the front cover, and both turbochargers. Any smoke or other visible emission from the tailpipe aside from steam is a good reason to move to another unit.

If buying a Flex with EcoBoost power, we’d recommend considering a full pre-purchase inspection by a Ford technician to be absolutely mandatory, and to obtain any extended powertrain warranty coverage available, just to be safe.

Hard Shifting / Loss of Power

If the Flex you’re considering has trouble shifting smoothly, or feels like it’s surging, hesitating, or slamming when applying throttle or upshifting, hold off on your purchase until you have the vehicle inspected professionally, or move to another unit. Based on information in this thread and many others, problems like this typically require some combination of a transmission fluid flush and fill, a reprogramming of the transmission’s computer brain, or the replacement of one or more transmission sensors.

Sunroof

If the Flex you’re considering has the Vistaroof sunroof, open and close it several times, confirming that it operates smoothly, and as expected. Any trouble opening or closing, or a sudden reversal in direction, may indicate a problem. Check for rust around the roof near the sunroof opening, and check the glass carefully for signs of cracking or other damage.

Back-up Camera

The back-up camera on the Ford Flex should appear within less than a second of engaging Reverse and display a clear image out the rear of the vehicle. If that’s not the case, or if the camera display appears sporadically or after some delay, the camera may need to be replaced, or the system reset.

Electronic Gremlins

Electronic problems, including issues with the central command system, power accessories, stereo system, windows and locks, ignition, and other high-end electronics can all be caused by a weak or dying battery.

Especially where issues like these seem sporadic and random, start any diagnosis by confirming that the battery in the Flex you’re considering is healthy and fresh, replacing as needed. Do not underestimate how much havoc a weak battery can wreak with modern car electronics.

Water Pump

Based on information in this thread, and this one, shoppers are advised to have any used Flex they’re considering professionally inspected for signs of impending water pump failure. Ask a Ford technician to inspect the water pump for signs of external leakage, and to check the engine oil for possible signs of coolant contamination, especially on older (2011 and older) units. The cost to replace a water pump on either of Flex’s engines isn’t cheap, and numerous failures have been noted.

Water pump failure can cause catastrophic and unrepairable engine damage, though several warning signs (a slow coolant leak, unwanted noise) may provide early warning. This reinforces the importance of regular fluid level checks and regular professional inspections and maintenance.

Note that many owners have chosen to pre-emptively replace their water pumps at around 150,000 kilometres to avoid possible issues down the line.

Other Useful Information

Software Updates

One or more software updates may be available for the Flex you’re considering. These updates are applied by dealers to correct some latent issue or to improve or optimize the functionality of one or more systems in the vehicle. Software updates can fix or prevent problems with transmission smoothness, improve the operation of the central SYNC command system, fend off unwanted battery drain, improve fuel economy, and more.

With the VIN number of the Flex you’re considering in hand, work with a dealer service advisor to determine which, if any, software updates are outstanding, taking steps to have any available software updates applied, ASAP. Running the most up-to-date software is a key way to prevent unwanted problems with the vehicle down the line.

Rear Quarters

Most test drives focus on what’s near the driver as they sit in the driver’s seat, but don’t forget about Flex’s rear seating area, where your passengers will undoubtedly spend plenty of time. Before you buy, confirm that all sliding / folding / power-adjustable rear seating provisions are working properly by moving all rear seats through their range of positions, several times. Ditto the rear climate control system, rear-seat entertainment console (if equipped), and the power windows, door locks and door handles in the rear of the vehicle. A check of the power tailgate, if equipped, is also advised.

Recalls

By entering the VIN into the Ford website you can see if any recalls apply to the vehicle you’re considering.

Verdict

Though Ford Flex is a model widely enjoyed by a large owner’s community, shoppers are advised to consider a pre-purchase inspection to be absolutely mandatory – with special attention paid to the water pump on either engine, as well as any possible trouble-signs from the EcoBoost engine, for maximum peace of mind. This one’s a good candidate for any available extra powertrain warranty coverage on offer, too. Our recommendation? Go with a 2012 or newer unit where possible and add any available powertrain warranty coverage possible, for maximum peace of mind.

Crash Test Ratings

IIHS: here
NHTSA: N/A

Powertrain warranty candidate. 9/6/2018 6:28:00 AM