2013 Ford Flex

The family fun box. 2013 Ford Flex gets substantial updates

With its low-slung boxy styling, the Ford Flex is hard to pin down. Is it a car, a crossover, a minivan, or an overgrown MINI Cooper? We'll call it a crossover, but that brings up another question. The Flex is a midsize crossover like Ford's own Explorer. So why would you choose it over its more popular sibling? To answer these questions, we traveled to Portland, Oregon to drive the updated 2013 Ford Flex. We found that the Flex is better than ever, and a handy vehicle for the family.

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What's New?

The 2013 Ford Flex gets a substantial update, though not a complete redesign. The look is different, especially the front end. Gone is the razor like grille, replaced by a blockier look, with a single bar across the grille and large "FLEX" letters instead of the Ford blue oval. The headlights are also revised, as are the taillights, which add LEDs. An available Appearance Package for Limited and SEL models comes with a black roof and mirrors, 20-inch wheels with painted pockets, leather seats, and unique door trim panels.

On the inside, the new Ford Flex gets more refined and more technologically advanced. The MyFord Touch entertainment and communication system makes its debut, here as the simpler second-generation version. A power tilt/telescoping steering wheel is now available, as are inflatable rear seatbelts. Improved or additional insulation under the hood, on the shock towers, and dashboard help block more noise.

Mechanically, engines in the 2013 Ford Flex get more power, the power steering on all models is electrically boosted, the brakes get larger and more efficient, the six-speed automatic transmission adds SelectShift manual shift capability, and Ford adds Curve Control to its electronic stability control.

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Ford Flex Models, Features, and Pricing

The 2013 Ford Flex is offered in three models, SE, SEL, and Limited. The SE offers only front-wheel drive, while the other come with front- or all-wheel drive. Even the base model is well equipped. Standard features on the $30,885 SE include cloth upholstery, air conditioning, interior air filter, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, auto-dimming rearview mirror, six-way power driver's seat, four-way adjustable front headrests, 60/40 split-folding second-row seat, 50/50 split-folding third-row seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, tilt/telescoping steering column, six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, auxiliary input jack, Sync communications and entertainment system, rear park assist, automatic headlights, and P235/60R17 tires on alloy wheels.

The $33,225 Ford Flex SEL ($35,175 with AWD) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power adjustable driver's seat, six-way power adjustable front passenger seat, Sirius satellite radio, MyFord Touch communications and entertainment system with eight-inch center screen, two USB ports, SD card reader, audio/video input jacks, universal garage door opener, rear cargo net, fog lights, and P235/60R18 tires.

The $39,230 Ford Flex Limited ($41,180 with AWD) gets 110-volt outlet, adjustable pedals with memory, ambient lighting, leather upholstery, keyless starting, power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, rearview camera, remote engine starting, 12-speaker Sony audio system, HD radio, navigation system with six-months of Sirius Travel Link, HID headlights, power exterior mirrors, LED taillights, rearview camera, Blind Spot Monitoring System with Cross-Traffic Alert, and P235/55R19 tires.

Ford's EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 is a $2,700 option on the 2013 Ford Flex Limited. It comes only with AWD, and also adds steering wheel shift paddles and dual exhaust with chrome tips. Other notable options include rear DVD entertainment, inflatable rear seat belts, a panoramic sunroof, a trailer-towing package, Active Park Assist automatic parking, radar cruise control, Collision Warning with Brake Support, heated and cooled front seats, and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

Standard safety equipment on all Ford Flex models includes dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain airbags with rollover deployment, traction control, electronic stability control with Roll Stability Control and Curve Control, Torque Vectoring Control, tire-pressure monitor, and SOS Post-Crash Alert system.

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Road Manners

On the road, the 2013 Ford Flex feels like a cross between a large car and a shoebox. The driver sits low with a lot of vehicle rising up rather high around him/her. The ride height is higher than a sedan but lower than a crossover, enhancing the car-like ride quality. Those two factors limit the body lean and passenger head toss you get with most crossovers. The tradeoff is a lower seating position that offers a less commanding view of the road.

Even with the optional 20-inch wheels, the updated Ford Flex does an admirable job of ironing out road imperfections and delivering a smooth ride. Handling won't inspire you to seek out twisty roads, but you won't mind hustling the Flex vehicles through tight turns.

The 3.5-liter V6 base engine adds twin independent variable cam timing (Ti-VCT) for 2013, upping Ford Flex horsepower from 262 to 287 and improving fuel economy slightly to 18 mpg city/25 highway. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V6 gains 10 horsepower to 365 and fuel economy comes in at 16/23.

The base engine is plenty powerful. It feels strong from a stop and has enough in reserve for confident passing at highway speeds thanks in part to the responsive six-speed automatic transmission. We think the base V6 will fit the bill for the majority of Ford Flex owners. The EcoBoost engine, however, just offers more of everything. It is most noticeably stronger in the midrange, making passing that much easier. It also comes with steering wheel shift paddles instead of a button on the shifter so it is easier to shift manually. While we don't think you'll need the EcoBoost, you'll certainly like it. Towing capacity is a middling 4500 pounds with either engine.

Stopping power in the 2013 Ford Flex is much improved. The brake pedal doesn't travel as far as it did in the first generation and the braking is linear and strong. The front brakes are now larger, thicker, and vented. They dissipate heat better and have much more swept area, so they will perform much better in heavy braking situations like canyon switchbacks.

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Versatile, Roomy Interior

Inside, the 2013 Ford Flex makes excellent use of space. It accommodates six or seven passengers, with three different six-passenger configurations. For the second row, buyers can opt for a three-passenger benchseat, or three two-passenger bucket seat layouts: a walkthrough, a center console with storage or a center console with a refrigerator/freezer. Ford says the fridge can hold eight soda cans but it's rather small for the $795 investment.

Ford Flex passenger space is plentiful up front, and there is enough headroom to wear a 15-gallon hat. The seats are comfortable though not thickly bolstered for best lateral support through turns. The second-row has a spacious 44.3 inches of legroom, making it quite comfortable for even taller adults. The third-row is tight on legroom and the low seat bottoms make for uncomfortable long trips. A pair of adults will fit back there, but they won't like it. Access to the third row is quite easy, as the second-row seats fold down and flip forward, and a one-touch button performs both moves for all but the larger side of the 60/40 split-folding bench.

The third-row isn't so easy to fold down, involving four straps that flip the rear seats forward and rotates them to stow as a flat load floor. Power rear seats are available as well. They are much easier to use, but they are only available as part of two packages on Flex Limited models, one that costs $2500 and the other that runs $3295.

With all the seats folded, the 2013 Ford Flex has a nicely flat load floor and a generous 83.2 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seats up, however, the there is very little space behind the third row, making it too tight for a week's worth of groceries. There is also an odd space below the third-row seats that groceries can slide into and remain out of sight.

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Quality Environment with High-Tech Features

The Flex's interior offers quality materials with soft-touch surfaces on the dashboard, door tops and armrests. The center stack features touch sensitive controls for the radio and climate controls. Two versions are offered. One is branded Sony and it comes with the Sony audio system. The touch controls are unique and they work fairly well, but we find them to be harder to use than the traditional knobs and buttons.

The 2013 Ford Flex gets the next generation of the controversial MyFord Touch system. It features two 4.2-inch LCD screens in the instrument cluster, two five-way controllers on the steering wheel, an eight-inch LCD screen in the center stack, and a media hub with two USB ports, an SD card slot, and an RCA jack for hooking up a video game system.

The touchscreen on the center stack handles phone, entertainment, climate and navigation functions. The screen is a bit less complicated than the first-gen configuration, with larger icons to press. New software controls the system and hopefully it won't lock up as often as it did in the first generation. The screen is divided into color-coded quadrants, and it can be customized to display commonly used controls. It can be controlled by voice commands as well.

2013 Ford Flex instrument cluster screens are well sorted, and Ford didn't have to make any changes to them. The left screen shows trip computer and vehicle data. It is controlled by the five-way controller on the left side of the steering wheel. The right-side instrument screen, handled by the right-side five-way controller, can display one of the areas from the center screen, allowing drivers to view two types of info at once.

MyFordTouch is at the forefront of connected technology, but it can be complicated to use and the too-frequent lockups of the first generation earned it a poor reputation. The second generation is easier to use, and we were impressed that we could program a navigation destination on the fly using voice commands.

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So, why would you choose the Flex over other midsize crossover competitors, including the Ford Explorer? Well, compared to the Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse and Dodge Durango, the Flex has a more carlike ride, greater access to connectivity, and a very unique look. It also offers more passenger configurations and better second-row legroom. The good news is all of these competitors are good vehicles, so the choice to buy a 2013 Ford Flex is more a matter of taste than any particular advantage it holds over a fine group of midsize crossovers. www.ford.com

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