In absolute terms, the Ford Flex is squarely brilliant. Here is a six- or seven-passenger spawn hauler with none of the minivan stigma that traumatizes suburbanites. Actually, with its blacked-out roof pillars and "floating" white or silver roof, the Flex looks like the star of Roger Corman's Attack of the 50-Foot Mini Traveller. How could this not be a Nobel-winning idea?
In terms of packaging — the art of putting the most usable space over the smallest footprint, carbon and otherwise — the Flex mops the garage floor with your typical full-size sport utility vehicle, such as Ford's own Expedition. The Flex offers about 83 cubic feet of cargo space — it's a pity children aren't cube-shaped — compared with about 103 for the Expedition. But the Flex weighs about 1,500 pounds less and rates 30 percent better fuel economy (17/24 miles per gallon, city and highway). For anyone with a big family who wants to downsize from their gawdamighty SUV — all those in favor, raise your empty wallets — the Flex compromise is pretty attractive.
Based on the Ford Taurus X platform — a large crossover, in other words — the Flex is, essentially, a supersized wagon, powered by a 3.5-liter, 262-hp V6 channeled through a six-speed automatic, with optional all-wheel drive. The Flex has fair to good acceleration, steady and predictable handling, civil and servile brakes, and the whole dynamic of the thing is served up with deep-piled serenity and a cottony ambience, thanks to a soundproofing program that includes extensive use of acoustic glass.
In up-level trim, it has glassy roof panels over each seat position. It has an honest-to-Häagen-Dazs refrigerator between the vast second-row bucket seats. It has a voice-recognition multimedia system that will keep you updated on sports scores and schedules, weather, traffic, and will even direct you to the stations in the area selling the cheapest gasoline (that's the Ford-Microsoft Sync system with Sirius Travel Link service.
And yet, right about now, nobody cares. Bear in mind that it takes anywhere from 20 to 36 months for a typical vehicle to reach market. Once the product development trajectory is set, it's virtually impossible to alter it if the target moves.
In the last year, unfortunately, the entire automotive world has been knocked off its axis, making almost every new car seem dumb, clueless and irrelevant. But they aren't, or at least they weren't. When it debuted as a concept car in 2005, the Flex seemed conspicuously clever.
Oh, but now.
I predict the Flex, as good as it is, as on-point as it is, won't help Ford uncircle the drain. Things are tough all over.