Recently, Automobile magazine included the Ford Flex on its list of the "best cars that nobody buys." We've been fans of the crossover since we drove one for our first Daily Drivers review, and we certainly understand how its boxy styling — not to mention its sticker price — can limit its audience. For 2013, the Flex gets cosmetic changes.
Appearance: It's still essentially a long, boxy station wagon. The major styling update is to the front end. Ford replaces its now dated three-bar design with a single chrome band that dominates the new grille, which integrates the redesigned headlights. It reminds Lyra of Robocop. Above it, Ford spells out FLEX in bold letters. The whole effect is futuristic and eye-catching. Ford kept the parallel body lines around the car, which we think only draws attention to the boxiness. A white top is still available as an option.
Performance: Our tester had the base 3.5-liter V-6, which produces 287 horsepower and has no problems getting the 4,500-pounder up to speed, even on the highway. We would have loved to have tried the twin-turbo Ecoboost, which adds 78 horsepower. (Lyra loves the Ecoboost in her Ford F-150 pickup.) As we found before, the handling is surprisingly good and carlike for a vehicle this long. Thanks in part to the long wheelbase, the ride is smooth and grounded. The Flex corners well, and the turning radius is much better than you would expect. Still, we were grateful that the Flex has a rearview camera. The electric power steering felt just about right, erring on the heavy side. And the Flex can even tow up to 4,500 pounds.
Interior: Despite its size, the Flex is low to the ground, so it's easy to get in and out, especially with wide-opening doors. The cabin appointments struck us as a blend between car and truck, with plenty of nooks that include a deep center console and rear armrest storage. The leather seats are plush and comfortable, with a lot of head- and legroom up front and in the second row. Even the third row isn't too bad for adults. Our tester had a second row with a pass-through, so getting to the third row was a bit easier. But with this option, the Flex can seat only six; it seats seven with the second-row bench seat. The third-row seats fold easily with tugs of straps. But those straps can get caught out of reach. The optional PowerFold sounds like the way to go. The big interior change is the redesigned center console, which has a clean, hard-plastic look. The Flex's console houses the MyFord Touch system. The touch screen is nice, but it's difficult to find the right button quickly, and it's easy to accidentally brush up against a wrong key.
Our 3 favorites
Dash display: Ford has found the proper balance between the digital and analog.
Sync system: The voice recognition seems to have improved.
Rear park aid: It will tell you on which side an object is located.
Discreet key pad: The backlit keypad on the driver's door turns off when not in use.
Bluetooth: No wires. Stream, don't plug into your player's audio.
Cargo space: There's even room for some furniture.
The bottom line: The redesigned Ford Flex gains more modern features — inside and out — and remains a fine minivan alternative.