Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cool Doesn’t Mean Fast: 15,000 Miles in a 2009 Ford Flex Limited

Typically, I see a station wagon as one piece of Shredded Wheat welded to a larger one. My opinion would change if the Mercedes-Benz E63, BMW M5 and Audi RS6 wagons swam across the pond to storm through suburbia. But Pat Robertson might die of cardiac arrest after learning mothers might put on shoes and enjoy their errands (worse, dads would ride in the back seat and give the babies their bottles! Heresy!).

So you would not expect me to buy what is basically Ford’s Clark Griswold Mobile for the new millennium. But that is precisely what my wife and I bought last summer. My wife wanted an epic amount of space and I wanted an adrenaline rush. She got what she wanted in spades, and 15,000 miles later, I got what I’ve found is a very nice consolation prize: coolness.

What’s Cool:

  • The roominess is ridiculous. The seats fold down with incredible ease to accommodate Bono’s ego and a box of tissues. Usually, we have the third row folded down for groceries, the stroller, etc. Ford’s super-thick floormats cover all the carpet, including the folded-down third row, and catch my son’s flying Goldfish crackers with finesse. The panoramic sunroof opens it up even more, making a ride in the Flex comparable with few other cars. The ambient lighting is a completely unnecessary feature, but it adds even more to the interior and my son loves to see purple hues appear on his Spiderman sneakers.
  • To enjoy all this room, Ford provides perforated, leather trim on top of seats that rival the foam-on-plywood feel in VW’s wagons. I fell asleep once while my wife was driving; a first since toddlerhood for sure.
  • Jesus would select this car’s 12-speaker, 390-watt, Sony sound system to listen to hymns. Surround sound mode is a great addition to any much-treasured solo trip to the grocery store. My son, who requires a 24/7 Elmo and Thomas the Tank Engine feed, is quite happy with the ceiling-mounted DVD system. We’ve yet to play anything for the over-2-year-old audience, but we do benefit from his silence while enduring insipid songs about libraries.
  • Fuel economy is very impressive for this 4,450-pound bus. We can go about 400 miles on a tank, and Ford’s mileage readout provides realistic MPG estimates. What? You’re not getting 100 mpg in your 7-series after all?
  • I can always find this car in the parking lot. No car I’ve owned has attracted this much attention for this long. A few days after we bought it, we had our windows down as we were backing out of our driveway. We heard a girl not more than 8 with a white, summer dress riding a bike with pink streamers exclaiming, “That car is TIGHT!” I don’t go a day without someone asking me about the Flex after I climb out of it.
  • Let me be clear: the Flex is not a very fast vehicle. The 3.5 liter Duratec does, however, have a significant amount of low-end grunt to get around the Escalade grumbling beside you at the stoplight.
  • Many of Ford’s V6s have sounded rather gravelly, too much like a Chevrolet Beretta. This car is as quiet as a Lexus LS460, and it rides like a Mercedes S550. I’m not kidding.
  • You do not feel any sense of worry that quota-obsessed, American corner-cutting is going to rear its ugly head. This car is put together so well that Honda and Toyota had better be worried for the sake of the Pilot and the Venza. There are no ill-fitting ovals and no cheap buttons or dials. No green radio display, either!
  • When you open the hood, the engine looks like… an engine. No Galaxy-class covers here. When the warranty expires, maintenance should be a cinch.

What’s Not Cool:

  • Being built for total smoothness has its drawbacks: the 6-speed slushbox is way too reluctant to downshift. This eats away at what could be much better passing times. An option on the ’09 to shift through the gears with a flick of the wrist would have taken care of this issue lickety-split.
  • Ford likes to say the Flex handles like a sports sedan. And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a Ferrari. Standard all-wheel drive might alleviate the wobbly cornering behavior (the EPA says fuel economy goes down minutely with the AWD option), but being 17 feet long would prevent much improvement.
  • We wanted satellite navigation, but taking a model without it saved us thousands. The lack of Ford’s sexy sat-nav system gives you a cluttered casserole of buttons. Inserting a CD takes too many button pushes (yes, I am a Generation-Y guy who does not burn each CD to his iPod, deal with it). Ford’s SYNC system also should be more intuitive; getting your iPod to work properly involves pulling over and re-reading the manual. Also, going without sat-nav means we didn’t get a back-up camera (though we do hear a shrill beeping as we reverse closer to an obstruction).
  • Why doesn’t the front passenger window go up with one flick of the switch? You must hold the window control until the window is all the way up. A car with all this gadgetry really should have this ‘90s-era feature.
  • Optioned all the way, the Flex Limited reaches the $50,000 mark fast, especially if you get a ’10 model with the EcoBoost engine that gives you 93 more ponies. There are tons of other cars I’d rather have for that price, and they’re vastly more exciting, too. (It should be noted our Flex Limited was far less expensive, thanks to the great folks at Magic City Ford in Roanoke, Virginia.)
  • Where in blazes is Ford’s advertising campaign for this car? Flex ads were all over the TV when we first test-drove one in 2008, but they’ve evaporated. I don’t see many Flexes, and maybe, just maybe, call me crazy, but could that be because, more than a year after its introduction, still hardly anyone knows about the Flex?
People should know about the Flex. Otherwise, they will spend countless, plain-oatmeal hours in minivans or pay $20,000 more for a German luxo-hauler that’ll cost even more with skyscraper-high maintenance bills. While I would prefer stickier handling and more guts in the more-affordable, Duratec-equipped model, the enthusiast in me remains reasonably satisfied because people who plug along in their RX300s and Quests envy the Flex’s dazzling array of techy features, astonishing exterior lines and silken ride. My wife couldn’t be happier with those features and the ability to carry around whatever we need, whenever we need. That makes us feel like two of the coolest parents around.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, i saw the first car picture but what caught my eye and i forgot everything else is that baby! is that a baby running towards the car?
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