Plenty of 3-row crossovers are on the market, all of them with pluses and minuses. But if you're looking for something funky and unique, a vehicle more like that big station wagon you grew up with, the 2014 Ford Flex may be the car for you. The Flex's boxy shape and low-to-the-ground profile is the first hint that this SUV is different. If you look closer at the grooved side panels, the broad aluminum panel covering the rear lift gate's lower half, the available white-capped roof, the list of standard and available equipment and the outstanding roster of safety features, you'll see why the Flex is in a class of its own.
Ford offers two V6 engine choices in the Flex, including a powerful twin-turbo version. Both are reasonably fuel-efficient on the highway, though city economy is nothing to write home about. All-wheel drive is available for those who regularly deal with winter's worst. What the Flex lacks in off-road and towing ability (it's rated at a max of 4,500 pounds), it more than makes up for on streets. The Flex offers seating for seven people and a cargo bay big enough to haul home a 55-inch flat-screen TV.
What's New for 2014?
The 2014 Flex receives no significant changes.
What We Like
Offbeat good looks; elegant interior; upscale options and electronics; comfortable on long drives
What We Don't
Small cargo area behind third-row seat; low ground clearance; city fuel economy only so-so
Ford offers the Flex with two V6 engine choices, both of which are hooked to a 6-speed automatic transmission with available paddle-shifters. The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy estimates for this engine are 18 miles per gallon city/25 mpg hwy (2-wheel drive) and 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy (all-wheel drive).
Available on the top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Limited model is the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6, a twin-turbocharged powerhouse rated at 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is barely affected relative to the regular all-wheel-drive Flex, dropping to 16 mpg city/23 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The Flex is available in either 6- or 7-passenger form in three trim levels -- SE, SEL and Limited.
The SE ($31,995) comes with niceties such as 17-in painted aluminum wheels, air conditioning with rear auxiliary controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, reverse parking sensors, the SYNC voice-command system with Bluetooth, a power driver seat, cruise control and a 6-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio input.
The SEL ($34,595) steps up to 18-in wheels, fog lights, the MyFord Touch infotainment system (including a large touchscreen, a unique high-tech gauge cluster and USB connectivity), a power driver seat with additional adjustments, a power passenger seat, heated front seats, heated mirrors, brighter exterior trim, a universal garage door opener, faux wood dashboard trim, dual-zone automatic climate control and satellite radio.
The Limited ($40,395) boasts 19-in wheels, keyless entry/ignition, leather upholstery, a 12-speaker Sony audio system, power folding mirrors with puddle lamps, a voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic, xenon headlights, ambient interior lighting and a wood-and-leather steering wheel, among other luxuries. The optional EcoBoost V6 comes with sharp-looking 20-in wheels but bumps the price to $45,015.
Some of these fancier standard features are available on lesser trims as options. Other options, depending on trim, include two second-row captain's chairs in place of the standard 3-person bench seat, a multipane Vista sunroof, a refrigerated rear console box, a self-parallel-parking system, a power-folding third-row seat and a power-adjustable steering wheel.
Airbags cover the Flex's front passengers from both the front and the sides, while side curtain airbags cover all three rows. Available inflatable second-row safety belts are offered on all trims. Ford's AdvanceTrac with roll stability control is standard, bringing electronic stability and traction control. The EasyFuel capless fuel filler does away with the traditional screw-on fuel cap, and available puddle lamps help you see when stepping out of the vehicle at night.
The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Flex top marks in crash tests, rating it Good -- the best rating -- across the board.
Behind the Wheel
The 2014 Ford Flex outshines the competition with an interior that is unquestionably unique. From the elegant diamond-pattern leather seating to the handsome dash and the sculpted door inserts, the Flex looks and feels like a premium crossover. While we can't say we're thrilled about the small knobs and buttons used to control the standard audio and ventilation, we generally like the layout and features on the Flex's instrument panel. When the MyFord Touch system is specified, the Flex turns into a veritable spaceship inside, for better or worse.
On the road, the Flex is one of our favorite vehicles. It's easy to drive, can haul lots of people and stuff and gets pretty good fuel economy on the highway. The Flex delivers a supple ride and a quiet cabin. In congested urban settings, it is surprisingly easy to maneuver despite its long body and wheelbase. The base 3.5-liter V6 is satisfyingly strong and linear when passing and merging, but if you're looking for thrilling acceleration, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine is the obvious choice. The EcoBoost engine brings both a boost in power and extra grip provided by the accompanying all-wheel drive.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Traverse -- The Traverse has a wider, more comfortable second- and third-row seat arrangement and more cargo space behind the third-row seat.
Honda Pilot -- The Pilot is more SUV-looking, a feature some might like. It offers more ground clearance, but its roof is more difficult to reach when loading skis or a cargo carrier.
Dodge Durango -- The Durango's V6 is impressively powerful, and there's the option of a Hemi V8. The Durango can tow more weight than the Flex.
Toyota Highlander -- The Highlander holds its value better than the Flex and comes in a hybrid version.
The base SE trim comes well equipped, is reasonably priced and holds its value fairly well. But if money is no obstacle, a fully loaded Limited with the EcoBoost V6 is the way to go. Here, power and luxury combine in a unique package that looks fantastic on its 20-in chrome wheels. Top it off with the Vista Roof and 2-tone roof panel and you'll have one of the sharpest 3-row crossovers on the road.