2012 Ford Flex Wagon - FROM $29,465
The 2012 Ford Flex has the space, the versatility, the features and the driving dynamics to make it a top choice among large family crossovers. However, the very thing that makes it extra appealing to some (styling) may drive others away.
What's New for 2012
For the 2012 Ford Flex, the "EcoBoost" turbocharged V6 is no longer available on the SEL trim. The rear windscreen wiper has been relocated for better coverage, while a flip-out armrest with cupholders has been added to the second-row bench seat in the Limited and Titanium trims. You can also now get the roof side rails with the optional Vista Roof.
Since its debut back in 2009, the Ford Flex has been one of our editors' favorite vehicles. For two years we kept one in our long-term test fleet, and the Flex proved to be just as popular with our staff moms as it was with our staff bachelors. Curiously, this acclaim hasn't been matched by the American public -- Flex sales have always trailed those of competing vehicles. Perhaps it's the Flex's boxy, funky styling that some people find to be too radical. But whatever the reason, they really are missing out.
For one, that boxy styling makes the cabin quite spacious for people and their stuff. When you opt for the second-row captain's chairs, the Flex is reduced to a six-person seating capacity (from seven), but the added sliding feature not only increases comfort in that row, but expands legroom in the third row. As such, the Flex is the rare crossover that allows 6-footers to comfortably fit (and reach) all three rows.
In addition to space, the Flex also comes with plenty of useful features. Even the most basic 2012 Ford Flex comes packed with creature comforts, while the upper trims can be equipped like a luxury car. As with most new Fords, high-tech features are in abundance, from the Sync portable electronics interface to the automatic parking system. From a family standpoint, the optional twin-screen entertainment system and second-row refrigerator should keep the kids happy on long drives.
Of course, if the Flex's styling is a no-go for you, the new Ford Explorer is mechanically related. It can't match the Flex's space and versatility, but it does counter with a higher-quality interior. Outside of the Ford family, GM's large crossovers (Acadia, Enclave and Traverse) have room for eight and are long-distance champs. For a sportier alternative, the Mazda CX-9 is the top choice, while a greater amount of practicality can be gained from minivans like the Honda Odyssey. But if it were our money, there's a good chance a 2012 Ford Flex would once again end up in our driveway.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Ford Flex is a large crossover/wagon available in six- or seven-passenger configurations. There are four trim levels: SE, SEL, Limited and Titanium.
The base SE comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, rear privacy glass, rear parking sensors, cruise control, air-conditioning, a six-way power driver seat (manual recline), front seat manual lumbar adjustment, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40 split second-row seat (with power-flip portion for easy access to the third row) and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack.
The SEL adds 18-inch wheels, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), a six-way power front passenger seat, satellite radio and the Sync system, which includes Bluetooth phone connectivity, an iPod/USB audio interface, turn-by-turn navigation service and traffic reports.
The Limited adds 19-inch polished alloy wheels, xenon headlights, LED taillights, a power tailgate (with a large satin aluminum trim piece), driver memory functions, power-adjustable pedals, perforated leather upholstery (third row vinyl), a wood-trimmed steering wheel, a rearview camera, a navigation system, real-time traffic updates and a 12-speaker Sony sound system with a CD/DVD player, HD radio and digital music storage. Most of these items are optional on the SEL. The Titanium is essentially a special trim package that adds 20-inch wheels, different exterior and interior trim, and faux-suede upholstery inserts.
Optional on every trim level are roof side rails, sliding and reclining second row captain's chairs and a console to go between those captain's chairs. All but the base SE can be equipped with a multipanel rear sunroof (Vista Roof) and a rear seat DVD entertainment system with screens built into the front headrests. The Limited and Titanium can be equipped with a refrigerated compartment in the optional second-row console, a power-folding third row and heated second row captain's chairs. The EcoBoost models can also be equipped with an automatic parking system.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2012 Ford Flex comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 262 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, but all-wheel drive is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, a front-wheel-drive Flex went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. AWD drops those estimates to 16/22/18.
Optional on the Flex Limited and Titanium is a turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 (dubbed EcoBoost) that produces 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters are standard. The EcoBoost-equipped Flex hits 60 mph in a swift 6.6 seconds. Despite the power increase, fuel economy drops just a tick to 16/21/18.
The 2012 Ford Flex comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and rear parking sensors. A rearview camera is optional. In brake testing, a Flex Limited with the standard 3.5-liter engine stopped from 60 mph in 131 feet -- average for the class -- and the EcoBoost wasn't significantly different.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Flex the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Though not quite as high end as Ford's new Explorer or refreshed Edge, the Flex's interior quality is quite good, with abundant soft-touch materials and an attractive, upscale design. The spacious layout affords seven-passenger seating, and even the third row is sufficient for adults. The optional reclining second-row captain's chairs reduce seating capacity to six, but comfort increases and their ability to slide forward expands third-row legroom. With either configuration, the standard power-folding mechanism in the second row makes getting into the third row a snap. With the rear seats lowered, the Flex can hold 83 cubic feet of stuff. This is less than minivans and several other large crossovers, but the Flex's conveniently boxy shape makes the most of what it has.
The available Microsoft-engineered Sync system lends the Flex a high-tech character, offering trick features like advanced voice-recognition software for iPods as well as cell phones. Other intriguing options such as the Vista Roof, Sirius Travel Link and a rear-console refrigerator extend the Flex's appeal.
The 2012 Ford Flex isn't all that inspiring from behind the wheel, but it certainly is not disagreeable, either. The ride is always comfortable -- even with the bigger wheels -- soaking up bumps in the road with luxury car ease. The base V6 is adequate for a vehicle this size, motivating the Flex with enough gusto to keep up with competing crossovers. The six-speed automatic can be frustrating, though, often refusing to downshift unless you put your foot to the floor.
The twin-turbo V6 is a different story, giving the Flex a sport wagon flavor and offering direct control of the transmission via the standard shift paddles. The tighter suspension, quicker steering and lower ride height also allow the Flex to corner with more immediacy and confidence. Sporty it's not, but a turbocharged Flex should supply enough excitement for the majority of drivers.