- The cabin is spacious and versatile for cargo carrying
- Visibility is as good as it gets for a vehicle of its size
- Turbocharged engine option has power to spare
- The standard second-row bench doesn't slide
- Limited availability of the latest advanced driver safety aids
- Some hard-to-use interior controls
- Third-row seat is limited to two passengers
The Ford Flex has been in production for quite a while now. It debuted for the 2009 model year and hasn't received a full redesign since. That's well past most vehicles' expiration date, as automakers typically do redesigns every four or five years. But maybe Ford is just following the old adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
We've certainly held the Ford Flex in high regard all these years. Even now in 2017, the Flex is still one of the more distinctive vehicles on the road. Its squared-off appearance and spacious third row draw comparisons to a minivan, but conventional rear doors and minimal cargo space behind the third row reveal that the Flex is actually more like a crossover SUV or big wagon. The Flex's bold styling isn't its only unusual characteristic. The Flex's base V6 makes power typical for a three-row crossover, but a 365-horsepower turbocharged V6 is also available, ensuring that passing maneuvers on a freeway with a cabin full of passengers will be no problem at all.
Still, there could be some reasons that the Flex isn't quite right for you. Its seating flexibility isn't that great, and the Flex's older design means it lacks some of the latest advanced driver safety aids. Lackluster fuel economy could be another drawback. In contrast, the Honda Pilot received a full redesign last year, and its third-row seating is roomier. The Toyota Highlander is another good choice, particularly if you want a fuel-efficient hybrid model. Ford's own Explorer plus the sporty Mazda CX-9 and powerful Dodge Durango are worth looking at, too. Overall, though, the Flex, aging as it may be, has enough good qualities to earn a spot in your garage.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2017
The option for heated second-row seats with a refrigerator in the middle has been discontinued. Otherwise, the 2017 Ford Flex is essentially unchanged.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2017 Ford Flex is a large crossover/wagon that can seat either six or seven passengers and is available in SE, SEL and Limited trim levels.
The SE trim's standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, heated mirrors with integrated blind-spot sections, rear privacy glass, a keyless-entry keypad, remote locking and unlocking, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, air-conditioning, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver seat with manual recline and lumbar adjustment, 60/40-split folding second-row seats with an auto-folding passenger side, 50/50-split folding third-row seats, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a 4.2-inch central display screen, Sync voice activation and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player, an auxiliary jack and a USB port.
The SEL trim dresses up the Flex with 18-inch wheels, upgraded brakes, foglights, chrome exterior trim, keyless entry and ignition, remote start, dual-zone automatic climate control with manual rear controls, wood-appearance interior trim, heated front seats, a 10-way power driver seat (with power lumbar adjustment), a six-way power front passenger seat (with manual lumbar adjustment) and the Sync 3 infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, a second USB port and smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
SEL models are eligible for the 202A option package, which adds a power liftgate, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, power-adjustable pedals, driver-seat memory settings, leather upholstery (vinyl for the third row), a 110-volt household-style power outlet, and an upgraded seven-speaker audio system.
At the top of the range, the Limited trim includes the 202A package plus 19-inch wheels, xenon headlights, LED taillights, power-folding mirrors, automatic wipers, additional metallic exterior trim, upgraded wood interior trim, ambient interior lighting, a navigation system (optional on SEL) and a 12-speaker Sony audio system with HD radio.
The 301A package is exclusive to the Limited and adds an automatic parallel parking system, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, a power-adjustable and heated steering wheel, a 10-way power front passenger seat, ventilated front seats and power-folding third-row seats.
The Appearance package, available on SEL and Limited models, adds 20-inch wheels, black exterior and interior trim, and upgraded leather upholstery.
Additional options, depending on trim and configuration, include 20-inch wheels, roof rails, a tow package, a panoramic sunroof, inflatable second-row outboard seat belts and a rear entertainment system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2017 Ford Flex's boxy shape translates to a wealth of interior space, including adult-friendly accommodations in all three rows. The front seats are decently comfortable, but some drivers might find them overly flat, lacking in support for long-distance drives.
The infotainment system is one thing Ford has kept updated since the Flex debuted in 2009. The newest system features the Sync 3 interface. It's easy to use thanks to a simple menu layout and quick response times. Unfortunately, the touch-sensitive radio and climate control buttons just below the touchscreen are less intuitive. Simply brushing your arm against the center stack can alter those settings. The old-school steering-wheel button layout is similarly confounding.
Behind the rear seatbacks, you'll find up to 20 cubic feet of cargo space. If you keep the third row folded flat when it's not in use, you'll have a much handier 43.2 cubes at your disposal, while folding down both rear rows opens up 83.2 cubes. These figures are a bit less than what you'll find in some rival SUVs, but the Flex is still highly functional thanks to its squared-off roofline.
Standard safety features for all 2017 Ford Flex models include antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, emergency telematics via a paired cellphone, and Ford's MyKey system that monitors the vehicle and allows owners to set certain limitations and alerts for valets and teen drivers.
Optional inflatable second-row seat belts are available for all Flex trims. A blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is available on the SEL and standard on the Limited. Paired with the Limited's optional adaptive cruise control is a forward collision warning system that pre-charges the brakes for maximum responsiveness but does not brake automatically like some rival systems.
In crash testing conducted by the Institute for Highway Safety, the Flex earned the top score of Good in the moderate-overlap front-impact, side-impact, roof strength and head restraint (whiplash protection) tests. It received the second-best score of Acceptable in the small-overlap front-impact test.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Flex Limited with 20-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, which is bit shorter than average for the class.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The standard engine for all 2017 Ford Flex models is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels by default, but all-wheel drive is an option for SEL and Limited trims. Though EPA fuel economy estimates are not yet available for the 2017, we don't expect them to change from last year. The 2016 Flex with this engine was estimated to return 19 mpg combined (16 city/23 highway) for the front-wheel-drive model and 18 mpg combined (16 city/22 highway) with all-wheel drive.
The Limited trim is eligible for the optional turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that increases output to a heady 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard with this engine, as are steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. In Edmunds testing, an all-wheel-drive EcoBoost Flex Limited accelerated to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, a quick performance for a mainstream three-row crossover. Fuel economy was downgraded slightly to 17 mpg combined (15 city/21 highway).
Properly equipped, the Flex can tow up to 4,500 pounds, regardless of engine choice. This figure is a bit below average for a three-row crossover vehicle.
For the majority of drivers, the base 3.5-liter V6 should be adequate, but a Flex loaded to the brim with passengers and cargo will tax that engine. The turbocharged EcoBoost engine certainly solves that problem, and it's downright fast on the open road, accelerating into arrest-me range with astonishing ease. In addition to the power bump, the EcoBoost adds a hint of athleticism with a slightly stiffer suspension. Of course, the hot-rod Flex commands a hefty price premium, but if you're looking for some excitement in your family hauler, it's well worth the stretch.
With such a strong focus on utility, it's no surprise that the Flex generally prioritizes comfort over responsive handling. That said, the Flex's steering is responsive, and this boxy bus is rock-solid stable on the highway. It's also very easy to see out of. The Flex's age shows when ruts and bumps rock the cabin; most competitors are newer and better at soaking up body movements while traveling over rough pavement. Overall, though, the 2017 Ford Flex makes for a rewarding companion, whether you're tackling the morning carpool or a coast-to-coast trek.
The 2017 Ford Flex has the space and versatility you need. Its wagon-like design means you'll stand out from the crowd, too. But some rival three-row crossover SUVs are newer and have more up-to-date features.