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The 2009 Ford Flex, just introduced this summer, is not subtle. It is a large, boxy vehicle that doesn’t go unnoticed as it cruises suburbia. Ford calls the Flex the next-generation people mover. They better hope so, because they cancelled their minivans, the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey. What? Never heard of them? You’re not alone. Ford discontinued the twins in 2006, after only 2+ years on the market. In a decision that seemed, at the time, to be foolhardy, Ford pulled the plug rather than improve the products to compete better. Ford seemed to be saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, quit.” With a bit of hindsight, they were actually saying, “Go where they ain’t.” This brings us to the Flex.

The Flex is a crossover that ostensibly replaces the Freestar in Ford’s lineup (see related article on crossovers). It is a large vehicle (202” long) that looks like a Mini Cooper or a Scion xB all grown up. It is a simple, two-box shape, which reminds us of an old station wagon more than a minivan – neither description Ford likes. Since it was introduced to the world as the Fairlane concept at the North American International Auto Show in 2005, the look has really grown on me. I now find it stylish and modern, with a clean, uncluttered look. The interior is similarly handsome and comfortable.

Driving the Flex

As a person who prefers, and is used to, smaller cars, the 202” Flex was an adjustment. It seemed giant, hard to maneuver and park. As I got used to the size, however, I realized that this is a (somewhat) agile cruiser. Its 3.5L V6 makes 262 horsies and 248 lb.-ft. of torque, which are more than reasonable for this class. We averaged a very good 26 MPG in all highway miles for our weekend with the Flex. This is more than the EPA says it gets on the highway – 24. The ride is very smooth and comfortable. You won’t mistake it for a sports car, but it really doesn’t try either.

The Flex seats either 6 or 7, depending upon whether you choose the 2nd row captain’s chairs ($870 option on the Limited package that we tested). The seats were leather and very comfortable – no fatigue issues on our long weekend trip from suburban Detroit to Dayton, OH.

The Flex starts at $28,995 for a front-wheel drive Flex SE. For that price, you get the 3.5L engine with a 6-speed auto tranny, leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls, Ford’s Advance Trac system with roll stability control, battery saver, airbags all around, Safety Canopy™ – 1st, 2nd & 3rd Row w/Rollover Sensor, SecuriLock Pass Anti Theft and tire Pressure Monitor System. Also included are 4-Wheel Disc Brakes w/ABS, Easy Fuel™ Capless Filler, 4 power points, a Reverse Sensing System that alerts you to any obstacles behind you when you back up, privacy glass and Ford’s exclusive Securicode keyless entry system. The mid-level SEL is $33,165 and adds heated leather seats, power passenger seat, dual-zone electronic temperature control, Sony 6-CD audio with 12 speakers, fake wood trim, universal garage door opener and a cargo net in the rear. The top of the line Limited also includes memory feature for driver’s seat, exterior mirrors and power-adjustable pedals, Ford SYNC™, ambient lighting, wood-trimmed steering wheel, 2nd row footrests, power liftgate, 110V inverter and security approach lamps, high-intensity discharge headlamps, 19” aluminum wheels, LED taillamps and Satin-aluminum appliqué on the power liftgate. All this for $35,800. All-wheel drive is available on the SEL and Limited for $1850.

Cool Features include Ford SYNC™ (optional on SE and SEL), a refrigerated 2nd row console (optional on SEL & Limited), the multi-panel Vista Roof™ (optional on SEL & Limited) and the Easy Fuel™ capless filler (standard).

SYNC™ is a Ford and Microsoft-developed system that allows voice command of various audio, navigation and climate-control functions. The coolest is voice control of your iPod. You simply tell the system what track, genre, playlist or artist you’d like to hear, and it plays it. Way cool.

The Easy Fuel™ capless fuel-filler system has an integrated spring-loaded flapper door that allows you to simply insert the fuel nozzle into the tank to fill up – no screw cap is required. Easy Fuel automatically seals after the fuel nozzle is removed – no need to re-secure the cap – emitting fewer evaporative emissions into the environment. Easy Fuel™ was introduced on the 2008 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer, and will be offered as standard equipment on the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury passenger vehicle lineups during the next five years.

The look of the Flex isn’t for everybody, and that’s a good thing. It certainly stands out in a crowd. As I said above, I’ve grown to like it. If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other choices out there, including from Ford.

Overall rating: 7 out of 10.

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