The 2019 Ford Flex was introduced in 2009 with fanfare and to hails of innovation. It’s now in its 11th year. Was its original idea that brilliant? Well, Ford’s boldly blocky people-moving crossover, a geometric cross between a minivan, sedan and limo, continues to stand apart from the crowd. The Flex remains a practical, seven-seat, family-friendly utility vehicle, while being distinctive in the driveway.
At 118 inches, the Flex wheelbase is almost 7 inches longer than that of a Honda Pilot and 5 inches longer than the Ford Explorer. It’s also a whole lot lower than both, and that looks cool.
There’s been no redesign for a decade, although it was facelifted in 2013. This is now the third year with no changes, save for two new colors, and the universal garage door opener is more available.
Standard engine is the long-lived 3.5-liter V-6 making 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, paired with Ford’s familiar 6-speed automatic transmission. This engine works well with front-wheel drive, but because the Flex is fairly heavy to start with, the available all-wheel drive claims a significant amount of performance. The AWD system is a good one, able to transfer 100 percent of the power to either the front or rear wheels.
Optional engine is a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 that develops 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet, also working with a 6-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard on a Limited with the optional engine, and it’s really the way to go to get the most out of the Flex. But this adds a lot to the price of a front-wheel-drive Limited with the standard engine.
Three-row seating is standard, along with a rearview camera, important so the driver doesn’t have to look in the mirror through the heads of the passengers in the third row.
Torque vectoring is standard, too; it was added along the way, and we say kudos, to have this feature on an 11-year-old design. Torque vectoring works by dabbing the brakes on the inside front wheel in a corner, to help rotate the long, heavy Flex. The driver doesn’t specifically feel it, but he or she feels the result: security in the corner.
The fuel mileage is disappointing, though compared to a full-size SUV, it isn’t that low. The standard V-6 with front-wheel drive is EPA-rated at 16/23 mpg City/Highway, or 19 mpg Combined; with all-wheel drive it drops 1 mpg. The twin-turbo V-6 gets 17 mpg Combined; that’s still low compared to some rivals (although it might be argued that there aren’t any, because the Flex is unique), but 2 mpg isn’t a big price to pay for its extra power. The good news is the Flex uses regular unleaded fuel even with the twin-turbo engine.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Flex its top Good scores for most crash tests, with an Acceptable rating in the challenging small-overlap frontal-impact test. But it calls the headlights Poor, or just Marginal on the Limited model.
Ford offers some valuable active-safety technology for the Flex, but most features are optional, and only for the more costly models (the Limited, for example, comes with blind-spot monitors). Forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, coupled with adaptive cruise control and a power-folding third-row seat, costs about three grand more.
One nice safety option is the second-row seatbelt airbags, which Ford says hold passengers in place better than conventional airbags.
Flex SE ($30,575) has a 3.5-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic, front-drive, three rows of seats, a second-row bench, Bluetooth-enabled and voice-controlled SYNC infotainment, 17-inch wheels, CD player, cloth seats, heated power mirrors, rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera. All-wheel drive is not available on the base model. (Prices do not include destination charge.)
Flex SEL ($33,290) adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen, SYNC 3 infotainment, remote start, keyless ignition, heated power front seats, 18-inch wheels, woodgrain trim, and dual-zone automatic climate control. All-wheel drive adds $1,950.
Flex Limited ($38,790) gets 12-speaker Sony audio, perforated leather seat trim, power front seats with driver’s memory, navigation, power liftgate, 19-inch wheels, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert. All-wheel drive adds $1,950.
Only the Limited is available with the optional twin-turbo, 365-horsepower V-6 engine. It’s $43,590.
A $1,495 Limited appearance package adds Shadow Black exterior details, deluxe leather-trimmed seats, and 20-inch wheels.
Ford’s optional MyKey system lets parents set limits on a youngster’s driving habits. MyKey can restrict vehicle speed, stereo volume, and various entertainment features.
Additional Flex options include a panoramic sunroof, second-row captain’s chairs, a power-folding third-row seat, a heated steering wheel, and a towing package.
The idiosyncratic styling is a stark contrast to the copycat curves on most crossovers. Unlike them, the Flex relies almost solely on straight lines and sharp angles. The boxy profile is highlighted by a pattern of grooved ribs reaching down its flat sides. Roofs can be black or body-colored, and the front end has been likened to a computer’s USB port.
Hints of several other makes, from Mini Cooper to Range Rover, might be discerned when viewing a Flex. Still, taken in total, this Ford is in a league all its own.
The sedate and quiet cabin is long on simplicity. It doesn’t struggle to be something it’s not. Touch-sensitive controls, arranged in a stack, work efficiently alongside the available big touchscreen. In base models, the standard infotainment screen measures only 4.3 inches.
The boxy shape creates a lot of space. Headroom is good even though the roof is lower than that of an SUV. The front seats are comfortable, and sliding into them is easy, with abundant knee and shoulder room. Side bolsters are soft but still grip the driver.
There’s good legroom room in the well-padded second-row bench seat, while captain’s chairs are available there. Upper trim levels get leather in the front and second rows, along with a power liftgate.
The third-row seats are usable; even adults can be comfortable enough for short trips. There’s 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind that row, which folds 50/50 for cargo. With both rows folded, there’s a total 83 cubic feet of space.
Quiet operation adds to the premium feel of the Flex.
The 287-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 that comes standard on the Flex is smooth and works well with its fuss-free 6-speed automatic transmission. Its acceleration is adequate most of the time, but it has to work to overcome the car’s 4,500-pound weight.
However the stronger 365-hp twin-turbo V-6 can do that easily. With this engine, that comes only with the all-wheel-drive Limited, the Flex accelerates with lively response and has plenty of power for highway passing. The engine also provides some lusty sounds. It also uses a 6-speed automatic, but with paddle shifters.
The Flex has a lower center of gravity than crossovers like the Ford Explorer, which helps it handle better than them. The Flex has crisp and accurate steering that helps make it almost feel at home on a curvy road. The brakes have plenty of stopping power.
The suspension is effectively compliant, although it might be challenged in fast bumpy corners. Still, it can be fun in a canyon, and that’s saying a lot for a family seven-seater.
Its 118-inch wheelbaseâ€”five inches longer than the Explorerâ€”helps provide it with a comfortable, composed ride. The optional 20-inch wheels might (or might not) enhance the looks, although they’re a slight bit bumpier than the stock 17s.
The 2019 Ford Flex appeals mostly to large families. It needs the twin-turbo engine for more satisfying acceleration, along with all-wheel drive to be a quality family vehicle in places where it snows. And it needs the optional active safety features to be as safe as it can be. If you can afford it, the Flex remains an intriguing and distinctive alternative to a boring crossover or minivan.