A school bus of sorts When Ford announced the replacement of the Freestar (formerly the Windstar) with a crossover, many people were skeptical.
When Ford announced the replacement of the Freestar (formerly the Windstar) with a crossover, many people were skeptical. I personally thought it couldn’t be a terrible idea if it was executed properly, but I maintained that the jury was still out until I got the chance to drive one. I recently had the opportunity to test drive the newly refreshed 2012 Ford Flex Limited equipped with the “Titanium” package.
Much like its close cousin, the Taurus SHO, the first thing I concluded about the Flex upon getting into the driver’s seat is how absurdly large the darn thing is. I personally used to drive a full-size Chrysler sedan years ago, so I definitely have some sort of appreciation for the quintessential American land yacht. Let me give a little bit of perspective. When I was 16, my father taught me to parallel park in downtown Toronto during rush hour in an extended-wheelbase Dodge Grand Caravan. Thanks to this, I take pride in the fact that I’m now able to park virtually anything anywhere in a short amount of time. However, the Flex certainly presented me with a challenge navigating it through the underground garage at my downtown condominium.
With an as-tested price north of $56,000, a Flex Titanium would cost just over $60,000 on the road. That is, failing to consider the fact that nobody pays full asking price for a Ford these days. However, with its 3.5L EcoBoost V6 putting out 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, the 9 million pound leviathan is no slouch. I was dividing my time between this and the Mazdaspeed3 for a week, and I would have expected to be complaining about how painfully slow the Flex was, but I was pleasantly surprised. Sport mode was competent and with use of the paddle shifters, I was actually able to get a very enjoyable driving experience (relatively speaking, of course) out of this school bus.
My personal favourite part of having the Flex for a week was the insane amount of toys this thing comes with. Along with the typical array of options one would expect in a car costing more than $50,000 (heated/cooled leather seats, sunroof, navigation, etc.), the Flex came with some niceties that were a welcome surprise. For instance, the fridge/freezer in the second row centre console actually turned my room-temperature water bottle into ice within the course of an hour! There are many cars on the market today that offer things like heated/cooled cupholders, or a cooled glovebox; however to this day I had yet to see a usable freezer in a mainstream market vehicle.
The big Ford also features electronically folding second- and third-row seats. The third-row folds into the floor to create a flat loading floor, and the second-row bucket seats fold against the front buckets. Unfortunately, the second-row seats do not “unfold” themselves. However, it’s ridiculously simple to revert them to a seated position in order to carry passengers. The Flex’s “flexible” seating makes it the ideal choice for road trips. We used it on a 400-km road trip with four six-footers and we were more comfortable than we’ve ever been in any “SUV” before.
Let’s cut to the chase however; the Flex isn’t a crossover or any sort of sport-utility. It’s a school bus. Okay; maybe not, but it’s most definitely a minivan. The lack of sliding doors might fool the average consumer, but it isn’t going to fool me. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t a bad thing. It just grinds my gears that a car that is fundamentally such a fantastic idea has an identity crisis. I understand how Ford was trying to divert from the transition from Aerostar to Windstar and then Freestar, but perhaps they should have stuck with the sliding doors. Even though they unnecessarily create the stigma of being a minivan, a vehicle that everyone wants to avoid driving unless they absolutely have to, sliding doors are extremely beneficial. The rear doors of the Flex, for instance, swing out much wider than necessary. If you as a Flex owner don’t warn your passengers of this every single time they exit your vehicle, I guarantee that there are going to be door dings caused on multiple occasions.
As someone who grew up with Windstars and Freestars, I was impressed by the Flex. While my only real complaint is the gas mileage (averaged just above 13L/100km combined driving with a light foot), I definitely think it’s an amazing choice for a road trip vehicle whenever there are more than 2 people traveling. While I wouldn’t buy one by any means, the presence of Flex models on Enterprise and National lots means that road trips just got a lot more comfortable.