That love/hate may figure into Ford's rather mixed sales experiences with the Flex. The big hauler has never set any sales records, and yet it brings more buyers into the Ford fold than any other model. And more Flex buyers replace their vehicles with another Flex than the buyers of any other Ford.
The comfort and safety that figure in that owner loyalty have been enhanced in the new model.
The Flex, which got top marks in the crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, gets bigger, better brakes for 2013, along with a bevy of available crash-prevention devices. These include adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert, blind-spot monitoring, inflatable rear seat belts (a good idea for children), and Curve Control, which, working through the antilock braking system, shaves off up to 10 m.p.h. when you enter a turn too fast.
The new Flex also benefits from engine tweaks to both its base 3.5-liter V-6 and the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that is optional in the top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Limited model. The base V-6 I found in the bottom-of-the-line SEL tester was bumped up from 262 to 285 horsepower. That increase was enough to get it from 0 to 60 in eight seconds, certainly lively enough.
Those with a greater need for speed (and a fatter wallet) can opt for the $41,180 all-wheel-drive Limited with the turbocharged EcoBoost V-6, which develops 365 horsepower and gets this car from rest to 60 in well under six seconds. Talk about a stoplight wolf in sheep's clothing.
Between the improvement in engine efficiency and the use of a new electric power-steering system that doesn't rob engine power as the previous hydraulic unit did, the 2013 SEL got a 1-m.p.g. improvement - to 18 city and 25 highway.
The grille and front fascia have been restyled to give the Flex a somewhat - dare we say it - sleeker proboscis. Inside, one encounters a number of upgrades, notably to the upholstery.
Inside, one also finds an even quieter Flex, thanks to the installation of insulation around the wheelhouses and shock towers, and increased insulation for the hood and fire wall.
The tester proved a comfortable ride, as well as an exceptionally quiet one. It handled well enough for a big beast of burden, and its steering was more informative than a lot of electric systems I've experienced.
The new brakes were a big plus. In addition to shutting the Flex down quickly, they were nice and firm, and well-modulated for smooth stops. The willing engine delivered its power to the wheels via a very smooth six-speed automatic gearbox.
The Flex's ride-comfort quotient includes plenty of legroom in the second row of seats, while the third row is more suited to children's legs unless you get the sliding captain's chairs in the second row. (The tester had an optional console for the second row, which cost a seat, thus dropping seating capacity to six.)
In addition to handling bulky cargo - it has 83 cubic feet of space with the backseats down - the Flex has a wealth of compartments and cubbyholes for little stuff.
2013 Ford Flex SEL (front-drive)
Base price: $33,225.
As tested: $38,990.
Standard equipment: 3.5-liter engine; six-speed automatic transmission; front-drive; a host of safety features, and
a generous amenity roster ranging from power, heated front seats to a sophisticated infotainment system, reverse sensing, and the SOS post-crash alert system.
Options: A ton of hedonistic goodies, including leather seats, a voice-activated navigation system, and two-tone paint.
Fuel economy: 18 m.p.g. city, 25 highway.
Engine power: Lively.
Handling: Quite adequate.
Ride comfort: Excellent.
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.
The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.
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