Boxy is in, according to Ford, anyway, as the 2009 Ford Flex looks like an '80s Volvo that swallowed a 2005 Scion xB. Ford considers the Flex a crossover, although station wagon more immediately comes to mind. But unlike a station wagon, the Flex isn't a sedan that lacks a trunk. And unlike a crossover, it doesn't mimic an SUV. There are a lot of things that the Flex isn't, but what it has is more relevant. It has very roomy interior, with seating for seven. It has more sunroofs than anything short of a van conversion has a right to. Its roof is surprisingly low, yet the seating position is still upright. And it has Ford's new in-dash tech package, including Sync and Sirius Travel Link, putting it at the top of the car technology pile. And it has an audio system designed by Sony, the first result of a new partnership between the big electronics maker and Ford.
Test the tech: Sony sound check
Because Sony is such a notable name in the electronics world, we tested out the Sony-branded audio system built for the Ford Flex by giving a close listen to different musical genres. This system delivers 700 watts of surround sound through 10 speakers, including a centerfill and subwoofer, which should be adequate to fill the roomy cabin. For our test we set the bass, treble, and mid at the same middle level, and set the digital signal processing to cover all the seats and use surround sound.
We had a Microsoft Zune plugged into the Sync system, and played a few lossless tracks as well as songs encoded in MP3 format at 320 Kbps and 128 Kbps. As we would expect, the lossless tracks showed the most dramatically good audio quality. On the song "Sweet Music," by The All Seeing I, we heard subtle sound effects of birds chirping in the background, something we hadn't noticed while listening to this track on other systems. The bass was also strong and the separation was very good, making a background layer with a drum machine distinct. But one problem we found was that all these instruments sounded kind of flat, a quality that could be remedied by tweaking bass and treble.
Moby's "Raining Again," encoded at 320 Kbps in MP3, also sounded flat overall. But it was easy to hear individual sounds and instruments, coming up with the same good separation as the previous track. On this one, the drums produced a very nice snap.
Another lossless track, Leonard Cohen's "Here It Is," featured a strong vocal. On this song, we also noticed nicely layered backup vocals, something that would have been lost on a lesser system. But we also found the bass a little overwhelming, which drowned out some light percussion on the track.
We tried a couple of classical pieces encoded at 128 Kbps, an orchestral work by Bach and a solo piano track by Rachmaninoff. The piano was very distinct--we could hear the reverberations of the strings--but it lacked richness. The Bach concerto was the worst of all the tracks we tried, the flat sound keeping the violins and woodwinds from standing out in any significant way.
With these and other music we tried, we were very impressed by how distinct each instrument could come through. The flatness was very prevalent, and we had to resist the urge to tweak the bass and treble up, something we generally do with any car audio system. Overall this Sony system showed impressive audio quality, something that's nice to have with such a capable stereo.
In the cabin
As the Limited trim model, our 2009 Ford Flex was fitted out with leather seats and wood trim, quality interior elements that gave the cabin a touch of class. But there was also still evidence of hard, cheap-looking plastics here and there, such as on the speaker grilles and some of the switch gear. Ford also favors a chunky-looking interior design that we don't find particularly pleasing.
The unique exterior of the Flex seems to have encouraged Ford to offer some distinctive interior options. The Panoramic Vista Roof option means the Flex has four sunroofs. The driver and front passenger get a powered sunroof, the middle row gets two fixed-roof windows side-by-side, and the third row gets a single, larger fixed-roof window. All of this glass, including the large side windows, means a lot of light, but screens can be pulled over all the sunroofs.
Our test car also had the rear-seat refrigerator, which Ford says can hold seven 12-ounce cans. A switch on the refrigerator says Freeze, but after driving around for an hour with it on, our water bottle remained liquid, although it was very cold. Ford says the refrigerator brings liquids down to 41 degrees.
Although our car didn't have a rear entertainment system option, we are very impressed that you can choose ceiling-mounted or headrest-mounted DVD systems, the latter giving you two screens. Even more impressive, the ceiling-mounted single screen system isn't exclusive of the Panoramic Vista Roof, so you can have it all.