This isn't the first time that we've had a Ford Flex in the Car Tech garage. However, the boxy beasts are so rare in the areas surrounding CNET's San Francisco offices that it's easy to forget how large and imposing this vehicle is in the sheet metal. So, I was taken aback when I rounded a corner of the Car Tech garage and was greeted by the wide and long hunk of steel that is the 2013 Ford Flex SEL AWD.
Boxy body and storage space
Depending on where you're getting your information, the Flex is either a gigantic wagon, a large crossover, or an SUV with lower-than-average ground clearance. Long, low, and wide, the Flex's true nature is betrayed by its underpinnings, the D4 platform, which it shares with the Ford Explorer, fairly solidly planting this vehicle in the crossover class as far as I'm concerned.
Visually, the Flex makes heavy use of 90-degree angles in its design with a very upright green house and flattened ends that are contrasted with long horizontal accent lines that run down the sides of the vehicles and across its grille and liftgate. To my eye, she looks something like the offspring of a Mini Cooper, a Land Rover LR4, and -- thanks to our tester's ginger ale metallic green paint -- a large dill pickle.
The boxy shape allows plenty of room for passengers, and the Flex seats up to seven passengers in its standard configuration. However, opt for the $100 second-row console and that capacity drops to six seats.
If you're not transporting a Partridge family's worth of people, the Flex also offers a massive amount of configurable storage space. With all of the seats in their upright position, you've got 20 cubic feet for your groceries and the like. Fold the third row flat and you've got 43.2 cubic feet -- about enough space for a bike or other sports equipment. Fold the second row flat and you've got a massive 83.2 cubic feet of space behind the driver's seat, so you could actually fit a medium-size refrigerator inside of your refrigerator-shaped Flex if you needed to.
Our Flex was equipped with a power liftgate that came as part of a 202A value equipment package. However, the Flex's liftgate is not hands-free like the ones that you get on the 2013 Escape and C-Max. I'd like to see that option added at some point in the Flex's future.
With all of that vehicle hanging out behind the driver's seat, you're probably going to need some tech to help you avoid backing it into something. The rearview camera isn't standard, but it should be. Ours came as part of the aforementioned 202A package and included audible rear proximity detection. That same package included Ford's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which is another must-have for congested city driving. This system watches the blind spots at the rear quarters of the vehicle for obstructions at highway speeds and beeps if you attempt to merge into another car. BLIS also features a Cross Traffic Alert system that audibly notifies the driver of vehicles approaching from the sides when reversing the Flex's big ol' booty out of a parking space.
Drivers who want help with parallel-parking the long and low Flex should step up to the Limited trim level and option the automaker's amazing Active Park Assist system, which largely automates the shuffling of the Flex into streetside parking by taking over the electronic power-steering rack after using the BLIS system's sonar sensors to automatically measure out a properly sized space. We've seen this system in action in the Ford Focus Titanium, Ford Escape Titanium, and various Lincoln models, so check out those reviews for more details.
Finally, as part of that same 202A package our Flex SEL featured an optional panoramic vista roof that opens up the second and third rows to a bit more sunlight.
Settle into the Ford Flex SEL's 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat and you'll be greeted first by the MyFord instrumentation sitting just ahead of you. This mostly digital gauge cluster features only one physical dial, for the speedometer. Flanking the speedo are a pair of color LCDs that can display a customizable amount of auxiliary data. The left screen is home to the fuel economy and trip computer data, while the right screen is where you'll find data relevant to the current audio source, hands-free call, or turn-by-turn navigation information, if so equipped. These screens are controlled by a pair of directional pads on the steering wheel and are surprisingly intuitive, giving access to a ton of data -- or a bare minimum of it.
Ford Sync is the Flex's voice command system for hands-free calling and audio playback from a connected USB drive (MP3) or iPod device, and is standard on the Flex SEL. However, our model was equipped with the Sync with MyFord Touch system, which places a large, 8-inch LCD at the top of the center stack.
This interface is familiar to us and features a four-quadrant layout with persistent touchable shortcuts at the screen's four corners for the phone system or navigation or vehicle information depending on the option chosen, climate controls, and audio and entertainment sources. The phone options bear further exploration here because, in addition to the standard hands-free calling system with Sync's excellent voice command, MyFord Touch adds the options to have incoming text messages read aloud while you drive, for canned SMS responses to be fired off to incoming callers and texters, and for a Do Not Disturb mode to prevent any of that from distracting you while you drive.