Pushing the Boundaries
A road trip in the powerful new Flex crossover
So why the Flex? Why not tear up the road on the hours-long drive in a Nissan 370Z roadster, or cruise in luxury in a new Audi A4? Well, the first thing I thought about the Flex -- despite Ford pitting it against full-size SUVs -- is that it's really a restyled minivan. It's got the low ground clearance, three rows of seats -- the model I drove even has individual sunroofs for the middle seats (and one each in front and back). So, Ford can say what it will about the Flex being an SUV/CUV mashup or what have you, but I think of it as a minivan for those who wouldn't be caught dead driving one. And how better to test the real-guy appeal of a disguised minivan than by taking it to one of the bigger rivalries in college football? If there was anywhere where I'd feel conspicuous driving a minivan, it would be there.
I can't say I loved the look of the Flex when I picked it up -- the wide stance and glossy paint job were nice, but the right angles, boxy look and low stance suggested a Nissan Cube, which is not exactly my favorite car. Inside, though, that boxy shape paid dividends: There was enough room for two full-sized guys to share the armrest without any accidental touching of the forearms, which was nice on a long drive full of changing the (Sirius XM) radio station. And it wasn't just the armrest -- everything was huge. The seats (all 10 of them, perfectly large and cushy, over three rows), the cupholders, the glove box and armrest storage capacities. Huge -- great for a road trip. And the materials were luxurious, with soft, cross-stitched leather seats (and a leather-wrapped shifter knob, though you obviously have to opt for the leather package); dashboard components that, while plastic, looked like brushed aluminum; and a large, glowing touch-screen audio and nav control (the sound was by Sony, though I found the interface a bit confusing).
Best of all, I had the new model with the EcoBoost engine. That car moved. There was a bit of turbo lag at times, but the 350 horses and 355 lb-ft of torque got the car -- all 4,800 pounds of it -- past other vehicles exiting the toll booths like they were standing still. And the stiff suspension made for a supremely well-handling and responsive ride for a car of that not-insignificant size. It was always a nice ride, and at times it really was a blast -- it didn't handle like a sports car, but it was definitely reminiscent of a powerhouse luxury saloon: smooth, capable, with real low-slung weight that could handle some serious power.
So, is it a minivan in disguise? Well, probably. But it sure didn't feel that way on the way to or from the game. Stuck in evening traffic in Manhattan on the way home -- and in the way that one notices others driving the same car you are -- I was stuck opposite another, all-silver Flex. The driver was a guy in his 30s, driving alone, with a single backpack on the front seat. Perhaps I am the target demographic after all.
EXPLORE NEW CARS
MORE ON MSN AUTOS
ABOUT EXHAUST NOTES
Cars are cool, and here at MSN Autos we love everything about them, but we also know they're more than simply speed and style: a car is an essential tool, a much-needed accessory to help you get through your day-to-day life. What you drive is also one of the most important investments you can make, so we'll help you navigate your way through the car buying and ownership experiences. We strive to be your daily destination for news, notes, tips and tricks from across the automotive world. So whether it's through original content from our world-class journalists or the latest buzz from the far corners of the Web, Exhaust Notes helps you make sense of your automotive world.
Have a story idea? Tip us off at firstname.lastname@example.org.