2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Introduction

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Introduction

It takes a lot of guts to step outside the norm in an automotive segment that traditionally aims to pull in buyers based on utility rather than style, and this makes the 2013 Ford Flex one of the more notable entries in the full-size crossover market. Since its debut only a few short years ago, the Ford Flex has screamed out its strong personality alongside the blander options proffered by almost every other mainstream car company – an aspect of its character that has polarized family buyers and lead to smaller-than-expected sales for the Blue Oval.

The 2013 model year has seen a refresh for the Ford Flex that addresses not just the vehicle’s styling but also its handling, performance, and equipment level, in an effort to broaden the automobile’s appeal. Fortunately, Ford has resisted the temptation to homogenize the Flex or temper its individualistic streak, which means that the very competent crossover still stands out amongst peers like the Nissan Pathfinder, the Chevrolet Traverse, and the Honda Pilot in almost every category.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Models and Prices

The 2013 Ford Flex SE model starts at an MSRP of $30,900 and gives buyers equipment such as a power driver’s seat, air conditioning, tinted windows, 17-inch rims, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a CD player, a base version of the SYNC interface for managing Bluetooth devices, and a second row bench seat. Moving up to the mid-tier SEL trim (MSRP $33,300) introduces power adjustments for the driver’s seat, heated seats, 18-inch wheels, dual automatic climate control, and the MyFord Touch interface to go with an upgraded version of SYNC (and its concomitant improvements to the vehicle’s entertainment features). The most expensive version of the Flex is the Limited (MSRP $39,200), which piles on luxury gear such as HID headlights, adjustable pedals, leather seating, a navigation system, a rearview camera, and an upgraded stereo. A blind spot warning system, 19-inch rims, LED tail lights, a power liftgate, wood trim on the steering wheel, and keyless entry with push button start are also included with the Flex Limited.

The version of the 2013 Ford Flex that I drove for a week was an SEL model that had been outfitted with all-wheel drive, a ‘multi-panel Vista Roof,’ a second row console, a navigation system, and Equipment Group 202A (leather seats, power liftgate, rearview camera, remote starter). The total MSRP for my tester came out to $41,790.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Design

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Flex has been given an external styling makeover.

The appearance of the 2013 Ford Flex, whose boxy dimensions harken back to the days of 60s-era surf wagons valued for their flat roofs and multi-passenger capabilities, has always served as a battle cry for both fans and detractors of the vehicle. I am firmly in the ‘love it’ camp, and always have been, as my appreciation for rectangular automobiles stretches back to a childhood spent immersed in classic car culture with my father. A significant contingent of crossover shoppers, however, have been put off by the Flex’s lack of curves since it was first introduced.

The tweaks that Ford has made to the 2013 Ford Flex’s sheet metal have slightly softened the SUV’s edges, but in no way has its unique visual personality been erased. In fact, the large, single-bar grille, revised front bumper, and more jeweled headlights give the Flex an even brasher character, with the availability of multiple contrasting roof colors amplifying a cue from the MINI crowd. No more Ford badge on the front of the crossover, either, which now bears the word FLEX spelled out across the leading edge of its hood in large-print type. More subtle changes to the tailgate and the vehicle’s body cladding help to keep the Flex looking smart and simple.

The 2013 Ford Flex’s passenger compartment does a good job of balancing the upscale expectations of crossover buyers with the realities of the SEL trim’s price point. A soft-touch dash is hemmed in by stiffer plastic on the door panels, although fabric-like inserts cradle the arm and the elbow where they make contact with the interior. Those riding in the third row of the Flex will find themselves surrounded by a sea of hard plastic, designed to withstand the rigors of loading and unloading the vehicle on a regular basis.

I was particularly impressed with the Vista Roof option, which carved two large sunroofs into the front and rear of the Flex while also including a pair of smaller skylights over each second row seating position. These do an excellent job of illuminating the Ford’s extensive passenger compartment and improving rider perception of just how much room is available to them inside the vehicle.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Comfort and Cargo

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Flex SEL does not offer any significant changes to its cargo or seating configurations.

The 2013 Ford Flex can be configured to seat either six or seven passengers, with my SEL model featuring the second row bench delete option that installs a pair of buckets in its place. After having ridden in a number of other full-size crossover vehicles, I can report that the amount of legroom available to those seated behind the driver and front passenger is simply astounding, beating out equally hefty models from General Motors, Honda, and Nissan.

The third row is accessible via a ‘tumble’ feature that gets the second set of accommodations out of the way, although I had trouble puzzling it out and settled for clambering over the lowered seatbacks – a relatively easy trial that had me seated comfortably in the very back of the Flex in no time. Taller adults might want to avoid the rearmost thrones (which were wrapped in vinyl, not leather like the rest of the SEL’s seats), but most will be happily ensconced for the duration of any road trip.

The 2013 Ford Flex’s cargo space tops out at 83 cubic feet, which is quite good but a far cry from the 100-plus cubes offered by vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse. That being said, a 20 cubic foot ‘trunk’ sits behind the deployed third row, and this space more than doubles in size with those seats folded forward. The rectilinear shape of the Flex also makes it ideal for handling oversized items – or even strapping them to the roof, thanks to its completely flat design. An added bonus: the second row console can be outfitted with a refrigerated compartment, an unusual but welcome option.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Features and Controls

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Flex gains an updated version of MyFord Touch.

The 2013 Ford Flex SEL’s controls are dominated by the MyFord Touch system, which consists of a trio of LCD screens (one at the top of the dash, two directly in front of the driver), and a set of touch controls clustered on the vehicle’s center stack. Upgraded for 2013 to improve its responsiveness to touch commands, MyFord Touch is now legitimately better when accessed through the large touchscreen that serves as its focal point. I have always felt that the decision to split the screen into four distinct quadrants – navigation, telephone, entertainment, and climate – was brilliantly logical, although some MyFord Touch features such as seat heaters should also have physical buttons that I can access while wearing mittens or gloves.

I still have somewhat of an issue with the steering wheel-mounted buttons used for navigating the smaller LCD screens in the gauge pod, since it’s very easy to accidentally move in an unintended direction due to their unusual layout. The lack of actual toggles and buttons for the stereo and climate (aside from two useful dials for the volume and the fan) is also troubling, as it’s not always possible to tell whether you’ve pressed hard enough to elicit the desired response. Voice controls via SYNC, however, are excellent. I was able to use my phone quickly, and without hassle, using vocal commands. Ford has moved ahead of some luxury brands with its SYNC technology’s breadth of vocabulary.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Safety and Ratings

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Flex SEL provides more standard safety features, as well as a few new safety-related options.

The 2013 Ford Flex has been brought further into the brand’s high tech safety fold, with a healthy quotient of active safety gear now available to supplement its standard features. The Flex comes with side curtain airbags, side impact airbags for front passengers, dual forward airbags, electronic stability and traction control, and anti-lock brakes. Depending on which model is ordered, the crossover can also be equipped with class-exclusive inflatable second row seatbelts, a blind spot warning system (that also detects traffic approaching from either side while the vehicle is reversing), and forward collision warning with automatic braking.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Crash-Test Ratings: The Ford Flex SEL scored ‘Good’ in all IIHS small testing, making it a Top Safety Pick by the organization, but it so far has only been evaluated by the NHTSA in the Rollover category, where it received four out of five stars.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

What’s New:

The 2013 Ford Flex sees a power boost for its standard V-6 engine.

The 2013 Ford Flex is initially outfitted with a 3.5-liter V-6, and this unit has seen tweaks made to its management systems that help it jump 25 ponies to a rating of 285 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. The Flex can also be had with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that grinds out a glorious 355 horses and 350 lb-ft of torque. The entry-level V-6 can be matched with optional all-wheel drive, while EcoBoost models come with all-wheel drive included free of charge. A six-speed automatic transmission handles the gear shifting duties for either mill.

Fuel mileage for the all-wheel drive Ford Flex with the naturally-aspirated V-6 (which was the configuration of my SEL tester) shows as 17-mpg in city driving and 23-mpg on the highway. I saw 15-mpg in heavy city driving with a few shorter highway jaunts thrown into the mix.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Driving Impressions

The 2013 Ford Flex is one of the most surprising of the large crossovers to drive. Like its competitor, the Chevrolet Traverse, after a short period of adjustment the Flex somehow seems to shrink around you, behaving very much like a large sedan rather than the heavy, seven-passenger crossover that it is. Unlike the Traverse, however – or the Nissan Pathfinder – the Flex’s lower stance and somewhat stiffer suspension system helps the vehicle avoid the ponderous, top-heavy aspects of the high capacity SUV experience. Indeed, Ford’s decision to further refine the Flex’s dampers and springs for 2013 has paid off with a more refined ride than one would expect from such an enormous automobile.

A couple of additional handling-enhancement technologies could be found lurking beneath the chassis of my all-wheel drive tester. A new torque vectoring electronic limited-slip differential, combined with the curve control feature (which brakes the inside wheel while cornering to enhance stability) do their best to keep the Ford Flex flat through the turns. The all-wheel drive system is able to shift engine torque completely from one axle to the other in low traction situations, and the torque vectoring wrinkle additionally moves it from side-to-side for stability’s sake. The Flex is far from sporty to drive, but its ability to round a bend in a road checks in at a notch above mere competence, which had me feeling more confident behind the wheel than I expected. Even low-speed steering feel was excellent, as I found parallel parking the Flex to be a breeze. For those intimidated by the bulk of this urban battleship, Ford offers the option of its automated parallel parking system, which, when it works, is a sight to behold.

The additional horsepower under the hood of the 2013 Ford Flex SEL is quite welcome, given the ponderous weight of the crossover. Engine response is good in normal driving and I found myself only lamenting the lack of twin-turbo EcoBoost thrust when pulling out to pass at highway speeds, a situation where the base V-6 generates plenty of noise but very little fury with the right foot to the floor. The Sport selection on the six-speed automatic transmission’s handle is best avoided altogether – Drive is more than sufficient at controlling the Flex’s adequate output.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Ford Flex SEL thoroughly owns the mission of a crossover vehicle – haul as many people and as much gear as possible, while offering a ride nearly indistinguishable from that of a large sedan – and it does so in style. The very fact that the Flex’s design is so divisive indicates how successfully Ford designers have been at getting the public to notice the full-size automobile. In a world where wagons have fallen by the wayside, the Ford Flex is a fair approximation of what the family truckster might have looked like had its evolution not been disturbed by the extinction-level-event that was the popularization of SUVs. With so much going for it, it’s hard to think of a reason for families not to test drive this all-around crossover star when it comes time to select their next do-anything automobile.

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Pros and Cons

2013 Ford Flex SEL Review: Pros and Cons

Pros:

Stunning and unique looks
Expansive interior
Car-like handling and parking
Adult-friendly third row of seating
Available twin-turbo EcoBoost power
Updated all-wheel drive system
You can order a refrigerated second row console

Cons:

Fuel mileage is on par with its weight
A bit more plastic in the rear of the passenger compartment than I would like
MyFord Touch steering wheel controls are still too finicky for this video game fanatic

Ford Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.

By Benjamin Hunting