Most full-size SUVs tend to fall into one of two design categories: forgettable family blobs, or frighteningly massive hunks of truck-based steel. The 2017 Ford Flex, however, proves that you can package exceptional practicality in something that’s been styled to be distinctly different from the vast majority of its people-moving brethren. Even more impressive? The Flex manages to stand tall alongside the competition while riding on one of the oldest platforms in the sport-utility segment.
There’s a reason why the Ford Flex has been restricted to mostly cosmetic upgrades during its near-decade long run in Blue Oval showrooms, and that’s because almost nobody buys it. In comparison with the Ford Explorer SUV, with which the Flex shares aspects of its oily bits, the rectangular seven-seater is a financial footnote, drawing roughly none of the heat of its hulking sibling.
The Flex’s inability to arrest the attentions of middle America can be linked to precisely what those who do own an example of the crossover like the most about it: its distinctive looks. All right-angles and glass, the Flex comes across as a paean to the station wagons of old, albeit told through a modern lens. Frankly, I’ve been enamored of the vehicle’s squared-off proportions since it first debuted, and the latest model’s snazzy front lighting and grille, combined with its streamlined strakes and sexy roof rails, is even more exciting in my opinion.
Haters gonna hate, but anyone who can’t get past the Ford Flex’s ‘gotta be me’ silhouette is missing out on one of the best-driving large SUVs money can buy. It had been several years since I had last sampled the Flex, so I snagged the keys to a top-of-the-line Limited model for my annual pilgrimage from Montreal to the New York International Auto Show in NYC. Although piloting such a big rig all by my lonesome seemed like a waste of the Ford’s capacious cabin, I was eager to put its road trip charisma to the test.
The Flex Limited boasts a high level of standard gear, including leather seats, a power liftgate, power adjustable pedals, upgraded HID headlights and LED taillights, a blind spot monitoring system, and Apply CarPlay and Android Auto (thanks to the inclusion of the recent SYNC 3 infotainment system). My ride was also equipped with an options package that added adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning (although no automatic braking), a cooling feature for the heated front seats, an automated parallel parking system (more on that later), and a power-folding feature for the third row.
Needless to say, the interior of the 2017 Ford Flex is an exceedingly pleasant place to while away the miles, even if last year’s second row refrigerator is no longer available on the order sheet. The model I drove featured no fewer than four sunroofs carved out of its long ceiling, adding welcome brightness to an already greenhouse-heavy solarium, and in place of the current trend towards porthole windows and gun-slit glass the Flex was very easy to see out of, front and rear. Second row accommodations were quite comfortable, and the third set is acceptable for adults: push the ‘Tailgate’ button at the back of the SUV and that same row contorts itself to sort of face backwards so you can get out of the weather while grilling from the confines of the vehicle. Fold everything flat – and the load floor is truly level – and you’ll enjoy just under 85 cubic feet of cargo space, which is a match for the brutally big Explorer.
The Flex is available with a pair of engine options, but the Limited model adds the option of a 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 in place of the standard, but workman-like 3.7-liter V6. All-wheel drive is standard with EcoBoost editions of the sport-utility vehicle, as is a six-speed automatic transmission, and you’ll immediately notice the leap from 287 to 365 horses as soon as you flatten the gas pedal. The Flex EcoBoost’s 350 lb-ft of torque shirk the sprint to 60-mph in a respectable 6.2 seconds, but the Ford feels much faster than that, especially on the highway where passing is surprisingly effortless for such a large vehicle. I truly enjoyed blasting down I-87 behind the Flex’s turbocharged bluster, and while I might not has been all that impressed by its 21-mpg highway fuel efficiency rating, at the very least it comes within one mpg of its less powerful line-up mate.
The Flex is truly worthy of consideration from anyone who needs to regularly devour highway miles, particularly with a crew of four or more in tow, and especially if you can swing the extra cost of the Limited’s EcoBoost. Ford’s black sheep SUV isn’t perfect – the optional automated parking system is hit or miss, the capacitive touch controls on the center stack are needlessly fussy, and the passenger compartment isn’t as quiet as you’d find in new crossovers – but the rest of what the Flex has to offer is excellent to the point where I can easily overlook these foibles. I come across very few vehicles in the course of a year that make me reluctant to hand over the keys at the end of our time together, but the Ford Flex is one truck I’d be happy to permanently park in my own driveway.