Times are changing, as they are well known to do. The generation that shunned wagons because of horrible memories of being strapped into the back of one and driven halfway across the nation to spend a week with the grandparents is losing its grip on market trends. True, most of the current wagon buyers favor the tall, AWD-equipped crossovers but if you’re in the market for a more traditional longroof, Ford will be more than happy to cater to your desires.
When the B-Bodies waved goodbye in 1996 we were left with only Volvo for our long-wagon needs. It’s understandable; it would’ve been weird if anything else had happened, really. We had seen the future and it had four-wheel drive and a truck chassis. Truck-based SUV’s were here to stay and it would take a fuel crisis to take them off from the pedestal we had built for them. The Chevrolet Suburban did everything a Roadmaster could do, and climb a mountain to boot; why would you want anything else? Flash forward to the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, when Ford decided to bring something rather special to the show.
The Ford Fairlane Concept. The first time that the nameplate had made an appearance since 1971, when Ford replaced it with the Torino. Instead of an intermediate sedan, we got a tall wagon with suicide doors and a three-bar grille that would become an integral part of Ford’s design language for their upcoming model. Inside, it was all about that retro design with cues to the ole’ woody surfing wagons and a two-spoke grille in front of very simple (dare I say, aftermarket-looking) gauges. Very nice, and rather sedate for a concept. Not the sort of thing that gets the media all hot and bothered–especially in a year when Ford was also parading the Shelby GR-1 Concept and a Mustang GT Concept to tease everyone about the upcoming model. With all this going on around it, the Fairlane could be excused for blending into the crowd. Little did we all know that Ford had other plans in mind.
After a name change and a little tour to gauge public interest in 2007, the Flex was launched to the public in 2009. It looked almost identical to the Fairlane concept; sure, the suicide doors had gone, and the interior had become considerably more cost-effective thanks to the joys of Ford’s enormous parts bin, but here it was. A real long-wagon from an American manufacturer. Happy days are here again. You could even have it as a woody.
No, you’d think there wouldn’t be a single modern car that would look very nice with wood paneling, but the Flex, thanks to its not-quite-retro design, actually works it quite well. I’ll admit to cheating a bit here. The wood paneling isn’t actually from Ford itself but is an aftermarket addition. Still, you have to admit it works in a way that it couldn’t with any other vehicle currently on sale.
In 2013 the Flex got a thorough makeover that managed to keep it retro-inspired, yet at the same time made it considerably more modern and stylish. If you’re more interested in performance than looks you’re also in for a treat, because Ford decided to give it the same 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that it fits to the Taurus SHO. It’s good for 365 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 5.7 Seconds–exactly the same as a 1970 Oldsmobile 442, 2003 Nissan 350Z or a first-generation Acura NSX.
I’m concerned though; U.S sales peaked in 2009, when 38,717 of the neo-wagons made it out of the dealerships. The sales have been slowly but steadily declining. In 2014 the Flex only had 23,822 takers, and this past month sold only 1,848 units. Compare it with the 23,058 units that the Explorer sold during the same period of time. Maybe there are still some horrible road trip memories in the collective consciousness. Nevertheless, cars like this one, the Cadillac CTS and the Golf Sportwagen mean one thing: The manufacturers haven’t quite given up on the wagon concept. And why would they? Wagons are practical, spacious and mostly reasonably priced. Market trends cycle, and hopefully the time for the non-crossover wagon to return to relevance is closer than we can imagine. Wood paneling will probably remain within a very small niche, though.
I remember when I first saw the Ford Flex. I remember thinking “you must be joking! What an ugly looking car!” And I thought the Scion Xb was ugly looking, this brings ugliness to a whole new level.
Agreed. It’s that squashed roofline that adds to its dreadful effect.
The wood is hideous, little wonder its not a factory option.
Hmmmm… Looks a bit like a Range Rover. It has gone completely under my radar – those do not sell in Austria, I did not even know there was such a thing. But I can see the attraction for someone wanting to avoid the minivan stigma but who has no need for a lumbering SUV.
i would not exactly call these affordable for the average joe. we bought our 2009 in the depth of the recession (depression really). what was originally msrp’d at ~37K was discounted with manufacturer and dealer incentives of about 9K. that put it at about 28K.
sorry if you do not agree but 37K is quite a bit of change. my recent 2013 passat tdi i purchased for ~26K. still lower than the sale price on the flex and 4 years later.
Right, because the Passat and Flex are comparable vehicles.
Hmmm, as long as it’s a wagon….
What about the ’05-’07 Ford Freestyle? In 2-wd or all-wd. I have one because I wanted a wagon. I understand the platform is similar to the Volvos of that era.
Freestyles were very nice – I remember checking them out when they came out and being very impressed.
I rented one and it was a gas sucker. I did get to try it out in the snow and it was very nimble.
btw, i was overjoyed at the prospect of an entire week of wagons. have enjoyed the ride but i am hoping to see a good, long, historical write up on any (all?) of the following: honda camry, honda civic, toyota tercel, audi a6 avant and allroad, and bmw 5 series.
there’s my proverbial line in the sand. anyone going to cross it and write about these venerable wagons?
Usually for the buyers looking for a basic set of wheels, it happens, like Chevy Falcon.
As an original owner of a 2005 Ford Freestyle, the Flex has long been on my list as a possible replacement. If I had an unlimited pile of money, I’d have probably traded for one years ago, as it has all the functionality of my Freestyle with a bit of added space.
The Flex, like the Freestyle before it, has an unfortunate name. Add polarizing style, a pricy sticker, and sales have always been rather weak. Which is unfortunate, it really is a heck of a family station wagon, CUV or SUV – whatever your preferred term.
It is quite a bit more functional then the Ford Explorer that sits on the same platform. The second and third rows in the Explorer are not nearly as spacious. Ford has a talent for vehicles that are large on the outside, and cramped in the interior – the Taurus sedan and the Explorer are prime examples. Beyond price issues, (a portion of which is driven by Ford’s ridiculous option packaging) Explorer buyers really are buying form over function when bypassing the Flex
Part of me has always sort of liked the style of the Flex, my kids think it looks like a hearse. (Maybe I should buy a black one?) My main gripe with the styling is the side strakes on the doors.
I quite like the one pictured in the last photo.
I agree with the comment on the taurus looking big on the outside and small on the inside. I assume you are talking about the 2010-present version? The Ford Five Hundred with chrome(aka the 2008-2009 Taurus) was very roomy. The currnent taurus feels like you are in a canoe
I like it.
And rather unusually it even looks better after the facelift.
I never liked that 3 bar look Ford was just utterly in love with at the time, every departure from it I thought was an improvement, car by car.
I seem to remember seeing a Flex at an auto show a few years ago as a concept vehicle. I also remember it being called a Fairlane?
Yes; as mentioned in the third paragraph of the article (and shown in the second photo), the Flex had its start as the Fairlane concept.
Nothing wrong with this concept. Maximum practicality and interior room at a very reasonable price (I guess).
This is comparable with cars like the Renault Kangoo, Fiat Doblò, Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Partner. Albeit (there, I always wanted to use that word) these are all shorter and taller, the idea seems to be the same.
Spent two weeks with one of these last summer, eating up miles across the length and breadth of Vancouver Island. It was a highly capable machine – wholly unknown here in the UK. Unpretentious but with a style of its own. Comfortable, spacious, manoeuverable, moves fast when you stand on the pedal, seems to be well screwed together. If I lived in North America, and did what I do here, I’d very seriously consider one. I agree, it’s a future CC.
Very few people own one of these, which is a shame, because (apparently) everyone who does own one loves it.
My friend has one and loves his. He has 2 kids and shopped all kinds of SUVs first.
It should be a Volvo, it would look perfect with a Volvo grille, and it has a lot of Volvo in the platform.
The resale prices of these have stayed pretty high which is surprising considering they aren’t that popular.
Ford should have kept the Fairlane name, it still fits in the F naming convention.
In August of 2010 I bought my wife a one-owner 2009 Ford Flex Limited, 50,000 miles, fully loaded with all the options for $24,995.00. It has been a fantastic vehicle and she loves it. The MSRP on the original window sticker was $43,875.00. This car has the fancy Panoramic Vista roof, nice Sony audio with nav and voice control, 2nd row bucket seats with a refrigerator console between them, DVD video in the backs of the headrest, all the bells and whistles. The best feature, according to my wife, is the remote control electric lift gate in the back; bring your groceries up to the car and hit the fob button and the car opens up to take the bags. This is especially handy in the rain! The car is very comfortable, the seating is just high enough without a huge step-up, and the leg room in the second row is limo-like. The third row has had very little use, but I have tried it out and adults can use that third row, if needed. I bought an extended warranty from Ford, but there really have not been any serious issues with it, with the exception of a PTU seal replacement that was a warranty issue and that was fixed and has remained fixed. It is a shame that Ford does not market these cars in any way that I can see. They do have a strong Land Rover vibe, stylistically, but then Ford owned LR when this vehicle was designed. If people would try a test drive, and aren’t fixated on having sliding rear doors, the Flex is a great family car. They are pricey, as that MSRP shows, but if you can find a used Limited model for nearly half the MSRP it is a huge bargain.
I like these and I remember at least one for sale at Maguire Ford back in 2008 or 2009 had some paint runs around the fuel filler door which I found amusing.
I like the styling on these and figure I will buy one someday, but it is not easy finding a base model not in Silver, Grey, White, or Black.
I’ve read that women tend to not like it while more men do. If the wife doesn’t like it, the husband isn’t going to be buying it, in many cases. Why, yes, I’m single. How’d you guess?
I think someone on a thread the other day said it reminds them of an International Travelall. I tend to agree. I always thought these reminded of something but was not sure what. For the record, I like the styling. My wife thinks they are ugly. Oh, well, as have said before, I have always liked the styling of the Edsel, too.
I am a fan. I remember sitting in one when they came out. Both the Mrs and I hated the headrests which were aggressively far forward and appeared to be non adjustable.
If I could resolve that issue, this would be a prime candidate for my driveway someday. I have read that these have the best second row of seats of anything made. I am waiting to see how these do with things like head gaskets and transmissions, two areas where Ford has burned a lot of buyers over the fairly recent past.
i really like the styling, including the contrasting roof option, which I find a cool retro touch. Not quite the utility of a minivan but once everyone is out of college and my stuff-hauling days are over, that won’t be such an issue.
As a Flex owner, I too hope that Ford’s faulty head gasket and transmission days are a thing of the past.
As most may know, the Flex uses a 6 speed transmission jointly developed by Ford and GM. (It is used in several Ford and GM vehicles).
At 83,000 miles our Flex has only needed fluid/filter changes, brake pads, and tires since new.
We just bought our second Flex. Great vehicles. The headrests have been redesigned since 09
The refresh made the headrests adjustable forward to back. Before that, you simply take out the headrest and turn it around backwards. Still functions like it should without making you bend your neck so far forward.
It’s always reminded me of an overgrown Mini Cooper, in profile at least. (The way the Mini Cooper keeps growing, maybe not so overgrown.) The white roof on many of them furthers the effect. Oddly, I suppose, I like the Flex but greatly dislike the Cooper.
I feel the same way. Squared two-box design, blackout roof pillars, contrasting roof. Makes perfect sense.
Maybe that means the ideal pair of cars is a Cooper and a Flex?
The headrests have been improved since the 2011 model year. Many people found them uncomfortable. I think that the video headrests that we have in ours were different from the standard headrests, as we have not found them to be a problem.
Lots of cars have intrusive head rests, there must have been a crash test advantage to be had
I remember when these came out I thought: “Honey, I enlarged the Mini…” Then I saw the sticker… Owwwwww…
A friend of mine has the original version, her late husband was Ford family, they got theirs considerably cheaper than the average consumer. At that price, it was good value. And a really roomy car, too. A great non-minivan, non-SUV for the few people who wanted such a thing.
The 2013 re-style made it much more attractive to me for some reason I can’t explain. I guess they got rid of that late 00’s Ford “electric shaver” grille and let the Flex’s freak flag fly. Kind of like my Azteks, the styling of the 13’s and later said “who cares?” to styling convention. Plus, we are in the golden age of petroleum fueled horsepower when a 5000 lb family wagon can outrun a 7 liter Oldsmobile (admittedly from 45 years ago), which was once a performance icon.
I’ve seen a few in some very interesting color choices in the last couple of years, which also makes me glad. As much as I love silver cars, not all cars have to be silver. Nice to see some bold moves in the color department.
Not that I would need something as large as the Flex now, but it would be one of the few Fords (beyond a Mustang) that I could aspire to own.
If you can get past the polarizing looks, these Flexes are really nice vehicles. They are much more practical and drive much better than the bloated Explorer. And you can get into a well optioned Flex SEL for under $40K. A Limited will run close to $50K fully loaded…still not bad for what you get. It’s probably one of the best new car bargains in all of autodom, in my opinion. I’ve driven one of these with the 3.5L “Egoboost” motor and it’s friggin’ fast. A real sleeper hotrod of a mommy mobile.
For years I’ve been saying Ford should take the Flex, give it a proper trunk instead of third-row seating, add classic Lincoln styling touches and distinctive luxurious interior trim (like La-Z-Boy reclining seats in the back) and call it the Town Car. Livery services, VIP buyers (CEOs, diplomats and high government officials, etc.) would snap it up. I bet Ford would sell 50,000 a year of them.
YES! A million times yes!!
Thrown in a de-tuned Coyote for durability and you have a winner.
My theory of falling Flex sales is the same as the theory of why the Freestyle and Taurus X are gone: they don’t look tall. SUV buyers want to have tall cars. To make cars look tall, while still fitting in a garage, automakers have been shifting the beltline higher and higher.
The Explorer is only 2″ taller than a Flex, but the Explorer looks more massive because of the higher beltline. The Chevy Equinox and Ford Escape are both 2″ lower than the Flex, but, again, look more imposing because they have a higher beltline.
The Edge is an inch lower than the Flex, but sells in vastly greater numbers. The Edge looks more imposing because it has a higher beltline.
The Taurus X only lasted in production for a year and a half. T-Rex sales were crushed by the Edge, with the Edge selling 130,125 in 08 vs only 42,110 for the T-Rex’s only full year of production.
So, the bottom line is SUV drivers are buying an optical illusion: buying a car because it looks taller, when actually, it just has a higher beltline.
Personally, I think the T-Rex was the best looking SUV ever built….the only SUV attractive enough for me to buy one.
I love these, and nearly bought one about 3 years back. Ended up with a Sequoia, but that’s another story.
I’m continually amazed at the clever ways in which the styling manages to hide the fact that this really is a VERY large vehicle. Until you actually stand beside one, you’d not know just how tall it is. In terms of overall exterior dimensions, it’s within an inch or two of the length and height Honda Odyssey and the Toyota Sienna, IIRC. But just LOOKING at the thing you’d think it much lower and longer.
… the styling manages to hide the fact that this really is a VERY large vehicle.
Correct. Same thing with my Taurus X. It looks like a normal station wagon until you get close and realize how big it is. That is what I suspect is the underlying factor in the Flex’s weak sales: it doesn’t look huge, but customers want SUVs that *do* look huge.
Three years ago my wife and I were literally on our way to buy a new Dodge Caravan but we passed the Ford dealer and I had remembered seeing a Flex, which we thought was beyond our price range, advertised at ~$25K in one of those low ball “one at this price”. ads. We went inside and they had the car on the lot and we bought it. It’s the SEL, the mid-level model with moon roof and leather. It’s a very roomy, comfortable, practical family transport which also drives very well for the type of vehicle it is. As a “car guy” I feel compelled to point out that my own daily commuter is something smaller and sportier, but for the price we paid for the Flex, I can’t think of a better three-row family hauler for both driver and passengers.
I can see from people’s comments that Ford’s high MSRP/high incentives pricing strategy exacerbates the chicken-and-egg problem we’ve been discussing throughout Wagon Week.
If you find a Flex on the lot, you’ll get a lot of car for the money you’ll actually pay for one, but if you can’t you absolutely will be better off buying something else (an Explorer or Escape, Ford hopes) than ordering and paying full whack or close to it.
I just test drove a 2014 Flex EcoBoost yesterday and I really liked it. First of all I love the boxy look but my wife hates it. The boost is immediate, no lag whatsoever and it makes the Flex effortlessly fast so that you’re going faster than you realize. I didn’t like the sound of it though. It emits a strange kind of whine. I drove it on some really bad roads and it absorbed the bumps well and was steady without the annoying head toss of many SUVs. One thing that’s much better than every SUV/CUV I’ve driven is the Flex’s outstanding rear and quarter visibility. You don’t need a rear view camera to back it up. Ingress and egress are very easy and the seating comfort is good. I didn’t find the headrests to be too far forward. Rear seat leg room is fantastic and the comfort in the 2nd row is far better than in the Acadia/Traverse/Enclave. The ride is more compliant than the GM trio and of course it’s much faster. If I have to replace my Deville the Flex is at the top of my list.
I didn’t like the sound of it though. It emits a strange kind of whine.
Would that be a wavering whine while the engine is running at a steady speed? My non-Ecoboost Taurus X had an odd wavering whine The engine uses chains to drive the cams and I am used to hearing a bit of whine from the chain in both my old Mazda and my VW, but those whines were steady at steady engine speed. Only thing I could think of was a funky tensioner that had the chain oscillating between too tight and too lose, or a funky tensioner on the serpentine belt that drives the accessories. I have not seen a lot of complaints about failed tensioners though.
The real landmine on Ford V6s is the water pump. The pump is in the valley, run off the timing chain. When the pump gives up, it’s a major job to get at it. $1,000+. Repair Pal gives the average cost to have a shop replace the water pump on a turbocharged Flex at $1634 to $2085 of which $1379 to $1759 is labor.
I stumbled across some interesting (but a bit old) sales/demographic data regarding the Flex.
See “Ford Flex Appeal Belies Sales” published at WardsAuto. (wards auto.com)
It took me awhile to warm up to the Flex, but now I think it’s really cool. It’s one of those cars you really have to see up close, in person, to appreciate. Digital pictures belie its presence and truly unique style. I was also a big fan of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, which is different stylistically, but a very similar concept.
We had station wagons between 1996-2005!
Audi, VW, and Subaru would like to have a word with you!
That being said, I don’t think the wood on these ever really worked. I saw it one a dark blue Flex once- it looks too fake to be believeable to me- almost what a cartoon of Di-Noc would actually look like….
Comparing our Flex with a co-worker’s Buick Enclave: I rode in the second row once and was surprised at how cramped that felt and how difficult it felt to get in and out. The second row in the Flex is so much better than in the Enclave. That boxiness means a better utilization of space.
The smartest thing that Ford could do is encourage potential customers to “take it home” for a couple of days to try it out. You really do need to drive it or ride in it to understand the good qualities of this vehicle.
Freddie: good catch on that nicely-optioned SEL for ~$25,000.00. It’s a lot of car for that kind of money!
Never liked the name Flex, I’ve been mixing it up with the other four letter committee coined name, Edge, forever. I remember the concept back then now that I see it, I just got my drivers license in 05 so admittedly a retro van station wagon thing didn’t quite capture my interest at that years CAS as much as said Mustang and Ford GT supercar, but I do remember the suicide doors and the name Fairlane(how did that name not make the cut???).
The Ecoboost is the motor to have in this thing though, it’s the very definition of a sleeper with it. Otherwise I have to admit I don’t find it particularly appealing, I mean I’m not a huge station wagon fan so there’s a bias there, but it’s styling is totally a scaled up Scion XB, with some goofy 00s Chrysler inspired ribbings pressed into the metal. If I had to choose between it and the other CUVs(which I frankly do consider it, something about it keeps me from calling it a true station wagon) I for sure would pick it over the other blobs Ford is cranking out, but otherwise I won’t be too surprised or saddened when it’s gone from the lineup. It’s a vehicle that has no lineage attached, no real purpose, no styling, and generally seems like a product geared to attract hipsters who’d love the ironic uncoolness of the design.
I like these. A lot. It’s an absurd vehicle for a childless man to own, so I probably won’t be getting one in the next little while, but when kids do come along (I’m married, so partway there) I’ll be giving a Flex strong consideration. Used, of course–I can’t swing $40K for a car and I’d rather have a slightly used ecoboost/panoramic roof/all the goodies as opposed to a more basic non-turbo model. Much, much cooler than a minivan, and more space than a regular wagon (though I’ll also be considering those). The sleeper effect is essential!
We did just buy a house, and I’m starting to get a little annoyed already at the bigger-than-a-car items we’ll need to buy and have no way to transport currently. Maybe not so absurd after all?