By Kevin Miller
It has been about three months since the 2011 Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost joined the Miller family and simultaneously joined the Autosavant long-term test fleet. During that time we have gotten to know some of the big family hauler’s strengths and weaknesses, so it’s time to give readers an update.
Shortly after purchasing the Flex, we had a protective film applied to the front painted surfaces including the front third of the hood and front fenders, front clip, mirror caps, headlamp lenses, and door edges. The film is 3M VentureShield and was installed by a local vendor who came to my Seattle-area home for the installation, which cost around $600 including taxes. With the large frontal area on the Flex and my tendency to keep vehicles for a long time, I wanted the film to protect the Flex’s paint; I had excellent results from a similar film on the Volvo which was replaced by the Flex. The film lasted for my seven years of ownership of that car.
We have covered just over 3000 miles in three months with the Flex. While its 355 HP twin-turbocharged V6 has plentiful power for a seven-passenger crossover, Ford’s promise of “V8 power with V6 fuel economy” isn’t “over-delivering” on that V6 economy. The Flex is mainly used for commuting around our Seattle-area suburb, in a lot of trips to school, daycare, grocery store, work, and gym, meaning that many miles are spent in warm-up mode. This use means that our overall fuel economy of 15.7 MPG is less than the EPA estimate of 16 MPG city, much less the 18 MPG combined number. Even with longer trips, the best fuel economy number we’ve been able to muster is 18.6 MPG between fill-ups, with a low spot of 12.9 MPG. You can follow our fuel consumption on Fuelly.com by following this hyperlink. Autosavant’s long-term F150 EcoBoost has the same basic powertrain and saw fuel economy increasing as the truck’s mileage hit the 5000 mile mark on the odometer. I’m hoping our Flex will see similar improvement.
While the Flex’s day job is to serve as a suburban family transporter, it has proven to be a versatile crossover when it’s time to get out of town and have some fun. We’ve gone on a weekend getaway to Washington’s San Juan Islands with six people (including generous amounts of luggage), stuffed a set of grandparents in the spacious third row for a family outing to a pumpkin farm leading up to Halloween, and even folded down half the right-sides of the second and third rows (while seating our kids on the vehicle’s left side) to fit a nine-foot Christmas tree inside on the hour-long trip home from a you-cut tree farm. While that was necessitated by the fact our Flex came with the panoramic sunroof instead of a roof rack (they were mutually exclusive until MY2012), we all still fit, and the Flex’s hard plastic materials on the side of the cargo area wiped off easily for cleanup when we got home. Still, an aftermarket roof rack is probably in the Flex’s future for transporting skis and bikes.
With winter rapidly approaching have recently added a set of snow tires to the Flex. Used 19″ OEM wheels were purchased for $375, to which we added Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 snow tires (and TPMS sensors) for around $1,000. With only about a hundred miles on them so far, I can say that evasive maneuvers show off tall tread blocks biased for traction in bad conditions, meaning they do give up some dry-pavement grip. With our family’s ski cabin located on the other side of Washington’s Snoqualmie Pass, which regularly has winter traction tire or chain requirements, we wanted the confidence of being able to cross the pass even in bad conditions. Too, the Seattle area has lowland snow annually, but lacks sufficient snow clearing equipment, which means that even arterials can go for a couple of days without being plowed after a snow storm; having snow tires on our previous AWD vehicle let us get around when most people were stranded at home, so we considered them a necessary addition to the Flex, whose cost will be able to be spread out over a number of winter seasons (as well as extending the life of the all-season tires that came on the Flex).
When using the Flex in Seattle’s typically rainy autumn, we found a couple of aspects of the vehicle Ford could have done a better job on. The first has to do with window demisting on the second- and third-row side windows. Even with the defroster running, it is difficult (if not impossible) to prevent mist from forming on the second-row windows. While the Volvo V70 whose spot the Flex filled in our garage had air ducts specifically directing defrost air on the second-row windows, the Flex has no such ventilation feature, meaning that mist builds up on the side windows and cannot be cleared; this is a disappointing oversight.
The other thing the Flex could use are better floor mats. Our Flex came from the factory with the $75 all-weather mat package, which consists of four rubber mats (one for each of the first and second-row outboard seating positions. However, the mats leave wide, flat carpeted areas between the door and the mat, as well as leaving large raised carpeted areas between the back of the mats and the leading edge of the front seats. My kids and my wife tend to track dirt and mud onto the low-pile carpeting. I did buy Ford’s third-row mat for about $75 since the all-weather mat package inexplicably doesn’t come with one for the third-row. I’ve had to clean mud off of the carpet enough in the three months of ownership that I’m seriously considering aftermarket mats for the first and second rows. Do any of you readers have recommendations for aftermarket mats which will cover more floor space than the small OEM mats? I also still need to get a cargo mat or two; the Flex has a cargo area under/behind the third row seats which we use frequently; a mat for the larger cargo area when the second row is stowed is also needed, so look for reports on those in the next update.
Other things we’ve learned about living with the Flex include the fact that if you start the car while the power liftgate is closing, it will reverse travel and open back. Also, while there is a LATCH connector on the right side (only) of the third-row seat, the shape of the seat and headrest force a forward-facing seat (like our Britax Marathon) a few inches forward of the seatback cushion, meaning that the child in that third-row position will have very little legroom and will kick the seatback or adult in front of her; that’s most easily solved by leaving her car seat in the second row.
Despite the minor complaints above, the Flex has so far been easy to live with, and Mrs. Miller (the Flex’s primary driver) loves driving it. The space for comfortably taking friends and family with us was the primary reason we bought the Flex, and it is fulfilling that duty well. We still enjoy the Flex’s unique styling and its relative rarity in the Pacific Northwest compared to other, more ubiquitous crossovers like the Mazda CX-9 and Volvo XC60. Be sure to ask questions here in the comments section, and know that you can follow @autosavantkrm for occasional updates on Twitter.