Long Term Test: Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost Update 2

I’m long overdue for an update on the Long Term Flex Limited EcoBoost. Purchased in September 2011, the first update happened after 3 months and 3000 miles had elapsed. In the last update I talked about wanting to add better all-weather interior mats and a roof rack to facilitate carrying bikes and other loads. I addressed mats in the cargo area by purchasing a$70 Husky Liner for the well under/behind the third row seats. As we tend to travel with the third row seats deployed, that well is where our cargo ends up a majority of the time. When the third row is stowed for carrying larger loads that might be dirty or damage the carpeting, we use an auto blanket to protect the interior to avoid the nuisance of needing to remove a rigid cargo protector. The low-pile carpeting Ford specced for that cargo area grows fuzzy with vigorous vacuuming, so preventing it from getting dirty is important.

We’ve now owned the Flex for about eight months and have covered almost 7000 miles. In that time, the Flex hasn’t had any maintenance or repairs needed, though we did just receive a “Customer Service Campaign” notice from Ford in the mail, to address a potential problem which could cause the engine’s cooling fans to stop working, leading to an overheating condition.

The Flex has an oil life monitor which dictates when the oil should be changed, and even 8 months later we still have 30% of our oil life remaining. Instinct (driven by a decade-and-a-half of turbocharged Saab and Volvo ownership) tells me that I should have had the oil changed already, but Ford’s maintenance guide says there’s no need. All of Ford’s marketing materials state that the twin-turbocharged V6 is tested for 150,000 miles of service and beyond, which should be supported by that maintenance schedule.

Oil change interval rationalization aside, I am planning to purchase a comprehensive aftermarket warranty. Besides the expensive drivetrain parts, there are plenty of electrical and electronic parts like power-folding third row seats and the Ford SYNC navigation system which would be very expensive to repair. The fact that we tend to keep cars for eight years (or longer) without putting a ton of mileage on it points me toward a longish-term, lower mileage extended warranty with generous equipment coverage. (As an example, our family’s other car is a 2001 Saab 9-5 which we bought new, that now has 96,000 miles on it- and is on its third turbocharger).

During the last update on the Flex I reported an average fuel economy of 15.7 MPG, and unfortunately it hasn’t improved much; it’s hovering at 15.8 MPG right now. With an EPA city/highway/combined of 16/21/18 MPG, our average is less than the published EPA city number, though admittedly that number reflects my wife’s daily commute of 6 miles across our stoplight-ridden suburb. The highest single-tank mileage recorded was on a trip from Seattle to Walla Walla in Washington’s southwest corner which included crossing two mountain passes in wintery conditions; we saw 19.8 MPG. Hopefully our next report will show at least one tank breaking the 20 MPG mark as we head out on some summertime road trips. That fuel economy figure has been achieved using regular unleaded fuel. You can track our Flex’s consumption here on Fuelly.com.

While the Flex has been mechanically reliable, both my wife and I have experienced poor connectivity between our iPhones and the Flex’s SYNC system. The Flex will start Bluetooth audio playback from our phones even if a different audio source is selected on the entertainment system, and when the vehicle is powered off and we leave the car our phones will still be playing music (streaming it to the not-connected SYNC), wasting battery life. A SYNC update is available but must be dealer-installed. We have put off scheduling a service visit for that minor problem since service wasn’t needed, however with the aforementioned “Customer Service Campaign,” we will have the SYNC update performed at the same time.

After researching rooftop carriers as mentioned during the last update, I decided that I didn’t actually want to carry bikes on the top of the Flex (because it would be too tough to get them on and off of the rack), and that a hitch-mounted bike carrier would be easier for my wife and I to use. Because our Flex was not factory-equipped with the towing package, I ordered the factory hitch online for a little more than $250. Although very clear installation instructions were provided, the process was more complicated than I wanted to attempt (it involves removing the bumper cover and the structural bumper bar as well as the exhaust hangers on each side of the vehicle to bolt the new hitch in place), so I paid $200 plus tax for a shop to install the hitch for me. It is a Class IV hitch when installed on EcoBoost Flex vehicles (because they have the requisite transmission cooler), though I haven’t installed hitch wiring because I don’t intend to tow anything behind the Flex at this point. I’ve got my eye on a Thue four-bike, hitch-mounted rack for carrying our family’s bikes. That still doesn’t solve the problems of transporting skis, though I know that hitch-mounted ski carriers are also available (even though space in my garage to store all of these carriers isn’t as readily available.)

Though we’ve been generally happy with the Flex, there is always room for improvement. For example, the shape of the bottom edge of the passenger doors is such that in the wintertime, significant slush and ice accumulations form inside of the door. In wet weather, muddy water collects there. I do end up washing this area inside of the doors with each car wash; although the part is painted, the metal is rough, leading to a poorly-finished feel/impression.

With the first winter season behind us, in early April I pulled off the winter wheels shod with Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 tires, which proved unstoppable during Seattle’s week of winter in February, when schools were closed and our town’s one snowplow struggled to clear the two main thoroughfares through town. While they are a very capable and confidence-inspiring winter tire, it was nice to get back to the stock 20” Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season rubber, which offers better grip on dry pavement for better roadholding and steering.

One of the things that attracted our family to the Flex was its unique appearance. Although the updated 2013 Flex has recently gone on sale, our 2011 Kona Blue Metallic Flex Limited with Ingot Silver roof still has a very distinctive appearance, and we get strangers asking commenting on the “cool” or “beautiful” car on a regular basis, as well as getting nods of approval and thumbs-up from other Flex drivers. That said, when we tell people it is Ford Flex, too often they ask “Oh, does that mean it runs on Flex Fuel?” Ironically, while Ford does make Flex Fuel vehicles, the Flex is not one of them.

Other than lackluster fuel economy, we have no big complaints about the Flex after nine months of ownership. It continues to be comfortable, reliable, and easy to live with. In our next update, watch for feedback on whatever bike carrier we choose, the service campaign, first oil change, and SYNC update. Before then, you can leave comments or ask any questions in the Comments section below, by tweeting to @autosavantkrm, or emailing me at kmiller@autosavant.com.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent long term review, thanks. Some additional comments. I drove a 2010 Flex Limited with the standard V6 for about a year and half and recently flipped that for a 2012 Lmiited with the Ecoboost engine, Vista (with roofrails!), 2nd row buckets and the tow package. Have a 5 and 7 year old and I use it for a mix of around town commuting and family adventures…we live in KC, so adventures are all over the Midwest/Rockies. I bought the 2010 on a whim and really liked it, but the lack of power constantly annoyed. I am willing to accept poor(er) mileage, and I have a tolerant nature on grubby cars, so most of your negatives are irrelevant to me haven’t much mattered to me. I am unwilling to buy another set of wheels and tires, so I am particularly interested in hearing about the Eagle RS-A in snow. It is my understanding that the “new” design does very well. We had an awful experience with a Mazda CX-9; factory tires were like being on skates. Pet peeve: Crossover AWD vehicles with terrible factory all season snow tires. What is the point?

    On my 2010, roof rails were highly discouraged. Even though the Flex is quite large, family vacations (hauling either grandparents or our 80 lb lab) necessitated some sort of cargo carrier. On the 2010, I had Ford install the factory hitch and purchased a Stowaway2 swing out cargo box. Highly recommended, and there are bike and ski attachments you can purchase separately. The addition of the box really extends the uses for the Flex and means you don’t have to perform Olympic level deadlift maneuvers to put luggage, etc. on top of the car. And the cargo box proves quite useful for “messy” uses; coolers, tailgating, things of that nature.

    The twin turbo engine, to me, is a huge, massive upgrade. The standard V6 really struggles to get the weight of the Flex going, not so much for the Ecoboost. I’m not talking about racing around, I’m talking about trying-to-get-around-the-traffic-in-the-middle-lane-to-make-a-left-up-here. The most amazing part of the ecoboost, having driven many turbo case (9-5, VW Beetle, Mazdaspeed) is the quiet power throughout the full range of rpms. Really fantastic.

    Finally, I personally find the Ford Sync system to be one of the greatest auto-related tech innovations I have ever experienced. My car use is primarily dozens of short trips. I like music, a lot. The Sync is the first system I’ve found that actually makes an Ipod functional in a car. I rarely see this mentioned in reviews. Nothing cheers up a trip to school for a 7 year old like instantaneously putting on her favorite song. I’ve had a Mini and two Mazdas with “Ipod integration” and they are a circus of fumbling around with knobs just to find an artist, and woe be unto you if you want to jump around songs.

  2. I recently purchased a 2014 flex limited. I live in central Canada where the roads are often wet and messy with salt and sand in the winter.
    After driving my Flex for only two weeks around the city i discovered sand and dirt getting into the engine compartment and coating the surface of everything with muck and guck.
    I discovered two holes (one each side) right at the side of the area the struts connect to the frame – right at the top of the wheel arch.
    When i took it back to the dealership we checked out a used 0.13 on the lot – the engine was a mess (filthy) covered in dried dirt and sand in every crevice under the hood – the same holes were the problem.
    The shop mechanic shrugged and said the holes must be there for a reason (hog wash as far as i’m concerned) I cant believe that Ford would purposely leave holes and allow this to happen. In time the mess has to create other problems with electrical and moving parts.
    I would appreciate hearing from other Flex owners who may have encountered this problem and solutions they have come up with.
    I guess I could shove rags into the holes but have to believe there’s a better more permeant fix
    Bill

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