April 10, 2009

It's True, A Station Wagon Will Change Your Life.


Even a borrowed one. A couple of weeks ago, some publicists for Ford asked if I didn't want to try out a Flex for a while. The retrofuturistic not-a-station-wagon is one of the few cars I did want to try, so I took them up on their offer. It arrived yesterday. I had to fold the mirrors in to get it down our alley-like driveway. I took it out for 30 minutes this morning, and I can say without qualification that it changed my life.

Instead of walking, I drive the kid to preschool. Though the Flex looks like a station wagon from the outside, inside it feels like an SUV. The doors lock automatically as you roll off. When we get to the carpool line at school, the teacher can't open the door. I can't find the unlock switch. I am slowing down the line. Ah, there it is. The teacher, who couldn't see through the blackout windows, calls the kid's name, "So that's who was in there!"

"It's not our car!" are the first laughing words of greeting from the kid's mouth. "We borrowed it so we could blog about it!" are next. "Isn't that crazy? Blogging about a car?" follow.

Two minutes is not enough of a trip to make it worth threading the driveway needle again. I want to go to Burger King. No, because it's the only drivethrough for like twenty miles. I get some French Toast Sticks. The traffic back into town is horrible. Connecticut Avenue is at a standstill. Is this what suburbanites put up with every day?

A scrawny deer is picking its way through the terraced flowerbed of an apartment building. It leaps onto the sidewalk. It is not--yes it is. It is running across the street. Connecticut Freaking Avenue. It is not darting; it is lurching between the stopped cars. I realize this is not my car. An all-at-once combination of relief, guilt, and fascination. Now the deer is behind me. It thuds loudly against the fender of the gold Toyota in my--well, it's not a blind spot, because the Flex has these wing-like mirrors. The deer is down. The deer gets back up and keeps on running.

Traffic is barely moving. French toast sticks will be inedible by the time I get home. I break them out. The syrup fits perfectly, snugly, into the Flex's shifter track. God bless America, her syrup-holder-equipped station wagons will turn this economy around.

The guy on my left moves up. He has two deep dents in his fender, which he probably can't see from there. A black collie wearing a broken leash or a bandana darts through the cars, heading in the direction of the deer. I realize the traffic is because a gang of eco-terrorists led by Brad Pitt has let all the animals out of the National Zoo.

No, it's because they're pouring concrete to build a #$%ing Walgreen's across the street from a CVS, and have closed two of four lanes during rush hour. I turn off Connecticut and take the side streets home. The Flex won't fit into at least two parking spaces I think it should.

Holy crap, when you shift into reverse, the syrup flies out and falls into the little bin where you put the EZ-Pass. Who designed this syrup holder?? The wipes are in the other car. Burger King only gave me two napkins. I lick my EZ-Pass clean and put it where the cell phone goes. I hope that other little bin has unit-body construction, because I am leaving the deep syrup cleanup for later.


A spot near a fire hydrant is open. I parallel park with triumphant ease, then get out of the car and see what a suburban job I did. Objects in the backup camera are not as close as they appear.

Cleanup Update: Ooh, they're good. The bin has an L-shaped rubber lining, removable for easy cleaning. It even looks dishwasher-safe:


Hmm, that picture looks grosser than the actual syrup-soaked Pampers wipes.


Not a city car. It is almost exactly the same length as a Chevy Tahoe which should give you an idea. I bet if you were driving to see the folks in Utah you would appreciate it though.
Did they give you the version with the DVD player and mini-fridge?

There is a mini-fridge. If there's a DVD player, we won't be using it.

I hear the Ikea in College Park calling your name.

am I really so transparent?

"the Flex looks like a station wagon"

It does? Doesn't it look like a particularly ugly tank? Maybe it's just me.

It may be more retro than futuristic.

I drove next to one of these for a while yesterday. If they offered it in a 3/4 size version I might be interested. Also saw a Volvo XC60 yesterday, which I liked more than I thought I would. Still too big though.

Cool - now maybe the Mercedes publicist will drop off your B200 next!

How'd you feel about the automatically locking doors? They make me nervous ever since part of my father's car caught fire and shorted out the locks. They only worked electronically and had locked when we started off. We couldn't get out! We managed to break a window, but it wasn't easy.

So now I always lock the back doors, but leave the front unlocked.

I love the Flex - I'd been scoping it out since the car shows (I'm in Michigan) and anxiously waited for it to be released. I test drove one and loved it, so the only thing left was the purchasing, but Ford has (or had in February, anyway) crappy percentage rates and very few incentives, so I ended up with a Honda Pilot that costs me almost $250 less per month than the payment two different Ford dealerships quoted me for a Flex. Loyalty to the Big Three is very strong in this state, but I couldn't blow my monthly budget to support Ford. I still do love the concept, though - it has all of the features of my friends' minivans without the soccer mom look of a Town & Country. I may be a parent, but I'm not yet ready to hang it all up in the style department.

i'm not really a fan, though I can see how they'd be a no-brainer to someone living in the Detroit suburbs. Our other car has them, too, but you can disable the autolock feature. Also, you can always pull up the tee-shaped lock. The Flex locks are those little nubs.

Looks like somebody dropped a Mini onto an old xB. In this case the whole is not better than the sum of the parts.

When Ford went into production on this car gas was around four bucks a gallon ... and they come out with a 'wagon' that gets 17 mpg in the city!

That said, if the seats fold down to make a nice flat surface, it would be an ideal day-rental for IKEA runs.

16 city, actually, and we'll see how the seats fold down tomorrow--for the trip to Ikea.

though I haven't tried it yet, it's not obvious to me how to even get into the back seats with car seat/boosters installed in the 2nd row. I mean, it's obvious you have to climb in from the back.

Maybe if it was a diesel... We are moving out of NYC and getting a biofuel car, there aren't a lot of kid-friendly options that can be converted. Right now it is between a vw passat wagon and trying to find a diesel jeep from Canada. Or a 74 land rover. So this thing would fit the bill...

W123-series 1985 mercedes 300td, baby. the biodieselers' favorite. Though the wagons are pricey. The market for previous generation Jetta diesels is pretty hot, too.

Wow, I thought my XC70 got bad gas mileage. But that was because of the turbo. I haven't seen the XC60 yet but this just seems like the family cruser. Does it come in green with wood panels??? (pea green famliy truckster).

I'm with Scott. Give us a 3/4 version & we are so there.

My wife has been eying this for a while - perhaps a test drive is in order.

"Scott" wrote, "If they offered it in a 3/4 size version I might be interested."

"They" do. Scion offers the XB and Mini offers the Clubman. Just don't expect either to include 90% of what makes the Flex so superior.

Thank you for publishing your itinerary; but unless a significant portion of your blog entry happens to be hosted elsewhere, your emphasis upon Brad Pitt and spilled syrup left very little said about the Flex itself.

Alternatively, I happen to own a 2009 Flex Limited with all-wheel drive (and yes, the refrigerator too) and can empirically state that the Flex is both one of the best vehicles I'v ever owned and perhaps the best vehicle Ford has built.

In addition to its bold looks and tremendous usefulness, the Flex exudes quality throughout. Few vehicles are as thoughtfully designed with the passenger at its center, and its fit and finish and overall execution are the best in Ford's history.

Any feeling of "cheapness" or compromise is gone. The interior is among the most comfortable of any vehicle regardless of price and soup-to-nuts amenities and design features make the Flex a very nice place to be. It is a "complete" vehicle, and direct result of the investments Ford has made in quality and calculated chances.

All 3 rows are actually meant for adult use, and the first two are replete with enough creature comforts to make the Flex as ideal for cross-country travel as cross-town. Form follows function. The Flex is the epitome of simple understated elegance, mercifully devoid of any clutter that doesn't serve a specific purpose.

Though Ford offers a Flex trim level for almost every budget, ranging from the $29,000 FWD SE to the AWD Limited up to $46,000. A testament to its obvious appeal, Limited trim accounts for 40% of all Flexes sold compared to a 20% average for other vehicles top trim level. Though inexpensive Flexes are available, the most expensive configurations' popularity demonstrates that the Limited isn't just expensive; it provides an excellent value proposition.

Its only Achilles heel has nothing to do with the Flex itself. Introduced at the very time when gasoline reached $4.00/gallon, just before the world's economy disintegrated with unprecedented alacrity and credit became difficult to obtain, 40,000 of a projected 80,000-100,000 first-year vehicles have sold despite being at the very top of Ford's passenger vehicle pricing spectrum.

Unlike its competitors, Ford took a chance and "got it right", producing more than just a quality vehicle. The Flex represents the potential that exists for American automobiles and is the harbinger of Ford's tremendous future including the 2010 Taurus, 2010 Fusion (and Fusion Hybrid), and the even-better 2010 Flex which offers Ford's revolutionary EcoBoost engine that provides an addition 100hp AND 20% fuel economy improvement.

If I hadn't met and interacted with a few already in the process of scheduling this car demo, I would have guessed you were a Ford publicist. Your hard sell makes me think you're a Ford dealer publicist instead.

I'm not in the business of exhaustive car reviews, and if I were, I am not really sure why anyone would care. Every time I started thinking about this or that feature of the Flex, I inevitably found myself comparing it to my own car, to my own personal subjective, accumulated experience. So if there are any station wagon-loving, SUV-hating, Mercedes-driving, city dwellers with little kids shopping for a Flex, my observations would be useful; otherwise, all I could hope is that they're entertaining.

The Flex was nicer than initial reports led me to believe, but it was also much larger, annoyingly so. Dealbreakingly so. The shape obviously compares to the Scion xB, but Toyota ruined the xB, and the build quality of the xB is tinny and cheap and annoying; I'd pay twice as much for an xB-sized car that had some quality to it. If the Flex is an XL, the xB is an S--or an M to the Clubman's S. I'd like to see the M/L versions.

One thing that annoyed the hell out of me, which I wasn't going to write about, since it seemed like impolite kvetching--the invisible influence of kind publicist outreach, I guess--is that it always felt too big even for a 6'3 guy. I had to lean way forward to adjust the rear view mirror--which, of course, makes it hard to adjust the rearview mirror, since your head's not where it will be.

The fridge was nice/fine, but also in the wrong place for a parent of young children: it should be in the front, where parents can reach it. The second row was too far back to give a kid a pacifier, a Cheeto, a bottle from the fridge, anything, from the front. Saying the rear seats are for adults is fine, but it also kills the car for me until all my passengers are at least 8-10yo.

If I were to compare the Flex to other 6-passenger cars, the one that comes to mind is the Mercedes R-Class, which is also feels too big to me and doesn't sell well, either. It's not an unrealistic comparison, either, considering the discounts on the R350 and the price of a loaded Flex. Unfortunately, what a Flex offers in terms of cargo space is countered by a drop in quality and feel. So yeah, my not going into detail on the Flex was ultimately a case of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." But since you asked...

Those who love the Flex and those who hate it are fairly easily identified as those who own one and those who've never driven or ridden in one.

he says on the post written by a guy who drove one and hated it.

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