Article: 2013 Ford Flex Changes
Styling: The 2013 Ford Flex gets a minor nose job that replaces its horizontal three-bar grillework with a single blade bridging revamped headlamps. The leading edges of the hood and fenders are subtly rounded, supplanting sharp corners. And Ford’s blue-oval logo is banished in favor of the word “Flex” in large letters across the hood’s brow. At the rear, all versions of the 2012 Flex get the dual the dual chrome exhaust tips previously reserved for versions with the EcoBoost V-6.
Three new exterior colors – Ruby Red, Deep Impact Blue, and Kodiak Brown – are added and most hues are again available with a contrasting-color roof and mirrors, usually black or white. Also newly available are 20-inch aluminum wheels with blackened spoke centers.
Flex’s overall shape and dimensions are unaltered. It remains a midsize SUV that’s longer but lower than the class norm. Its look is distinctive if polarizing, with elements of the traditional station wagon. A more curvaceous interpretation is sold by Ford’s upscale brand as the Lincoln MKT. These SUVs qualify as crossovers because they share their basic understructure with the Ford Taurus sedan and Lincoln MKS luxury sedan. The core of this is design is also used for the Ford Explorer SUV.
The 2013 Flex again includes three rows of seats, with positions for six or seven passengers depending on the buyer’s choice of the standard second-row bench or optional dual buckets. Flex occupants sit higher than in a car for a slightly elevated view of surrounding traffic but aren’t positioned quite as high as those in the typical crossover SUV.
A flip-up tailgate is standard but Flex’s relatively low roofline impacts maximum cargo volume and curtails its ability to haul tall objects. For example, Flex is about two feet longer overall but some two inches lower than the Toyota Highlander, which also has three rows of seats. The Ford’s 83.2 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume is about 12 cubic feet less than the taller Toyota’s. But Flex’s squared-off tail gives it’s a useful 20 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third-row seat – twice as much as in the Highlander.
Flex’s 2013 midcycle freshening brings with it a revamped dashboard with instrument clusters revised to accommodate displays required by the newly available MyFord Touch system (See Features, below.) The steering wheel is also updated, as is the seat finish and padding.
Ford had not released complete details on trim levels in time for this review but the 2013 Flex almost certainly will repeat a lineup that starts with the base-level SE model and includes the midlevel SEL and the more opulent Limited models. Return of the top-of-the-line Titanium version was unconfirmed.
Visual differences among the models aren’t extensive, though wheel size and type continue as differentiators, with the SE riding 17-inch alloys, the SEL, 18s, and the Limited 19s. New for 2013 SEL and Limited models is an Appearance Package option that includes the contrast-spoke 20-inch alloys, plus the two-tone roof and mirrors.
Mechanical: The 2013 Flex continues with a choice of two 3.5-liter V-6 engines, a base version tweaked for more power and the already-muscular turbo EcoBoost edition. Absent – at least upon initial introduction of the 2013 model – is a four-cylinder version of the EcoBoost. It was predicted for the Flex based on its availability in the 2013 Explorer and Taurus (and ‘13 Ford Edge crossover). That 2.0-liter EcoBoost generates a V-6-style 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque but with four-cylinder-like fuel-economy ratings of 20/28 mpg city/highway 23 mpg combined city/highway.
The addition of twin independent variable camshaft timing to the 2013 Flex’s base V-6 contributes to a slight increase in fuel economy and to new ratings of 285 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, up from 262 horsepower and 248 pound feet of torque. (Broadly, torque gets you going, horsepower keeps you going).
Fitting the 3.5-liter V-6 with direct fuel injection, two turbochargers, and other advanced tech helps transform it into an EcoBoost. It continues for 2013 with a V-8-like 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. Absent the Titanium model, the EcoBoost six will likely be available only on the 2013 Flex Limited, though specifying it will again trigger associated mechanical enhancements, including a lowered and firmer suspension for improved handling.
The sole transmission available with either Flex engine remains a six-speed automatic, though the version used with the base V-6 adds to its shift lever a thumb toggle that enables the driver to more easily mimic manual-type gear control. The version used with the EcoBoost engine returns with steering-wheel-mounted paddles for the same purpose, though Ford imbues them with more control than typical paddle systems, even allowing the engine to hit its redline in each gear without the transmission automatically upshfiting.
Also migrating from Flexes with the EcoBoost engine to 2013 versions with the base V-6 is standard electric power steering. This is designed to sharpen handling response, but also to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions by eliminating the drag on the engine of a hydraulic steering system’s drive belt. The electric system includes Ford’s Pull-Drift Compensation that automatically adjusts steering assist to compensate for crosswinds or crowned roads.
The 2013 Flex continues to offer all-wheel-drive (AWD) as an extra-cost alternative to standard front-wheel drive. Availability of AWD is again confined to SEL and Limited models and is standard on EcoBoost-equipped 2013 Flexes. The system isn’t designed for serious off-roading but rather as a traction-enhancer on slick or snowy pavement. It sends 100 percent of the engine’s power to the front wheels under normal circumstances and automatically shuffles power between the front and rear axles to quell tire slip.
Every 2013 Flex again comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes with antilock capability to improve control in emergency stops. Also included is Ford’s AdvanceTrac system with antiskid stability control to help prevent sideways slides in sudden or extreme handling maneuvers. With the optional towing package, a Flex with either engine can pull trailers weighing up to 4,500 pounds; that’s about 1,000 pounds more than most V-6-powered midsize crossover SUVs. On towing-package-equipped models, AdvanceTrac is programmed to help counteract vehicle and trailer sway.
Features: The 2013 Ford Flex features roster is highlighted by addition of MyFord Touch, the inflatable rear safety belts, and systems designed to prevent collisions and warn of vehicles in blind spots.
MyFord Touch was conceived as a way to reduce dashboard clutter, bring new levels of user-customization, and help lure younger and tech-savvy buyers to Ford products. It swaps conventional buttons, switches, and dials for customizable touchscreen menus and dashboard touch points. It features two 4.2-inch configurable displays in the central instrument binnacle and a customizable 8-inch LED screen in the upper center of the dashboard.
Through these interfaces, “five-way” buttons on the steering wheel, and voice-recognition software, MyFord Touch provides control of multiple audio, navigation, concierge, and infotainment functions. It can stream data from a connected smartphone and includes conversion software that reads text messages aloud via a synthesized voice, among myriad other services.
However, Ford has recently acknowledged owner complaints about the system’s design. MyFord Touch has in fact been blamed for a decline in the automaker’s rankings in widely respected ratings of initial vehicle quality based on owner surveys by J.D. Power and Associates. Ford has responded by establishing user-training programs and is addressing glitches in the system. The corrections are incorporated in the version of MyFord Touch appearing in the 2013 Flex. They include simplified interfaces, clearer displays with larger text, more accurate voice recognition, and touch-sensitive sections of the screen that look more like buttons.
MyFord Touch is an extension of Ford’s more elementary but better accepted Sync multimedia control system. Sync should again be optional on the 2013 Flex SE and standard elsewhere in the line. Developed with Microsoft, Sync allows voice control of many infotainment functions, including programming the optional navigation system, changing radio stations by frequency or call letters, and selecting songs or playlists from a connected iPod or iPhone. Sync and MyFord Touch include USB and Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone interfaces. On models without navigation, Sync can deliver turn-by-turn directions and select trip information. Flex also is available with onboard Internet connectivity for up to five passengers via a password-protected Local Area Network using a compatible USB broadband modem.
First seen as an option on the redesigned 2011 Explorer and now available on the 2013 Flex, Ford’s rear inflatable safety belts essentially are combination shoulder belts and airbags. The belts are provided for the two outboard second-row occupants and are designed to inflate in 40 milliseconds in a collision. Ford says the inflatable belts help reduce head, neck and chest injuries, particularly those suffered by children and older passenger who can be more vulnerable to such injuries.
Active-safety additions to the 2013 Flex include Ford’s Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert. This gives audible and visual warnings of vehicles in adjacent traffic lanes, as well as those to the rear and sides when backing out of a garage or parking space. Also newly available is Ford’s Collision Warning with Brake Support. This works with the optional active cruise control to warn the driver if the Flex is closing too quickly on an obstacle or traffic ahead and automatically primes the brakes to full stopping power in anticipation of a panic stop.
Also available is keyless remote entry with pushbutton start. So is Ford’s Active Park Assist system that locates a suitably large parallel parking space and backs the Flex into it automatically while the driver modulates the brake pedal.
The 2013 Flex again includes most every other feature expected of a modern upscale crossover. All models come with cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and rear-proximity detection for easier parking. Also available is Ford’s MyKey system, promoted by the automaker as a way to help parents encourage teenage-driver seatbelt use and safe driving by programming limits on vehicle speed and audio volume.
Other features standard or optional depending on the model include a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a small second-row refrigerator, rear DVD entertainment system, a remote starter, and Ford’s expansive three-panel Vista Moonroof. The available voice activated navigation system again comes with a hard-drive for onboard digital media storage and an HD Radio system for receiving higher sound-quality broadcasts (where available). The system also includes “song tagging” that saves HD Radio artist and tune information on a connected iPod or iPhone for retrieval and/or purchase via the online iTunes music store.
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