2011 Ford Flex drives smoothly, handles large families

2011 Ford Flex interior 2011 Ford Flex interior

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When I said, "I do" to my Japanese husband, I also said, "I do" to a life full of Hondas, Toyotas and maybe the occasional Subaru. Ford was off the list, which didn't bother me until the introduction of the Ford Flex for the 2009 model year. Over the years, the three-row crossover made its presence known in my neighborhood and my heart. After a weeklong test drive, there's nothing I don't like about the 2011 Flex.

With a love-it-or-hate-it boxy exterior, the 2011 Ford Flex is the anti-minivan that drives as smoothly as a sedan and easily handles seven passengers.

My test car, the top-of-the-line Titanium trim, came equipped with Ford's EcoBoost V-6 engine that delivers the power of a V-8 with a V-6's fuel economy. The optional engine had plenty of power to merge onto the highway, and unless I was turning at high speeds, the Flex never felt like a big boat on the road. The Flex's suspension absorbed road imperfections, proving its crossover chops.

The 2011 Flex has a starting MRSP of $29,355, but the Flex Titanium I test-drove cost a whopping $48,500.

Exterior

The Flex's exterior is a polarizing topic. People either love or hate its square, wagon-like shape. While test-driving this crossover, I received nothing but positive comments and questions about it.

The boxy crossover had a convenient step-in height for my 3-year-old, and the slightly raised seats and ample ceiling height made it a breeze to install child-safety seats.

The power liftgate made it a little easier to load the Flex with kids and then all their gear. It comes standard on the Titanium and Limited trims. The cargo area shines when the third row is folded down, but it shrinks significantly when the third row is in use. With the third-row seats up, I was able to fit a few bags of groceries, a case of diapers and my umbrella stroller in the deep storage well in the cargo area. One pricey option -- $1,495 to be exact -- had my kids mesmerized. The Vista Roof, a panoramic moonroof with four glass panels, covered all three rows of seats.

The 2011 Flex Titanium came equipped with a 335-hp, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. It gets an EPA-estimated 16/21 mpg city/highway and uses premium fuel. A less powerful V-6 engine is on lower trim levels.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

Interior

Ford had a family's needs in mind when designing the Flex. The crossover is filled with nooks, crannies, power outlets and cupholders. You know, all the things parents can't get enough of when hauling around children.

Another thing I can't seem to get enough of is legroom. Child-safety seats normally swallow it up. However, the Flex comfortably accommodated my 6-foot-2 husband in the front passenger seat and a rear-facing convertible car seat in the second row behind him. It was truly an amazing feat. The third row was comfortable and had a workable amount of legroom.

The Flex can be had with two captain's chairs in the second row, creating a pathway to the third row, or a three-seat bench. My test car had the standard three-seat bench, creating room for seven.

To allow access the third row, the second-row seats tumble forward. Unfortunately, with two car seats securely attached in the second row's outboard seats, accessing the third row was difficult at best. Luckily, my 10-year-old sister was limber enough to climb over the car seats and basically fall into the third row. I couldn't imagine having anyone older than 10 or without a sense of humor use the third row with my car seats blocking access to it.

While my car seats thwarted most of the Flex's seating configurations, they're still worth mentioning. Excluding the driver's seat, each of the Flex's seats can fold flat, leaving a multitude of options when hauling munchkin-filled car seats.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Safety

The 2011 Flex has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this, a car must earn the top scores of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests as well as have an electronic stability system.

The Flex Titanium also has traction control, anti-roll control, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, a backup camera and six airbags, including side curtains for all three rows. Ford's MyKey is also standard. This feature allows the owners to limit the Flex's top speed, increase seat belt warnings and limit the stereo's volume when the specific key is used. All-wheel drive is standard on the Flex Titanium, but it's optional on the lower trims.

Active Park Assist is an optional feature that costs $550. When activated, it not only perfectly parallel parks the car, but it also finds the spot.

In the Flex's three rows of seats come three sets of lower Latch anchors. There are two sets in the outboard seats in the second row and one set in the third row. While it's convenient to have Latch anchors in the third row, I was only able to fit a booster seat back there. There wasn't enough room for my forward-facing convertible. Four out of the five rear seat belts had stable buckles, making it easy for the older children to buckle themselves up.

The second row was spacious and could easily fit two child-safety seats. I was able to fit a passenger between the car seats, but squeezing three car seats into the second row was a no-go for us.

© 2011, Cars.com

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