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2013 Ford Flex resembles a box but lives up to its name

Many people complain that

Many people complain that "all the cars out there look the same. " That's far from true with the 2013 Ford Flex being the extreme example. Credit: Ford Motor Company

Say what you will about the Ford Flex, this big-rig takes its people- and cargo-carrying role seriously, but with a sly wink and a nod when the topic of styling is mentioned.

Wagon-style bodies are somewhat of a Ford specialty. Along with the Flex, three-row seating is offered in the full-size Expedition, Expedition EL and Explorer, while the Edge, Escape and the passenger version of the Transit Connect cargo van provide space for five (a separate five- or seven-passenger Transit van arrives for the 2014 model year).

Among them, however, the Flex is unique. It sits low to the ground like a regular sedan and shares the same platform with the Lincoln MKT wagon.

That's preferable for those who want to access their vehicle without using a stepladder.

But the main differentiating point is the Flex's mostly rectangular and highly practical styling. Ford's designers made no attempt to disguise the vehicle's significant size, but for the 2013 model year they did devise a far more expressive nose consisting of a single brushed aluminum bar flanked by projector-beam-style headlights. Beneath the bumper, a much thinner bar is slotted in front of the lower air intake. The finishing touch is the vehicle's name spelled out in giant letters across the hood and on a wide aluminum band in back.

From front to back, the Flex appears as straight up and down as a shoebox, which is a major contributor to its overall roominess. Although its six- or seven- passenger layout (depending on which seating configuration your order) is near tops in this segment, cargo space with the rear seats in place or folded completely flat is about average, despite a significant amount of bodywork that extends past the rear wheels.

The solidly constructed Flex weighs in at between 4,470-4,840 pounds, but fortunately Ford has managed to compensate by making available a pair of stout engines. The standard 3.5-liter V6 now makes 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, a gain of 25 horses and six pound-feet from the 2012 engine. Even with the extra power, fuel economy actually improves to 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway, up from 17/24.

Optional is the returning 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged "EcoBoost" V6 rated at 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, but only if it's fed premium-grade gasoline (it will still operate on regular, but performance will suffer somewhat).

Either engine operates with a six-speed automatic transmission.
All-wheel-drive is optional with the base V6, but comes standard when the EcoBoost V6 is ordered.

For 2013, Ford has upgraded the Flex in other ways, including the availability of second-row seatbelts that act a bit like airbags and inflate within 40 milliseconds of a crash. Additional extra-cost safety gear consists of radar-based adaptive cruise control that keeps a steady distance from the vehicle in front, and Blind Spot Information with cross-traffic alert that warns of overtaking vehicles and vehicles approaching from either side when backing out of a parking spot. Then there's Curve Control that can detect when the Flex is entering a turn too quickly and within a second applies braking force to slow the vehicle down by up to 10 mph.

The Flex's three-model line up starts with the $31,700 (including destination charges) SE that arrives fairly well equipped with dual-zone climate control, backup warning alert and Ford's voice-controlled Sync communications, entertainment, navigation and emergency assist system.

The SEL adds an upgraded interior with heated power adjustable front seats, automatic temperature control and 18-inch wheels (17-inchers are standard), while the Limited gets a leather interior, navigation screen, power liftgate, rearview camera and other niceties. Along with all-wheel-drive, a panorama sunroof (called Vista) refrigerated second-row console and 20-inch wheels are optional.

The Flex's oversize dimensions and rectangular silhouette might give some buyers pause, but if you're seeking something different, thinking inside the box could make this Ford the perfect fit.

What you should know: 2013 Ford Flex
Type Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive full-size wagon
Engines (hp) 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (287); 3.5-liter DOHC V6, twin-turbocharged (365)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: The Flex is a difficult vehicle to precisely categorize, but it generally falls into the tall-wagon group that has displaced the once-dominant sport utility vehicle segment.
Points: Tastefully crafted front and rear restyling; Base V6 comes with added power and slightly lower fuel consumption; Flex offers rear inflatable rear seatbelts; feature should soon find its way to other makes and models; Why offer EcoBoost V6 with all-wheel-drive-only?; Stellar list of electronic safety features, but they'll cost you.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; second-row seatbelt airbags (opt.); anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 18/25 (base 3.5)
Base price (incl. destination): $31,700


Mazda CX-9
Base price: $30,600
Restyled for 2013, but still as handsome, powerful and roomy as ever.

Chevrolet Traverse
Base price: $31,300
Easy on gas plus excellent road manners makes this a fun-to-drive wagon.

Toyota Highlander
Base price: $29,700
Plain-looking, but a frugal base four-cylinder saves keeps price low-ish. 

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