I have not had a new car in over 10 years. And, I had always thought that American Cars were lagging behind foreign autos in so many ways: design, styling, features and especially, technology. My perspective has now flipped about 180 degrees, especially around the technology factor. Here’s why…
This is an on-going series about the 2010 Ford Flex. Ford has graciously loaned me a Flex for two weeks in order for me to fully experience not only the car, but also the technology, specifically Microsoft Sync. I have now been driving the Flex for about 3-4 days and am really starting to fall in love. For some background information, this is the first “car review” that I have done. I won’t be reporting on that much of the car itself but more around the brains within it. I thought that before I spend time specifically on the Ford Sync, I would mention some of the other “techy” features that power the Ford Flex and then devote some other article(s) to the Sync.
For starters, here is a bit of information about the 2010 Ford Flex model that I’m driving:
- Model – Ford Flex SEL
- Starting MSRP – $31,750
- Price as tested – $41,555 (w/ SEL-Convenience Package)
- MPG City/Hwy – 16/22
- Features (just mentioning a few)
- Ford (Microsoft) Sync
- Dual-zone Electronic Automatic Temperature Control
- AM/FM stereo 6-disc in-dash CD with SIRIUS satellite
- SEL-Convenience Package: Power-adjustable pedals with memory • Power liftgate • Memory feature for driver’s seat and heated exterior mirrors • Security approach lamps • 110V inverter with AC outlet
- SONY 12-speaker Sound System
- Class III Trailer Towing Package
- Silver Two-Tone Roof
- Active ALL Wheel Drive
- 3.5L GTDI twin-turbo charged V6 engine
- 6-speed SelectShift Automatic w/ paddle activation
- 355 Horsepower @ 5700 RPM
- 350 Torque @ 3500 RPM
Unfortunately, I did not get a car manual when I received the Flex (I later hunted one down online). But that is okay as part of the excitement about receiving a new product comes from the exploration. I learned much of the workings of the Flex by simple trial and error. While the Sync adds a pretty powerful brain to the car, there are other tech design decisions that are definitely worth mentioning:
- Smart Seats – there are two buttons that control seat position. Like many other higher-end cars, using motors, you can control the alignment of the seat tilt, forward/back, and height as well as how far or close the pedals are from your feet. Storing the seat settings to memory really helps.
- Backup Sensors – I discovered this feature quite by accident. As I was coming out of being parallel parked, I heard an audible beeping that increased in frequency as I started backing closer to the car behind me. Essentially, this is a proximity sensor that helps you back up without bumping into the car behind you or run over toys, bikes or other objects behind you. On a more careful inspection of the rear bumper, there are 4 evenly distributed sensors that act as a proximity alarm.
- Cap-less Gas Tank – this was a pretty interesting feature. You no longer have to worry about leaving your gas cap sitting on the roof of your car since the Flex simply has a slot where the gas nozzle goes and then vacuum-seals the opening.
- Automatic Rear Hatch – yeah, ok, this is pretty common in mini-vans and larger hatch-backs, but it was new to me. Simply being able to push a button to open and close the hatch was luxury for me.
- Automatic Middle Row Seats – again, another button but this really makes for easy entry to the rear row. Pushing the button automagically moves the seat out of the way for easy entrance/exit to/from the rear seats.
- EcoBoost – ok, now we are getting into some of the innards of the car. The engine that came with the model that I’m testing has the EcoBoost feature. The EcoBoost engine is basically a twin turbo charge, direct-injected V6 engine. The way that Ford describes it, it’s the “economy of a V6 but with the power of a V8.” And they really aren’t lying here! When you step on the gas a bit harder, the twin turbo kicks in and you are literally rocketed forward like a sports car. It was hard to not to search out some street racers to do a off-the-line challenge. The Flex with the EcoBoost REALLY MOVES! I was shocked. The motor is a 3.5 L engine that puts out 355 horsepower @ 5700 rpm and a torque of 350 lb.-ft @ 3500 rpm. More info here.
- Sony Audio System – it’s really amazing what a difference high quality speakers make. My other two cars (both Hondas) have stock Honda speakers. Once I started playing around with the Sony System in the Flex, I realized that it will be hard to go back to my aging and under-powered system. The Sony set boasts 12 premium speakers but also has a 6-disc CD player and MP3 and AUX Line-in hookups. SIRIUS satellite is also an option (just waiting for mine to be activated).
- A Smart Key – all of the Flex’s come with something called MyKey which are a number of features designed to make driving safer for young drivers. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would even let kids behind the wheel of this large bottle-rocket. It’s a bit too powerful! (Also, my kids are far from driving age!) You basically designate 1 key to be the “MyKey” which is the one that the kids would use. When using the MyKey, there are certain safety features that are enabled like:
- Muting the sound system if seat belts aren’t on (can’t change)
- Low fuel warnings especially once the 75 miles-to-empty threshold has been hit (can’t change) as opposed to the 50 miles threshold
- Reverse Sensing Meter which beeps when you back up (can’t change)
- Limit vehicle speed to 80 MPH (changeable)
- Visual/audio warnings for exceeding certain speeds of 45/55 or 65 mph (changeable)
- Limit the maximum volume of the audio system (changeable)
- Dual-Zone Temperature Control – no longer will my wife and I fight about the temperature. I tend to run hot and find that having cooler air helps me stay attentive to the road. She likes having more heat so consequently usually has to bundle up on long trips. And to top it off, there is a rear control as well for the kids/passengers in the back of the Flex. The rear can be controlled either from the back or from the front dashboard.
- Power slots – the Flex designers really thought of everything. There are 4 standard power ports (the cigarette lighter type) throughout the car, but there is also a 110 Volt power plug.
- Dual Heated Mirrors – with the push of a button, you can melt frost or snow on the side-view mirrors
- Autolamp Control – this is your basic “set it and forget it” headlight control. When it is dark outside, the headlights automatically turn on.
- Courtesy Wipe Feature – no, this has nothing to do with going to the bathroom but it was something that I noticed that simply stood out as a nice added touch. After you clean your windows using the window washer, after a few seconds, the windshield wipers will do one more sweep to get off any remaining excess washer fluid.
- Auto Dimming Rear View Mirror – in my older cars, there was a toggle to flip the mirror based on day time or night time driving. The Flex has this completely automated so that the mirror dims when bright lights or glare hit the sensors located on the mirror.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive coverage of some of the non-Sync gadgetry of the Ford Flex. These are just a few of the features that stood out in my mind after just a few days of driving experience with the Flex.
Generally, the car is a pleasure to drive. The seats are comfortable, the middle row (and even the back row) has a ton of leg room. The interior is quiet on the road and elegantly styled. Ford has come a long way in the eye appeal with both the interior and exterior of the Ford Flex.
My only complaints thus far is getting used to different blind spots (there are a few) and a cargo hold that is a bit smaller than I would have liked. What that means is that packing for longer trips is better done by having more pieces of smaller sized luggage. But the seats in the entire cabin fold down in various configurations so if you aren’t loaded up with passengers, you can definitely haul a lot of cargo. The towing package (not tested) is also great for hauling a variety of items.
The exterior I simply love, especially the two-tone color scheme. The Ford Flex really stands out. I sort of view it like a modern Woodie on steroids. If a wood-side panel option were available, I believe it would be a killer!
With the engine as powerful as it is, and its incredible “peppiness” (to use a very technical term), this is the view that most cars on the road will see of me as I pull away from them at break-neck speeds (all within the speed limit of course)!
This is the first post of several on the Ford Flex. I will be putting it through some grueling tests on the road, that of a road trip with the family (3 kids and wife). I plan on fully exploring the Ford (Microsoft) Sync as a way to use only (or mainly) voice commands to control many different aspects of the car. Obviously Sync won’t drive the car for me, but it sure comes close!
Disclosure Text: Apart from the 2-week loan of the Ford Flex, I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: The Ford Flex has carefully thought out technology and features that make it a purely enjoyable and innovative driving experience!
Michael, I hope you talk about the Flex/MS Synch UI in the global sense. Are the controls intuitive. Do the “traditional” car controls follow accepted and expected standards as far as location, layout, movements (especially in an emergency)? Do the new (tech) controls make sense? Are they easier to use than media center remote controls. Are MS and Ford setting new paradigms for controlling personal mobile transportation space?
IMHO this is one of MS's better opp'ties to become a player in UI innovation.
You might also consider how hard/expensive it is to add roof or tail racks to this car for skis and bikes. Few reviewers do that and it is Dad's chore…
I have like this car since it came out as a reasonable alternative to minivans