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2013 Ford Flex Walk Around

The Ford Flex is a stylish box. Some will find the shape honest, simple, and even elegant, for a box. It suggests interior room and maximum space utilization. It has presence and upscale cues that some might call bling. It's not shy.

Five feet eight inches tall, the Flex is higher than a station wagon but lower than an SUV like the Ford Explorer. The roof is about eye level, so you don't find yourself looking up at it, or perceive yourself climbing up to get into it.

The hood and roof are long and flat, the windshield stands relatively straight up, the side and rear glass is flat, and the corners are sharp angles, although the front end has been rounded a bit for 2013. The doors are striped with four horizontal grooves, like speed lines on a drawing or cartoon, apparently an attempt to make the Flex look less boxy. We wonder if it's an afterthought. We're not sure if it helps or not. These indents must also help stiffen the doors, for a more solid closing sound.

What does work is the addition for 2013 of black for the roof (adding to silver or white); too bad the black roof comes with a package that includes 20-inch wheels. We drove a titanium-colored Flex with a black roof and mirrors, plus far-out black and machined wheels, and it looked hot. Not a Mommy car, for sure. Add 365 horsepower and two turbochargers under the long hood of our Flex, and it's a one-of-a-kind vehicle.

Speaking of bling, there's a new grille and tail trim for 2013. Ford has apparently abandoned what it was calling its signature for the last few years, a three-bar grille. Now it's just a silver band, chrome on the SE and satin aluminum on the Limited. Another band across the liftgate. Must have taken the designers all of an afternoon to knock it off. We long for simple black eggcrate or mesh (like the Taurus SHO). Is this the same company that created the fantastic new Fusion?

There are six new wheel designs for 2013, so you can probably find some you like, unless you're picky like us. The SE has standard 17s, the SEL 18s, the Limited 19s, and 20-inchers for rappers are optional.

Interior

The Ford Flex interior has gotten a makeover for 2013, and it's beautiful. For starters, MyFordTouch (Flex SEL and Limited) has been redesigned and reprogrammed, and now it works. This good news gets better. Owners of the 2011 Flex (or any Ford) with the confusing and maddening first version of MyFordTouch can take their vehicles to their dealer and get the new version installed for free. Presto, your screen and controls get cleaner, simpler, and understandable except maybe sometimes.

The main display of gauges is gorgeous. Graphics for the speedometer are clear and bright in organic white, and a pleasure to look at; it's the kind of thing that makes one love their car. But function is another story. There is a frustration: the tachometer, smaller than the speedo and to the left of it, keeps appearing and disappearing on the screen, based on when some program thinks you want or need to see it. We tried and tried to figure out what drove it, and we found no pattern. We floored the throttle, and the tach appeared, hooray; we downshifted and floored the throttle, and it didn't appear. Maybe later, when we get a full week in the car and an hour with the manual, we can find a way to keep it displayed.

The trip odometer does the same thing. Someone is out there deciding for us drivers when we need that information. On this day we were following a route, and needed that information a lot. To get the trip odo back, each time, we had to take our concentration off our driving and go through three clicks, removing our eyes from the road twice.

We wonder when manufacturers will learn that they're not doing drivers any favors by making all these decisions for them. We fear that it will be never. The presumption of their own prescience is staggering.

Hey, at least the perforated leather-trimmed seats, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls, and the transmission paddles too, are luscious and terrific.

The lovely center stack contains a big 5×8-inch MyFordTouch screen that makes a satisfying blip when you engage something. Your fingers fit. The only dial on the centerstack, at least with the SEL and Limited with MFT, is a big one for the radio. Most everything else is on the touch screen, and its clarity is vastly improved over the previous generation of MFT, which lasted all of two years before being basically booed off the stage. There are also 15 climate control buttons, and this sounds like a lot, but no, each one has a function. Finding comfort in life is that complicated, nowadays.

There's a big glovebox that's easy to open, deep door pockets, ergonomically easy door handles, and great cubbies here and there, including a deep downhill cubby like a rabbit hole forward of the shift lever, and clever ones by the driver's right knee and passenger's left knee. No less than 10 cup and bottle holders, grab handles, lush padded armrest lid for the deep center console between the seats, with USB ports inside. It's all been thought out.

Moving rearward, it remains all good. The second-row seats are way comfortable, with a drop-down console in the center, cupholders, climate controls, power outlets, more cupholders, trays, seatback pockets, and last but not least, excellent legroom. Large door openings allow easy entry and egress. Seats are chair height, so you don't have to climb up to sit down. The second-row seats are adjustable fore and aft.

Even the third row is a decent seat, with thin flip-up headrests. Access to the third row is okay, as the second-row seat flips forward. You raise a lever on the 60/40 rear seat to drop the seatback, then lift a nylon loop to flip the seat up to vertical. It takes two hands, and might need to be held in that position since there is no latch to hold it upright.

There's also a power option, for folding the second row flat. Push a button in the C-pillar and the seatback folds forward, then the seat cushion folds up. There's even optional power for the third row seat. It's not cheap, but it doesn't get any easier. Raise the liftgate, press a button, and watch it go flat for you.

Cargo capacity is 20.0 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in place, 43.2 cubic feet with the third-row seat folded down, and 83.2 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats down.

The cabin is exceptionally quiet, as there's been a lot of work on sound deadening for the 2013 Flex, for example liners in the wheelwells.

Given some other fine things we haven't even gotten to, the Flex makes a wonderful family road trip vehicle. If you want to drop another five grand or so on options, you can have the ultimate road trip machine, with reclining rear seats, DVD rear-seat entertainment system, Vista roof, even a real refrigerator with the 2-2-2 seating. Comfort and convenience get no better than this, for long hours on the road, as long as you don't need to closely watch the trip odometer.

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