A lot of people weren’t sure what to make of the Ford Flex when it hit the market for the 2009 model year. Was it an SUV or a big station wagon? A style-first fashion statement or a family car people hauler? In reality, it was a little bit of all those things, and the fact that it was difficult to pigeonhole in one segment means it has something to offer to a large swath of potential buyers.
We mourned the Flex’s passing with a heartfelt eulogy when we found out that the 2019 model year would be its last. The Flex was always an interesting vehicle that offered a flexible and roomy interior due to its boxy exterior shape, a powerful optional EcoBoost V6 engine, all-wheel drive and a unique sense of style.
Like other crossovers, the Flex was available with second-row captain’s chairs or a three-person bench. A third-row seat was standard. A refresh in 2013 brought an attractive grille and headlight update along with some worthwhile interior improvements, so we’ll focus on the 2013 through 2019 model years.
Why the Ford Flex?
It’s hard to discuss the Flex without first mentioning its squared-off shape. The boxy look may have been popularized by small vehicles like the Scion xB, Honda Element, Nissan Cube and Kia Soul (which is the only one of them that’s still in production), but the Flex stood out from that crowd due to its larger size and luxury trim levels. One unique styling element of the Flex was its available contrasting-color roof, which was offered in white, silver, and black — the latter in combination with dark-finished wheels and black trim.
The Ford Explorer used the same platform as the Flex for its generation that lasted from 2011 to 2019. This is most obvious in their common second- and third-row designs, but we always thought the Flex took better advantage of it — its boxier shape resulted in a roomier cabin with better visibility. The lower, sportier Flex was also better to drive. The Lincoln MKT also used the same platform (as did the Ford Taurus and other sedans), but it was even more controversially styled, quite a bit more expensive and its third-row was compromised by its styling.
Ostensibly lining up against three-row crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot, the Flex may also have been an attractive option for families that wanted the roominess and versatility of a minivan but didn’t like the idea of owning the kind of sliding-door family appliance that their parents strapped them into throughout the 1980s and ’90s. The deep well that the third-row seats folded into was even reminiscent of a minivan’s resulting in greater cargo space back there than is typical for a three-row crossover. Those qualities apply just as much to a used Flex as they did when new.
The Long-Term Quality Index study found at dashboard-light.com suggests that the Flex is on the right side of average when it comes to reliability, with models built after the 2013 refresh earning a slightly higher rating. The Chevrolet Traverse has a much lower rating and the Honda Pilot is in the same ballpark as the Flex. Compared to popular minivans, the Honda Odyssey has a slightly lower rating while the Toyota Sienna comfortably leads the pack.
Which Ford Flex to choose?
The way we see it, there are two interesting and divergent paths that may lead to used Flex ownership. First, buyers looking for a relatively inexpensive, late-model family vehicle may be drawn to a non-turbocharged Flex for daily hauling duties. Optional all-wheel drive is a standout feature that most contemporary minivans didn’t offer.
The second buyer we’ll pair with a Ford Flex is an outdoorsy individual looking for something with lots of space, luxurious goodies and a fun and unique driving experience. A loaded-up Flex Limited with the turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive may fit the bill nicely.
More specifically, we’re suckers for horsepower, so we’re obviously attracted to the EcoBoost engine. The EcoBoost came standard with all-wheel drive, and the combination didn’t set any fuel efficiency records with ratings of 16 miles per gallon city, 22 highway and 18 combined. The standard 3.5-liter V6 is plenty powerful for daily driving duties, and the standard front-wheel-drive Flex’s ratings of 18 city, 25 highway and 20 combined are respectable for a vehicle of its size. Keep those fuel economy figures in mind when searching for a Flex. Because both the base and EcoBoost models had 3.5-liter V6 engines, it can make searching for the EcoBoost difficult. Used car listings rarely call out the bigger engine. So, if you want to find one, make sure to select all-wheel drive as a must-have option while searching (EcoBoost was AWD-only) and look for the lower fuel economy number.
There are some other key differences to consider. First, the second-row seat design. The standard middle bench seat does not slide, which means legroom is fixed for third-row passengers. The second-row captain’s chairs do slide, and although they reduce capacity to six, they significantly increase comfort for those four remaining rear seat passengers. The available glass roof panels make the third row feel even roomier. The second major option to consider is the tech interface. Originally, it had a row of buttons standard with a thin, horizontal readout. It included Sync voice-command functionality. The upgrade touchscreen unit was originally Ford’s much-maligned, but not really that bad MyFordTouch system. For 2016, the Flex received Ford’s then-new Sync3 technology. This resulted in a much improved optional touchscreen, but the standard interface was replaced with a small square screen surrounded by small buttons. We’d avoid that one and try to find a Flex with the Sync3 touchscreen. The choice in earlier models matters less.
Availability and listings
The Flex was never a hugely popular vehicle, but Ford managed to sell enough of them (well over 20,000 per year for most of its production run) that finding the right one for sale shouldn’t be too difficult. That’s especially the case if you live on West Coast as the Flex was much more popular out there (sales in California alone helped keep the Flex in production despite cool sales in the rest of the country)
At the time of this writing in March 2021, Kelley Blue Book pricing data suggests a 2014 Ford Flex equipped with all-wheel drive should cost a little over $14,000. That’s a few thousand dollars less than an all-wheel-drive Toyota Sienna of the same year.
A low-mileage and loaded Flex Limited with the powerful EcoBoost engine and all-wheel drive ought to cost around $25,000, or less if you find a good deal near you. It’s a lot of car for that sum, with an airy cabin buoyed by multiple glass roof panels, comfortable heated and cooled leather seats and a whole lot more.
Our used vehicle listings can be helpful to find a good deal near you. Narrow the offerings down by a radius around your ZIP code, and pay attention to the deal rating on each listing to see how a vehicle compares with others in a similar area.
What else to consider
If you consider the Flex to be a people-hauling minivan alternative, it makes sense to consider minivans as competitors. Based on its reliability rating alone, the Toyota Sienna stands out as an obvious choice. Large three-row crossovers like the aforementioned Chevy Traverse may have as much interior versatility as the Flex, but smaller entries like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander offer less usable space for passengers and stuff, and none of those stand out quite like Ford’s boxy entry (for better or for worse, depending on your personal opinion).
If you’re drawn to the EcoBoost’s acceleration, you could stay in the Blue Oval line with the more off-roady Ford Explorer. Alternately, the Dodge Durango offers a V8, but it’s even more thirsty.