2011 Ford Flex Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 7, 2011

Pros

  • Low, wide stance makes for cut-above crossover handling
  • 355-horsepower Ecoboost models are family-hauling hot rods
  • Outstanding passenger room

Cons

  • Low roof precludes packing really bulky cargo
  • Ecoboost versions ride a bit stiffly
  • Does this body shape and styling have legs?

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2011 Ford Flex Buying Advice

The 2011 Ford Flex is the best car for you if you like a little sass with your seven-seat crossover SUV.

The 2011 Ford Flex doesn’t change significantly from the 2010 model, though it does add a new top-line Titanium model with added features and specific appearance cues. Digital HD Radio is now included with the voice-activated navigation package, and the Limited and Titanium models add a new option, Ford’s PowerFold third-row split-fold bench seat that folds and tumbles forward at the touch of a button. Flex remains a sort of experiment-in-progress as Ford tests the market for a crossover that can play the role of a minivan, pull a trailer like a hefty SUV, and looks like nothing else on the road.

Should you buy a 2011 Ford Flex or wait for the 2012 Ford Flex? Buy the 2011 Flex with the confidence you won’t miss any major upgrades coming for 2012. The exception is the potential addition of a turbocharged four-cylinder from Ford’s EcoBoost engine family. It would join Flex’s otherwise all-V-6 engine lineup as a fuel-saver but not necessarily a money-saver – it’s likely to cost as much as a V-6 to purchase. Buying the 2011 Flex also gives you an extra year before the current styling is updated by a cosmetic facelift due for model-year 2013.

2011 Ford Flex Changes back to top

Styling: Most versions of the 2011 Ford Flex carry over unchanged from model-year 2010, though a few new exterior paint treatments are available. The new top-of-the-line Titanium trim level amps up the interior and exterior look of the Limited model, with which it shares equipment and features. The 2011 Flex Titanium gets a Tuxedo Black two-tone roof, black-out trim around its headlamps and taillamps, a black chrome-finish grille with prominent “Flex” nomenclature on the leading edge of the hood, and 20-inch 10-spoke polished aluminum wheels. Inside, it gets charcoal black trimmed leather seats with gray inserts, illuminated scuff plates, and assorted added touches.

Overall, the 2011 Flex returns as a four-door wagon with a lift-up tailgate, and it carries essentially the same styling as it has since its model-year 2009 debut. It’s a doozey. Flex is large, long, and unusually low for a seven-seater -- as if a giant hand pressed down on a full-size SUV and squashed it to near station-wagon height. Flex is nearly 14 inches longer than the Toyota Highlander seven-seat crossover, for example, but its roof is almost two inches lower. Flex takes up about the same space on the road as the eight-seat Chevrolet Traverse crossover, but it’s an inch-and-a-half wider and its roofline is a substantial 5.2 inches lower.

Flex’s unorthodox proportions are driven home by a Lego-block body with a blunt nose, upright windows, and squared-off tailgate. The trio of bright horizontal bars in the Ford-family grille is echoed by lateral ribbing along the body sides. Most Flex color schemes dictate a contrasting-color roof – usually white -- that seems in free-float over the body thanks to black-out window pillars. The 2011 Ford Flex lineup consists of the base SE trim level, midline SEL edition, luxury Limited version, and the new Titanium flagship.

Mechanical: The 2011 Ford Flex gets no notable mechanical changes. Like an SUV, this big wagon is available with all-wheel-drive (AWD) and has a slightly elevated seating height. But it’s a crossover because instead of separate-body-on-frame truck-type construction, it has a car-based architecture in which body and frame essentially are a single unit. The 2011 Flex shares this “unibody” platform with the more curvaceous Lincoln MKT crossover, with the Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedans, and with the redesigned 2011 Ford Explorer SUV.

The 2011 Flex SE model will continue with front-wheel drive only. SEL, Limited, and Titanium models are available with a choice of front--wheel drive or AWD. Flex is not designed for off-road driving and this AWD system lacks low-range gearing. It’s a simple system that normally operates in front wheel drive but can maximize traction by automatically shuffling power between the front and rear wheels when sensors detect tire slip.

All 2011 Flex models use a 3.5-liter V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. The base engine has 262 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The 2011 Flex SEL, Limited, and Titanium are available with Ford’s EcoBoost edition of this V-6. It uses two turbochargers and direct fuel injection to produce 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The EcoBoost V-6 comes with steering-wheel paddles for manual-type transmission shifts, dual exhausts, a lowered and stiffened suspension, and electronic rather than hydraulic power-steering assist.

Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes with antilock capability for better control in emergency stops. Also standard is Ford’s AdvanceTrac antiskid system that modulates engine power and applies individual brakes to combat sideways slides. All 2011 Flex models have alloy wheels: the SE’s are 17-inch diameter, the SEL’s 18, the Limited’s 19; 20-inchers are optional on SEL and Limited and standard with EcoBoost, Specific 20-inch wheels come with the Titanium.           

Features: The 2011 Flex continues with a wide array of convenience features, including driving aids that enhance stability and steering control. You can get your Flex with seven-passenger capacity via front buckets and second- and third-row bench seats. The alternative is a six-passenger arrangement with a pair of second-row buckets. Added for 2011 as an option on Limited and Titanium models is Ford’s PowerFold third-row bench that automatically tumbles into a floor well on a 50/50 split basis at the touch of a button.

Standard safety equipment on the 2011 Flex includes head-protecting curtain side airbags designed to deploy in a side collision as well as when sensors detect an impending rollover. Tilt/telescope steering, cruise control, and rear obstacle detection are among features standard on all models. So is Ford’s MyKey teen-driver-safety system in which the ignition key can be programmed to limit Flex’s top speed to 80 mph and the radio prevented from playing until safety belts are buckled, among other safety strategies. Features that are standard or optional, depending on model, include an electrically cooled second-row center console, remote engine start, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and Ford’s Vista Moonroof panoramic glass ceiling with opening panel.

Also available is Ford’s popular Microsoft-developed Sync hands-free link to real-time traffic and other satellite-delivered data; it incorporates an iPod USB interface and Bluetooth phone connectivity and music-streaming. Among options is a navigation system with voice recognition and hard-drive music storage, and rear-seat DVD entertainment with screens in the front-seat headrests. For 2011, the navigation system includes HD Radio for receiving select AM and FM stations (where available) that have CD-like sound quality.

The electric power steering included with the EcoBoost engine employs Ford’s Pull-Drift Compensation that adjusts steering effort to compensate for crosswinds or crowned roads. The towing-package option brings a 4,500-pound trailer capacity and interacts with AdvaceTrac to counteract vehicle and trailer sway. EcoBoost models parallel park themselves when optioned with Ford’s Active Park Assist. It uses ultrasonic sensors to automatically back the Flex into the space.

UPDATED BY JIM GORZELANY

2011 Ford Flex Test Drive back to top

From behind the wheel: Distinguishing the 2011 Flex from most other three-row crossovers is its enhanced sense of stability thanks to a relatively low center of gravity and one of the widest bodies of any passenger vehicle on the road. Flex responds to steering inputs without the delay or sway common to taller crossovers in this class. EcoBoost versions have exceptional grip and poise for something this large. Thank their precise electric steering, beefy 20-inch tires, and handling-tuned suspension lowered by a half-inch and fortified with higher damping and spring rates.

Unless you never leave the Sunbelt, we recommend buying some all-weather peace of mind by ordering your Flex with AWD. It adds a modest 172 pounds to what is already a 4,500-plus pound vehicle. Indeed, no version of this big wagon is a featherweight, yet the base V-6 does a workmanlike job getting Flex up to freeway speeds and keeping it there, even on long grades, even loaded with family-vacation luggage.   

Ford says about 15 percent of Flex buyers opt for the EcoBoost engine. They’re a fortunate minority. This twin-turbo V-6 relishes on-ramps and whooshes over mountain passes. It delivers impressive thrust at midrange speeds and rushes from 0-60 mph in just over six seconds – two seconds quicker than a base-engine AWD Flex. Torque is the EcoBoost’s signature ingredient, and all 350 pound-feet is on tap by just 1500 rpm. Work those manual-shift paddles and an EcoBoost Flex on a twisting road is more entertaining than any three-row crossover except perhaps a BMW X5. And combine Flex’s inherent stability with EcoBoost torque, anti-drift steering, and anti-sway trailering, and you’ve got a surpassingly adept tow vehicle.

Dashboard and controls: Flex has a sporty, cockpit-style dashboard anchored by a wide center console designed to highlight the large screen used for navigation and Sync functions. Ford’s navigation system boasts the latest tech, including useful split-screen mapping that takes the mystery out of confluent freeway interchanges. Too bad its voice-recognition software misunderstands commands with frustrating frequency.

You don’t have to have the navigation system to order Sync. Sync’s main function is as an elegant interface with your cell phone and audio system. Its responds well to even casually spoken directions to dial a number or change a CD track; it’ll even read aloud text messages and let you reply from 20 predefined responses. Ford touts Sync’s ability to provide turn-by-turn directions, which it displays on the radio faceplate and recites over the speakers. But in our testing Sync proved no substitute for a true navigation system because it often gave a direction too late for the driver to safely execute it.

For the few Flex drivers who will actually park along a curb and don’t trust their own skills, Active Park Assist is easy to program and works as advertised. It determines if the space is at least 1.2-times the Flex’s length, then confidently backs you in slowly as you free your hands from the steering wheel and watch it whirl away on its own.

Room, comfort, and utility: Royally roomy describes the first two Flex seating rows. Head clearance is generous, leg space expansive – it’s limousine-grade in the second row – and the seats are wide and thickly padded. You won’t feel at all submerged in Flex’s second-row thanks to thoughtful theater-style elevation. But bench or buckets, the second row lacks any center armrests -- inexcusable in a vehicle like this. You’ll tuck and duck your way to the third row, but there you’ll find a fairly comfortable seat and surprising space thanks to a low, flat floor. In fact, factory specs say Flex has more third-row head and leg room than the bigger Chevy Traverse and the taller Toyota Highlander.      

A Flex driver sits marginally higher than surrounding traffic, though as not tall in the saddle as in crossovers that mimic more conventional SUVs. Step-in and step-out height isn’t as low as Flex’s road-hugging posture might lead you to believe, however. Still, wide doors make for easy entry-exit to the first two rows.

Ride comfort is very good unless you get the 20-inch tires. The 20s don’t soak up impacts with sharp ridges and bumps as well as the other tires. In fairness, though, only with the tauter suspension tuning accompanying EcoBoost does ride quality boarder on too firm. You’ll hear more road noise with the 20s, though the sounds of wind and tires never become too intrusive. Unfortunately, that isn’t true of the base V-6: it buzzes and growls anytime you accelerate with more than a gentle touch and is by far the biggest flaw in Flex refinement.

There’s no way Flex can beat its higher-roof rivals for maximum cargo space. Indeed, with both rear seating rows folded, Flex has 83.2 cubic feet of volume compared with 95.4 for Highlander and 117.9 for Traverse. Granted, a good portion of that cubic footage is up around the ceiling and is rarely occupied. But a bulky object you’ll struggle to load into a Flex will slide right into something like a Traverse or, better yet, into a minivan. Still, Flex will easily serve most hauling needs. And if the third-row seat is in place, you can load a fair amount of luggage or groceries into its storage well in the rearmost section of the cargo floor. With all three seating rows in place, Flex has 20 cubic feet of cargo room, Traverse 24.4, Highlander just 10.3.

2011 Ford Flex Prices back to top

The 2011 Ford Flex prices are slightly higher than model-year 2010 prices, with the Titanium flagship driving up the cost at the high end of the spectrum. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee; Ford’s fee for the 2011 Flex is $775.)

The 2011 Flex SE model comes only with front-wheel drive and has a starting price of $29,850. Notable Flex SE options included the Sync system at $395.

The 2011 Flex SEL base price is $32,650 with front-wheel drive, $34,500 with AWD, and $37,495 with the EcoBoost powertrain and its attendant AWD. SEL base prices include all the SE features and add such items as the 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated power front seats, Sync, and simulated wood interior trim.

The 2011 Flex Limited base prices are $38,620 with front-wheel drive, $40,470 with AWD, and $43,465 with the AWD EcoBoost powertrain. To Flex SEL equipment, the 2011 Limited model adds the 19-inch wheels, a power liftgate with a decorative aluminum appliqué, folding power heated mirrors, adjustable gas and brake pedals, leather upholstery, and the navigation system with reverse camera. The PowerFold  third-row seat option costs $495.

The new-for-2011 Flex Titanium carries a base price of $41,115 with front-wheel-drive, $42,965 with all-wheel-drive, and $45,960 with the AWD EcoBoost powertrain. The Titanium comes with the same functional features as the Limited, but adds the aforementioned trim elements inside and out, along with specific 20-inch aluminum wheels to jazz up the Flex’s appearance.

Option prices for the 2011 Flex remain on a par with 2010 levels. For example, replacing the second-row bench seat with buckets costs $395 in SE and SEL models, which have cloth upholstery, and $750 in Limited and Titanium models, to account for their leather surfaces. A popular package that includes leather upholstery, audio upgrade, power pedals and liftgate, heated mirrors, and other features is a $2,500 option on the SEL model with the base engine and $3,025 on the SEL with EcoBoost.

On all 2011 Flex models, the contrasting-color roof adds $395 and the trailer package with sway-control technology costs $570. Options exclusive to the SEL, Limited, and Titanium include the Vista Moonroof at $1,495, rear DVD entertainment at $1,995, and Active Park Assist at $550.

2011 Ford Flex Fuel Economy back to top

The 2011 Ford Flex fuel-economy ratings are a two-part story. With the base 262-horse V-6, the 2011 Flex rates 17/24 mpg city/highway with front wheel drive and 16/22 with AWD. That’s about par for three-row crossovers with similar power.

Ford touts the 355-horspower EcoBoost V-6 as having the fuel-economy of a V-6 and the muscle of a V-8. Ford’s got a case. An EcoBoost Flex rates the same 16/22 mpg as its base-engine counterpart, yet nothing in its competitive set has more than 300 horsepower. To match an EcoBoost Flex, you’ll need to step into a higher price class, to the $43,000, 300-horsepower V-6 Acura MDX, or climb way up to the $86,000, 555-horsepower BMW X5 M.

One caveat: Ford says Flex’s EcoBoost V-6 is designed to run on regular-grade fuel with an octane rating of 87 or higher but “for best overall performance” -- that is, to realize the full 355 horsepower -- you need to use more expensive 91-octane or higher premium-grade gas. The base Flex V-6 uses 87-octane fuel.

2011 Ford Flex Safety and Reliability back to top

The 2011 Ford Flex scores extremely well in government crash tests that award a maximum five stars for occupant protection (safercar.gov). The Flex earns five stars in every test category: driver and passenger protection in frontal and side collisions, and rear-passenger protection in a side collision.

Flex also scores well in government tests of rollover resistance. Rollovers are a leading cause of fatalities in crashes involving SUVs, pickup trucks, and other vehicles with a high center of gravity. Flex was determined to be among the least-likely SUVs to roll over in a crash, with just a 16-percent chance that it would tip. The four stars Flex earned in the government’s measurement of rollover resistance is equal to the top-scoring SUVs and pickups in the tests.

We don’t expect Flex’s safety scores to change relative to other vehicles in its class, but you should be aware that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is changing the way it crash tests and rates new vehicles for occupant safety, beginning with select 2011 models. The Ford Flex, however, is not scheduled to be among those cars and trucks tested and re-rated for the 2011 model year.

In initial overall quality, the Ford brand ranks slightly above average in ratings compiled by J.D. Power and Associates, the leading automotive consumer survey firm (jdpower.com).

In the surveys, which poll owners on problems experienced during the first 90 days of ownership, the Flex was rated below average for overall initial quality. Owners rated it above average in just one category: powertrain quality. (J.D. Power’s most recent survey applies to 2010 models.)

The Ford Flex receives an average rating from J.D. Power in terms of “predicted” reliability; it’s actual long-term reliability rating, which is based surveys measuring problems reported by owners of three-year-old models, has yet to be determined. Flex, which was introduced for model-year 2009, is too new to be included in the most-recent study.

2011 Ford Flex Release Date back to top

The 2011 Ford Flex went on sale in August 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Ford Flex back to top

Ford’s been reluctant to rest when it comes to this segment-bending crossover. Flex’s model-year 2009 debut was followed by the model-year 2010 launch of the EcoBoost version, which was accompanied by introduction of such features as Active Park Assist, paddle-shifters, and trailer sway control. The Titanium edition was added for 2011. New colors and perhaps some juggling of features are in the cards for the 2012 Flex, with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost a likely addition, as well.

This mighty mite is already offered in the 2011 Ford Explorer crossover, which shares Flex’s basic blueprint. Expect roughly the same 237-horsepower rating in the Flex, though the important number is the EcoBoost four’s 250-pound-feet-of-torque, which is on par with Flex’s base V-6. However, the EcoBoost four-cylinder could be expected to rate higher fuel-economy numbers than the base V-6. That’s important as stricter corporate fuel economy regulations begin phasing in for model-year 2012. Alas, a 2012 Flex with the high-tech EcoBoost four is likely to be priced higher than one with the base V-6, and Ford’s likely to recommend premium-octane gas for the turbo mill, too. An EcoBoost four-cylinder Flex is likely to be offered only in the slightly lighter front-wheel drive configuration.

The 2013 Flex is in line for a number of styling alterations. These would be under the heading of a midcycle freshening, which typically means minor revisions to nose and tail and adjustments to interior textures and trim. The basic body and powertrains wouldn’t be touched.

Among today’s three-row crossovers, Flex finds itself outsold by such rivals as the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot, and the Chevrolet Traverse and its corporate cousin, the GMC Acadia. All these crossovers are more conventional vehicles than Flex, easier for buyers to understand, and with less polarizing styling. Flex does deserve to find a wider audience, and may benefit from the growing number of category-stretching vehicles such as the Toyota Venza, the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo, and the Honda Accord Crosstour. Like Flex, they hope to tap an appetite for something a little different. Meanwhile, the jury’s still out on the Lincoln MKT, Flex’s luxury equivalent, which adopts lots of curves to Flex’s cubist approach.

An all-new, second-generation Flex will not arrive before model-year 2015 or so – if in fact Ford decides there will be a second-generation. At least for now, Ford’s commitment to Flex seems stronger than the checkered history of low-slung crossovers would warrant.

2011 Ford Flex Competition back to top

2011 Chevrolet Traverse: The most populist -- and most popular -- version of a General Motors platform that also includes the buffer-looking GMC Acadia and the dressed-for-Vegas Buick Enclave. These three-row crossovers replaced truck-based SUVs like the Chevy TrailBlazer, and did a smashing job of it. They’re roomy and refined, handle well, and have the high-riding SUV profile so many buyers desire. Traverse seats up to eight, has a smooth V-6 with a choice of 281 or 288 horsepower, and can tow 5,200 pounds. It’s rated 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive, 16/23 with AWD. Base price range is roughly $30,000-$41,000. Traverse’s next change would be a mid-cycle freshening for model-year 2013.     

2011 Honda Pilot: This three-row crossover tries hard to mimic the truck-tough looks and stance of an old-school SUV. That strategy is debatable, but there’s no doubt this is an impressive vehicle and a strong seller. Pilot rides and handles better than you’d expect of a big, tall box. It’s surprisingly refined, too, and its 250-horspeower V-6 is the heart of a strong, smooth powertrain. Cargo space with all seats in place is tight, but it can hold eight passengers and tow 4,500 pounds. It rates 17/23 mpg with front-wheel drive, 16/22 with AWD. Base-price range is roughly $29,000-$41,000. Pilot’s next redesign is due for model-year 2015.

2011 Toyota Highlander: A kinder, gentler blend of SUV and minivan, this curvaceous crossover seats up to seven and is the only member of this group to offer a four-cylinder engine and a hybrid model. Highlander is available with a 187-horspower four (20/27 mpg and front-drive only); a 270-horsepower V-6 (18/24 front-wheel drive, 17/23 AWD); and a V-6/electric-motor hybrid that makes a net 270 horsepower (27/25 and AWD only). Base prices start around $25,700 for the four-cylinder. V-6 models are priced from around $28,500 (about $30,000 with AWD) and can tow 5,000 pounds. The hybrid starts around $35,500. Highlander is due a redesign for model-year 2014.

2011 Ford Flex Next Steps