2012 Ford Flex Review and Prices
The 2012 Ford Flex is the best car for you if you want to stand out in a crowded field of three-row crossovers by driving a wagon with rectangular styling that looks as if it should come with wood paneling on its sides.
The 2012 Ford Flex gets the welcome addition of a second-row center armrest and four new exterior color choices but is otherwise little-changed as it awaits a modest makeover for model-year 2013. The 2012 Flex continues as a boxy midsize crossover SUV that seats up to seven in reasonable comfort, offers a long list of convenience features, and provides a choice of two V-6s, including Ford’s strong EcoBoost turbocharged engine.
Should you buy a 2012 Ford Flex or wait for the 2013 Ford Flex? Wait for the 2013 Flex if you want the latest styling touches and if fuel economy is a high priority. Besides giving this 2009-vintage design a midcycle facelift Ford is likely to make the 2013 Flex available with the 2.0-liter version of its turbocharged and direct-injected EcoBoost four-cylinder. This high-tech engine would likely cost a little more than Flex’s base V-6, though you it probably won’t give up much performance and should get better fuel economy. The 2013 version is also likely to include added safety and infotainment features, such as blind-spot warning and collision warning alert and the high-tech MyFord Touch operating system. Any model-2013 styling changes wouldn’t alter Flex’s elemental appearance, but would put you in the version that’ll look current for a few years down the road.
2012 Ford Flex Changes back to top
Styling: With moderate styling changes scheduled for model-year 2013, the 2012 Ford Flex’s appearance remains largely undisturbed. Minor updates for 2012 include new exterior color choices called Ginger Ale Metallic, Cinnamon Metallic, Black, Mineral Gray Metallic, and Dark Blue Pearl Metallic. Roof rack side rails are newly available in combination the optional Vista Roof panoramic moonroof. And the rear windshield wiper is now center-mounted.
The 2012 Flex repeats the same overall form it debuted with as a model-year-2009 addition to the Ford lineup. Featuring a long, boxy profile with a blunt nose, it seems to pay homage to those big Ford Country Squire station wagons of the 1960s and 1970s, which frequently featured fake-wood body-side appliqués. Flex adds to the picture a contrasting-color roof (white with most paint schemes) that, thanks to blacked-out window pillars, appears to float above the body.
This four-door crossover comes with the requisite flip-up tailgate for easy loading and unloading and a slightly elevated seating height. Passenger room in the first two rows is generous and predictably tighter in the third row, which best suits kids or limber adults of modest stature. And with a somewhat lower roofline than the typical crossover SUV, the slab-sided Flex has unconventional proportions that don’t please everyone.
For example, the 2012 Flex is more than two feet longer overall than the seven-seat Toyota Highlander crossover, but its overall height is almost two inches lower. That affects not only the eye, but cargo volume. Flex’s relatively low roofline tends to limit its ability to haul tall objects and maximum cargo volume, at 83.2 cubic feet, is some 12 cubic feet less than the Toyota’s. On the upside, the squared-off tail doesn’t slant into the rearmost cargo area, so behind the third-row seat there’s a useful 20 cubic feet of volume – twice as much as in the Highlander.
The 2012 Ford Flex model lineup repeats with base SE trim and again ascends through midlevel SEL, luxury Limited, and top-tier Titanium versions. Introduced for model-year 2011, the Flex Titanium model is distinguished by specific “black chrome” grille and tailgate treatments, unique interior touches, and “Flex” prominently spelled out across the front of the hood. All 2012 Ford Flex models come with alloy wheels:17-inchers on SE, 18s on SEL, and 19s on the Limited. The Limited offers optional 20-inch wheels and tires and specific 20-inch polished aluminum wheels are included with the Flex Titanium model.
Mechanical: The 2012 Ford Flex is unchanged mechanically and continues to share its underskin design with the curvier but just-as-strange-looking Lincoln MKT seven-passenger crossover SUV from Ford’s premium division. Like several Ford and Lincoln crossovers, these trace their basic platforms to that of the Ford Taurus sedan. Their carlike unibody underpinnings, as opposed to old-school-SUV body-on-frame design, is what qualifies Flex and its brethren as “crossovers.”
The 2012 Ford Flex offers two V-6 engines, both working through smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmissions. The standard 3.5-liter V-6 has an adequate 262 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force that gets a car going, horsepower as the energy that keeps it moving).
The EcoBoost version of that engine is designed to furnish V-8-grade power with V-6-class fuel economy. It incorporates twin turbochargers and direct fuel injection to boost its output to a stout 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The EcoBoost V-6 is available only on Flex Limited and Titanium editions for model-year 2012; it previously was also available on the SEL version.
Specifying the EcoBoost V-6 again triggers several mechanical upgrades, including steering-wheel-mounted transmission paddle shifters that enable manual-type gear changes. Dual exhausts are part of the package, as is a lowered and firmer suspension that delivers nominally better cornering abilities. EcoBoost versions of the Flex also get electric instead of hydraulic power steering with Ford’s Pull-Drift Compensation that automatically adjusts steering effort when driving in crosswinds or over crowned roads.
As before, all 2012 Flex models continue in standard form with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive (AWD) is optional on SEL, Limited, and Titanium models with the base V-6 and standard with the EcoBoost engine. As on the majority of crossover SUVs, Flex’s AWD system is designed to maximize traction on wet or snowy pavement, not to blaze trails off-road. In typical fashion, it normally sends 100 percent of the engine’s power to the front wheels but can automatically transition power between the front and rear axles when sensors detect wheel slippage.
Antilock four-wheel disc brakes are standard on every 2012 Flex, as is Ford’s AdvanceTrac system that includes stability control to help prevent sideways skids. With the optional towing package AdvanceTrac also helps counteract vehicle and trailer sway.
On the road, Flex acts in many respects like the rather large vehicle it is but its relatively low center of gravity makes it feel more stable in turns than many taller-ridding SUVs. The base V-6 provides just enough performance, while the EcoBoost transforms the Flex into a truly quick crossover that easily dispenses with on-ramp merges and two-lane passing opportunities. The suspension and steering upgrades associated with the EcoBoost powertrain pay off in faster reflexes and better high-speed control and don’t severely diminish Flex’s otherwise admirable ride quality. EcoBoost Flexes are also highly capable tow vehicles, able to pull trailers up to 4,500 pounds with little stress.
Features: The 2012 Ford Flex offers a selection of family-friendly features that includes flexible seating arrangements and myriad convenience touches.
All models come with two front bucket seats and a two-passenger third-row bench seat that splits 50/50 and fold flat with the floor to increase cargo space. Second-row seating is a choice of two buckets for six-passenger capacity or a three-place 60/40 split-folding bench for seven-passenger capacity. For model-year 2012, Ford corrects a Flex deficit by equipping the second-row bench with a fold-down center armrest with two integrated cupholders. Limited and Titanium versions of the 2012 Flex are available with a power-operated third-row seat that folds and tumbles forward in sections at the push of a button.
Standard safety features include torso-protecting front side airbags and head-protecting side-curtain airbags for all three seating rows. The latter inflate both in side collisions and when sensors detect an impending rollover.
Other standard features on every 2012 Flex include cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rear-obstacle detection for easier parking, and Ford’s MyKey system to help parents set limits on teen drivers and encourage seatbelt use by limiting vehicle speed and audio volume.
Also standard or optional depending on model are a small second-row console-mounted refrigerator, remote engine start, heated front seats, leather upholstery, and Ford’s mammoth three-panel Vista Moonroof.
Optional on the 2012 Ford Flex SE and standard elsewhere in the line is the innovative Sync operating system Ford developed in partnership with Microsoft. Sync enables operation of select systems, including navigation, audio, and a Bluetooth mobile phone interface, by voice commands, a touch-screen display, or conventional buttons. Sync also incorporates a USB interface for connecting and controlling iPods or similar portable devices.
Other 2012 Flex options include a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system and a voice-activated navigation system. The latter includes hard-drive storage for digital media and an HD Radio receiver to pull in available AM and FM HD stations with CD-like sound quality.
A Flex equipped with the EcoBoost engine is eligible for Ford’s Active Park Assist system that can automatically back the vehicle into a parallel parking space with minimal driver interaction. It performs better and for far less money than a similar system offered by Toyota and Lexus.
2012 Ford Flex Prices back to top
Base-price range for the 2012 Ford Flex is $30,180-$43,815 (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee; Ford’s fee for the 2012 Flex is $825.)
The 2012 Flex SE comes only with front-wheel drive and starts at $30,180; adding the Sync system to the SE costs $395.
The 2012 Flex SEL starts at $32,810 with front-wheel drive and at $34,660 with AWD. SEL base prices include all the SE features, plus items like the 18-inch wheels, heated power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, the Sync system, and faux wood interior trim.
The 2012 Flex Limited model has a base price of $36,475 with front-wheel drive and $38,325 with AWD. It starts at $41,310 equipped with the EcoBoost V-6 and AWD. The Limited includes all SEL equipment and adds the 19-inch wheels, power folding heated mirrors, adjustable accelerator and brake pedals, the navigation system with reverse camera, leather upholstery, and a power liftgate.
The 2012 Flex Titanium is priced from $38,970 with front-wheel-drive and from $40,820 with AWD. The Titanium is priced at $43,815 with the EcoBoost engine and AWD. The Titanium includes all of the Limited’s features, plus several appearance-enhancing trim elements inside and out, along with the specific 20-inch aluminum wheels.
Among key 2012 Ford Flex options, the second-row bucket seats cost $650 on the SE and SEL models; heated second-row buckets on the leather-clad Limited and Titanium versions cost $750. A major package that essentially upgrades the SEL to Limited status by adding an upgraded audio system, leather seats, power liftgate and power pedals, heated mirrors, and other items costs $2,600.
Other options include the contrasting-color roof ($395), trailer package ($570) and on Limited and Titanium models with the EcoBoost engine, Active Park Assist ($550). The DVD entertainment system costs $1,995 and the VistaRoof moonroof is priced at $1,495.
2012 Ford Flex Fuel Economy back to top
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Ford Flex are competitive with most other V-6 seven-passenger crossover SUVs, though nothing else in its price class offers the power of the EcoBoost 3.5-liter.
With the base V-6, the 2012 Flex is rated 17/24 mpg city/highway and 19 mpg combined city/highway with front-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg city/highway and18 mpg combined with AWD.
Impressively, Ford’s EcoBoost V-6 is rated the same 16/23/18 mpg as an AWD Flex with the base V-6. It’s tough to beat this combination of power and fuel economy and difficult to find a more powerful SUV without spending thousands more.
The base V-6 takes regular-grade 87-octane gas, but Ford recommends using premium fuel of 91-octane or higher with the EcoBoost to attain full performance. That recommendation tends to erode its fuel-economy advantages with higher prices at the pump. Ford says the EcoBoost V-6 can run on 87-octane, but at some sacrifice in power and gas mileage.
2012 Ford Flex Release Date back to top
The 2012 Ford Flex went on sale in summer 2011.
What's next for the 2012 Ford Flex back to top
The Ford Flex should see a midcycle freshening for model-year 2013. The underlying platform, basic engineering, and overall shape won’t change. Expect a revised front-end treatment similar to that on the Ford Explorer. This would likely trade the razor-blade-like three-bar grille for a single chrome crossbar with thinner slats above and below. Wrap-around headlamps and projector-beam fog lights would complete the new look. Inside, anticipate a revised dashboard with a center portion constructed around the MyFord Touch operating system.
Developed by Ford in conjunction with electronics manufacturer Sony, MyFord Touch substitutes most conventional gauges and analog-type buttons for configurable instrument panel displays. It uses a large menu-driven touch-control screen and buttonless “touch points” on the dashboard. This system has been justly criticized since its debut in the 2011 Ford Edge for its complexity, steep learning curve, and distracting nature. Perhaps Ford and Sony will have worked out some of the bugs by the time the 2013 Flex arrives.
The 2013 Flex’s revamped cabin should also include a new steering wheel and the latest version of Ford’s voice-activated Sync control system. This version of Sync will likely include expanded connectivity via data-plan-enabled smartphones, including the ability to play custom music playlists from the Pandora Internet radio service and have Twitter text messages read aloud via a synthesized voice.
Mechanically, the 2013 Ford Flex will likely match the 2013 Ford Taurus’ powertrain choices, which means a revised version of the current standard 3.5-liter V-6 could produce a boosted 290 horsepower with slightly better fuel economy.
Newly available as an extra-cost option could be the 2.0-liter four-cylinder version of Ford’s EcoBoost direct fuel-injected and turbocharged engine that debuted in the model-year 2011 Ford Explorer SUV. As in the Explorer it will probably generate at or near 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. The current 3.5-liter EcoBoost will likely continue to be included on top models with AWD.
The 2013 Ford Flex will likely borrow other mechanical changes from the 2013 Taurus, including electric power steering across the model range and Ford’s torque-vectoring control system. The latter automatically places slight braking force on the outside front wheel when accelerating through a corner to help improve handling. Ford’s Curve Control system will probably be optional to help the driver maintain greater control of the Flex by selectively applying the brakes if it senses the car has entered a curve too quickly. The available AWD system could feature a new rear differential unit to reduce weight and help boost fuel economy.
Expect the 2013 Ford Flex to adopt added safety technologies as optional equipment. These should include Ford’s Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert (BLIS) that warns the driver of vehicles in adjacent traffic lanes as well as those to the rear and sides when backing from a garage or parking space. Also likely to be offered will be the automaker’s Collision Warning with Brake Support system that warns a driver coming up too fast on an obstacle or traffic ahead and automatically primes the brakes to full stopping power.
As might be expected from its unorthodox design, Flex has never put up huge sales numbers and in fact sales were down some 25 percent through the first eight months of 20011. So assuming Ford detects enough demand to warrant a second-generation Flex, it should come for model-year 2015 or possibly in the first quarter of calendar 2015 as an early 2016 model.
It would still share its platform with the Ford Taurus sedan and Explorer SUV, and the Lincoln MKS luxury sedan and (assuming it’s still in production) the MKT luxury crossover SUV. With Ford looking to boost corporate fuel economy under tightening federal regulations and weight a major factor in mileage, the next-generation Flex might be smaller overall. A gas-saving hybrid or plug-in hybrid version is possible.
Depending on the success of the latest Ford Explorer crossover and other similar people-movers on the horizon coming from Ford, the automaker may well decide the Flex is expendable, particularly if it determines its boxy look turns off more potential buyers than it attracts.
2012 Ford Flex Competition back to top
Chevrolet Traverse: The suburbanite among General Motors’ trio of seven-passenger crossover SUVs that also includes the burlier GMC Acadia and upscale Buick Enclave. A big sale success, Traverse is roomy and comfortable but is beginning to show its age and is due a midcycle facelift for model-year 2013 or ‘14. A V-6 of 281-288 horsepower teams with a six-speed automatic transmission to produce strong acceleration. Despite its higher build stance than Flex, Traverse’s ride and handling are very good, though it too can feel a bit heavy around town. Fuel-economy ratings are 17/24 mpg city/highway, 19 mpg combined with front-wheel drive, 16/23/19 with AWD. Base- price range is $30,240-$41,615.
Honda Pilot: While other crossovers have adopted sleeker shapes, the brick-like Pilot embraces traditional SUV styling, which at least helps maximize rear headroom. Pilot can seat up to eight, though as in the Flex, the third-row is not terribly big-adult friendly. Honda cleans up the grille design for model-year 2012 and simplifies some dashboard controls – both welcome changes. So is a slight improvement in fuel economy, to 18/25 mpg city/highway, 21 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 17/24/20 with AWD. The sole powertrain remains a 250-horsepower V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission, which provide better performance than their slightly dated specifications would suggest. The engine automatically runs on six, four, or three cylinders to balance power and mileage. Base-price range for the 2012 Honda Pilot is $29,280-$41,630.
Toyota Highlander: This seven-passenger crossover is difficult to dislike, with its graceful curves and gentle overall demeanor. Its third-row seat is a bit tighter than in the Traverse and Pilot but roomier than the Flex’s. The 2012 Highlander offers three engines, all linked to a snappy six-speed automatic transmission. Offered only with front-wheel drive is a 187-horsepower four-cylinder engine rated 20/25/22 mpg. Available with front- and all-wheel drive is a 270-horsepower V-6 rated 18/24/20 with front-drive and 17/22/19 with AWD. A gas-electric hybrid V-6 also has 270 horsepower and comes only with AWD; it’s rated an impressive 28/28/28 mpg. Base-price range is $28,900-$37,855 for the gas-only models and $38,950-$44,605 for the Hybrid. Highlander’s due a full redesign for model-year 2013.