- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

There’s a new Ford on the road that’s turning heads and putting smiles on peoples’ faces. It’s the well-designed 2009 Ford Flex.

Some folks told me the Flex looked like a Land Rover crowd: rugged and elegant. A wide, planted, broad stance, reduced height, long body and new signature horizontal side-body grooves set the Flex apart from any other Ford model.

The four-door Flex offers six- or seven-passenger seating, depending on what the buyer selects. The Flex gives passengers “business class” seating, which means the seats are large for people who like big, comfy chairs. This is not my preference. When I rode as a passenger in the second row I experienced some rolling around in the seat as my fellow automotive colleague test-drove the Flex.

Access to the third row is simple with a flip-and-tumble feature on the second row seats. The cargo carrying capabilities of the Flex are so flexible, it can easily accommodate long items, measuring up to nearly 10 feet long.

The interior craftsmanship of the Flex is unexpected of vehicles wearing the Ford badge. The elegant interior is something I would expect from Ford’s luxury division, Lincoln. The lighting appointments are not just elegant, they’re fun. For example, the cupholders in the center console have a button that changes the color of the ringed lights surrounding the beverage holders to seven bright shades of electrifying colors.

The tight stitching on the leather and wood grained steering wheel is luxury-class styling. The wood trim along the dash panel is another piece of unexpected luxury inside the Ford. The Flex also features a refrigerated console that will keep ice cream frozen and drinks cold for two hours after the unit is turned off.

Powering the 2009 Flex is Ford’s award-winning Duratec V-6 engine. With a 3.5-liter displacement the 24-valve, V-6 is coupled to a six-speed automatic. The powertrain delivers 262 horsepower and 248 pounds-feet of torque. Fuel economy on the all-wheel drive test vehicle was estimated at 16 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway.

One of my observations about driving the AWD model was the noticeably quiet operation: tire noise was low, interior sound levels were hushed. The engine noise under acceleration was robust and healthy - it almost carried a V-8 sound to it. Ford engineers worked on making the Flex agile for its size.

This 4,640-pound crossover utility vehicle with a wheelbase of about 118 inches and length of almost 202 inches is responsive and confident. Ford tuned the suspension system with a rear multi-link independent unit mounted to a fully isolated subframe to reduce noise levels from road harshness.

The Flex is offered in three models, the SE, SEL and Limited. SE and SEL are outfitted in 18-inch wheels. The Limited is fitted with a 19-inch polished aluminum wheel design with 20-inch chrome-effect wheels as optional.

The Limited, with a base price of $36,555, also comes standard equipped with a power rear lift gate and high-intensity discharge headlamps. Exterior treatments of chrome scuff plates and chrome skullcaps on the heated, sideview mirrors with puddle lamps distinguish the Limited from the SE and SEL versions.

Ford is an all-American bread-and-butter carmaker, but the Flex is premium meat that shows off the Ford badge with a new sophisticated palate.

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