Ford Flex is Different Things, in the Eye of the Beholder

Ford Flex is Different Things, in the Eye of the Beholder
By Jim Henry | July 16th, 2009 @ 4:32 am

BOULDER, Colo. — Crossover models are like the old joke where two hunters confront a bear, and one of them starts putting on a pair of running shoes.

Hunter No. 1 says, “You can’t outrun that bear.” Hunter No. 2 says, “That’s OK, I only have to outrun you.”

Crossovers may not be the best in any one attribute, but they do a lot of different things well enough. Crossovers function like a truck but are based on a platform shared with cars. The big, V-6-powered Ford Flex, for instance, shares a platform with the Volvo S80 luxury sedan, although you’d never guess by looking at them.

Ford says it is getting customers for the Ford Flex out of big SUVs, out of minivans, and out of smaller vehicles. The Ford Flex occupies a niche somewhere in the middle of all those categories. J. Mays, Ford design chief told me in an interview when the Ford Flex was first introduced last year that in a way, the Ford Flex reinvents the family station wagon Baby Boomers grew up with.

Crossovers really aren’t very fuel efficient – except in comparison with V-8-powered, full-size SUVs like the Toyota Sequoia or the Chevrolet Suburban.

The 2010 Ford Flex EcoBoost gets 22 percent better highway mileage than the V-8 Toyota Sequoia, said Brett Hinds, Ford manager of advanced engine design and development, at a press introduction here on July 14. That sounds pretty great, but it’s still only 22 mpg for the Flex.

For some former SUV owners, that’s fuel-efficient enough.

Ford is getting a lot of Ford Flex buyers who are bailing out of the thirstiest full-size SUVs. Through May 2009, 42 percent of V-8 SUV customers who purchased another vehicle chose a V-6 crossover, according to Ford. Ford gets 26 percent of its crossover buyers from people coming out of large and medium SUVs, the company said.

EcoBoost refers to a new Ford engine family that combines turbocharging and direct injection to get more power and torque out of a given amount of fuel. That allows Ford to substitute a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine with no loss of power.

The Ford Flex was originally introduced a year ago. Ford is now adding EcoBoost engines to the Flex and other models.

In a similar vein, the Ford Flex can’t tow the biggest, heaviest boats, or tackle the steepest, muddiest dirt roads as well as a four-wheel-drive, full-size SUV. But it can tow a boat or negotiate a dirt road a lot better than a sedan.

For some former sedan owners, that’s rugged enough.

The Ford Flex is big and boxy, but a lot of people find its exterior styling attractive. It’s a lot more attractive than a minivan, and doesn’t carry the “Soccer Mom” stigma.

For some former minivan owners, that’s stylish enough.

“The ‘Soccer Mom’ thing is so limiting,” said Kate Pearce, Ford Flex marketing manager. “A minivan says you’re one and only one thing, and of course you can be a proud Mom, but you’re a lot of other things, too, and the Flex allows you to show that.”

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