Just been whisked -- actually, it was more like a stately stop-start surge -- across Manhattan in the new Ford Flex. We won't actually get to drive the new Flex for a few months, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity for a ride in what Ford hopes will be a game-changing vehicle for the embattled company.
Not quite a minivan, and not quite a station wagon, the big, boxy Flex manages to project an unconventional elegance on the street. It's clearly designed to haul around large quantities of people and stuff, but doesn't look utilitarian, outside or in.
My ride was a top-range, all-wheel-drive Limited, which will retail for about $35,500. The entry-level front-drive Flex will start at a shade under $29,000. Both will be powered by Ford's revised 3.5-liter V-6. A twin-turbo EcoTec version will be available mid-2009.
I sat in the second row. Legroom, with my seat slid to its rearmost position, is outstanding; way better than a long-wheelbase Town Car. The third row is a little tight with the interior configured this way, but I could have moved my seat forward four inches before my knees brushed the back of the driver's seat, even though I'm over six-feet tall.
The H-point is higher than a regular sedan's -- like the Taurus, in fact -- but not as high as a minivan's. That, and the relatively low roofline, means you feel more like you're riding in a limo than a bus. Idling through Manhattan's stop-start traffic, the Flex felt way more limo-like in its manner, too. Indeed, it felt so much smoother, quieter, and more refined than the Lincoln Town Cars that litter the streets here, I wondered out loud whether the Flex might enjoy a career as a livery vehicle once the Town Car is finally pensioned off.
The Ford PR guy's faced clouded for a moment. The Flex started as a Ford design department project called "The Hamptons" and was revealed at the 2005 Detroit Show as the Fairlane. This is clearly meant to be a non-minivan, non-station wagon with an upscale, Ralph Lauren sheen. A lifestyle vehicle that suggested your life had style. Not a livery hack.
Okay. So why on earth did Ford call it the Flex? That makes it sound exactly like the boring appliance on wheels it's trying so hard not to be. Geniuses, these Ford folks. Absolute geniuses.