2013 Ford Flex is an ideal highway cruiser

This isn’t going to sound very nice, especially during the Christmas season, but we need to start incarcerating people for driving in the left lane if they’re going the same speed as the car next to them.

Exhibit A of the damage these drivers do to society was produced when I drove to Oregon a couple of weeks ago in the 2013 Ford Flex. It was smooth sailing in fairly light freeway traffic all the way to Lake Oswego and back, except for several episodes when traffic temporarily slowed down and jammed up. In every case, the slow-down and jam-up was caused by one of these future inmates in the left lane. As soon as their victims managed to get around them, traffic flowed freely again. As I went past, I gave each perp a dirty look, which I felt was my civic duty.

The Ford Flex is a big, seven-passenger vehicle with three rows of seats and a rear cargo area. Built on a car platform but SUV-like in form and function, it’s in a class by itself looks-wise. Everyone who sees a Flex has a strong reaction, either really good or really bad. I’ve held both opinions at different times since the vehicle was introduced, but after seeing several Flexes whose owners customized them, I’ve decided the vehicle is hella cool, mostly if it has a solid-color exterior.

All the Flexes I saw on the road during my Oregon trip were great-looking, solid-color versions. But my tester had a Deep Impact Blue body with a silver roof. Not a color scheme I would choose, but a Colts fan would love the blue body/white roof option.

The 2013 Ford Flex is offered in three versions: SE, SEL and Limited. All have front-wheel drive, but the SEL and Limited models are also available with all-wheel drive. Pricing starts in the low-ish $30,000s for the SE.

New for 2013, the 3.5-liter V6 base engine has twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) and generates 287 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque. That’s about 25 percent more powerful than the previous version, but it gets 1 mpg better fuel economy: 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 17/23 with AWD.

The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 from the previous model is still available, with AWD only. It provides a hefty 365 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, with a fuel economy rating of 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway.

My tester was the top-grade Flex Limited AWD equipped with the base engine and graced with optional rear inflatable seatbelts, 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, and an equipment group that added power foldability for the third row seat and adaptive cruise control with collision warning. This model comes standard with a power liftgate, adjustable pedals with memory, 10-way power driver’s seat, 390-watt Sony audio system with 12 speakers, Sirius satellite radio, navigation, blind spot information system, rearview camera, and the Sync system with MyFord Touch controls. And that’s just a sampling.

Among the features in the Flex optional goodie bag are a Vista roof, rear-seat entertainment system and active park assist.

You could put four young children in the Flex and, if you positioned them strategically, they would barely be able, if at all, to touch the kid seated closest to them. The benefit of such generous buffer zones registers immediately with any parent. Without the preemptive buffer zones, Flex’s second- and third-row seats can accommodate up to five kids. Flex’s upscale, limo-worthy interior design will be lost on the kids, but grownups will appreciate it.

The Flex is an ideal highway cruiser, especially for people who travel in groups. Along with all the room they have, everyone is treated to a smooth, quiet ride. On the Oregon trip, I encountered strong winds (including recording-breaking gusts near Longview) and pounding rainstorms, but Flex was unfazed. Even with powerful crosswinds hitting the barn-sided vehicle, it held steady during all but the wildest gusts, and even then it was just a minor bump.

The aforementioned MyFord Touch system presents a smooth surface with touch controls, similar to an iPad, for the audio and climate controls. It takes some getting used to, and even toward the end of the test week, I was still accidentally brushing my hand against the wrong area every once in a while, causing the system to perform some function I didn’t have in mind.

In addition to the upgraded Ti-VCT V6 engine, changes to the Ford Flex for 2013 include a new front-end design with softened edges and Flex badging that extends across the entire width of the hood; new instrument clusters, steering wheel, seat trim and foam; the SelectShift transmission has a driver-selectable choice between fully automatic and manual mode gear shifting; a passive entry/start feature lets users unlock the vehicle and start the engine without inserting the key; and rain-sensing wipers and power-fold outside mirrors are now available.

2013 FORD FLEX LIMITED AWD

Base price, including destination charge: $46,090

Price as driven: $48,005

Mary Lowry is a freelance automotive writer who has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. The cars are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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