Category Archives: Automotive Industry

Rental Review: 2014 Ford Flex Limited

My wife and I don’t have any kids but, as with any marriage, the subject has come up and we’ve talked about what we might drive once that time comes. Given her refusal to ever go near a minivan (the best choice for parents with small kids, IMO), we’ve settled on a Ford Flex as the best choice. It’s essentially a minivan with much different looks and without the sliding doors. I sold my best friend and his wife on one once they had their second kid, and they still love their Flex after a couple years and over 40,000 miles.

But I’d never driven one for any extended period of time. So, when we needed a car with a ton of cargo room for a work trip to St. Louis,  I rented one from Thoroughbred Ford for $70/day.

Top Travel Tip for KC residents: rent a car from Thoroughbred sometime instead of the airport – you’ll save a huge amount of money by avoiding all the obscene taxes/fees associated with renting from KCI.

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After 500 miles of driving, my belief that the Flex is a fantastic vehicle for us in the future has been confirmed. Here’s more detail:

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Pros

  • Style: there’s no getting around that the styling is a bit polarizing. However, I can’t imagine anyone thinking that a minivan is better looking, but I do get why people might like a Tahoe, Acadia, Durango or other 7-passenger SUV/CUV better, styling-wise. For me, the Flex looks great, especially in Deep Impact Blue with an Ingot Silver roof:
Ford Flex in Deep Impact Blue with Ingot Silver roof
Ford Flex in Deep Impact Blue with Ingot Silver roof
  • Passenger Comfort: that distinctive shape has another great advantage – cargo room and passenger room. I’m 6’1″ and have at least 6″ of headroom in the Flex. The wide seats are great for travel and will accommodate a far portlier gentleman than I. The middle seat can be configured with a bench seat or two bucket seats and, even with my tall frame in the driver’s seat, someone riding behind me has about 6″ of leg room between their knees and my seat. The third row access is pretty similar to any non-sliding door 7-passenger vehicle – decent but not that easy. However, it’s usable space and reasonably comfortable. All the seats are very comfy and the Flex rides comfortably and very quietly, impressive for a “box on wheels” at 75-80 MPH like we were driving.
  • Cargo Room: though a bit short of the Expedition in terms of overall cargo room, the Flex will swallow a whole lot of stuff. With the third row seats in place, you get a nice, deep trunk area that will hold plenty. If you need more room and don’t need the third row, the seats can fold flat easy with a couple pulls of the straps attached to the back of the seat (or by pressing a button with the optional power fold seats).
  • MyFordTouch: this is the third car I’ve driven with MyFordTouch (1st was an Explorer, then an Escape last winter) and it continues to be a pretty good system to use, IMO. It paired with my phone painlessly and using the interface was pretty easy. It’s not perfect but it does respond quickly, unlike the complaints I’ve heard in multiple reports that it’s slow. I do wish there were some redundant controls in place of the large, somewhat silly Sony control panel in the Flex (shown below). The ability to switch out different displays on either side of the speedometer is a great feature and one I really enjoyed too.
See the big Sony panel on the right? Too big and some redundant controls would be a better use of space.
See the big Sony panel on the right? Too big and some redundant controls would be a better use of space.
  • Other Tech: though this Flex didn’t have all the available tech, I really liked the tech it did have. The rear camera was a lifesaver with a full cargo area, as I couldn’t see out the back and was quick to turn on, unlike some other cars I’ve driven with one. I loved the subtle blind spot monitoring too – when there’s someone in your blind spot on either side, the small amber light turns on in either side mirror. Eminently useful for the driver but not intrusive on your passengers – perfect. If I was spec’ing my own Flex, I’d want the Cooled front seats (my rental’s were only Heated) and the PowerFold® 3rd row seat. I could take or leave the Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Mitigation, though probably a good thing to get especially with kids aboard.
  • Driving It: it’s a big vehicle, definitely, but it drives far, far smaller than the Expedition or even the Explorer. I think that’s due to the ride height being about equal to a normal 4-door sedan. The shape of the Flex and its tech tools combine to pretty much eliminate blind spots and that helps too. Power is perfectly adequate with the base, 3.5 liter V6 engine, though I still want my Flex with the EcoBoost V6…but my feelings on power are skewed by daily driving a 400+ horsepower Mustang :D. The tilt/telescope wheel, power adjustable driver pedals and the wide, comfy seats make it easy for just about anybody to find a good driving position and the ability to have driver seat memory settings will be of huge benefit if my wife and I end up with one, as she’s 5’4″ and I’m 6’1″.
  • Gas Mileage: in 500+ miles of driving it, I averaged 23.5 MPG with two other people on board, the A/C running and a full load of cargo on board. I’m happy with that, though 25-26 would be nice…

Cons

  • This is a very slight con but, though there is a ton of room, I was expecting that it would meet/exceed an Expedition’s overall cargo room, thanks to its overall size and my assumption of its overall interior height being greater than an Expedition’s. It’s close, and the Flex actually comes out ahead with a full passenger load, but not with the 3rd row folded. Here’s how they stack up, along with the Explorer too, and my favorite alternative vehicle, the GMC Acadia, as well as another good one, the Dodge Durango:
Model Behind 1st Row Behind 2nd Row Behind 3rd Row
Flex 83.2 43.2 20
Expedition 108.3 55 18.6
Explorer 80.7 43.8 21
Acadia 116.1 70.1 24.1
Durango 84.5 N/A N/A

 

This surprised me a bit; I didn’t expect the Acadia to be the runaway leader in all of these, especially versus the Expedition. And versus the Flex, its shape led me to believe the Flex would be far ahead.

Love the brightwork across the tailgate.
Love the brightwork across the tailgate.

Summary

The Flex is an interesting vehicle; I think Ford expected to get significantly higher sales out of it than they have gotten, unfortunately. For example, through August 2014, they’ve sold 16,826 Flexes. Even in its current, very dated form, Ford has sold 29,093 Expeditions, not to mention 142,857 Explorers. Yes, Ford sells almost 10 Explorers for every one Flex. That’s the power of the SUV and its image, even when the Explorer and Flex are basically built from the same architecture underneath. And GM has sold 57,481 Acadias, plus 71,739 Chevy Traverses and 41,208 Buick Enclaves, both of which are siblings to the Acadia.

Frankly, I’m surprised Ford hasn’t canceled the Flex but the logic must be that, between it and the Explorer/Expedition, they’ve got the three-row market covered and the Flex is still essentially the same vehicle it was in 2009 so the development costs are minimal at this point. I expect it to make it through the 2015 model year and probably disappear, or maybe be replaced, after that. The plus side to all that, for consumers, is that you can get a great deal on a Flex used or brand-new. Ford has a $3,000 rebate going right now on new ones. Or, used, for example, you can get a 2013 loaded just like I’d want it with approximately 35,000 miles now for about $30,000. That was a $50,000 to $55,000 vehicle new.

All that said, I think it’s an outstanding people and cargo hauler and perfect for families. I love that it looks so different from the typical three-row crossovers out there and that it features so much great tech along with its core attributes of being roomy, comfortable and easy to drive. My opinion hasn’t changed a bit – I’ll buy a Flex as soon as we’re ready for that kind of vehicle and have already reserved one for a football weekend in Wisconsin coming up in November!

And, yes, it will fit perfectly in my garage, next to Lucy:

Had about 6" to spare to the front and back both in our typical garage. I've put an Expedition in there too but it's even tighter.
Had about 6″ to spare to the front and back both in our typical garage. I’ve put an Expedition in there too but it’s even tighter.

 

(Note: My company paid for the rental and I have had zero interaction with anybody at Ford or Thoroughbred Ford about this review)

The Kansas City Auto Museum

Kansas City was one of the biggest markets in the country without an automotive museum, but that’s now been rectified thanks to the staff of the new Kansas City Auto Museum!  (Technically, there is the Armacost Museum in Grandview but it’s a private thing only open to selected people/groups.)

The museum just opened earlier in May and it’s current location is just north of 119th & Strang Line Road in Olathe. Yes, the location is not the most “Kansas City” of spots but the museum is clear that this is a temporary home and they have plans to be in a much larger facility in the next 4-5 years. I’d love to see it as part of Union Station but have no idea if there’s the kind of space available there that’s needed.

The Kansas City Auto Museum
Just north of 119th & Strang Line at 116th Street

Anyway, the Museum partnered with the Mustang Club of Greater Kansas City for an only-a-month-late 50th birthday party for the Mustang, so about 30 of us brought our cars out to display in the parking lot today, and we also got to check out the museum.

A WWII Jeep (built by Ford though) along with a gorgeous 1963 Buick
A WWII Jeep (built by Ford though) along with a gorgeous 1963 Buick

The museum houses approximately 30 cars on loan from private collectors, as well as from KC Vintage Cars. They don’t appear to own any of the cars, which is probably an advantage for them as this stage since they can easily switch out displays, etc. without having to worry about all the details of ownership at this point. The collection ranges in age from a Ford Model T, Stanley steam-powered car and a Hupmobile all the way up to a first-gen Dodge Viper.

But, to be frank, the collection isn’t much better than you can see at a lot of the different cruise nights found throughout the warm months here in KC. The coolest part about the Museum, to me, is all the Kansas City history they’ve collected and presented really, really well.

Just some of the great history
Just some of the great history

Above are just a few examples – the 2nd one from left is about KC’s earliest racetrack, a wooden oval on the site of what’s now the Bannister Federal Complex. The one on the far right is all about Greenlease Cadillac, one of the city’s earliest dealers (and the building is part of Union Hill today – seen here today and occupied by something far less interesting (a gym):

Greenlease Cadillac building
Right up McGee Trafficway from Hallmark/Crown Center is this cool old building

These boards are filled with fascinating KC automotive history, much of which I didn’t know. They’ve done a tremendous job researching and creating a compelling story, which is what they needed to do to get the Museum off the ground.

A wall full of ads for cars that were built in KC
A wall full of ads for cars that were built in KC

Above is another of my favorite parts of the museum – a large wall filled with ads for cars that were built right here in KC.

More of the museum collection, including a 1991 Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette
More of the museum collection, including a 1991 Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette

The museum also includes a kid’s interactive area, though adults are just as apt to play, considering they have four full racing wheel/seat/pedals setups running Forza Motorsport 4 for XBox 360. (I spent about 45 minutes running laps at Road America!) Plus there are some fun photo opportunities like this one:

Me "behind the wheel" of the #21 Ferrari driven by KC's own Masten Gregory to victory at LeMans in 1965, the last time a Ferrari visited Victory Lane at the famed racetrack.
Me “behind the wheel” of the #21 Ferrari driven by KC’s own Masten Gregory to victory at LeMans in 1965, the last time a Ferrari visited Victory Lane at the famed racetrack.

Maybe my favorite history lesson, however, was about the Ford Winchester Avenue plant. Opened in 1913, it was the first Ford plant built outside of Detroit, which is kind of a cool badge of honor for KC, considering how many other places in the country and the world have/had Ford plants. It was located at 1025 Winchester Avenue, on the east side of town, right off of 435 & Truman Road near the Truman Sports Complex. It was open until 1957, when Ford opened the newer, even bigger Claycomo plant that is still thriving today. What’s really cool though, is that the original smokestacks from the Winchester plant are still up, which inspired me to drive by there on the way home.

You can't get too close to 'em anymore; I couldn't even tell if this whole complex is still really in use.
You can’t get too close to ‘em anymore; I couldn’t even tell if this whole complex is still really in use.
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But there they are – still with “Ford” clearly visible on ‘em.

Final Thoughts

I’ve got to give huge credit to all the people involved in the Museum’s creation. It is not easy to raise funding for a museum like this, especially in the financial conditions of the past few years. But they’ve done it and the museum, in its current state, is a great start. There’s enough history for even car geeks like me, and enough different cars to look at to maintain the interest of almost anyone. I hope they can bring in enough business that the expansion plans continue, as I can imagine how cool the entire experience could be in the future.

If you’re at all interested in KC history, it’s well worth an hour or two of your time, plus it’s right up the street from Oklahoma Joe’s so there’s your lunch afterwards. If you’re passionate about cars, please go check it out and consider supporting the museum through a donation and/or volunteering. Cars are so important to the last 100 years of our history and I hope that story can keep being told!

The museum is open 10-5 every day of the week, except some holidays. Admission is $11 for adults, $9 for seniors/military and $8 for kids.

 

Dodge does it again.

I just got done singing the praises of Dodge and its ad agency in a recent post, and now they’ve gone and done it again.  To celebrate their 100th anniversary, they released this spot during the New York Int’l Auto Show:

Like the “Uncle” spot, it’s aggressive, fun and right on point with where they are trying to take the Dodge brand. I’m not sure the brand strategy Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles has in mind will work, but the marketing team won’t be to blame for that. Fantastic work again, Dodge team.