The first half of Super Bowl XLIX featured some great ads (esurance’s Walter White one) and some not-so-great ones (the Nationwide “Boy” (dead kid) ad. A lot of the biggest brands in automotive were here, though Ford wasn’t. They typically don’t invest in obscenely expensive Super Bowl ads, but I’m surprised they didn’t this year with their two most iconic products (Mustang and F-150) both all-new. Anyway, here’s my quick reactions to the auto industry ones:
Chevrolet Colorado “Blackout”
I’d derided Chevy for overrunning the Colorado’s launch spot that used AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to basically say you’re less of a man if you drive a Civic, which they backed up with the silly focus group of women spot. However, they redeemed themselves with this one that got a ton of attention. I thought it was pretty weak to start but the hugely positive reaction on Twitter changed my mind.
BMW “Newfangled Idea”
Definitely my favorite ad of all so far – using that infamous 1994 Bryant Gumbel/Katie Couric clip and getting them both to be in the spot was brilliant, and the message was spot-on for the i3 car and the BMW brand. Loved it.
Fiat “Blue Pill”
This one was fun, though I loathe Fiat following the same product strategy as Mini (over-extending their brand with too many versions of the core model). The spot itself was good though, even if parents may end up having to explain away blue pills to their kids.
Nissan “With Dad”
From a production value standpoint, I loved this spot, especially that it utilized Nissan’s racing investment as an integral part, which doesn’t usually happen in mainstream spots. But, for being 90 seconds long, I wasn’t sold on what the point of the whole thing was.
Dan Bedore of Nissan PR was nice enough to give me a summary of it though:
I guess I see that’s what their intent was, but don’t think they showed the payoff well enough, considering they had 90 seconds to get there. A hug in a new Maxima doesn’t fix Dad being gone so much.
Toyota “How Great I Am”
Not a huge fan of brands using handicapped people/kids to try and make a tie to their brands, though Microsoft’s effort was far better than Toyota’s, personally. Toyota seems to have listened far too much to enthusiast automotive journalists forever calling the Camry boring, so they’ve decided that the Camry is now a bold, exciting vehicle, as demonstrated by this spot, the one where a guy takes a bride away from her own wedding in a Camry, etc. But why, Toyota? Own being the ultra-reliable, comfortable, driving appliance that the Camry is. You destroyed every other model in the segment in sales again in ’14, which makes the “look at us, we’re exciting now!” campaign just seem silly to me.
Weather Tech “America at Work”
It was kind of refreshing to see a brand just try and sell stuff with their spot, rather than reach with some far-fetched story or half-assed tie in with a higher morality/purpose type spot. Weather Tech is great product, made in America and they own their segment. Great reminder to built top-of-mind, though I might have gone down the “terrible winter weather means you should protect your car’s interior” road instead, given that it’s February.
Lexus NX “Make Some Noise”
Completely mediocre and unmemorable. The NX looks so much like the RX that I’m not sure it didn’t just confuse anybody watching. I’m a gearhead and close follower of the industry and I don’t even know for sure the difference.
My wife and I spent about 20 hours in the Flex over a four day weekend, driving about 1,400 miles. We were joined by my brother-in-law and his friend for about 1,000 of those miles, as we all went to Wisconsin for the Wisconsin vs. Nebraska football game on Saturday in Madison, followed by the Packers vs. Eagles game on Sunday in Green Bay.
The weekend was a cold one, with high temperatures never getting past 30 degrees and some snowfall too, so a great chance to try the Flex in a variety of conditions.
Here’s some additional thoughts:
Over the 1,400 or so miles, we averaged 21.3 MPG. That number was creeping above 22 until our drive home from southwestern Wisconsin to northwest Missouri, most of which was straight into a 20+ MPH wind that just killed the mileage. I’m happy with this number though, as we had the cargo area packed and four passengers in the Flex, with the heated seats and defrosters running most of the time.
The stock Kumho all-season tires were less than stellar. With only 7,000 miles on the car, they weren’t worn out. However, they slipped a lot in only 2″ of snow and the car lost all forward momentum on a 14% grade hill, to the point where we had to have two people pushing to make it up. It simply confirmed to me that, when I buy a Flex, I will buy winter tires for it, regardless of whether I get an AWD one or not.
I love having remote start. So handy in cold weather.
The 2nd row bench seat allows either side to recline individually – very handy and makes it less compelling to go with the captain’s chairs in the 2nd row versus the bench seat, since you lose seating capacity in doing that.
You can definitely fit a lot of cargo in it, but nothing like the 2014 Chrysler Town & Country minivan that also made the trip to Green Bay with a group of our friends in it. The floor storage in that thing is pretty phenomenal, as is the overall storage. The Flex is only 1″ shorter in overall length than the Town & Country, yet the Chrysler offers 19% more cargo capacity behind the 1st row than the Acadia (the previous post’s cargo leader) and 42% more than the Flex. It’s not even close and that amazes me, having driven/ridden in both – I can’t figure out where the Flex is so much less efficient with space than the Town & Country. Here’s the numbers (all in cubic feet):
Behind 1st Row
Behind 2nd Row
Behind 3rd Row
Town & Country
MyFordTouch worked seamlessly all weekend – I continue to enjoy that system, especially the gauge pod information that can be switched out and reviewed using the steering wheel controls. The only negative is that the voice recognition software in it seems to be worse at recognizing music artists/song names than my Mustang’s base, 3-years-older Sync system. Can’t figure that one out.
Between the power seat, power-adjustable pedals, and tilt+telescoping steering wheel, anybody can get comfortable driving it, as evidenced by my 5’4″ wife and I both driving it very comfortably this weekend. Love that we can both store our settings with the memory seats too.
I still love the Flex and my wife still likes the idea of buying one when we need a kid-mobile. I am disappointed how much less efficient it is with interior space than traditional minivans though; I’d hoped it wouldn’t be such a drastic gap. However, many people, such as my wife, won’t ever drive a minivan and this remains my favorite alternative for moving lots of people and stuff.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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…
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:
Behind 1st Row
Behind 2nd Row
Behind 3rd Row
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.
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:
(Note: My company paid for the rental and I have had zero interaction with anybody at Ford or Thoroughbred Ford about this review)
Opinions and anecdotes on mostly cars+racing, plus some marketing here & there