By on July 19, 2017

2018 Ford Flex SE

The Ford Flex muscled its way into dealerships for the 2009 model year, standing apart from other three-row offerings with its still-in-the-cargo-box styling cues. It’s shape actually goes back further, to the ’05 Detroit Auto Show, when Ford rolled out a Fairlane concept billed as a “minivan with desire.” Fortunately, Ford dropped that trope but also dropped the concept’s suicide doors. As Mick and Keith said, you can’t always get what you want.

But you can get what you need, and most of it is often found in a base model car. Let’s see what Ford’s seven-passenger rectangle has to offer frugal shoppers.

Under the flat-as-the-Prairies hood lives a 3.5-liter Duratec V6 that’s been around since forever, making 287 horsepower. It’s older technology so the Flex’s fuel economy stinks, rated at only 16 mpg in the city. However, its advanced age helps to lower some maintenance costs, meaning basic items such as the oil filter are cheap to buy. Just make sure to get the water pump done before the warranty runs out.

The base model front-drive Flex SE only offers a bench in the middle row; it’s not until higher-level trims does one have the choice of second-row buckets. This means a flop-and-fold ritual is required to access the third row. Second- and third-row ventilation registers gives backseat royalty the chance to play first-class airliner. Ford claims a full 20 cubic feet of space behind the third row, expanding to a cavernous 43 cubes when the third row is folded and the Flex is configured as a five-passenger conveyance.

Hooks in the cargo area for grocery bags are the example of a thoughtful detail that’s often sorely overlooked by other manufacturers. Another example of design kindheartedness? Ample and sturdy bottle holders reside in the doors for second-row riders. In fact, there are a total of 10 cupholders. Hey, this stuff matters in a seven-passenger ride aimed at families.

2018 Ford Flex SE

Pilots finding themselves in the operator’s station will discover a steering column which adjusts for reach and rake, a backup camera, and a reverse sensing system. Sync is included, but a jumbo in-dash touchscreen such as the one found with Sync3 is not. My sole gripe? Satellite radio is a $185 option. At least there are AUX and USB ports from which to source tunes. A CD player sticks around for 2018, too.

The sideview mirrors are heated on the base SE and the rearview mirror is of the automatic-dim variety, no doubt thanks to the wonders of economies of scale.

Squared off styling is a love it or hate it proposition, and is likely why Ford made the sensible decision of offering another three-row crossover in its showroom. I liked the Flex styling when it appeared all those years ago and still like it today. A monochrome roof and tailgate in the SE gives the Flex a solid appearance. The whole car is a fantastically derivative in a segment filled with “me-too” jellybeans. Dual exhaust tips poke out of the rear bumper and 17-inch painted aluminium rims help keep a lid on tire costs come replacement time.

Blue – not True Blue or even Bright Regatta Blue Metallic, just Blue – is my color of choice, as it is off the grayscale but still allows the bold F L E X badging to show itself on the leading edge of the hood. It’s a great styling detail harkening back to when the Blue Oval would affix chrome F O R D letters to the snout of their full-sized trucks.

Speaking of throwbacks, Ford stubbornly sticks to including a keyless entry keypad — a retro detail offering drivers the option to punch in a numbered code to unlock the doors even though every owner has a fob in their pocket with which to gain entry to their Flex. I think it’s tremendous. More than once I intentionally locked my keys in a keypad-equipped Ford so another person could pick up the car later on, such as when I have to drive myself to the airport for a Nothing O’Clock departure time.

Is it perfect? No. The absence of satellite radio in a 30 grand crossover is annoying, and Ford could be doing a better job of updating the interior by peppering it with a few more USB ports. For $30,300 – and much less than that when subtracting generous lease and financing incentives – the Flex remains a solid effort.

Not every base model has aced it. The ones which have? They help make the automotive landscape a lot better. Any others you can think of, B&B? Let us know in the comments. Naturally, feel free to eviscerate our selection.

The model above is shown in American dollars with American options and trim, absent of destination charges and available rebates. As always, your dealer may sell for less.

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62 Comments on “Ace of Base – 2018 Ford Flex SE...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    “Just make sure to get the water pump done before the warranty runs out.”

    do you even know what a water pump looks like?

    • 0 avatar
      Jean-Pierre Sarti

      admittedly the author should have explained better. I know about the nightware that is the 3.5 Duratec V6 from my buddy’s Edge with the same engine.

      apparently these water pumps when they fail do really nasty things to the engine internals and to make it even worse, if memory serves, the damn thing is run of the timing chain not the accessory belt!

      and I thought ford putting the clutch slave cylinder INSIDE the transmission bell housing was stupid…

      • 0 avatar
        SaulTigh

        The water pump in the 3.5L Duratec is the reason I’m not still driving my ’08 MKZ. They quoted me nearly $2000 to fix, because the water pump is nestled inside the engine with the timing chain. Some models they even have to remove a wheel and an engine mount to fully get at it, along with removing the valve covers and the side of the engine.

        The service advisor acted seriously butt hurt when I refused to fix it and paid them their $95 diagnostic charge. Traded the car the next day, and not on a Ford or Lincoln.

  • avatar
    woofyman

    “The whole car is a fantastically derivative in a segment filled with “me-too” jellybeans. ”

    Does the author know what derivative means?

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Seriously. Did he read it over even once before submitting it? That’s the type of fat-finger distracted-brain error I make in some of my comments, but I don’t have an editor and don’t get paid for them.

      • 0 avatar
        conundrum

        Agree with you.

        But there isn’t even a main managing editor these days since the departure of Mark Stevenson, let alone EiC. Toronto Star newspaper, i.e. Torstar, bought a majority of Verticalscope, owner of TTAC, some time ago. Same guys running VS on day-to-day, but obviously to save bucks, they haven’t been fast in naming Stevenson’s replacement.

        So it’s running on remote control officially and probably only working due to the good graces of Steph Willems who got stuck with the loose ends. Only my guess – I don’t know. If true, I hope he gets rewarded.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    YOu guys are being pretty hard this morning on the writer arent you?

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Words have meanings and a writer should know what the words he/she uses mean. The writing has definitely taken a turn for the worse lately, especially on some the new writers car reviews. Unrelated to this article, but as an example, I would assume a automotive writer would know what the concept of badge engineering means and that the Mini Countryman is not “badge engineered.”

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      That whole line of “… a fantastically derivative…” is either a seriously incomplete sentence or a major mistake in word usage.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      are water pumps failing frequently on these engines?

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        It’s a major issue on the 3.5-liter and 3.7-liter Duratec engines. It typically happens well outside the warranty period, beyond 100K miles, and I’ve had several people recommend that I get it replaced as a wear item around 80K miles on my MKS, though there are instances of it happening as early as 65K miles on some FoMoCo products.

        Since the water pump on these cars is internal and driven by the timing chain, a failure will dump a bunch of coolant into the engine crankcase and contaminate the oil.

      • 0 avatar
        RS

        It failed on our 3.5L Duratec in our 2008 Taurus. 11.5 hours of shop time plus parts. (about $2k total.) Had it done at the dealer because other local mechanics no quoted the work. They didn’t want to touch it.

        It’s an absurd design and expensive when it goes. I’m really hesitant to get another vehicle with that motor.

        • 0 avatar
          SaulTigh

          Happened to me too on an ’08 MKZ, right at 100,000 miles. I traded it the next day, and not on a FOMOCO product. I’m hoping there are no such time bombs lurking in my 5.0L F150.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    While I loved the Fairlane concept, the suicide doors would be a terrible idea on a family vehicle. Just try wrestling with cargo or kids in a parking lot with both side doors open sometime and you will understand why suicide doors are a terrible idea in practice. The Honda Element had this issue and it’s doors were pretty small.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I, personally, love the idea of “suicide doors”. To me the accessibility is so much greater because you’re not having to work around a massive slab of metal and plastic when you’re wanting to access both the front seat and back seat simultaneously.

      Yes, I can see the issue when you have a crowd in the vehicle in a tight parking space but you know, the idea used to be that you’d let off the crowd at the door and then go park the car alone. Whatever happened to family courtesy? Even with just me and the wife I tend to do that a lot, especially in bad weather (including those muggy summer days where the heat and humidity just take the breath right out of you.)

    • 0 avatar
      six42

      Yep. If the element had normal doors I would’ve kept mine. The ‘trapped in the parking lot’ was so regularly annoying.

      • 0 avatar
        hpycamper

        We have a Honda Element and the suicide doors are a plus. Wide opening makes loading, unloading people and stuff easy. Trapped in tight parking spaces? Even with regular doors, people in front will be trapped when both doors are open. Solution: let rear passengers exit first.

      • 0 avatar
        packardhell1

        Unless you have small kiddos, like age 3-4. I would see trapping as a good thing. They don’t get out of your reach until you close the doors :)

  • avatar
    threeer

    Wife and I had one of these (admittedly higher trim) as a rental about two years ago. Wife loved it! At the time, our lifestyle didn’t dictate the need for anything approaching this and we bought a used ’14 Escape last year…right before we adopted my (now) 11-year old daughter who is very active in the dog show world. If all three of us go to a weekend show, along with the pup and all of the *stuff* that goes with, we wind up borrowing my sister’s ’11 Explorer.
    There’s something weirdly cool about the Flex, and with the third seat down, the room inside is tremendous.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Not having satellite radio can be seen as a plus.

    My wife loves listening the Undergound Garage on SiriusXM. Over the built-in satellite radio, the sound quality is awful. I mean really awful. I really hate the way that the signal drops out when there’s no direct line of sight to the satellite.

    Luckily, she has the optional internet connection for SiriusXM. So we listen to it over her phone and the difference is night and day. In our car, the problem is that it’s so easy to just dial up the internal radio and I live with the cutouts and really mushy sound quality. Not having Satellite (as with my Tacoma) makes for a better listening experience.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      While I agree that satellite radio has its issues with line-of-sight, I’ve never considered sound quality an issue. It makes me wonder what regular radio sounds like in that vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        I have XM and the sound quality is lacking in my mind. Then again, I’ve been criticized here for being an audio snob….fair enough…some are fine with Budweiser; other prefer craft beer.

      • 0 avatar
        cgjeep

        I’ve been in a lot of cars were the satellite ready sound sucks. No highs and lows, all compressed out. In my 4Runner XM isnt’ worth cranking up, FM sounds much better. Wife’s VW sound is great though. Must be how the head unit processes the compression.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      you could just, you know, not use it.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      It was explained to me that Sirius allots less bandwidth to stations that are primarily talk-radio, and more to music stations.

      Whether this is true is anyone’s guess– I’ve always complained about the ‘tin can’ sound of Sirius in my car, and go for the Bluetooth connection by its better sound.

      Except for Bevelations and Sandyland– those my jams.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      @bunkie

      Doesn’t running XM over your phone eat up a lot of your data?

      I have a road trip coming up (+/- 2000 miles give or take) and would LOVE to just stream something over my phone, but I’d hate to get my data throttled.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    One of the few Ford products whose appearance I actually like; not so bubbly like their cars nor so overstated like their trucks. My only real complaint is its price.

    Of course, dropping the third row entirely would help.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      I really wish Ford make a 3/5 size version of this vehicle about the size of an Escape or Mini Countryman. I love the practical boxy shape bu I just have no use for a vehicle so large.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        The width might be a bit much; it looks as wide as a full-sized pickup if I recall correctly, but I do like the looks compared to all their other models. Just drop the third row; I don’t need it and I doubt that every buyer uses it. That’s a lot of wasted space when you consider the thickness of that third row when folded.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Is there one logical metric in which a minivan is not hugely superior to this vehicle?!

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Yeah. Appearance.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      If logic truly played a significant role in most automotive purchases, yes…there would be a significantly greater number of minivans out in the parking lot instead of acre after acre of CUV/SUV. But I know enough people who, even if they’d truly benefit the most from owning a minivan, outright and steadfastly refuse to do so based only on perception and image.

      Me? When I get back to the US, I’m seriously contemplating a van.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Nobody will sell you a minivan with a big turbo six yet, for one.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I could have gone for one of these if it were smaller; I like the boxy look (and utility), but don’t need something that large.

    On another note: “… rated at only 16 mpg in the city. However, its advanced age helps to lower some maintenance costs, meaning basic items such as the oil filter are cheap to buy.”

    Seriously? The prospect of cheap oil filters is supposed to make one less concerned with that terrible mileage? How much does one spend on oil filters over the entire life of the car? And are they really that much cheaper than filters for newer engines?

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    I have a 2012 Flex SE.
    Background, Bought a new 2008 Buick Enclave for the family vehicle and loved it for 3 years. 4th year went to hell. Couldn’t stay out of the shop and really didn’t feel it was ever going to be right. So if I had to spend money every month on repairs might as well have a newer always running vehicle.
    Bought this 2012 Flex SE. I was not a fan of the styling and my wife really didn’t like it. But in our smaller town only a Ford store and believe in buying local (The great recession claimed our Chevy/Buick and Chrysler/Dodge stores.
    This vehicle has never had any repairs done to it. Just runs and runs. Now has 106,000 with no issues. The Buick Enclave had rust, water pump failure, ongoing a/c issues, several other issues.
    The Enclave always seemed big but the Flex holds the same number of people but somehow seems svelte in comparison. It may not have as much room behind the third seat but about the only usable difference between the two.
    Nicely equipped for the price.
    My wife has never loved the Flex. She admits it is a good vehicle but she did love the Enclave. Always felt a little more special driving that car.
    It is built on the Explorer chassis and uses the same drive train but if you ever compare them the Flex is way more usable and comfortable.
    I will miss this vehicle when Ford drops it. A very practical vehicle that looks different than the crowd.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    This is one car that my wife loves and wants. But she’s crazy for anything unique and/or colorful.

    Take a black Dodge Charger – meh, she say – but make it Line Green and suddenly she’s interested. I’m a little more uh, subtle than that since I don’t like to drive a car that stands out – too much.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    ok so it sucks fuel like a 70’s barge, they bang you 185 for xm radio and I assume from the writeup Ford quality is still job 1 if you gotta get the water pump done before the warranty( ( no idea what the warranty is 24 months, 60 months???) runs out, the only thing this has going for it is it’s looks which is take it or leave it.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      ” I assume from the writeup Ford quality is still job 1 if you gotta get the water pump done before the warranty”

      you don’t, that was a mind-bendingly dumb comment from the author.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      ” I assume from the writeup Ford quality is still job 1 if you gotta get the water pump done before the warranty”

      Quality hasn’t been job 1 since Big Al took over.

  • avatar
    gkhize

    The keypad is hardly ‘retro’ in my opinion and something every car should have. I can throw my keys in the console in long term parking and know that when I get home the keys will be there and not in the corner of some seedy bar 2000 miles from home.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I know of people that buy Ford products because of the keypad.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      Am real jealous of my brother in law who is able to keep his keys in the car and lock it when we go to water parks, fishing, beach, ect. I end up either leaving the keys in it unlocked or putting them in a ziplock bag and hoping they stay dry.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I love the keypad. Hate schlepping bulky keys and fob around when I go out, so its convenient to just leave them in the car.

    • 0 avatar
      caltemus

      It’s pretty retro, physical buttons are going by the wayside. My 1989 Town Car had it, that makes it retro to me

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Ford’s keyless entry isn’t retro or archaic, it was well ahead of its time. It graced Lincolns well before anyone introduced remote entry.

      But it goes beyond that. To get here and respond to this comment logging into a computer or a phone and to do so a password was most likely involved, once you accessed the device to actually comment another password was entered. The 5 digit code is just the car’s password. My wife for the longest time said she didn’t need it or use it and in fact she never bothered to memorize the code and didn’t want me to program a string of numbers she already knew. However somewhere along the line, I think the 3rd car we had that she regularly drove she started using it. Now she misses it on the first car we have bought as her primary driver in several years with out it.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yeah Ford’s Keyless entry system isn’t retro and it certainly isn’t archaic, it fact it was light years ahead of its time.

      To get here and comment meant entering a “code” to access the device and a “code” to log into the website. So the reality is that much of the rest of our lives have caught up with those ancient Lincolns.

      People do like it and use it, fact is when everyone was introducing remote systems including Ford they thought they could get rid of the key pad, which they did for 98 across the board. The outcry from loyal users meant it returned in 99.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    It certainly isn’t the car (truck?) for me but my neighbor has a child with special needs and this thing quickly adapted to what they needed. It’s brilliant, in fact. So, see, there is good in everything.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The keypads on the Fords is convenient, especially now that they’ve started making it a touch-sensitive area on the driver-side B-pillar. On my MKS, the keypad allows me to leave my keys and billfold in the car when I go to the gym.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      I just don’t trust the keypads since it seems like Lincoln batteries die instantly if the keys are left in it or anywhere near it, making the keypad useless and then your keys are just locked in your car the old fashioned way.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Don’t know my Fords all that well but my understanding from something that I read earlier in the year lead me to believe that the Flex and its gentried relation, the hearse like Lincoln MKT, were both being discontinued. Haven’t seen anything else lately on that front however.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    For awhile I’ve been thinking of replacing my parents Outback with one of these. Only one of them can drive, and increasingly less. I hate the Outback, and trying to transport two seniors with mobility issues is a real pain. The Flex has attributes that make access easy. Low floor, high hip point, roomy door openings, relatively flat seats. I’d love to be able to borrow one for occasional hauling duty. One downside is the 3rd row cannot be removed temporarily. Removing it requires unbolting, removing panels, etc.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’ve always loved the Flex but haven’t pulled the trigger on one. It is unfortunate that it will be gone soon.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    The base model is a pretty good deal. If you want a loaded EcoBoost model, your best deal is a lightly used Lincoln MKT, if you can stand the appearance.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    NO. Do NOT buy a Flex! The writer has never owned one. If he had, he wouldn’t recommend it. What has happened to the TRUTH about cars? and did the writer READ any to the comments? He sounds like a shill for Ford.

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