By on September 30, 2019

2013 Ford Flex

Seven years ago today, I bought a 2013 Mineral Gray Ford Flex SE. It wasn’t the ideal combination of options, nor was it the most desirable color — I would have preferred something in a Blue or Red, but Flex inventory was pretty limited, and Ford was offering some sort of quarterly promotion on in-stock inventory that was expiring that same day, so Mineral Gray SE it was.

180,000 miles later, it’s still in service as the family hauler. It’s taken thousand-mile-plus trips to places like Orlando, Minnesota, Kansas, and Iowa every summer, loaded to the gills with suitcases and sleeping bags. It’s endured through dozens of fruit punch spills and had hundreds of Cheerios trampled into its carpets. It even took a 40 mph hit to the rear subframe at a dead stop, and the precious occupants inside, my two young children, suffered nothing except a cup of spilled chocolate milk (which the interior also suffered, with a smell that took multiple cleanings to exorcise).

It started making a weird whirring sound in the dash a few years ago, but when the Ford tech said it would cost a few hundred bucks to fix, we simply got used to it. The “Check Fuel Filler Inlet” warning comes on every so often, as it does with all Fords of this era with capless fuel fillers, but I just clean it out and wait for the CEL to clear. It has consumed six sets of tires, but only two sets of brake pads — and it’s on the original shocks. I nearly knocked myself out with the tailgate once, thanks to the lack of a push-button feature, but honestly, I deserved it.

In other words, the Flex, long since paid off, continues to do exactly what I bought it to do all those years ago — transport my family with relative ease and comfort. I confess that I enjoy not having that $500-a-month payment anymore, and I fully expect to drive it another 2-3 years without issue (knock on wood). But if I did want to replace it, I’d have trouble doing so, because Ford won’t be making it after the 2019 model-year run expires. And that’s kind of a shame, because there’s nothing else like it.

Five years ago, I wrote this about my Flex:

I anticipate driving my Flex until it hits the 150K mark, myself, and its flawless mechanical performance over the first nearly 60K gives me no reason to think that it won’t easily hit that milestone and beyond. However, when it comes time to replace it, I hope that Ford is still making new examples. Unlike nearly every other car I’ve ever owned, I have no itch to replace it with anything other than another one just like it.

I still feel the same way today, but having eclipsed a mileage mark that’s 20 percent higher than I predicted, an odometer reading that is 75k miles higher than any car I’ve ever owned before, I realize that I was pretty conservative with that 150k prediction. I also realize that while I can still roll down to the local Ford dealer and buy a new 2019 Flex for even less actual money than I paid for mine, even adjusting for inflation, I would feel foolish for doing so, considering that my Flex is showing no signs of slowing down.

The market rarely gets these sorts of things wrong, of course. It’s all fine and good for enthusiasts to pine after the Honda S2000, for example, but by the time the legendary two-seater stopped shipping to dealers in 2009, Honda was only selling about two of them per day. But the Flex seems to be somewhat of an outlier.

After a bit of a spike in sales in 2013, the Flex has evened out to about 20k sales per year ever since. This year the Flex will probably sell in numbers slightly below that — around 17k. Considering that all of the tech and the platform in the Flex were developed about a decade ago, it would seem that Ford probably prints money with each Flex sold, regardless of volume. The Oakville plant, where the Flex and its Lincoln platform mate, the MKT, are made, has laid off about 200 workers this year due to slowing sales, but one wonders if the slowing sales is more a factor of planned obsolescence than diminished market demand.

I say this because the Flex holds its value like very few vehicles on the market. Even a 2013 Flex like mine, pushing 200k on the clock, will still bring $10k if it’s in good condition. Of course, Saab enthusiasts everywhere can tell you how it goes when you have a model that’s very desirable on the used market but not quite as desirable when sold new.

As I said earlier, there really isn’t anything else like it on the market. Every other seven-seater out there comes with elevated ride height standard, which I don’t want. While I know that most soccer moms out there like being higher, I appreciate the ease of entry and exit from the Flex in its very car-like stance, and my kids do, too. I find myself frustrated by the lack of accessible storage in other SUVs — having the Flex is like having one of those U-Haul trailers that advertises a lower deck. It’s just easier for loading everyday things like groceries and folding chairs for soccer games.

I imagine that I’ll find myself searching for a lightly-used 2017-2019 model by the time the Flex hits 220-250k miles — or maybe, after taking a few rides in big brother’s Lincoln MKT, I’ll be searching for one of those. He got his MKT for Flex SE pricing, thanks to the Lincoln depreciation penalty, and the MKT has more storage and better paint.

So I say to you, fellow Soccer Dads who don’t want a minivan but don’t love the idea of having the same Explorer/Highlander that everybody else at the soccer fields has, go check out a Flex. After seven years and the equivalent of more six trips around the equator, it’s the only car I’ve ever owned that I recommend without a single hesitation.

[Image: Mark “Bark M” Baruth, Ford]

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60 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: A Moment of Appreciation for the Ford Flex...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    Absolutely LOVE the Flex, and would have purchased one if not for the fact that our Dodge Grand Caravan does one (important) thing better…side-loading. My 13-year old daughter is heavily involved in showing dogs, and loading crates, gear (not to mention the poor dogs themselves) is much easier when the doors slide completely out of the way. We’ve rented the Flex once or twice and always came away impressed with it, but it’s not quite close enough to what we needed. Still, I applaud Ford for sticking with this!

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I’ve often thought that it’s borderline criminal that the bulky, cramped, claustrophobic (platform-mate) Explorer outsells this by at least 10:1.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Because the Explorer is (marketed) as a SUV, so it MUST be better! My sister had a 2011 Explorer, and I always thought the Flex was a better overall package and more usable than the Explorer. But style (or at least perceived style) sells, and the Flex missed the “look, I’m a SUV” step when it came to design.

  • avatar
    mtr2car1

    Great viewpoint.
    I have the same feelings about my VW Touareg; it is the most perfect size, quality, power and everything else I could want and there is nothing out there that fits the bill as a replacement.

    The Jeep GC rides too rough, the Edge and other basic brands are not my cup of tea, the RDX is too tinny and the Atlas is not what VW’s used to be.

    It was so overbuilt to accommodate the needs of Porsche and yet so much better as a regular, get in a go piece.

    Best of luck finding a Flex replacement as I’m having the same trouble too.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Honda Passport

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      Interesting. I’ve been shopping to replace our Yukon tow vehicle, and I happened to rent a Flex for a business trip a couple of weeks back. It was a sweetheart to drive, and surprisingly quick.

      The towing capacity (4500 lbs) is too low to replace our Yukon, with its 7700lb rating, but I’m thinking about it. The JGC was my top choice until I drove the Flex. I’ve driven a Touareg and didn’t think it was particularly great.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      Interesting. I’ve been shopping to replace our Yukon tow vehicle, and I happened to rent a Flex for a business trip a couple of weeks back. It was a sweetheart to drive, and surprisingly quick.

      The towing capacity (4500 lbs) is too low to replace our Yukon, with its 7700lb rating, but I’m thinking about it. The JGC was my top choice until I drove the Flex. I’ve driven a couple of Touaregs and didn’t find it particularly endearing, but it’s got Yukon-like towing capacity so perhaps I should find one on a used lot and give it another whirl.

    • 0 avatar
      random1

      Agree with the Touareg – best vehicle I’ve ever owned, I got a gas V6, but on the cheap in the wake of diesel-gate. That said, it’s a pricey vehicle new, and there’s tons of off-lease Cayennes to be had at reasonable prices. It’s the only replacement I see, as it’s the same thing.

      The Flex : I’ve never been in one, but I always liked the look, just an overgrown station wagon.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    When it was time to replace our minivan, which was driven 95% of the time by my wife, she wanted a Mazda CX-9. Period.

    I lobbied for a Flex…to no avail. The appearance of Flex is polarizing, and to my wife’s eyes, ugly. I think its looks fantastic. But it was her car to drive, not mine…so unless I wanted her to chose my next car (no thanks!) it was gonna be a CX-9.

    The CX-9 (GEN I) has served us very well, and, ironically has the same Ford 3.7L V6 drivetrain as the Flex. That engine seems really solid, the only bugaboo being a water pump that requires A LOT of engine disassembly to replace. Bark–keep your fingers crossed, water pump replacement on the Ford 3.5/3.7 engine family is a big deal!

    Lots of other Ford parts under my Mazda too.

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      Are you me? I have basically the same story, replacing a Jeep liberty for something to accommodate a growing family and sliding doors were an absolute no-go. I voted for the flex first, then even the mkt (almost got her on that, surprisingly). But she wanted the cx9. She said we could check out the “ugly Lincoln” if the Mazda didn’t work out. But it did work out so now we’ve got our first Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        So, there are three of us!!?
        I always wanted one, but my wife just said NO!, it is ugly!!
        And when I ask what I really wanted, the MKT…she blows her mind.

        Personally, I wish the rear overhang was about a foot shorter.
        I wish it had more of the old scout look.
        Almost there, but a bit long rear ended.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The Flex only ever had the 3.5. The 3.7 was reserved for the Lincoln D3/D4 models in standard spec, although I believe it was the base engine for the Taurus PI and Explorer PI.

      I don’t know why Ford chose to do an internal water pump on the transverse Duratec engines. I was concerned about that item too, on my 2014 MKS (which had the 3.7); unfortunately it got totaled at 54,000 miles.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        My work vehicle is a 2013 Explorer P.I. with the 3.7 Mustang motor. It was given to me after my coworkers with the blue hats were done with it (90k is the limit for our cops).
        At about 60k, our mechanics had the Explorer in their shop for the water pump/timing service. They had to completely remove the powertrain in order to do it properly. They certainly lamented the loss of the easy-as-pie Crown Vic.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Yeah, I believe it. And, since the D3/D4 cars aren’t exactly the most exotic things ever and are easily accessible to people with low budgets, I suspect we’ll see a lot of examples that suffer from needing the water pumps replaced. That’s an expensive-ass procedure.

          And as far as police duty, my understanding is that agencies also loved the old Crown Vics because they could use a frame straightener on them, if they got into an accident.

    • 0 avatar
      GetEm

      Also have the 3.5 in my 2011 Edge, and it lasted till 172k until the water pump grenaded and took the engine with it. At 171k miles I would have told you it was the best, most trouble-free vehicle I’d ever owned. And now, not. Catastrophic breaks such as an internal water pump are immediate disqualifications of any ‘best of’ list. Having said that, I found a used 3.5 with 100k miles on it for $800. After a friend swapped it out for $700, I’m back to driving it every day. Still absolutely love the car, but that internal water pump is such a devastating blemish on an otherwise remarkably solid vehicle. Had similar issue with the “Check Fuel Filler Inlet” and unlike the YouTube videos that all told me to clean out the fillerless cap and wait, mine was an actual EVAP leak buried under driver side rear seat. Once that valve was replaced, all was well. Unfortunately had thrown a ton of time misdiagnosing the wrong solutions.

    • 0 avatar
      Mnemic

      Can’t believe you picked a CX-9 over literally anything else on the market. Its got to be one of the worst SUV’s around. Dealers don’t even stock them because they can’t hold a candle to other SUV’s that cost the same money. The good news is after driving a CX9 for so long literally everything else will ride and feel like a Bentley in comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        Careful…I might render an unfavorable opinion of your car!

        I don’t view cars in binary good/bad terms. Each model on the market has strengths and weaknesses. Smart shoppers seek a vehicle that best fits their intended application. The CX-9 has been a very good fit for my wife’s daily driving needs. It may be a very poor fit for your needs–that does not make it “worst” for everyone, perhaps just for you.

        • 0 avatar
          Chocolatedeath

          Funny thing is that in 2008 I bought my first new car ever….a 2008 CX9. I wanted a Flex but Ford would not even come close to even giving me 400 bucks off at any dealer I went too. Found the Mazda on line and went up to Chicago from NC to pick it up for 10k off.

          Consumer Reports long has held this version of the car in high regard as on of the best overall CUV. This particular year is still recommended. I will pass 240k miles on this coming Wednesday based on my commute. I have had the AC replaced a few years ago and power steering last year but thats been it. SOme folks just gotta hate.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Semenak

      My wife wasn’t sure about it either. We told the dealer doing a recall on our 2006 FreeStar in 2014 that, we were considering a new vehicle and, they let us Test drive a Flex SE for 2 days. My wife’s female co-workers dig it after riding in it! Now validated she claims she always liked them… LOL

  • avatar
    65corvair

    If you really prefer function over form, you get a Minivan. Even better than the Flex. Still several good choices out there. If you don’t want a Minivan quick complaining.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      Agree.

      Vans are cheaper, offer more space, similar or better MPG, and the sliding doors can’t be beat.

      I love the Flex and the styling is awesome. But that’s really the only reason to buy one over a van.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        Row 3 seating in Flex is more spacious than row 3 seating in most minivans and SUVs. A boxy design has real advantages for interior space.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          The van comparison is not remotely true.

          Flex 3rd row: 33.3″ legroom, 50.8″ hip room, 41.1″ shoulder room (2 seats vs 3 in the vans).

          Sienna 3rd row: 36.3″/50.3″/61.1″

          Odyssey 3rd row: 38.1″/48.4″/60″

          Pacifica 3rd row: 36.5″/49.5″/61.2″

          So at least 3″ of extra legroom in the vans, not to mention an extra seat. The vans also have 32+ cubic feet behind the 3rd row compared to 20 for the Flex, and more cargo space with just the 3rd row folded than the Flex does with both the 2nd and 3rd row folded.

        • 0 avatar
          Richard Chen

          The Flex’s 3rd row is narrower than in the Odyssey/Sienna/Pacifica.

          Using carsdirect.com’s compare tool: headroom measures about the same, at most 1/2 inch less, but the minivans have 10-11″ more shoulder room and 8-9″ more hip room in the third row.

        • 0 avatar
          baggins

          what? it’s not even close. Minivans have far larger 3rd rows.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          @R Henry: The problem with the Flex is that the load floor is far, far higher with the third row folded than any minivan, excepting perhaps the VW Type 2 ‘Microbus’. You lose fully ⅓ and more cargo capacity because of the high load floor in an “SUV”.

  • avatar
    Lovelockguy

    A few years back, I went to Las Vegas–having lived there 17 years before leaving….and met some my family that I don’t see often enough (which is OK) and we drove to Disneyland–hadn’t been there for 20+ years. The rental they got was a Flex, white with grey and I was very impressed with its road manners and it held 7 people comfortable. There was another car of relatives; they had rented a Chevy Suburban and didn’t care much for it all.
    Long story short, I was impreseed with all of the features and driveability and people sort of looking at it. I lived alone so have no need for one, but…..

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    With the amount of advertising Ford dedicates to the Flex I honestly thought they quit making it years ago.

    As for the MKT it would be an ideal replacement except for one thing and that being you’d have to look at it. I remember seeing a brown one roll through an intersection some time ago and it really was the epitome of a turd on wheels.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I looked at Flex EcoBoosts on several occasions between 2014 and 2018, but there were two issues: 1) the MKT was cheaper for similar age and mileage with a much nicer interior, and 2) my wife issued a hard veto on the Flex because of the styling. Ultimately we wanted a hybrid powertrain and ended up with a Highlander Hybrid, but all your points in favor of the Flex are correct.

    It does seem to have accumulated a very nice reliability record if you take care of the PTU on AWD versions and don’t suffer a water pump failure (“disassemble vehicle, remove and replace water pump, reassemble vehicle”).

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’ve ridden in the Flex, I’ve driven the Flex, I came really close on the Flex but…

    Ecoboost models were still out of my budget (my preferred powertrain), any trim with a towing package was hard to find (I think a vehicle this large should have a transmission cooler period here in the Mountain West), and the fuel economy is abysmal. A FWD naturally aspirated V6 Flex had the same EPA rating as my 2nd gen V6 5 speed auto 4wd Highlander.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Ford Flex

    Glad you had such a great experience. I had a similar experience with my 1st gen Ford Windstar when raising a family.

    Form and function seem great but the styling not so much. I think minivans make a more attractive box for hauling kids and goods.

    First time I saw a ford Flex the National Lampoon Vacation vehicle Wagon Queen Family Truckster came immediately to mind. I still cannot avoid that thought everytime I see a flex.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      “First time I saw a ford Flex the National Lampoon Vacation vehicle Wagon Queen Family Truckster came immediately to mind.”

      Not too far off the mark really. I always thought the Flex is/was the closest successor to the Ford Country Squire wagons of yore.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    One guy I know recently replaced his wife’s Flex with a 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLE. Honestly, I think it’s going to prove to be a downgrade, reliability-wise.

    My only complaint about them was that had to ride three hours in one of the two third seats last year, traveling to a Friday night football game (I’ve had two kids in high school band, and I’m on the pit crew). It was tight and claustrophobic, even with the glass panels in the roof. The tird seats are definitely for kids.

    I’ve always liked the styling, which managed to stay fairly true to the Fairlane concept, even if they did skip the suicide doors, which really weren’t practical.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Clearly the B&B are not the overall car market. People wax poetic about this car. Fact is nobody buys these things. With the new Explorer it will only get worse.

    I thought all fords were junk? Bulletproof to 180,000 miles? What?!

    Actually I seem to recall that consumer reports has the Continental at the top of the reliability list as well. So maybe depends on the model or the transmission in the car. Ha.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      I racked up 227K miles on my 05 Escape 3.0 Duratec and other than routine maintenance the only things needing replacement were 3 of the 6 ignition coils and an alternator. All after 150K miles. So it does happen.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Certainly the best looking Ford CUV on the market… I just couldn’t get past the price and the fact that I hardly need two rows, much less three, in my lifestyle. Too bad it’s going away; I would have liked to see all of the “trucks” look like this.

    • 0 avatar
      jfb43

      This in a two-door, like a throwback to the Nomad or a Ranchero with a bed cap, would be pretty badass. Three rows of seats is too much for me, but two doors, a fold-down second row, shorter by a foot or so, with the 3.5 EcoBoost in AWD? That would be a sweet ride.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Any of the minivans currently on offer could easily replace it. Let’s not kid ourselves as to what the Flex really is.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      And the Flex would have even been handier with sliding doors.

      But then the “it’s not a minivan” plausible deniability would be gone.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      I was talking with one of my now former students about cars and she brought up something about her mother’s car. So I bit and asked what she drove. The answer surprised me when she said Ford Flex. Knowing that many women do not like their looks, I asked her why her mother chose a Flex. She replied she needed a minivan but didn’t want a minivan. The same student also called her CR-V “my wagon”. I do miss that student.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    ah, the old “price is good for TODAY ONLY” bs. i woulda held out for red or blue, white top.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The old man thinks it looks like a hearse… me? I have a soft spot for the Flex but never had a need for ’em. My wife also likes them, especially two-tone / chromed up.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    My son and his wife have a Flex and as far as I know no problems at all. She wont give it up!

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      well,so does everybody who owns one.
      seems the reason they retain their price is because people who own them, keep them.
      every single person, male or female, i ever asked in parking lots how they like their flex…they ALL said loved it.
      every one.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I’ll just toss in…

    Bark, if you love the car as much as it sounds you to, perhaps a bit premature on the replacement, but getting another new one this year or next might buy you another 7-8 years and 200,000 miles of Flex-driving nirvana….

    I certainly would do this if I knew a favorite vehicle was going away and I had the financial means to do so.

    Took a quick look at consumer reports… reliability looks average to above average. Climate, suspension, in-car electronics appear to be the weak spots.

  • avatar
    TheFirehawkGuy

    I have a 2014 MKT Ecoboost. Went to the Lincoln dealer on presidents day “just to look” with the wife. As soon as i hit the park assist button and she watched the car park itself she quipped “we’re buying this right?”. So we did. It’s been the best car we could have imagined. We don’t put too many miles on it so despite the age it still has 33k miles. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the nicest example of a 2014 MKT with nearly every option out there. Ecoboost has plenty of power, it rides smoothly enough, sound system is great, rear seat has literal MILES of legroom. Third row is a bit tight but I’ve managed a few trips back there myself at over 200lbs. Now that the MKT is gone the only thing I can imagine replacing it with is an Aviator. Both based on the Explorer and both similar in size.

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    2012 Flex SEL (fire engine red) with 137k. I haven’t done anything to this vehicle in 7 years other that wash, wax, vacumn, change the fluids as should and just drive it. It replaced a 2008 Buick Enclave with less than 60k and that had multiple problems (rust, bad a/c, bad water pump, rattles, etc). Wife has never loved it due to the style but she just admitted it is a good vehicle and would keep it for another year or two while we pay for the kid’s college. I have no doubt it will be fine! And it is a true 7 person vehicle. I may not want to live in the back seat but it is possible. Most third row seats are significantly worse.

  • avatar
    Fliggin_De_Fluge

    Oh boy, theres gonna be some heads ‘splodin with this one. Reliable Ford? OMGOMGOMG safe space NOW.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    I could never imagine owning Flex or even worse MKT. At least Flex is like a bigger Scion. MKT is pure horror ugly. It means one has given up on life. I don’t know if Flex is more reliable than Durango, but if a three row vehicle with some verve is your thing, I highly recommend a Durango with a HEMI. Mind you the pentastar is also a great engine, just not very fast (it sounds good though when you rev). In GT trim Durango really looks good.

    • 0 avatar
      jfb43

      Yeah, other than not wanting elevated ride height, Durango is great. Oh, and the suspect Fiat/Chrysler reliability, crappy fuel economy, and driving another anonymous blob.

  • avatar
    mjg82

    I’ve always wanted to get a final year Flex to replace my Optima Turbo and problematic Roadmaster, and go back to having a single vehicle. Not quite ready to give up on the Buick yet, though another winter of it taking my garage spot might convince me to make the move in the spring.


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