A kid-friendly fashion statement

The Ford Flex marches to its own beat. For example, while other SUVs boast a high stance and truck-like proportions, the Flex is long, low and lean.

But under the unconventional styling is one serious family hauler. With ample room for seven, great cargo space behind the third row, and optional goodies like a refrigerator, the Flex is, well, flexible. While it may not have the ground clearance of an off-road SUV, it does offer all-wheel drive for foul-weather traction. It was also the hot-rod of our test group, thanks to its twin-turbocharged, 365-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine (a non-turbo 285-horsepower version is standard).

What really caught our attention was how accommodating the Flex is for its passengers, big or small. The second row has a standard power-fold mechanism, which quickly flips the seat forward for 3rd-row access. The Flex was also one of the most car-seat friendly vehicles in our test.

Key Family Car Strength

There's a lot to like about the Flex, but from a family-car perspective, we'd have to give the nod to its capabilities as a baby seat transporter. There's a ton of space between even a rear-facing booster and the front passenger seat, so much so that even our tallest editor, at more than 6-feet 4-inches, had an excess of legroom. Now that's roomy, even for an SUV.

Key Family Car Weakness

Price. The Flex is a neat vehicle, and one that definitely is family friendly. But the options add up quickly, and the Flex has optional items that are standard on many of its competitors. For example, our test vehicle was a 2014 Ford Flex EcoBoost Limited, the second most expensive vehicle in our test at $46,435, yet it lacked a rear-seat entertainment system. And it's not like the interior is super luxurious -- while nice, it didn't exceed the class, and some even thought it was chintzy.

Model Range

The 2014 Ford Flex comes in three trim levels, each with various option packages available. The base SE costs $29,910, is front-wheel-drive only, and comes with the Auto-Fold seat, backup sensors, and the 285-horsepower V6 engine. The SEL starts at $32,795 and adds 18-inch wheels, MyFord Touch, a 10-way power driver's seat, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Limited trim loads up on the options. For $38,495, you get leather seats, blind spot detection, a power liftgate, push-button ignition, and navigation. All-wheel drive is available on SEL and Limited trims for an extra $1,950. The EcoBoost engine is available only in Limited trim, and only with all-wheel drive. It costs $43,750 to start.

Option packages include leather seats, blind-spot and cross-traffic warning, push-button and remote starting on SEL trims for $2,500, and a $2,600 package that includes active park assist, adaptive cruise control and a power-folding third row for Limited trims. A multi-panel "Vista" roof adds $1,595 to the price, that 2nd-row fridge costs $795, and DVD headrests are available in all Flex trims for $1,995. In fact, if you opt for the EcoBoost model, it's possible to push the price over the $50,000 mark, pretty pricy for a family car. All prices include an $895 destination charge.

Family Friendliness

If your usual front-seat passenger is tall, the Ford Flex is the family car you need. Put a rear-facing infant seat behind the passenger, and he'll still have plenty of legroom. The seats were easy to install and remove as well, with good access to the lower anchors. There's enough room to squeeze a third person between the two installed boosters, with a little room to spare. The third row can handle one booster, and it, too, was easy to install. The Auto-Fold seat makes 3rd-row access a snap, at least from the passenger side of the Flex, and there's a surprising amount of room once you're settled in. The front seats are also comfortable, and the low ride height makes the Flex easy for little ones to scramble in and out of.

There is a drawback to that low ride height though. The Flex's stylish bodywork wraps down underneath the doors, but if you open one too close to a high curb, you'll whack the bottom of it. It may not show, but it could create a rust problem in the future if the paint scrapes down to the metal.

Cargo and Storage

Behind the third row in the Ford Flex there's a deep, minivan-like cargo well, whereas most of its competitors just have flat floors. It gives the Flex a distinct advantage when it comes to grocery getting. However, once you fold the seats the playing field levels out. The third row requires pulling on three separate straps to fold. A power-folding mechanism is available, but only on Limited trims, and only as part of a $2,600 option package. Once you do fold the seats, the Flex's low headroom limits the height of cargo you can carry. Couple that with the sloping load floor, and the Flex isn't the most capable cargo handler.

Storage space could be better, too. There wasn't a lot of it in front, just cupholders and a few bins. Rear passengers actually fare a little better, with large bottle holders mounted high on the doors, and even the 3rd-row passengers get good storage for their various items.

On the Road

We'll admit it, we're suckers for power, and the 365-hp V6 engine in our test Flex turned it into a veritable rocket next to its competition. It's no sport wagon, but if you need speed, it is the way to go. The steering is too light at highway speeds, but the suspension is comfortable, and the Flex is very quiet on the road, especially compared to the noisy Pilot. The bulk of the Flex is apparent when parking though. The backup sensors and camera help, but this is still a long, wide vehicle, and some found the nose a little hard to place.

Our Flex was equipped with Ford's touch-screen interface, known as MyFord Touch (MFT). It’s a system that has come under a lot of criticism for its difficult interface and occasional software bugs. While it never froze up or had any other gremlins, the MFT system is an acquired taste, and even then the small buttons and "boop" each time you tap a control take getting used to.

Final Word

Surprisingly family friendly for such a fashionable design.

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