I’m long overdue for an update on the Long Term Flex Limited EcoBoost. Purchased in September 2011, the first update happened after 3 months and 3000 miles had elapsed. In the last update I talked about wanting to add better all-weather interior mats and a roof rack to facilitate carrying bikes and other loads. I addressed mats in the cargo area by purchasing a$70 Husky Liner for the well under/behind the third row seats. As we tend to travel with the third row seats deployed, that well is where our cargo ends up a majority of the time. When the third row is stowed for carrying larger loads that might be dirty or damage the carpeting, we use an auto blanket to protect the interior to avoid the nuisance of needing to remove a rigid cargo protector. The low-pile carpeting Ford specced for that cargo area grows fuzzy with vigorous vacuuming, so preventing it from getting dirty is important.
We’ve now owned the Flex for about eight months and have covered almost 7000 miles. In that time, the Flex hasn’t had any maintenance or repairs needed, though we did just receive a “Customer Service Campaign” notice from Ford in the mail, to address a potential problem which could cause the engine’s cooling fans to stop working, leading to an overheating condition.
The Flex has an oil life monitor which dictates when the oil should be changed, and even 8 months later we still have 30% of our oil life remaining. Instinct (driven by a decade-and-a-half of turbocharged Saab and Volvo ownership) tells me that I should have had the oil changed already, but Ford’s maintenance guide says there’s no need. All of Ford’s marketing materials state that the twin-turbocharged V6 is tested for 150,000 miles of service and beyond, which should be supported by that maintenance schedule.
Oil change interval rationalization aside, I am planning to purchase a comprehensive aftermarket warranty. Besides the expensive drivetrain parts, there are plenty of electrical and electronic parts like power-folding third row seats and the Ford SYNC navigation system which would be very expensive to repair. The fact that we tend to keep cars for eight years (or longer) without putting a ton of mileage on it points me toward a longish-term, lower mileage extended warranty with generous equipment coverage. (As an example, our family’s other car is a 2001 Saab 9-5 which we bought new, that now has 96,000 miles on it- and is on its third turbocharger).
During the last update on the Flex I reported an average fuel economy of 15.7 MPG, and unfortunately it hasn’t improved much; it’s hovering at 15.8 MPG right now. With an EPA city/highway/combined of 16/21/18 MPG, our average is less than the published EPA city number, though admittedly that number reflects my wife’s daily commute of 6 miles across our stoplight-ridden suburb. The highest single-tank mileage recorded was on a trip from Seattle to Walla Walla in Washington’s southwest corner which included crossing two mountain passes in wintery conditions; we saw 19.8 MPG. Hopefully our next report will show at least one tank breaking the 20 MPG mark as we head out on some summertime road trips. That fuel economy figure has been achieved using regular unleaded fuel. You can track our Flex’s consumption on Fuelly.com.
While the Flex has been mechanically reliable, both my wife and I have experienced poor connectivity between our iPhones and the Flex’s SYNC system. The Flex will start Bluetooth audio playback from our phones even if a different audio source is selected on the entertainment system, and when the vehicle is powered off and we leave the car our phones will still be playing music (streaming it to the not-connected SYNC), wasting battery life. A SYNC update is available but must be dealer-installed. We have put off scheduling a service visit for that minor problem since service wasn’t needed, however with the aforementioned “Customer Service Campaign,” we will have the SYNC update performed at the same time.
After researching rooftop carriers as mentioned during the last update, I decided that I didn’t actually want to carry bikes on the top of the Flex (because it would be too tough to get them on and off of the rack), and that a hitch-mounted bike carrier would be easier for my wife and I to use. Because our Flex was not factory-equipped with the towing package, I ordered the factory hitch online for a little more than $250. Although very clear installation instructions were provided, the process was more complicated than I wanted to attempt (it involves removing the bumper cover and the structural bumper bar as well as the exhaust hangers on each side of the vehicle to bolt the new hitch in place), so I paid $200 tax for a shop to install the hitch for me. It is a Class IV hitch when installed on EcoBoost Flex vehicles (because they have the requisite transmission cooler), though I haven’t installed hitch wiring because I don’t intend to tow anything behind the Flex at this point. I’ve got my eye on a Thue four-bike, hitch-mounted rack for carrying our family’s bikes. That still doesn’t solve the problems of transporting skis, though I know that hitch-mounted ski carriers are also available (even though space in my garage to store all of these carriers isn’t as readily available.)
Though we’ve been generally happy with the Flex, there is always room for improvement. For example, the shape of the bottom edge of the passenger doors is such that in the wintertime, significant slush and ice accumulations form inside of the door. In wet weather, muddy water collects there. I do end up washing this area inside of the doors with each car wash; although the part is painted, the metal is rough, leading to a poorly-finished feel/impression.
With the first winter season behind us, in early April I pulled off the winter wheels shod with Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 tires, which proved unstoppable during Seattle’s week of winter in February, when schools were closed and our town’s one snowplow struggled to clear the two main thoroughfares through town. While they are a very capable and confidence-inspiring winter tire, it was nice to get back to the stock 20” Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season rubber, which offers better grip on dry pavement for better roadholding and steering.
One of the things that attracted our family to the Flex was its unique appearance. Although the updated 2013 Flex has recently gone on sale, our 2011 Kona Blue Metallic Flex Limited with Ingot Silver roof still has a very distinctive appearance, and we get strangers asking commenting on the “cool” or “beautiful” car on a regular basis, as well as getting nods of approval and thumbs-up from other Flex drivers. That said, when we tell people it is Ford Flex, too often they ask “Oh, does that mean it runs on Flex Fuel?” Ironically, while Ford does make Flex Fuel vehicles, the Flex is not one of them.
Other than lackluster fuel economy, we have no big complaints about the Flex after nine months of ownership. It continues to be comfortable, reliable, and easy to live with. In our next update, watch for feedback on whatever bike carrier we choose, the service campaign, first oil change, and SYNC update. Before then, you can leave comments or ask any questions in the Comments section below, by tweeting to @autosavantkrm, or emailing me at [email protected]