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December 2, 2010

2011 Ford Flex Titanium

"If you took an SUV and mated it with a station wagon you would get the Ford Flex." That is how my husband described the 2011 Ford Flex Titanium that I reviewed last week. It is quite true too. Warren Brown, from the Washington Post, said this about the Flex, "Wagons have always done that work, as have wagon surrogates -- minivans and sport-utility vehicles. We know what wagons are, and the Flex is a wagon, one that has the utility and road grace of a Land Rover and the personality and lovability of a Mini Cooper Clubman."

I was fully prepared to dislike the Flex. In the last year I have test-driven the Ford Focus, Mustang, Escape Hybrid, and Explorer (Eddie Bauer Edition). With the exception of the Explorer (Comfortable ride, elegant interior and exterior appearance and smooth steering), I did not enjoy any of these cars. They simply did not impress me. They felt and looked like they were full of plastic. Then came the Flex Titanium and I sneered. "I'm not going to like it. It's not nice-looking." Except, that I did. I didn't just like the Flex Titanium either I loved it. I did not want to give it back and days later, I find myself scouring the internet for deals on them. Everyone who rode in this car with me loved it too.

On the outside, the Flex is distinctive in its look. Some people say it is hip and edgy while others call it unique. It has a sleekness about it and it is available in four colors- Red Candy, White Platinum, Ingot Silver and Tuxedo Black. The 20 inch, 10 spoke wheels are a sporty polished aluminum and an additional two-tone top is available, which my White Platinum model possessed. The beltline moldings, fog lamp bezels and side-view mirror skullcaps are smoked while the liftgate appliqué is black chrome and a broad 'Flex' appears on the grill. It is long in length like a wagon or mini-van and rectangular with grooved side panels. Utilitarian is how best to describe the Flex's exterior but personalization, which we all love, is available on the Flex.

Inside the Flex surprised me. Gone was the cheap, hollow plastic feeling that I had associated with other Ford model cars. Ford has really made every effort to impress and change how the driving public views them. The Flex Titanium is probably their best showcase on this new Ford vision of going beyond Honda, Hyundai and Toyota who had previously cornered the car market. The Flex makes a statement with its exterior and its interior isn't a slouch either.  It consists of two-tone seats, three rows and plenty of cargo space. We dropped the third row for a few days and headed out of town. We filled the back with six duffel bags and two very large boxes and still had room to spare. The second row folds flat and the third row has 50/50 fold flat ability. It was a cinch to climb into the back section, which can dip down for additional space and install the car seats. One note here on car seat installation.  The cinch bars can be hard to reach unless you have small hands.  My husband failed in this area while I could slip my hand between the seats, pry them apart and locate the cinch bar.  Three full-size car seats fit in the Flex's second row and the head and legroom in the second room was quite ample. My four year-old was able to watch a DVD (dual DVD system in the headrests, with remote and two sets of Wi-Fi headphones) despite an infant rear-facing baby carrier being in that spot. That is how tall the front passenger seats are in the Flex. Tall, wide, and my only complaint would be with the headrests on the front passenger seats. They curve outward and that is not too comfortable. Other than that, there is ample head, arm and legroom in this vehicle. In fact, that is what we loved most about the Flex Titanium- the space. There was so much of it all throughout yet I never felt like I was driving a cumbersome minivan or boat of an SUV.

The Ford Flex Titanium is a quiet, smooth ride. I found the doors to be on the heavy side making it hard to open if on a slanted parking spot but it was not a big deal overall. The steering is superb and it takes corners with ease. I was quite impressed with how the wheels gripped even the tightest country road curves. I drove this car in the back woods of Virginia, on Washington's Beltway and all over the suburbs too. While it claims to get 16 mpg for city and 21 for highway it always felt like more (estimated fuel cost is $2,502). Navigation is standard on the Flex Titanium, as is a 12-speaker Sony audio system, and Ford's Sync connectivity interface. And oh that sound system, how I loved it. I cranked it making my neighbors poke their heads out of their doors and thoroughly enjoyed each moment testing that part of the Flex. It was simple to synchronize my iPod to the system as well. The Flex Titanium is one hell of a grocery getter. It can easily serve its purpose as a truck and haul large items while still maintaining the feel of a car when you are behind the wheel.

I came away from the Ford Flex Titanium with a new respect for Ford and its vision. Their future is bright if they can keep up this level of appeal, style, functionality and quality in the Flex and their other car models too.

The Ford Flex Titanium with a 3.5-liter V-6 and front-wheel drive runs about $41,115. The all-wheel-drive Flex Titanium with the 355-horsepower, EcoBoost twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 (my tester), has a base price of $45,185. Total MSRP for my model ended up totaling $49,000 which is no small chunk of change but you get what you pay for I always say.

MPR Rating: Five Stars.

Disclaimer:  MPR was not paid for this post.  Products received are for review purposes only.  Opinions are MPR's own.