New York is the third or fourth most important U.S. auto show, behind Detroit, L.A., and perhaps Chicago. I didn’t give much thought to attending it. And for the most part I didn’t miss much. Most of the intros have been underwhelming, so much so that the comments over at Autoblog have been light.
And then there’s the Ford Flex, a large crossover that will be introduced as a 2009 model in the summer of 2008. I missed this blog entry yesterday, and by the time I got to it there were already 97 comments and 112 diggs.
The revised Subaru Tribeca: 22 comments (generally negative) and zero diggs.
So much buzz around a family wagon? Ford might just make it after all.
The more I look at the photos (click to open a new window with Autoblog’s gallery), the more I like the Ford Flex. My expectations were low, because the view from the front is essentially a Scion xB writ large, and the xB has never excited me. But the rear view, much like that of a chopped Range Rover, is better. Are the grooves in the doors and the white roof (like on a MINI or FJ Cruiser) a bit much? Perhaps, but the white roof is optional. And, like it or not, the Flex is clearly much different than anything else in the large crossover segment. It will be noticed, and the radically young exterior vibe might be just what many people need to get them into a family hauler. Especially now that the SUV craze is tapering off.
Inside, the Flex has the same seating concept I love about the Freestyle (Taurus X for 2008). Every seat save the driver’s folds to yield a low, flat floor. You’ll find a higher floor that angles upward in just about every competing vehicle.
The seats themselves look as if they were taken from a Volvo (or Nissan’s Quest minivan), and thus could be the most comfortable in the segment. This area is a weakness in many competitors, or at least rarely a strength. The second row seats appear to be high off the floor, as in the Freestyle, for great thigh support–also a rarity in this segment. Third row room is harder to judge from the photos, but the specifications suggest it’ll have the most total legroom in the segment: with 40.8 inches in the first row, a whopping 44.3 inches in the second row (which likely slides fore-aft), and 33.4 inches in the third row.
The Freestyle has been hurt by overly utilitarian interior styling. The Flex fixes this much like it overcomes the Freestyle’s exterior issues: with style to spare. The burl wood trim looks great, especially with the dark interior, even if it’s fake. I wish I’d been in New York to get a firsthand impression of materials; this could be a shortcoming.
As a final sign that Ford tried to think of everything with the new Flex, we have a roof that combines four sunroofs (three of them fixed), overhead A/C vents for both rear rows, and an entertainment system.
Only one obvious weakness: the name is awful. All comments on it have been negative. Fairlane was the name on the concept. And people liked it. Bit Fairlane might have been too old and plain. A suggestion over at BlueOvalForums.com worked well for me: Galaxy, or perhaps Galaxie (Ford uses the former in Europe now, and used the latter in the U.S. back in the 1960s). No matter, this die is cast, and Flex it is.
Name notwithstanding, the 2009 Ford Flex is the clear winner of the New York show. It combines style and function in a way that could well reinvent the large crossover segment. After a lot of talk about “Bold Moves,” Ford finally actually makes one.
The last time we saw a vehicle like this out of Ford, the year was 1985 and the vehicle was the first Taurus. The Taurus combined fresh styling unlike any other car in the segment with the best ideas from dozens of different vehicles. The Flex does the same.
Now all Ford needs is a dozen more new models with this much thought and attention to detail, and they could just pull through. Sadly, Ford has had a tendency to follow winners with more losers. And they can no longer afford to do this.