From the Desk of Mike (The Hammer) Garvin

People want something different a
gamble that Ford hopes will pay off

New York - The 2009 Ford Flex was designed for drivers who want something different, something unique. That's how Richard Gresens describes the type of customers targeted by this all-new crossover, which was introduced to the Canadian auto press earlier this week in the Big Apple.

With the all-new Flex, Ford is banking on a radically bold design to attract customers.

As the Ford Flex Chief Designer, Mr. Gresens headed the design process of the most eccentric and unorthodox vehicle produced by the automaker since the 1986 Taurus. "It is the purest interpretation of a box on the road, he says. Its boxy design is controversial because it is different. And it had to be. We (Ford) needed to stand out with this vehicle, and we do. Flex sets a bold statement as did the original Taurus. It may set a trend for future vehicles."

There's arguably nothing like the Flex on the road right now. The low, angular body with ultra-short overhangs and wide tracks is extremely eye-catching. At a toll bridge, a police officer asked us to move toward him, not because he wanted to give us a ticket or something like that, but simply because he was curious to find out what vehicle we were driving exactly! Clearly, the Flex leaves no one indifferent.

The "floating roof" is also a big contributor to the vehicle's uniqueness (even though the idea was largely borrowed from MINI). Buyers will be able to customize their Flex by ordering a white- or silver-painted roof panel instead of the standard body-colored top. With the black pillars, this optional two-tone treatment ($500) gives the impression that the roof is floating over the rest of the vehicle. The latter therefore appears lower that it actually is. What a clever way to set it apart from traditional minivans, like the old Freestar which Ford discontinued in 2006 with the intent of adding a crossover like the Flex as a sort of replacement.

Family ties with the Taurus X
Under this original bodywork, the Flex hides a few familiar components. In fact, it shares its architecture and powertrain with the new Taurus X. The ultra-rigid platform, by the way, is an evolution from the Volvo XC90's. As a front-wheel drive vehicle, the Flex is motivated by a 3.5L DOHC V6 engine producing 262 horsepower through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Please note, however, that a Haldex-based all-wheel drive system is optionally available.

Le Flex partage le V6 de 3,5 litres de la Taurus X.
Beyond their utterly different styling, the Flex and Taurus X are quite similar in terms of size. The former is only 3.7-cm longer, 2.5-cm wider and 1.4 cm-taller. Meanwhile, the wheelbase has been extended by 12.6 centimeters to benefit second-row passengers. "Flex gives first-class seating in both the first and second row of seats, which is rather uncommon," claims Richard Gresens, who did not hesitate to sit behind us during our road test despite standing 6'3''.

Despite his 6'3'', Ford Flex Chief Designer Richard Gresens found plenty of legroom in the second row.

Unique features
Offering possibly the ultimate in automotive entertainment, the Flex further stands out with its many unique features, such as the available Vista Roof including a power moonroof over the front row and three fixed glass openings with manual sunshades in the back. Vista literally floods the interior with sunlight.

The Flex can also be equipped with a 390-watt Sony audio system, a voice-activated navigation system, Ford's much-publicized SYNC communications and infotainment technology (powered by Microsoft) and a cooled beverage compartment between the two second-row captain's chairs. In fact, "Flex is the only vehicle on the market available with a fridge and a SYNC," adds a smiling Richard Gresens.

Exclusive to Ford
According to him, this crossover will remain exclusive to the blue-oval brand, meaning there likely won't be any spin-off -- much like the Lincoln MKX is a more luxurious Ford Edge. "A Lincoln version of the Flex? Right now, that's a no. It is an iconic shape and an iconic vehicle for Ford. We like to think that it cannot transfer to another brand," he says.

In Canada, Ford will offer two trim levels: the entry-level SEL and the high-end Limited. The base MSRP is set at $34,999. As mentioned earlier, both models will be available with AWD for a $6,000 premium.

Production of the Flex is currently taking place at Ford's Oakville assembly plant, in Ontario, with the first deliveries scheduled to arrive this summer.

The layout of the dashboard is exclusive to the Ford Flex.
Photos: Luc Gagné