Ford calls it a Flex, but we call it a throwback – a throwback to the era of wood-slabbed station wagons that once dominated suburbia. Though it's no lumbering Country Squire, the Flex's slab sides, flat roof, and severe angularity better recall that old dame than any modern crossover. Despite being a bit stale – after all, this marks the 10th year of the never-overhauled model – the 2019 Ford Flex still has appeal as a quirky, affordable, and slightly obscure alternative to traditional crossovers. If you miss full-bodied American estate wagons, you'll want to try the Flex on for size.

Best Value

A base Flex starts at a bit over 30 grand, but it's a rather spartan affair – the basic infotainment system, cheap-looking trim, manually climate control, etc. A much better option for most buyers will be the mid-grade SEL, which is one step up from the base SE and merely costs another $2,715. This additional cash nets you 10-way power-adjustable seats, dual-zone climate control, Sync 3 infotainment, SiriusXM radio, and push-button start, among other things, making it well worth the premium. Here's our Flex as we'd option it out:

  • Model: 2019 Ford Flex SEL
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Output: 287 hp / 254 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain:Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 16 City / 23 Hwy
  • Options: Class III Trailer Tow Package ($570, engine oil cooler, trailer sway control, Class III receiver hitch, 7-/4-pin connector with wiring harness), Second-Row Bucket Seats With Pass-Through ($695)
  • Base Price: $34,285 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $35,550

Performance

Ford Flex

If you're sticking with the base engine, don't expect this pseudo-wagon Flex to be a speed demon. This no-cost engine is a 3.5-liter V6 bereft of any forced induction that makes 287 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. At first blush, this sounds impressive, until you factor in the rather startling fact that this people-mover weighs a hefty 4,500 pounds. While tooling around in the front-drive, 3.5-liter Flex, you're constantly aware of all that mass; it almost feels like there's a few sandbags hiding somewhere in the trunk. Considering the heft that the engine is constantly struggling with, it's not surprising that the EPA-estimated fuel economy of 16 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway, and 19 combined is more akin to a V8 SUV than a six-cylinder crossover. The available all-wheel drive drops things to a more abysmal 16/22/18 mpg (city/highway/combined).

It's a rosier story when it comes to the available twin-turbocharged 3.5 V6. Dubbed EcoBoost by Ford's marketing folks, this powerplant pumps out an impressive 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. It's enough chutzpah to overcome the Flex's porkiness, and makes highway passing and off-the-line acceleration effortless. With this engine, all-wheel drive is mandatory and fuel economy falls to 15/21/17 mpg.

With a low center of gravity compared to most crossovers, the Flex also handles better than it might seem. There's no Country Squire wallow here; it handles corners with a sure-footedness that belies its boxy aesthetic. When equipped with the EcoBoost engine, the Flex could even be described as a little fun to hustle, though it's certainly no Mustang. When you're not flogging the Flex through the twisties, it offers a composed and comfortable ride, with that lengthy 118-inch wheelbase smoothing out most pavement imperfections.

Style

When the Flex hit showroom floors in 2009, Ford still owned Volvo, which makes us wonder if any Swedish designers still employed from the 240 era had a part in making the Flex so unflexibly linear. Every line seems to hark back to when station wagons were on their last hurrah and square was hip – in other words, the 1980s. Even just a quick glance at the thing affirms this: the hood is big and flat, the sides are proudly slab, and the roof has not a trace of rearward slope. If the Griswolds were going on a road trip in 2019, they'd probably be doing it in a pea-green, wood-paneled Flex (Hey Ford: if you're reading this, we'd love to see a wood-grain option for the Flex. Seriously.).

Even if all the squareness isn't your thing, it can't be denied that the straightedge shape makes for a practical carryall. Cargo space behind the second row is 43 cubic feet, a number that grows to about 80 cubes when the second row is dropped. The 118-inch wheelbase also means people have plenty of stretch-out room – 42.6 inches of leg room in the front row, 44 inches in the second row, and 33 in the third. Unless you're trying to shove some power forwards in the third row, no one should be complaining for a lack of stretch-out space.

As for the interior, it's a pleasant place to be. The design might not be the most modern cockpit out there, but it's a pleasingly simple, uncluttered layout and crafted out of nicer materials than most other Fords. The base and SEL models get comfortable and durable cloth upholstery, while top-end Limited trims get plush thrones done up in perforated leather. Though the base SE has an attractive starting price, its place at the bottom of the lineup means it most glaringly highlights the car's age – the dinky trim, cheapskate infotainment unit, and manual climate control and passenger seat all give an old rental-car vibe. The SEL and Limited do a much better job of decorating the interior and giving drivers modern creature comforts.

Another thing customers are starting to demand are active safety features. On that front, the Flex is disappointing. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the SEL and standard on the Limited, but other important features like automatic emergency braking aren't available at any price. Also playing hooky from the options sheet are lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and automatic high-beams. The lack of safety features is a rather alarming oversight, one we hope is addressed soon if Ford decides to let the Flex soldier on.

The Best and Worst Things

The distinct style and comfy, roomy interior keep the Flex relevant even as it continues to age.

The lack of modern safety features is a glaring omission, fuel mileage is on par with a 10-year-old Expedition, and the base engine is weak-chested.

Right For? Wrong For?

Ford Flex

Families who don't want to settle for a ho-hum minivan or ubiquitous crossover will find solace in the roomy, stylish, seven- or eight-seat Flex. If you're looking to haul the family around in something thrifty, though, the Flex isn't the right choice – it simply drinks down too much gas.

The Bottom Line

Ten years is a long time to be building a car without a refresh. In fact, it's a veritable eternity in this business. As such, there's notable and important shortcomings with the Flex. Gas mileage is relatively awful, the modern active safety features are mostly missing or only available on the priciest models, and the general design is no longer fresh. That said, the 2019 Ford Flex is still a good car, and, perhaps most importantly, offers something a lot of modern family trucksters don't seem to have anymore: character. It doesn't try to blend in with the crowd, and that should be applauded. The Flex remains proudly boxy and unabashedly unique, and still has enough life left in it to please individualistic buyers who need a family-hauler.