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An Auto Industry Insider’s View…From A Woman’s Perspective

Archive for November, 2008

FLEX’n through Chicago (…and a synopsis of my Flex experience thus far)

Posted by carsdiva on November 10, 2008

At a first glance… when I initially saw the Ford Flex crossover back in the winter (2008), I was a bit awestruck. I didn’t FLEXn with the Divaparticularly love the design, but I was more or less intrigued and wanted to find out what it was and which manufacturer was responsible for such a bold and daring design. The external appearance of the Flex grew on me the more I was exposed to the vehicle and had the opportunity to see the different color combinations, and customization options- from my visit to Ford headquarters in Detroit, to several dealerships thereafter, to actually being behind the wheel.

So just to bring you all up to speed if you haven’t read about my previous experiences/events regarding the Flex- I paid a visit to Detroit where I met with some of the key designers, marketing/communications and product specialist individuals, (i.e. Flex experts), where I learned everything there is to know about the Flex, and had the opportunity to get my own personal walk-around tour of the vehicle. The passion and enthusiasm for the Flex that was expressed by this dynamic group reverberated through the trip and lingered with me even after I left Detroit.

Flex Launch event at Holman Ford in Mt. Laurel, NJ

Flex Launch event at Holman Ford in Mt. Laurel, NJ

Following Ford headquarters, I ventured to the retail level, when I visited several Ford dealerships (and was warmly welcomed) for their consumer-focused Flex launch events. The parties themselves were fun, but it was most interesting to gauge the consumers’ reactions to the vehicle, see first-hand who it appealed (or didn’t appeal) to, and finally to listen to their feedback. Overall, I’ve gotta say, the general consensus was positive, met with the surprise that the Flex was produced by Ford. (I think this reaction reflects that they’re stepping up again and raising the bar in the overall quality of their products.)

Flex’n through Chicago

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take an “extended test-drive” of the 2009 Ford Flex (limited model of course), and what a great experience it was! Even though I’ve driven the Flex before, it continues to impress me. I felt more or less, like I was in a luxury vehicle, between the leather seats, the Next Generation Navigation System, SIRIUS satellite radio, and the unexpectedly smooth and quiet ride. And of course, as soon as I stepped into the Flex, I synced my phone with Ford SYNC, and “safely conversed” as I was driving. (It’s hands-free so I avoided any hassle from the Chicago PD and a costly ticket—for all they knew I was talking out-loud to myself….)

Given the monstrosity of bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour in Chicago, I was excited to use the

This is the 2009 Ford Flex Limited I drove through Chicago.

This is the 2009 Ford Flex Limited I drove through Chicago.

Next Generation Navigation system. No, I didn’t need a map to find my house, however, the system (using TravelLink– $6.99/mo with SIRIUS satellite subscription) gives you up-to-date information on traffic-including all incidents, be it construction or accidents. Sooo when the alert appears on the screen, you have the option to “avoid the incident” and the nav system will redirect you to another route. Fabulous, no? On the first day alone, I cut 25 minutes out of my travel time by using the system- it was great! While I was driving, I was bumping to the tunes of the Sony premium audio system, as I flip-flopped from hip-hop to oldies to Latin beats, kept up-to-date with my sports scores, and even learned something new about my thyroid on “Doctor Radio,” (and I’ll admit, I did check out the “Playboy Radio” station for a few minutes, but you can use your own imagination to figure out what they discussed on that one…)

2009 Ford Flex Limited

2009 Ford Flex Limited

Being that the Flex seats 6-7 people, it’s definitely a “people mover” so I was able to chauffer various groups so they could really experience the luxurious ride that the vehicle provides. (And the taller people had no problem sitting in the second row- very comfortably I may add with their own footrests, as the Flex was rated best in class for 2nd row limousine-like leg room.) When the Flex wasn’t fully occupied by passengers, I put the 2nd and 3rd row seats down which gave me 10 feet of space to transport everything from suitcases to a grill to shopping bags, so in essence, it’s very versatile, whatever your needs may be. And get this- the 2nd row console houses a refrigerator/freezer! I don’t know about you but I always keep at least a water bottle with me when I drive. In the Flex I was able to keep several in the fridge, all of which kept ice cold as I plodded through traffic, until I reached my destination.

It’s all about the Details….

Many of you are aware that parking in Chicago is a bear, (no pun intended) but I’m lucky enough to have a [very narrow/confined] indoor structure to park my car. Reversing out of my spot is not a problem with my little RX-8, but I was initially a bit nervous with the Flex as it’s quite a bit longer and I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to see out of the back window. To my delight there’s a sensor system on the vehicle that not only beeps as you reverse, but also includes a camera, so you can see what’s behind you on the LCD touch screen as you’re reversing! Not to worry, I backed out with ease, sans any dents or scratches.

And finally the issue of gas… although prices have dropped as of recently, it’s still a concern for most of us, including me. Given the size of the vehicle, I thought I’d end up spending a more on gas than usual, but that wasn’t the case. For the AWD Limited Flex that I drove, which gets 22mpg on the highway 16mpg in the city, (FWD model get 24mpg hwy/17mpg city), I was delighted at the reasonable cost to fill the tank with unleaded gas, and I didn’t have to hassle with a gas cap because it’s capless! And given that I could also check all nearby gas stations for the lowest prices through SIRIUS TravelLink, my wallet stayed relatively full- well, at least at the gas station.

Who’s Flex’n?

Target demographic… Ford says it’s a psychographic not a demographic market they’re reaching with the Flex. That may be the case, and I agree that it is for the person that wants to stand out from the crowd as it’s anything but traditional. However, from my experiences thus far, I found that there’s definitely a

CarsDiva, Demetra Markopoulos, in front of the 2009 Ford Flex Limited in Chicago.

FLEXn through Chicago: CarsDiva, Demetra Markopoulos, in front of the 2009 Ford Flex Limited in Chicago.

demographic that this crossover appeals to…

Overall, whether I was driving, parked, or stopped at a traffic light (yes indeed, I even had a guy on his bicycle ride up to ask about the Flex), I continually received the “thumbs up” sign …people were intrigued. The few that saw the Flex, were somewhat interested, and then took a ride, were impressed. So my conclusion is that you have to get the skeptics in the car to win them over.

As much as I love my little race car (Mazda RX-8), I have to admit, I was a bit saddened to return the Flex. It’s definitely a “pimp-my-ride” kind of car.  In fact, I know exactly how I’d customize my own if given the opportunity… “The Diva Flex.”   

Hmmm… I kind of like the ring of that…

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