2013 Ford Flex and 2013 Ford Taurus Review:
They call it a freshening. But in the automobile business, it amounts to a whole lot more than plumping a pillow.
It’s what the car companies do to keep their vehicles current when they’re close to halfway through a life cycle, which usually is somewhere around four or five years.
In backyard mechanic terms, it would be impossible, involving sheet metal changes, new tooling, engineering and design enhancements, and creative ways to convince the public that they’re looking at something entirely new. But despite the incredible expertise involved, it’s nothing like developing an all-new car, truck or utility crossover.
American car buyers are a fickle lot. They get excited about anything that’s new, whether it’s a sport utility vehicle or an impressive singer on The Voice or American Idol. Yet no matter how a given model captures the imagination and attention of the buying public, there’s always the next season and the Excitement du Jour becomes stale after a few years, even months.
That’s where freshening comes in, and that’s what is happening with some of the cars from the Ford Motor Co.
It’s not that Ford doesn’t have some nifty new products to titillate the populace. An all-new compact crossover utility vehicle, the Escape, is waiting in the wings, as is a new Fusion mid-size sedan, which captured the hearts and minds of whole bunches of critics at the North American International Automobile Show in Detroit last January.
Meanwhile, Ford is doing its level best to juice a shot of adrenaline into some existing cars: the Mustang, Flex and Taurus. It’s a fairly easy task with the Mustang, which has built-in street cred and a variety of heart-pumping models like the Boss 302.
But the Taurus and Flex occupy a different slot in the spectrum. They are Ford’s fundamental family conveyances—the Taurus as a large, five-passenger family car and the Flex as the modern incarnation of the famed and much-loved Country Squire station wagon of the 1960s, which was elbowed (fendered?) aside by minivans in the mid-1980s.
The Flex presents its same as before boxy profile, which is not a bad thing when you consider that it surrounds a crossover-type vehicle that can nearly rival a minivan for interior space. It checks in with one of the roomiest second-row seating arrangements anywhere, with a total of 156 cubic feet of space for passengers.
Even with that, there’s 20 cubic feet of cargo area behind the third row. Of course, if you need to haul gobs of stuff, you can simply flip the third row seats down and more than double the space to 43 cubic feet while still having room for five people. And if you have to move the occasional refrigerator or something similar, fold both rows and have 83 cubic feet available.
To the untrained eye, the 2012 Flex doesn’t look much different than its predecessor, which reminded some of a giant Mini Cooper, right to the availability of a roof painted a different color than the body.
But it has fresh enhancements, including a new front end and wheel choices, along with the latest version of Ford’s My Touch entertainment and communications system, as well as adaptive cruise control with partial braking and collision warning, blind-spot warning and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
The Flex is available with standard front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a carryover power train that uses a 287-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Given its billboard profile, the fuel consumption is respectable: a city/highway rating for the all-wheel drive model of 17/23 miles to the gallon; 18/25 for the front driver.
Obviously, this is no sports sedan. Handling, while capable, trends a bit toward the ponderous. The test Flex had the all-wheel drive, which maintained composure through road conditions that changed hourly from dry to snow and icy slush. It would be the model of choice for northern climates.
The 2013 Taurus comes closer to looking like an all-new car, with a fresh face that includes a black mesh grille on the high-performance SHO model. There’s also a new economy-oriented turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that delivers 240 horsepower from just two liters of displacement. It delivers 22/31 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle.
The tested Taurus SEL—the mid-level version—had the 288-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine with all-wheel drive and Ford’s six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. It has a city/highway fuel economy rating of 18/26 miles to the gallon. Front-wheel drive is standard and has a better 19/29 rating.
As with the Flex, the all-wheel drive on the Taurus was seamless in operation and provided confident handling in a variety of changing weather conditions. It should be the choice for anyone who lives in similar circumstances or who pops off to a ski hill for a weekend.
Big cars are no longer the sales leaders for manufacturers. Ford sold 63,526 copies of the Taurus in 2011, compared to 248,067 for its mid-sized Fusion. But the freshened 2013 Taurus should plump the sales pillow.
- Model: 2013 Ford Taurus SEL AWD four-door sedan.
- Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 288 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
- Overall length: 16 feet 11 inches.
- EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/20 cubic feet.
- Weight: 4,224 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 18/26 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $31,445.
- Price as tested: $35,635.
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