Flex, FX35 and Evoque
By: Dottie Tiejun Li
2013 FORD FLEX-LIMITED AWD
I walked slowly around the newly-arrived 2013 Ford Flex which sat quietly in our driveway. Actually, it did not just sit there. A rich ruby red in color, it seemed to dominate the driveway, big and square and imposing. “Definitely a workhorse,” I thought, “not a show horse.” But after a few days of driving the 7-passenger crossover, I realized this Clydesdale must have at least a little stallion somewhere in its lineage.
The Flex model I drove is the 6-speed Selectshift automatic, with its 3.5 L, V-6 engine. Ford boasts that the power plant for 2013 features upgraded technology, which they claim boosts horsepower by 20-percent over previous models and delivers enhanced fuel economy. Twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) is designed, they say, to enhance overall performance. As soon I moved out of the driveway, I felt the V-6 delivering smooth and surprisingly responsive acceleration, especially noticeable in the low range. I wasn’t sold yet, but I was impressed.
Sometimes it just takes longer to like something that’s supposed to good for you, especially if it doesn’t fit your usual concept of beauty. But as I began to enjoy driving the Flex, I also started to appreciate the look of its clean lines. Rather than merely plain, it began to seem down-to-earth and solid. Ford describes it as bold. I wouldn’t go that far, but the overall impression is one of contemporary, upscale strength. Ford has given the Flex a new front end they describe as “sculpted,” and which is somewhat sleeker than earlier models. That helps reduce the boxiness.
Of course, the big selling point for the vehicle is its interior space, all that room for people or cargo. This is a full-size family vehicle with either three-rows of seating or 83 cubic feet for hauling stuff around when the rear seats are folded flat. If you’re driving with passengers, you’ve got generous middle-row seating, plenty of head and legroom, and multi-position adjustable seats which are quite comfortable. In fact, Ford seems to have made a special effort with the plush interior design, at least with the model I drove. The leather-trimmed seats were soft and inviting, complementing a carefully blended mix of color-coordinated materials and carpeting throughout.
Any sense that the crossover you’re driving is closely related to a utilitarian van or mini-bus is quickly dispelled by the luxury touches, which also include doors large enough to make getting in and out easy for all three rows. The height of the seats is low enough that you don’t have that feeling of having to climb into the vehicle. The high-tech, easy-to-figure-out instrument panel includes SYNC® with MyFord (SE) and MyFord Touch (SEL and Limited) for accessing communications, entertainment and operating systems. Active park assist, available on Flex Limited, helps with parallel parking, and a rear view camera is an option with SEL and standard on Limited.
My seven-year-old son was especially entranced by the Multi-Panel Vista Roof (a $1,600 option) which allowed him to enjoy four skylights covering all three rows. There’s a power moonroof over the first, row, two openings over the second row, and a single skylight way in back over the third row, where Shane liked to hang out, far away from Mom. Of course, that meant he couldn’t reach his other favorite feature, the refrigerated storage bin in the rear of the center console.
Does the Flex get its name from the muscle up front, or from the flexible rear, which converts quite effortlessly from seating to cargo space? Either way works. My husband and I had to pick up and transport home some furniture, and we found the wide power liftgate helpful while loading it into the cargo area. The transformation from passenger space to a cargo hold, and back again, was simple and quick.
Our Flex came equipped with the optional Equipment Group 301A, which includes the Power Fold 3rd Row Seat which allows you to flip and fold the seat by button touch. There are several seating/cargo configurations which can be arranged. One of these is a tailgate feature, where you can turn the third-row seat around for use at a picnic or tailgating event. Equipment Group 301A also has a cruise control with a collision warning feature. In fact, there’s a long list of luxury features here which pushed the MSRP of our model to almost $47,000 from a base price of $41,180.
The ride is comfortable with enough power to allow this 6,000 pound vehicle to manage highway passing with relative ease. Cornering is stable and tight, and I appreciated the Blind Spot Info System while driving in traffic. EPA fuel economy is listed at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. That’s not stellar performance, but this is a plus-sized machine designed for practical service as well as passenger comfort. So I’d say Ford has managed an adequate balance between form and function with this model Flex.
2013 Ford Flex-Limited AWD; 7-passengers; 3.5L TIVCT V-6 Engine; 6-speed SelectShift Auto TR; Power ratings: 287 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque; MSRP $30,000 to $41,000 for base models; EPA Fuel Economy Estimates: 17 mpg city & 23 mpg highway
2012 INFINITI FX35 AWD (Limited Edition)
The Infiniti FX35 (Limited Edition) couldn’t seem more different from the Flex at first sight. This is a crossover which revels in sporty styling. My model was an eye-catching iridium blue and the first thing I saw (and admired) was how it it’s profile leans aggressively into the road like a sports sedan, with no boxy corners or panels in sight. The elegant lines of earlier model years remain, but the 2012 seems racier, designed for maximum style.
OK, nice eye candy. But it’s supposed to be a crossover, so I was eager to discover if it delivers function as well as form. Moving down the road for my first excursion, I kept thinking that this seems more like a sports sedan than a crossover. Settling into the leather-appointed seat (with ten-way power adjustment), I felt positively swaddled in comfortable security. Black lacquer trim highlights the graphite gray interior, suggesting upscale design, while the 303-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers upscale performance. Aiding the acceleration is some very smooth shifting provided by the 7-speed automatic transmission. The steering, while tight enough, doesn’t seem quite up to the engine performance, but then, this is, after all, a 4-wheel drive vehicle and not a sports car.
It’s just that it looks and often feels like one. After handling the FX35 in a variety of conditions for a few days, I can say driving the FX35 is fun. However, with the MSRP of $52,500, there are a few drawbacks which keep the model from achieving its highest crossover potential. Yes, it’s great-looking, there’s plenty of luxury inside, and it delivers powerful performance.
But the FX35 (Limited Edition) does fall short in the basic function of the breed regarding passenger and cargo space. There’s plenty of room up front but rear seating is more cramped than I'd like. It’s the same thing with the cargo space, which seems to have been sacrificed for those exterior curves and the elevated cargo area floor. There’s room for five passengers and 62 square feet of cargo space, making the FX35 considerably smaller than the Flex. If I’m going to pay over 52-grand for a car, it has to fully meet all my expectations. And I just want more space in the back if I’m going to give up some of the handling and looks of a true sports sedan. Sure, that’s purely subjective on my part, and you may find the rear area perfectly adequate for your needs.
In that case, there’s no reason not to go for this attractive and stylish high-performance vehicle. This is Infiniti, so you can pack the car with a variety of packages, depending on how big your wallet is. There’s a long list of high-tech features including lane-departure warning and prevention systems, adaptive headlights, navigation, active cruise control, collision warning, brake assist, and the Around View Monitor. Infiniti’s Personal Assistant, a phone-based 24-hour concierge service, is standard on the FX35. Anti-lock brakes are standard, there’s traction control and stability control and a variety of airbags. The 300 watt, 11-speaker audio system offers rich, dynamic sound.
SPECS:2012 Infiniti FX35 AWD; 5-passengers; 3.5L V-6 Engine; 7-speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Control; Power ratings: 303 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque; MSRP $52,445.00EPA Fuel Economy Estimates: 16 mpg city & 21 mpg highway
2012 Range Rover Evoque 5-Door
The previous two vehicles may have more appeal to suburbanites than city dwellers because of their size, so we thought it might be helpful to check out some wheels that space-deprived city folks might find more suitable for their lifestyle. Land Rover might not be the first name which comes to mind when you’re thinking of a car for urban living, but they’ve been refining their sport utility line for a few years now, trying to find something which combines compact size and style with the rough-driving capability for which the brand is famous. The Evoque 5-Door is the result of all that work.
I was excited to see the Evoque sitting in the same spot where the two larger vehicles had so recently squatted. I was immediately taken by the compact good looks. When I think Land Rover, I think big. I think truck-like. I think brute force, which is not what I was seeing here. Evoque’s body is shorter and lower, and seems wider, than many of this past year’s crop of SUVs. It’s much lighter and certainly smaller than what we have become familiar with in the Land Rover family.
My 5-door model, boasting the top-of-the-line Prestige package of options, was a luxurious indus silver. I have no idea what indus is, but the overall effect is a burnished, sophisticated shading. The roof slopes jauntily toward the rear which makes it seem as if it’s ready to pounce, suggesting power coiled up and about to explode. The rake of the windshield defies you to drive sedately. Set off by well-defined arches, the wheels (19 inch diamond turned aluminum alloy) are large relative to the body size. And all of that promised some fun ahead whenever I could get off the pavement and onto something a bit rougher.
Once behind the wheel, I let my eyes take in the brushed aluminum and understated real wood accents, the large touchscreen interface, the soft leather which covers seats, dash and much of the cabin. “It’s smaller in here than I expected,” I thought, “and a lot more comfortable.” The center console borrows the “floating” design of Land Rover’s sister brand, the Jaguar, with a rotary gear selector which I have to admit I did not like at first glance. “That will take some getting used to,” I mused. I also was bothered by the small rear window and its limited visibility, which would probably be a deal-breaker for me. I am a stickler for seeing out through the back and not trusting so completely on the back-up camera or even this model’s surround camera system.
While all the electronic warning systems are quite helpful, I still like to be able to see around and behind the car for myself, too.
The rear seating is smallish but still comfortable, the ambiance enhanced by a panoramic sunroof which adds to the feeling of spaciousness. But while headroom is adequate, there’s not really any extra room back there and while Land Rover says there’s room for five passengers, I think you’ll find four is a more reasonable number of people to travel in comfort. As far as cargo is concerned, you’ll find 20 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 51 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down and flat. So there is some utility here, even if it’s limited.
Now let’s check out the sport quotient and see if it lives up to its Range Rover lineage of rough, tough dirt eaters.“Oh wait, it’s only four cylinders,” I remembered as I eased out of the driveway and nosed the Evoque down the road. “How tough can this Land Rover be?” Well, with a 2.0L, 240 HP engine (250 lb torque with Aluminum Turbocharged High Direct Fuel Injection with Twin Variable Valve Timing) and a 6-speed automatic transmission, it is a perky ride on city streets. That perkiness is enhanced by agile handling, aided by an expensive option on this model called MagneRide. It instantaneously adapts the suspension damping to changing road conditions with a system of shock absorbers, and Evoque holds the road well. The turbocharger certainly ramps up the 4-cylinder output. The 6-speed automatic transmission is outfitted with paddle shifters for sportier drivers who seek more direct control. On the highway, though, there is some uneven acceleration which is slightly distracting. There is also a bit of understeering, and while it’s not enough to be an issue for me, dedicated performance enthusiasts may find it annoying.
Now Land Rover knows that most urban and suburban buyers of this vehicle will spend almost most of their time behind the wheel driving on tame pavement. They have larger, tougher vehicles to sell to those who really want feats of handling and endurance. And that’s probably why there doesn’t seem to be enough ground clearance on the Evoque for it to be used in especially rocky conditions. “So that’s out,” I thought.
The Terrain Response System promises to get you through snow, mud and sand. But it was summer and there was a drought on, so there was neither snow nor mud to wallow in. That left sand. There’s plenty of sand. There’s a full range of off-road performance and safety features, and sport and manual shift modes for plowing over hill and dale. But since I was expected to return the car in one piece, more or less, it seemed best to avoid experimenting with them, or with the Hill Descent Control, a braking cruise control system that’s supposed to get you down steep inclines. So, sandy roads, some gravelly hills, maybe a few rutted lanes or a very shallow stream or two, maybe some grassy, uneven fields would have to be it. But that’s probably as much most of its urban-oriented drivers would ever do anyway, so that’s where I left it.
Under these mild off-road conditions, the Evoque did rather well. Traction never faltered and while the ride was a bit bumpier and choppier than I expected with all the expensive performance upgrades, the SUV handled impressively. I never mastered all of the off-road modes for adjusting Evoque’s performance for a wide variety of difficult conditions, but I was able to see that there is enough versatility here to achieve stability while also having some fun in the mildly uneven and coarse conditions to which I exposed it. And by the way, I did get used to the rotary gear shift. I even began to like it after a few days.
The price tag is hefty, with my model priced at $57,000, a figure perhaps in line with a vehicle rated as Motor Trend’s 2012 Sport/Utility of the Year. But the mileage is not bad (28 mpg highway) and the SUV radiates luxury and style. It’s small enough (and easy to park) for city living, while allowing the docile driver to fantasize about getting wild on the weekend and heading out to the untamed wildness we think lies somewhere outside the Beltway. That alone may be worth a lot, I guess.
SPECS: 2012 Range Rover Evoque 5-Door AWD; 4-passengers; 2.0l V-4 Engine; 6-speed Automatic Transmission with Paddleshifters; Power ratings: 250 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque; MSRP Base Price: $41,145.00; reviewed Model: $56,595.00; EPA Fuel Economy Estimates: 18 mpg city & 28 mpg highway