About a month ago, I was contacted by Sarah at Ogilvy on behalf of Ford offering up a new Ford Flex for a test drive. She mentioned I could take it on a trip or use it for tooling around town and that it was "more stylish than a minivan." J. and I had already been toying with an Easter trip to visit my brother in Southern Oregon and the Ford Flex would make traveling the 400 miles much more comfortable and would save us from renting a car as we normally do because one of our cars is almost 20 years old and the other is Mini Cooper.
Let me say first, that between J. and I, we've owned three Fords. We are very familiar with the brand and the consumer experience. We both view Ford positively and were impressed that the automaker has yet to take any bailout funds despite hurting as badly as Chrysler and GM. I also wanted to add that I have written about my own confused feelings about the auto bailout for MOMocrats.
I have been following Ford's social media marketing efforts (quite literally) by following their head of social media, Scott Monty, on Twitter. I've also been tapped to participate in several auto-related programs as part of these brands' efforts to reach out to bloggers, moms especially. These programs included a Saturn Vue Hybrid test-drive, an afternoon spent testing Michelin tires on a closed course, and an offer to test-drive the VW Routan minivan which never came to fruition, not sure why.
So back to my review of the Ford Flex. There is one thing I need to get out of the way right off the bat: I am not in love with the exterior styling. I have never been a fan of a boxy profile, and the Flex is very boxy. It's also muscular so without trying to be totally sexist (and failing), I feel like the styling appeals to men more than women. This kind of leaves me a little flummoxed about just who the target audience is.
That aside, there were tons of features on the Ford Flex that makes it very family-friendly especially if the car is being driven by a tech-savvy mom. I say mom very specifically here, because some of the most technologically-experienced and wired-up people I know are moms. And because moms control the household budget, especially for big purchases like cars, it makes sense that Ford would target mom bloggers in this social media program.
Note: all photos of our road trip can be seen on my Flickr. And we'll be uploading some video, too, thanks to the Flip cam sent to us by Ogilvy.
Let's talk about things that moms might like about the Flex or why it has "family appeal" (in no particular order):
- Cupholders. I'm starting to think this feature is more important than HP when purchasing a car. All passengers (our car sat six) had cupholders. The door cupholders for driver, passenger, and second and third row occupants were a nice touch. The cupholders also held our tall stainless steel water bottles without a problem. No tips or spills.
- Seats that adjust every which way (even the rear seats slid forward and back) and a feature that raises and lowers the brake and gas pedals. Great for shorter drivers.
- A GPS thingy. Again, I drive an old Mercedes wagon. Definitely no built-in GPS there (I don't even have subwoofers that work and sometimes the heater sticks on), and the Mini is too small for a GPS add-on. It was my first experience driving a car with GPS in it and it was nice to know where all the ATMs were.
- A hatch-back trunk that raises with a push of a button (well, two pushes) on the key fob. It also has a auto-close but you do actually have to touch the trunk to lower it first.
- Separate climate controls for the rear passengers. Wallie is always hot. She could have cooler air while everyone else had more warmth.
- Cooler in the rear console. (photo above) The perfect place to keep drinks and snacks cold. It had two settings: cold and freeze.
- Easy-to-clean seats. I don't know if they were leather, but it sure looked like it.
Now let's talk about what this gadget-freaky techno-mom loved about the Ford Flex:
- An AC outlet in the rear console. I plugged my laptop into this and also used it to charge both my Flip cam (Flip USB into an adapter) and my Kindle2.
- A USB outlet in the drivers console that I used to power my iPhone and the girls' iPod.
- Sync by Microsoft which allowed us to play songs on my iPhone and let me search by artist or playlist easily.
- Bluetooth. In about a minute we were sending a receiving phone calls, hands-free.
- "Cigarette charger" outlets everywhere, for every passenger.
- The Sony stereo system with thumpin' bass so we could bump the Boom Boom Pow all the way up I-5.
We figured out how to use the Sync and Bluetooth in about a minute without ever consulting a manual. The UI on the touch-screen display was very intuitive.
Other things I liked about the Ford Flex:
- It saves the seat settings for two drivers, and when the car stops, the seat scoots back so you can easily get out.
- It feels like a car, not a truck or SUV.
- The rear-view camera which gives you a view of what's behind and slightly to the side of you.
- It doesn't have a scary blind spot. Having owned a car with a wicked-scary blindspot (a mid-nineties VW Cabrio), it's a concern with any car I drive.
- My husband and I are tall, I'm 5"9" and he is 6'4". We both had plenty of headroom.
- The moonroofs (with shades) over the passenger seats. A luxe touch.
- The third row seats were insanely easy to raise and lower. A diagram on the seat back ensures you'll have no trouble.
- It fit all of crap in it with room to spare.
- The smooth ride. It made me realize just how badly my car needs new shocks.
- Lots of power for passing slow 18-wheelers on I-5.
- All wheel drive (though it needs appropriate tires if you are going to drive in the snow)
What I didn't like about it (not a whole lot compared with what I liked):
- We've already talked about the exterior styling. I'm just not a fan, but it did turn a lot of heads. I did like the two-tone paint job (white roof, black body) because it reminded me of our Mini.
- I thought the seats were a uncomfortable. They were curved and therefore forced your body into a C-shape. I felt like I couldn't lean my head back even with all the adjusting and raising and lowering of the headrest. J. mentioned the same thing. Very annoying.
- Gas-mileage. 20-22 highway. That is just not good enough for this day and age.
What impressed me most about the Flex was the attention to detail that Ford put into it. The little touches like the cooler, an intuitive UI, a rear cam, and the Sync make it seem like you are getting a lot of car with a lot of meaningful and easy-to-use technology for the price (near $30k). It's the attention to detail that makes you feel like you are driving a luxury automobile and not a crossover.
While it may not be designed for mothers, I can't see who else would need to haul around 6 or 7 passengers. Calm down! I don't mean that to be a sexist statement, I know that dads/partners/grandpas/mannies/cougar boy toys drive the carpool, too. I was targeted for this program because I am a mom (who drives the afternoon carpool--my husband does the AM) so I am trying to offer up that perspective. Even though the Flex seems like it was designed for a male demographic (all the people who gave it a double take were men), it does seem like a perfect mom car on the inside. In short, it's a muscle car with mom-appeal.
What's interesting right now is how the Big Three automakers are weathering this economic crisis. Despite suffering it's worst quarter ever, Ford is a company that is projecting tiny glimmers of hope. If Ford believes in its products enough to put them in the hands of users for honest, unfettered reviews, then that counts for something. They aren't controlling the message or the conversation, and that makes me believe that perhaps they will be listening to feedback from their consumers' (potential and otherwise). Isn't it about time some of these companies started listening? If Ford is going to sell their cars, they'd better be the ones that consumers want. (This consumer wants a leaner, greener, safe car. Not just a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid. And let's talk renewable energy sources while we're at it.)
As far as I can tell, Ford is the only car company that is letting "the people" participate in the future of the company and Ford keeps it up, they just might be the first success story of the new automobile industry.
Thanks for the experience, Ford. It was one of the best roadtrips our family has ever taken. Exploring America's beautiful West Coast--snowy mountains to green valleys--seems to fit with your legacy. More of that please.