The 2009 Ford Flex crossover is all about conveying a new image.
The Flex is a visual indicator of the changes going on at Ford at a time when the automaker desperately needs a home run.
The Flex's boxy, wagonish exterior design signals Ford is willing to break away from the me-too crossover styling model and take a risk. The word "polarizing" appears as a styling description in a Ford news release.
"You fundamentally can't deny this is a vehicle that you are noticed in, that says something about you," says Kate Pearce, Flex marketing manager. "You are not a wallflower when you are driving in this car. It is very different."
The basics: Two design elements stand out on the Flex's wagonlike exterior: the horizontal grooves in the door panels and the apparent influence of the Mini Cooper in the greenhouse and two-tone paint scheme.
Richard Gresens, chief designer for the Flex, said the grooves are character lines that convey precision, uniqueness and continuity.
"If you look at the four grooves and you look at the three-bar grille, that whole horizontal motif sort of follows its way around the car," said Gresens. "You go around the back, you will see the same motif on the back."
Another design element is what Gresens calls "the floating roof," created by giving each roof pillar a glossy black finish, in the style of the Mini Cooper. The standard roof is body color; buyers can select white or silver as an option.
"A floating roof means there is no body color tie-in to the body side," he said. "We thought it was distinctive for the car. It also allows us to personalize it."
As for the interior, the look and feel is high-end, even on the base SE model. The standard cloth seats on the SE feature a tweedlike fabric with a hound's tooth pattern for the inserts.
The Flex's platform evolved from the front-drive platform that underpins the Ford Taurus, Taurus X, Mercury Sable and the upcoming 2009 Lincoln MKS sedan. For the Flex, the wheelbase was stretched 5 inches to create wider front door openings and boost second-seat legroom.
Additionally, the front and rear overhangs were shortened; the Flex overall is 0.5 inches longer than the Taurus sedan. The track is about an inch wider. All-wheel drive is optional.
A new multilink rear suspension was engineered to boost cargo-carrying capability over the Taurus X crossover and avoid a harsh, uncomfortable ride when 19- or 20-inch wheels are selected. The rear suspension design will be shared with the MKS.