PORTLAND, Ore. -- It's a Ford, all right, but the 2013 Flex crossover sure doesn't advertise that fact.
In mammoth block letters, the word "FLEX" is written across the front and the rear liftgate.
When the Flex debuted in June 2008, the Ford blue oval on the front was one of the largest on any Ford vehicle, at 9 inches wide. On the 2013 Flex, you have to look closely to find a small Ford blue oval in the lower-right-hand corner of the liftgate. The Ford oval does not appear on the front.
That's because Ford's research showed that while customers liked their Flexes, they did not necessarily identify them as Fords.
"One out of every two customers who buy a Flex have never purchased a Ford," Amy Marentic, marketing manager for cars and utilities, said at the media launch here. That's the highest conquest rate of any Ford nameplate, she said.
The Flex, Ford's largest crossover, has been a polarizing design. Detractors think it looks like a school bus. Those who love it think otherwise, including many customers in California, which accounts for 20 percent of Flex sales, Marentic said.
Flex sales were down 20 percent to 3,477 through February. Sales peaked in 2009 at a modest 38,717 and have slid steadily since.
Ford hopes the refreshed 2013 model, arriving in dealerships now, will revive the Flex's flagging fortunes, high gasoline prices notwithstanding.
At 25 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive version, the base 3.5-liter V-6 model gets 1 mpg better fuel economy than the 2012 model and delivers 287 hp. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine delivers 365 hp and 355 pounds-feet of torque.
The restyled Flex gets a new front grille, new headlights and front fascia. Inside, the car gets new instrument clusters, inflatable second-row seat belts and the latest version of the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Under the skin, the Flex gets new sound insulation, standard electronic power-assisted steering and suspension improvements, including Ford's Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control technologies.
Prices start at $31,670, including shipping. A fully loaded all-wheel-drive Limited edition is priced at $43,500.