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Ford Flex (Ford Ford)
Ford Flex (Ford Ford)

Best of the Lot

Livin' large and looking for a super-ute Add to ...

I’d like to hear your thoughts on a couple of high-end vehicles that are not adequately defined into a specific category: the Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec and the Ford Flex Titanium. We'd be using it as an everyday driver with two small kids. We're not interested in minivans and cannot find a respectably sized wagon of quality. Any alternative suggestions are appreciated. – Super-utes in Calgary

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Vaughan: Well Cato, here’s a sign of the times. In Calgary, they’re shopping for expensive, monster-sized, land yachts while here in Ontario all I get asked is whether it should be a Hyundai Accent or a Mazda2.

Cato: Want to know why people in the West, on the Prairies, in the Maritimes and everywhere else outside of Toronto resent Toronto and blow a gasket over your “centre of the universe” attitude?

By even mentioning, “Here in Ontario all I get asked…” it’s obvious that you see Canada through the Toronto lens. Drives Westerners bonkers. No one out in the West would ever think to make your observation in reverse.

Vaughan: Good grief, take that hunk of granite off your shoulder. Your paranoia and sense of western alienation are worthy of our fearless leader, the prime minister himself. If anything, I was suggesting that things are great out west and the muddled middle here in Ontario is a mess.

As for Soupie, he likes the large stuff and that would be the Mercedes R. I much prefer the Mercedes ML, but I don’t live in the oil patch.

Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec

I definitely think diesel is the way to go in such a large piece of equipment and Merc does a great job here, and you can get one with the R. To pass emissions standards, Merc puts a shot of a conditioner into the exhaust, so you’re lugging around a small tank of the stuff. But it’s no more cumbersome than refilling the windshield washer occasionally. For its quiet ride, luxurious cabin and safety performance the big, old R is hard to beat.

Cato: That’s not what most Americans think. Mercedes, according to Automotive News, has sold something like 300 R-Class wagons so far this year. Three hundred in a country of 300 hundred million!

So Mercedes is pulling the plug on R-Class sales down south, even though it’s built in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The plan is to keep selling the R in Canada and other markets until 2015, we’re told. Then it will likely go away. Super-ute is one of a very few in the world even slightly interested in this sort of minivan/SUV hybrid. That’s why he can’t find a well-defined category of vehicles like it.

Vaughan: But at one time this sort of vehicle looked like the future. The first of them was the Chrysler Pacifica; it died for lack of interest.

Buyers don’t want something that is so obviously a minivan with hinged doors. They like crossovers that look more like real, rugged SUVs.

Cato: Which explains why the Flex has been a disappointment. Ford sold exactly 117 Flexes in Canada in February. Around the world, Flex sales peaked in 2009 at 38,717 and they’ve been sliding ever since.

2012 Ford Flex

At least I’ll give Ford a little credit for not giving up on a wagon that some people think looks like a school bus. Ford has updated the 2013 version: the base 3.5-litre V-6 gets better fuel economy and delivers 287 horsepower, while the 3.5-litre EcoBoost engine delivers 365 hp and 355 pounds-feet of torque. There’s a new front grille, new badging, new headlights, new front fascia. The cabin has new instrument clusters and the latest version of the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Quieter, too. Ford has stuffed in new sound insulation and the suspension has been tweaked.

Vaughan: Cato, the Flex has grown on me. At first I thought it looked like the Black Maria used by British police. No more. I’m used to it now. The white roof and a cool body colour looks very modern.

Cato: And a deal. A $43,199 Flex Titanium has as much as $4,000 in factory discounts available. Another Super-ute option is the Lincoln MKT, a Flex cousin. The $49,150 version has as much as $8,000 in factory offers, says carcostcanada.com.

Lincoln MKT

Vaughan: Cato, do you recall when we put Ford and Lincoln’s voice recognition system through its paces? It worked like a charm. Recently Ford reprogrammed the system, but I thought it worked perfectly.

Cato: You are a genius with simple technology.

Vaughan: Soupie’s got money to burn, so he should go for the Merc R350 BlueTec at $58,500. Put on those Alberta plates and drive it out to Ontario to show us in a have-not province what affluence looks like.

Cato: There you go again, Mr. Ontario. If Super-ute wants a diesel R, then he should bargain for all of the $1,200 factory rebate Autodata says is in play. But of these three, the 2012 MKT is the best deal – if you nail down all the factory deals. A perfect ride for the Deerfoot Trail.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2012 Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTEC

2012 Ford Flex Titanium AWD

2012 Lincoln MKT AWD

Wheelbase (mm)

3,215

2,994

2,995

Length (mm)

5,157

5,125

5,723

Width (mm)

1,922

1,927

1,930

Height (mm)

1,675

1,726

1,712

Engine

3.0-litre V-6 turbodiesel

3.5-litre V-6, turbocharged

3.7-litre-V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

210/400 lb-ft

355/350 lb-ft

268/267 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

Transmission

Seven-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)

2,335

2,195

2,210

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

11.7 city/8.2 highway

13.3 city/8.7 highway

12.7 city/9.0 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$58,500

$43,199

$49,150

Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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