I drive a 2018 Ford Flex with 109,000 km on the dial. What would be a suitable replacement? The model is now discontinued, and I am at a loss. I like the vehicle for its road feel (long wheelbase and low centre of gravity) and storage space. I would happily keep it for a while in spite of my previous Flex needing a full steering harness at 170,000. – Graham
Richardson: Ah – the Flex. Big, heavy, blunt and solid. Ford built them in Oakville and sold them by the double-ton until they finally ran their course last year. But those who drove them loved them.
Gentile: I still don’t understand why. I suppose the Flex is practical and spacious, but design-wise, it always reminded me of a hearse.
Richardson: And hearses have a use too. I have friends who own a Flex. It has almost the passenger space of a minivan, but it’s a car and doesn’t float around the road as a van does. With all three rows filled, there’s still usable space in the very back for cargo. Not many SUVs can claim that.
Gentile: True. The headroom and legroom was excellent in all three rows. And the extra space for items large and small was plentiful, too. But Graham needs to move on, especially if he might need a full steering harness. That will cost him, big time. Better to dump it now while he’s ahead.
Richardson: So Graham has to decide what it is he most likes about the Flex, to look for in a replacement. Is it the lower-to-the-ground driving feel? If so, forget about taller SUVs and go searching for a wagon or crossover. Or is it the luggage space or the passenger space? If it’s the space, he’ll want a minivan, no question.
Gentile: And he needs to think about the brand, too. Does he want to stick with a domestic vehicle? If he likes the ride and comfort of the Flex, perhaps we should start by looking at some options in the Ford family.
Richardson: There aren’t many options. The Explorer is big and spacious and solid, but it’s a classic SUV with a taller stance. It shares the same platform as the Flex but with more popular styling – Ford would call it the evolution of the Flex. Graham needs to give it a test drive before discounting it.
Gentile: And the Explorer is also available as a hybrid, although I prefer the gas-only engines – they’re strong and powerful. Plus, there’s plenty of room for passengers and cargo. Graham might also want to look at another domestic. Perhaps a Buick?
Richardson: Yeah, he might like the Enclave. It’s got the passenger and luggage space, and it has no pretense of being an off-road SUV. The most basic trim level, at $48,000, comes with front-wheel drive, not AWD. No need to pay for it if you don’t want it.
Gentile: Graham didn’t give us a budget, but another vehicle to consider that costs a few thousand less than the Enclave is the Toyota Highlander. That’s one of my favourite vehicles on the market – it has pleasant road manners and plenty of space.
Richardson: He’s not going to like the Highlander. It checks a lot of boxes for people, but I think Graham will find it too much like a traditional SUV. He didn’t say how important the third row is for him, but I’m guessing it’s not as important as folding down that row and having cargo space. Maybe he’s more of a wagon driver.
Gentile: There aren’t many wagons to choose from now, except for the premium German vehicles.
Richardson: Well, there’s the Subaru Outback. It’s not so brutish, but believe it or not, its total luggage capacity is only down a couple of hundred litres from the Flex. It certainly has the road feel Graham’s interested in.
Gentile: And there’s also the Subaru Ascent. Although not a wagon, it’s bigger and taller than the Outback. It has three rows of seats and more capacity than the Flex, but Graham will probably like the Outback’s lower ride height and cargo capacity.
Richardson: There were a few things that bugged me about the Ascent when I drove it recently, which is too bad because it handled well and was very comfortable and practical.
Gentile: Well? Don’t keep us hanging.
Richardson: It was annoying that if I set the electronic parking brake, I had to physically turn it off before driving away – it wouldn’t do so automatically like other cars. Also, the steering wheel was only heated on the sides, not the top and bottom. Mostly though, the seatbelt chime reminder came on immediately after I started moving without fastening my belt and would get louder if I went a bit faster.
Gentile: That’s it? These are first-world problems, Mark. And why wouldn’t you be wearing your seatbelt?
Richardson. I know and I do, but if I took it off to dig for change going through the drive-through? CLANG CLANG CLANG! If I waited until after driving to the post box three doors down? CLANG CLANG CLANG! Bloody annoying.
Gentile: If those were your only complaints, you should get an Ascent.
Richardson: Sometimes, those little tiny things just ruin a perfectly good vehicle. I don’t recall those issues with other Subarus I’ve driven. This is why it’s important to take test drives before you buy.
Gentile: Okay, so skip the Ascent. How about a Volvo – I’m thinking the V60? It has SUV-like utility, and it’s comfortable, spacious, practical and rides well.
Richardson: The V60 is a lovely car. It’s considered a premium vehicle, but it starts at less than $50,000 before all the taxes, which is Flex territory. It drives very nicely, though it’s not too exciting in its base FWD trim. It has plenty of space for bags, but it’ll feel a lot more light and airy in the cabin than Graham’s been used to. Maybe that’s good, maybe not.
Gentile: That’s a good thing. Personally, I like the Subaru Outback or the Ford Explorer, if Graham wants to stick with a North American-made vehicle.
Richardson: I’ll recommend the Buick Enclave. It’s built in Michigan and should tick off all of Graham’s boxes.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at firstname.lastname@example.org and use ‘What car’ as as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.
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