In case you haven’t heard the news, Ford has decided to kill off its best-looking and most distinctive car, the Flex. I regard this as a terrible move, since Ford’s current lineup of SUVs and crossovers look, collectively, like a pack of wheeled suppositories with stupid faces. For about a decade, Ford had at least one car in their lineup they could point to remind people that they were still capable of designing a car that looked modern and sleek yet distinctive and novel. Now, they don’t have shit. Way to go, dummies.
Look at Ford’s current lineup of SUVs and Crossovers. There’s like five forgettable things that look like nearly every other SUV on the market, made by everyone, everywhere, with names that begin with ‘E,” and then there’s the Flex.
The Flex was, really, the last full-sized station wagon Ford built. Proportionally, the Flex had the longer-and-lower feel of Ford’s traditional station wagons as opposed to the tall-and-bloated SUV proportions that are nearly ubiquitous today.
It didn’t have detailing to try and give it some illusion of toughness or false off-road readiness that 99% of modern SUVs never live up to, anyway. Instead, the Flex relied on a design vocabulary that was clean and modern, unfussy but with enough detailing to keep it interesting.
The car was based on the 2005 Ford Fairlaine concept, and ended up remaining extraordinarily close to that concept car design. The brushed stainless steel rear door panel and the side groves evoked the feeling of an old wood-paneled station wagon without venturing into retro design, and the blacked-out pillars and (optional) white roof felt both a bit like a grown-up Mini and managed to make the car feel lighter and airier than its otherwise considerable bulk.
The generous glass area in the greenhouse afforded great visibility, and the boxy design meant a lot of usable interior volume. It’s just a really great design for a large seven-passenger vehicle.
The Flex was even one of those rare cars that got a mid-cycle refresh that truly updated the car’s look without losing any of its original identity. I actually prefer the newer light-and-grille combination, which remains a unique design for cars today. It’s pretty dramatically different than the original three-bar/rectangular headlight front end, but I think it fits the character of the car even better.
This is a terrible move for Ford. There’s 450 workers who will be out of work, and Ford’s lineup is now even more unremarkable, which is even worse since they’ve eliminated everything but crossovers, SUVs, and the Mustang from their American (non-truck/van) market lineup.
It’s not like nobody was buying Flexes—while they weren’t the massive volume seller of something like an Explorer, they were consistent sellers at around 20,000 or so per year, a number that’s held steady up until the present. It’s not like these were in free-fall or anything like that.
This announcement should have been that Ford was planning on an all-new Flex, maybe a hybrid one, or something. It should have been Ford saying that they’re finally going to give the most unique vehicle in their lineup the attention it deserves. It sure as hell shouldn’t have been the death announcement.
So, now, what does someone buy who gives a damn about design, doesn’t want some anonymous SUV that looks like every other RAVsplorerogueinoxCR-V?
Not a Ford, I guess.