The Battle of the Behemoths. Tournament of the Titanics.
This week I’m comparing two vehicles that are, in my opinion, wonderfully unabashed all-American wagons. There are all these new terms out there – Ford calls them crossovers.
Call ‘em what you want, but to me, they’re wagons. And I love wagons.
Although they don’t look like it at first, these are the same vehicles underneath, and I spent a week with each one.
The Ford Flex starts at CDN $28,814 – the loaded up Limited trim I got rings in at CDN $58,349. That’s right – 30 grand for options, my friend. The Lincoln MKT starts at CDN $46,813 – start checking off the boxes like Ford did with this one, and you’re looking at over CDN $63,000.
Exterior/Under the Hood
I make no bones about it. I freakin’ love wagons. I’m a wagon nerd and the styling on both of these beasts appeals to me. And I completely understand that this is not the case for everyone. Both vehicles use very striking design cues, but in completely different ways. The Flex is made up of many straight lines. A long, flat roof. Slab sides with grooved door panels. Burly, muscular fenders bulging out and morphing into the rocker panels. A mirror-polished chrome strip across its rump. A front end that clearly is the love child of a chrome bumper and Lieutenant Geordi La Forge from Star Trek.
Finishing it off are some hot 20″ wheels with huge 255/45 rubber and an aggressive lowered stance. Doesn’t sound much like a soccer wagon, does it? One thing I can honestly tell you is this – never before have I got as many thumbs-up gestures from other drivers or pedestrians as with the Ford Flex. Not in the Shelby GT500. Not in the Porsche 911 Turbo. This thing turns heads, and people like it a whole lot more than I thought they might. I thought that, from some angles, it looks as though it’s chiseled out of a solid ingot of wagony goodness.
The Lincoln takes a more avant garde approach. The lines are sleeker, with more curves thrown in. The roof isn’t as long, because it meets the non-vertical tailgate that has two angles to it, giving it a complex look, and something akin to what more than one onlooker referred to as a hunchback. Where the Flex doesn’t hide what it is, the MKT’s belt line even dodges upwards after the rear doors, trying to minimize the amount of glass back there, and trying to hide the bulk that sits back there. The grille is Lincoln’s new one, and it’s pretty. The wheels are stunning and sporty, shod in the same size rubber as the Flex. The badging is kept to reasonable sizes and doesn’t go overboard. You hear that, Cadillac?
I like the way both of these look. I like big butts, and I can not lie.
The Flex comes with a 3.5-Liter V-6. It’s rated at 285 HP at 6500 RPM and 255 lb.ft of torque at 4000 RPM. Those numbers don’t seem impressive, especially when lugging around a 4,636 pound tank like this. The power is routed through a 6-speed automatic, and hits the road through an all-wheel drive system. Lower trim levels are front-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated at 13.8 L/100 km (17 mpg) in the city and 10.2 L/100 km (23 mpg) on the highway. I averaged around 11.3 L/100 km (20.8 mpg) on a one-week road trip – the car was totally loaded up, and I never made an effort to drive efficiently. The tank has a 70.4 Liter capacity.
The MKT comes with Ford’s awesome EcoBoost 3.5-Liter V-6 as standard equipment. This twin-turbo monster churns out 365 HP at 5700 RPM and 350 lb.ft of torque at a low 3500 RPM. The Lincoln weighs an astounding 4,943 pounds and that extra weight is certainly a burden. The engine’s juice heads to the same all-wheel drive system and 6-speed automatic as in the Flex. Fuel economy is rated at 13.1 L/100 km (18 mpg) in the city and 8.1 L/100 km (29 mpg) on the highway. I guess I got addicted to that engine’s power, because during my week with the MKT, I averaged a horrendous 17 L/100 km (13.8 mpg). ZOICKS! The MKT has the same 70.4 Liter fuel tank capacity.
Of note, that wonderful EcoBoost is available as an option in the Flex, and although it costs more and sips (OK, guzzles) premium fuel, there is virtually no penalty in the fuel economy rating. Food for thought.
Both interiors are quite similar, although they go about their missions in slightly different ways. Both interiors are nicely put together, and fit and finish seems very good.
The Flex’s materials are mostly soft-touch plastics, with a few hard plastics thrown in here and there. There are a lot of straight lines, just like on the exterior. Everything looks nice, if not beautiful. The front seats are a bit flatter than I expected – highly comfortable, but lacking in bolstering and support around corners. They’re heated, cooled and power adjustable and the driver’s has memory. The steering wheel is great, with controls for phone, handsfree, media and cruise, as well as the two driver information screens. The amount of headroom is almost shocking, and there’s plenty of space to get comfortable.
The center stack starts with the touch screen at the top, a rotary dial with buttons in it for media, and soft-touch controls for media and climate below (which I’m not totally sold on, but soooo much more fond of than what’s in the Lincoln). The console houses a shift lever, cupholders and an armrest.
Overhead, a bevy of sunroofs greet the eye. A large tilt/slide roof over the front seats, separate little ones over the second row seats, and a fourth wide one over the third row. The second and third row roofs all have manual sun shades. When open, they add a great amount of light to a long, dark interior. And they’re cool.
The MKT’s interior styling is more upscale and luxurious. The lines are smooth, the materials are amazing – all are soft-touch or stitched, upholstered leather-like fabric, and everything flows nicely. The seats are very comfortable and are heated, cooled, power adjustable and have a memory setting for the driver. The bolstering leaves something to be desired. The steering wheel is surprisingly small and feels great and offers the identical controls that the Flex’s wheel does. You’ve got lots of space including headroom.
The center stack starts with the touchscreen, and below that sit a couple of touch-activated slide controls for volume and fan speed. I’ve only encountered these a couple of times, and I honestly hate them. I can’t figure them out, and they give me a ton of grief. I’m grateful that the stereo volume can be controlled on the steering wheel and that the climate control is automatic. The console has the shift lever and two cupholders, and an interesting armrest. The lid is split in half – although it opens as one piece, the sides can be independently adjusted fore and aft to suit the driver and passenger’s armrest needs.
The MKT has two sunroofs – the front one is enormous, twice the size of the rear one – both are covered by powered sunshades, and the front one tilts but doesn’t slide open.
Both these cars bristle with technology and fun stuff. There’s little I could think of that they don’t have.
Both cars offer Ford’s wonderful driver information screens on either side of the speedometer. They’re controlled by pads on the steering wheel and offer tons of views of information, settings, fuel economy and range, tach, fuel gauge, media, nav, phone and on and on. They’re easy to read, use and control.
Both vehicles have automatic HID headlights, HomeLink garage door openers, remote powered lift gate openers, and push start ignitions. Steering wheels are power adjustable in every direction, and so is the height of the pedals. They’re also tied to the seat memory function.
Both cars’ media sources are AM, FM, satellite, Bluetooth streaming, USB, auxiliary and CD. The Flex’s sound system is a Sony one and sounds great, but the THX one in the Lincoln sounds spectacular and effortlessly reaches any highs and lows you ask for, including volume levels.
Both cars came with Ford’s Active Park Assist – having a land-barge like this find an appropriate space and parallel park itself is a blessing that everyone should experience. Plus it makes you look good. They also have back-up cameras, with audible distance sensors, and the super-handy trajectory lines showing you where you’ll end up when your wheel is turned. Cruise control is adaptive, and allows you to choose the gap between the car ahead of you. The car will maintain its speed unless the vehicle ahead of you slows – it will then adjust its speed accordingly, even stepping on the brake if it has to. It works very well, and is a great tech toy.
Both cars have the Front and Rear Collision Warning systems, letting you know if you’re going to run into someone in front, or if someone is coming toward you from the side while you’re backing up. The Lincoln adds the lane-departure warning system – handy when you fall asleep during a road trip. Not that I would know.
Second and Third Row Seating
Both cars have two adjustable bucket seats for the second row. They’re very comfortable and move forward, backward and recline. In the Flex, they’re heated – the Lincoln offers heated AND cooled second row seats. The second row is very spacious in both cars – tons of headroom, as well as space to stretch out. The MKT adds manual sunshades for both rear door windows. Both cars have a button on the rear edge of the door opening – pressing it flips the second row seatback down and tumbles the whole thing forward automatically, opening a space to get to the back row.
The two third row seats are actually quite comfortable for the two people sitting back there, provided they are short. Headroom for adults is abysmal in the MKT, no thanks to the slanted roofline. It’s noticeably better in the Flex. Legroom is surprisingly decent and two of our kids were very happy back there. Third row passengers each get a cupholder – the Flex adds a convenient lidded bin on either side for storage.
Both cars have a console between the second row of seats, and it holds a fridge/freezer compartment – you can control which function you want, or just leave it off – the space is below the armrest and is most easily accessed from the third row and awkwardly from the second. The Flex’s console has a couple of cupholders and a bin ahead of the armrest and ends there. There is also a pull-out bin with two more cupholders that comes out of the back of the front console. Above that tray sits a 12V and a 110V household plug. The MKT’s rear console differs in that it essentially extends the entire way to the front console. It has two sliding lids over compartments ahead of the armrest. The rear one has two cupholders and an organizer, and the front one is a deep carpeted bin with a 12V plug and a 110V household plug. It’s a cleaner solution, but takes up more room. I prefer the Flex’s way of doing it, as it takes up less space and you can put a large bag on the floor between passengers.
Both cars have climate control systems for the rear – the Lincoln one can be set to fully automatic. Both rear zones can also be controlled from the touch screen up front.
Both cars offer some decent and similar storage options, with usable door bins, large glove compartments and a nice carpeted bin under the armrest lid – this bin contains most of the audio connections and a 12V plug. Yet the Lincoln failed to impress me, as it didn’t have much in the way of immediate at-hand storage other than the cupholders. It does have a strange space UNDER where the center console and center stack meet, where you could put small things, and there is a 12V plug there too for charging. But it’s not convenient. The Flex, on the other hand, has a great big open bin under the center stack, as well as a handy tray ahead of the armrest – both are easy to throw a phone into and make it easier to keep things handy.
The real storage story comes in the trunk space. Both are large, and both offer a nice deep well below floor level behind the third row, much like many mini-vans do. It’s a great way to offer additional cargo space while using that third row, and it’s where the third row folds away into when stowed to create a flat load floor. The Flex has 415L (14.7 cu.ft.) of cargo room, and that increases to a very significant 1,224L (43.2 cu.ft.) with the rear seats stowed. The MKT’s trunk is slightly bigger at 507L (17.9 cu.ft.), but comes out to slightly less with the rear seats folded – 1,121L (39.6 cu.ft.) – I believe that is because of the irregular shape of the car, versus the Flex’s box and vertical tailgate.
Both trunks offer a power panel to control the third row of seats. It allows you to press a button to a) stow the seats, creating a flat floor; b) tumble the seats backwards as they are, creating tailgate seats; or c) return the seats to normal. You can also pick whether you want this to happen to the left, right or both seats simultaneously. This feature was an endless source of amusement and wonder for onlookers during our road trip. You also get an additional 12V plug in both trunks as well as a power trunk close button.
I was wondering how the Flex would perform, but the marriage between the naturally aspirated engine and the 6-speed automatic was something wonderful and it works very well. There’s no lag when you step on it, and I never found a lack of power, including passing on the highway while the car was loaded up with people and stuff. I was very impressed.
The Lincoln’s acceleration was obviously more effortless with the EcoBoost engine, and yes it gained momentum at almost alarming rates when stepped on. As cool as it is, I could happily live with the non-boosted engine in the Flex if I was buying one and money were the problem.
Both cars cruised happily at any speed, including very high highway speeds, and the noise levels were exemplary in both – road, engine and wind noise are all very well controlled, with some engine noise showing up under throttle.
Handling for both cars was surprisingly good. Obviously the all-wheel drive helps matters, but I was surprised at how tenacious the grip was at higher speeds, and in the wet as well. The Flex has a noticeable stiffer ride, but it remains very comfortable. For that you get less body roll around corners. The Lincoln is more plush, but also leans more into the curves. I also found the MKT porpoised over some dips, which I didn’t like.
Both vehicles offer a decent dead pedal, which is shocking for cars like this. And greatly appreciated.
Visibility out of both cars is pretty good, considering the size of them and the size of some of the pillars. However, both suffer from a small, restricted rear view – which is almost completely obliterated if you flip up the gargantuan third row headrests. Note that they HAVE to be flipped up to use the third row. Thank goodness for backup cameras.
Considering how much tech the MKT has going for it, you’d think Lincoln might have thought of putting an external trunk release somewhere. You can’t pop the trunk from the outside. Incredible irritating on a wagon, no? On that note, the Flex has one. Go figure.
Another thing the Flex has that the MKT doesn’t, and that irks me, is power folding mirrors. On cars this wide, this is a true necessity in some cases. Why would it be included with the cheaper cousin, and not the rich one?
Like I said, it’s not hard to sell me on a wagon. I love the utility, and frankly, I love the look. They just make sense to me.
These are two big sons’o'guns, and they both get a lot of looks on the road. I really enjoyed both vehicles. I love the luxury and the materials in the Lincoln MKT, and of course I loved the EcoBoost engine. I give the MKT a 7 out of 10.
I actually ended up liking the Flex even more than the Lincoln. I prefer the boxy retro shape, with those snazzy integrated rocker panels and the grooved door panels. I liked the efficiency of space that the shape provides, and the simpler interior controls. In terms of practicality, it had a couple of things that matter to a guy who heads out on the road with three kids and a wife. And because we did, putting many hundreds of kilometers on it, I can say it worked very well for us. I give the Flex a 7.5 out of 10, and I’d give it 8 with the EcoBoost.
Both cars are easy to drive, both cars are spacious and both cars are absolutely fantastic road trip beasts of burden for 6 people, as long as only 4 of them adults.
Most importantly, both cars offer valid excuses to consider something other than a mini-van and that’s very important to some folks.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was medium-high on the Lincoln – she wasn’t sold on the looks, but loved the interior and the ride. WAF was high on the Flex – I was quite taken aback at how much she liked the looks and she actually liked the interior even more. Both cars were winners for her, since she could take either and basically clean out a small department store when she went shopping. She also loved the power trunk lids and the cooled fridge bin for kids’ drinks.
I’d gladly take either of these beasts and park it in my garage, but if it was my money, I’d pick the cool-as-all-get-out Flex as it was delivered. OK, fine – you got me – I’d get the EcoBoost engine in it. You know me too well.
Disclosure: Vehicles were provided by Ford.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.