The boxy yet funky looking Ford Flex has been lumbering down American streets since 2009. This 3-row crossover SUV was designed to blend comfort and style into a family-friendly package.
With its minivan proportions and turbocharged engine options, the Flex presents an interesting alternative to larger truck-based SUVs. But can thisangular wagon handle going off the pavement and onto loose dirt or gravel trails?
The Ford Flex has some unexpected off-road capabilities that allow it to confidently drive on many types of unpaved roads and light trails.
In this detailed guide, we’ll explore the Ford Flex’s available all-wheel-drive system, ground clearance, traction aids, power, and how it handles when taken off-road. We’ll also provide tips for safely using a Flex for mild off-roading and examples of trails it can reasonably traverse.
Table of Contents
An Overview of the Ford Flex’s Off-Road Attributes
The Ford Flex utilizes an optional intelligent all-wheel drive system that continuously monitors conditions and distributes engine torque between front and rear wheels as needed. This improves traction in low-grip situations.
With a ground clearance up to 7.2 inches on AWD models, the Flex has greater capability to clear rocks, roots, ruts, and other obstacles than typical crossover SUVs or minivans built strictly for the pavement.
For descending hills off-road, the Flex offers Hill Descent Control. This system maintains lower speeds on steep downhill grades, limiting the need for constant brake application.
An AdvanceTrac electronic stability control system is also included. This system can detect and mitigate loss of traction, reducing the chances of spinning out or sliding sideways on loose or slippery terrain.
Of course, the Flex is still limited in its off-road prowess by its car-based construction, lower profile all-season tires, and lack of locking differentials found in true 4×4 SUVs. But as we’ll explore, it can hold its own better than expected when taken just a bit off the beaten path.
Assessing the Ford Flex’s Off-Road Capabilities
The Ford Flex utilizes a unibody construction based on Ford’s D4 platform, which is also found in the Ford Edge and several Lincoln SUV models. This gives it a smoother ride than traditional truck-based SUVs, but also limits extreme suspension articulation for boulder crawling or dealing with deep ruts.
However, the Flex’s optional intelligent all-wheel drive system gives it an important advantage over two-wheel drive crossover rivals. Power can be sent to the rear wheels instantly when the system detects front wheel slippage. This gives much improved traction in gravel, mud, snow, or on wet grass.
So what exactly can the AWD Ford Flex handle off-road? Here’s a look at how it performs in different conditions:
Dirt and Gravel Roads
Loose gravel roads are a great match for the Flex’s on-demand AWD capabilities. The system will transfer torque rearward once the front tires spin, helping to propel the vehicle confidently over washboard gravel and potholes.
The compliant suspension absorbs moderate ruts and corrugations without jostling passengers excessively. A set of all-terrain or mud-terrain tires would provide even greater traction and puncture resistance compared to the stock street tires.
Overgrown forest paths full of small rocks, downed branches, and protruding roots are manageable for the Flex. The available ground clearance up to 7.2 inches helps avoid scraping on obstructions, though large boulders or fallen logs could still catch the undercarriage.
The AWD system proves helpful again for getting through loose dirt or patches of sand without digging in. Hill Descent Control instills confidence driving down moderately steep forest trail slopes as well.
Small Hills and Rocky Sections
The Flex handles minor inclines well provided there is enough traction and the surface is relatively smooth. But large, jagged rocks that require precise wheel placement would likely bash against the undercarriage. The lack of a low-range transfer case also limits very steep climbing ability.
But for short up and downhill sections on relatively smooth trails, the Flex can keep moving steadily without much drama. The torque-rich turbocharged engines provide good low-end grunt for crawling slowly over rocky areas or up slopes.
Shallow Water Crossings
While the Flex can’t ford streams like a Jeep Wrangler, it can manage splashing through standing water and shallow creeks up to its breakover point provided the water is not fast flowing.
Care should be taken to feel out the stream bottom for large rocks before committing to a crossing. The AWD helps supply constant power if one wheel temporarily loses contact due to the water depth.
Mud and Snow
The Flex’s AWD platform shines for light duty motoring over muddy lanes, snowy Alpine passes, or sandy beaches. The intelligent AWD quickly detects and mitigates tire slip by directing extra torque to the wheels with more grip.
While deep mud or powder could still overwhelm ground clearance and get the Flex stuck, it can traverse these conditions better than most crossovers. The supple suspension and insulation help smooth out the ride and keep the cabin comfortable.
Summary of Capabilities
To summarize, the Ford Flex can confidently handle dirt roads, gravel paths, forest trails, small hills, minor rocky sections, shallow water, and light snow/mud scenarios. More extreme rock crawling, mud bogging, or steep inclines are beyond its limits.
While no rock crawler, it provides go-anywhere peace of mind on routes that would leave most crossovers spinning their wheels helplessly. Just take care to avoid scraping the undercarriage on protruding rocks or downed trees.
Real World Off-Road Trails the Ford Flex Could Handle
To better understand the level of off-roading the AWD Ford Flex could reasonably traverse, here are some example trails across the United States it could drive confidently:
Golden Spike Trail – Utah
This historic trail follows the path of the transcontinental railroad through Promontory, Utah. It’s a wide gravel road with beautiful scenery of the Great Salt Lake wetlands. Some rocky and sandy patches would kick the Flex’s AWD into action.
Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area – Pennsylvania
With over 40 miles of trails across forests and meadows, AOAA provides trails from mild to wild. The Flex could handle many of the easier unpaved trails and some moderate paths provided large boulders are avoided.
Hatfield-McCoy Trails – West Virginia
This extensive off-road trail system across nine counties offers over 700 miles of trails through the Appalachian forests and hills. Many of the beginner and intermediate level trails are good fits for the Flex’s capabilities.
Moose River Plains – Adirondacks, NY
The Moose River Plains region contains hundreds of miles of old logging roads and trails with a few shallow stream crossings mixed in. The Flex could explore many routes to scenic campsites and vistas.
As you can see, the Ford Flex is up for traversing many beginner to intermediate level trails across a variety of terrain provided extremes are avoided. Families will enjoy the comfortable interior while still being able to reach campsites and vistas well off the beaten path.
Driving Tips for Off-Roading in a Ford Flex
If you decide to take your AWD Ford Flex on light off-roading adventures, keep these tips in mind:
- Activate the AWD before hitting the trail. The system will then monitor and adjust torque delivery as needed. Don’t wait for slippage to occur.
- Inspect the route if possible and avoid large rocks, downed trees, or holes that may excessively scrape the underbody. Consider a skid plate to protect critical components.
- Start out very slowly on unfamiliar trails to check for early obstacles. Allow extra distance for braking.
- Equip the Flex with all-terrain or all-season tires. The aggressive tread and stiffer sidewalls enhance traction and resist punctures on unpaved roads.
- Bring recovery gear like a traction mat or portable winch in case you do get stuck in mud or sand. Adequate ground clearance prevents this in most scenarios.
- Carry a full-size spare since flats are more common driving off-highway. Know how to access the spare and jack if needed.
- Avoid routes with deep water crossings, as the Flex air intake and electronics could get damaged. The Flex can only handle a few inches of still water before it may get swamped.
By using common sense and driving within the vehicle’s capability limits, a properly equipped Ford Flex can reliably traverse a variety of off-road trails and terrain without issue. Just don’t expect it to conquer Moab.
Is the Ford Flex a Good Off-Road SUV Choice?
The Ford Flex presents an interesting option for families who enjoy outdoor adventures but don’t want or need a dedicated off-road vehicle. Its composed ride, spacious interior, and optional AWD give it light trail running abilities well beyond most crossovers.
While it can’t rock crawl or power through deep mud bogs, the Flex can confidently drive down gravel roads and bounded trails to scenic vistas, lakesides, and campsites. Its turbocharged engine provides plenty of torque for crawling over obstacles slowly and steadily.
Compared to truck-based SUVs, the Flex sacrifices ultimate capability for better comfort and efficiency around town. But its 7+ inches of ground clearance and intelligent AWD give it traction advantages over crossovers like the Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander as well.
For families planning to do light off-roading on occasion, the Flex is worth strong consideration. Just set realistic expectations for its capabilities and take care to avoid undercarriage or drivetrain damage from impacts off-road. With AWD and all-terrain tires, the Flex unlocks backcountry access that few other crossovers could manage comfortably.
While it’s easy to dismiss the boxy Ford Flex as just another suburban runabout, its available AWD, decent ground clearance, and composed chassis give it unexpected light trail running abilities. The Flex can confidently traverse dirt roads, gravel paths, mild forest trails, snow, and mud that would leave many crossovers hopelessly stuck.
With smart precautions like all-terrain tires, skid plates, and cautious driving, the Flex can access scenic areas and campsites far off the beaten path while keeping passengers comfortable. It provides a unique balance of family utility, comfort, and part-time 4×4 capability. Just be realistic about its limits for extreme rock crawling or deep water.
So if you need 3 rows of seats but still dream of weekend adventures beyond the pavement, the Flex deserves a close look. No other crossover SUV can transport a family and light gear as comfortably while still retaining the ability to confidently wander down rugged dirt trails when needed. The Flex offers the go-anywhere spirit of traditional SUVs but with modern comforts and amenities families need daily.