First Look: 2013 Ford Flex

It makes sense for Ford to show off a refresh for the 2013 Flex at the Los Angeles auto show, as almost one-fifth of all Flex models are sold in California. The refreshed Flex, which bows in L.A. before going on sale in spring 2012, benefits from a more powerful base engine, several new safety technologies, and a mild visual update.

For 2013, the Flex's base 3.5-liter V-6 engine, gains Ti-VCT variable valve timing. As a result, power jumps from 262 hp to 285 hp, torque climbs from 248 lb-ft to 253 lb-ft, and the redline is increased from 6700 rpm to 7000 rpm. The changes are expected to improve fuel economy ratings by 1 mpg, to approximately 18/25 mpg (city/highway) for front-wheel-drive models and 17/24 mpg for all-wheel-drive models. There are no changes to the 355-hp, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine, which is available only with all-wheel drive.

Because the three-row Flex is meant for hauling families, Ford has outfitted it with several new safety technologies. The 2013 model can be optioned with adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, and seat belt airbags for the second row of seats. The seat belt airbags first debuted as an option for the 2012 Explorer, on which they purchased by about one-third of customers. Other new gadgets include push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, and the latest version of the MyFord Touch infotainment system.

Visual changes for the 2013 Flex begin with a new front end, which has restyled headlights, a new grille, and a more rounded fascia that softens the car's face. The grille-mounted Blue Oval emblem has been removed and replaced by bold "FLEX" lettering above the grille. At the rear, dual exhaust tips become standard. The interior receives updated instrument clusters, new seat trims, and a revised steering wheel.

Also available is a new appearance package for Flex SEL and Limited models, which bundles 20-inch wheels; leather seats; white, gray, or black contrast coloring for the roof and mirrors; and unique interior trim pieces. The new model year adds three paint colors, Ruby Red, Deep Impact Blue, and Kodiak Brown.

The 2013 Ford Flex will be publicly unveiled later this month in L.A. before reaching dealerships in spring 2012.

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