I don't always have to be the one driving. Really, I don't. Especially if riding is the only way to get an early feel of a car that we think could be poised to become one of those once-in-a-decade vehicles of rare perfection. So when Ford offered Automobile Magazine a ride around the city during the New York auto show in a preproduction 2009 Flex Limited, we cheerfully piled in.
"We" were five - me, my husband Tim, executive editor Joe DeMatio, photographer Daniel Byrne, and Byrne's assistant. "They" were three women - Ford marketing manager Kate Pearce, communications manager Usha Raghavachari, and driver Marcella, a six-foot stunner with weapons-grade fingernails.
Problem one: This prototype Flex Limited had but six of seven possible seats. We kicked Usha to the curb - stupidly, since she was the smallest - then cruelly crammed three people into the two-passenger third row. The heated-leather second row's two passengers - separated by an optional refrigerated console - had legroom to burn. The very groovy multipanel Vista Roof offered a personal skylight for all, including the three suckers crammed in the wayback. Problem two: The interior is luxuriously upscale, causing us to wonder if the utter hipness of the Flex caught its designers by surprise. We see the perfect proportions of the Flex, its grooved sides, the flat top, coming together in a way that will take urban customizers by storm. The interior should be so funky.
Problem three: We were so busy screwing around, we stopped "riding." It was five p.m.; traffic was a nightmare. I tossed the husband first, then threw out DeMatio a few slow blocks later. We could at least concentrate on photos. Problem four: Byrne speaks in tongues when he gets flustered, spewing out paragraphs of direction to Marcella. "Sir!" she barked, daggered forefinger raised in warning. "Just tell me where you need to be!"
Wow. "NYPD?" I asked. She looked sideways at me. "Retired. Sex crimes." How did I know that? We found Central Park closed to traffic. Until Marcella spoke to the policemen on duty, that is. Byrne got his shot. There's an island in Times Square that we wanted for the next photo, but the Naked Cowboy ("It's a metaphor!") was in residence with his usual tourist mob. Our ex-cop pulled to the curb just as the Cowboy spied us. We had to pay him (and touch his flesh, no lie) to leave. This is what happens to me all the time.
So. The Flex goes on sale shortly (base price range: $28,995 to $35,405), ready for the Hamptons. But mark our words. There'll be a breakout crowd that will see the Flex as a canvas for endless customization.
This is the beginning of something big.