It isn’t every day that an interesting car comes along, and when it does, we generally want to see it stick around for as long as possible. Now we know that one — likely two — of the most interesting models on the road have an expiration date. Ford introduced the Flex back in 2008, and the Lincoln MKT in 2010. Americans may be buying crossovers and SUVs like they’re going out of style (spoiler: They’re not), but for nearly a decade now, the Flex and MKT have been the weirdest ones, and we mean that in a good way. For longer than many would’ve thought, they’ve held on and stuck out against the soft, inoffensive shapes of the mainstream.
But now we know that the end is neigh for the Flex; Ford announced that it will phase it out after 2020. There’s no official word on the MKT’s fate yet, but since both models share a platform, a factory, and will have gone at least a decade without any major revisions by then, we think it’s safe to assume that it’s not long for this world either. And that’s a shame, because the roads are a more interesting place because of them.
While the current trend is to make your minivan, crossover, or SUV look less like … a minivan, crossover, or SUV, the Flex is Ford’s bold, stylish people mover in thick black glasses. It embraces the slab sides, tall ride height, and 90 degree angles of the traditional two-box design, and looks damn good doing it. Plus, you can even get it with a contrasting colored roof.
And the MKT is an interesting (albeit polarizing) take on retro-futurism too. Still sporting the brand’s butterfly wing grille — itself a throwback to late ’30s models — the Lincoln’s overall shape is sort of a mash up of prewar luxury-meets-the mid ’80s bustle-back look (hello, seventh-generation Continental!). It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly bold.
You may not have known that these two crossovers have a lot in common, but there’s more than enough to take a look and pit them against each other. Plus, there’s still plenty of time, even — God help us — another presidential election between now and the end of the Flex. So before then, let’s take a look at what sets the Ford and Lincoln apart in this latest installment of Buy This, Not That.
Tale of the tape:
The most surprising things about the Flex’s longevity are that it’s powered by a V6, has three-rows of seats, and starts at around $30K. In other words, it theoretically comes into direct competition with the Blue Oval’s SUV champ: the Ford Explorer. But Ford has done a great job at making the Flex and Explorer as different as can be. From a sales standpoint, the Explorer is the SUV Americans are willing to buy in droves. The Flex is for people who want something different.
And for years, that’s accounted for anywhere between 14,000 to 39,000 people a year, making it Ford’s lightest seller. But the Flex’s advantage is that there’s nothing else on the market to directly compete with it. Its crossover-size (117.9 inch wheelbase, 201.8 inch length), and boxy pseudo-wagon styling stand out from the Ford lineup enough where it could entice buyers who may be new to the brand.
Power comes from either a 287 horsepower naturally-aspirated 3.5 liter V6, or the 365 horse, or twin-turbo 3.5 EcoBoost six in Limited trim. There isn’t much you can do to mitigate that nearly 5,000 pound curb weight, but at least with the EcoBoost you can hit 60 from a standstill in around six seconds. All that power is routed to the front wheels in base trims, but is available in all-wheel drive too.
Like the Flex, the MKT seats six and is powered by the EcoBoost 3.5. But while the Flex can top $50K and become an in-house competitor, the MKT is engineered to compete with more refined adversaries. It’s 6 inches longer than the Ford, but Lincoln is more concerned with competition from Acura, Audi, and Lexus than its parent company. The crossover may be aging, but inside the company’s “quiet luxury” mantra is in full view. With a handsome interior, lots of sound deadening, thick pane glass, and clever aerodynamic styling, the Lincoln feels less like a hot rod wagon and more of an executive car — albeit one with a lot more headroom.
Starting at $43K and creeping up close to $60K fully-loaded, the MKT isn’t cheap, and at its upper end, it comes into some pretty serious competition from other premium marques, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything more comfortable to drive for the money.
They may be old, but neither the Flex or MKT are a bad buy. We love the Flex’s styling, and with the EcoBoost mill, it actually feels like the sleeper hot rod wagon we want for our dream garage. Plus, it’s probably the coolest family car most of us could get away with buying.
The MKT is just as unique and striking as the Flex, but far more polarizing aesthetically. That’s too bad, because it does everything well. The interior is quiet and well-made, and it’s something that we could cruise the highways in all day and barely feel any fatigue at the end of a trip. But we’d want it with the EcoBoost and several options packages, and those add up quickly. Thankfully, these two don’t overlap too much, but where they do, we’d just rather have a loaded, all-wheel drive Flex than a lower-spec MKT.
Either way, the Flex and MKT represent a different way of looking at the crossover segment, and to us, they’re both far more interesting than the status quo. Got another kid on the way and need a bigger car? Do yourself a favor and get a Flex. Have a job where you need to take the bosses around? Go for the MKT. Either way, you won’t be losing either in a parking lot anytime soon.