Since it hit the market as an all-new model in 2009, the Ford Flex has gained quite a following due to its unique looks and strong sense of family-friendliness. This three-row SUV has positioned itself as the anti-minivan.

The 2013 Ford Flex is so stylish and edgy that you almost forget it's also practical: It seats six or seven people comfortably and still offers a decent amount of cargo space.

For 2013, the Flex maintains the family-friendliness and gains an even edgier exterior look, a more powerful base V-6 engine and improved fuel economy. The new engine delivers an additional 20 horsepower with its 3.5-liter V-6 over the 2012's model engine.

This SUV offers a unique driving experience that takes some getting used to. Rectangular in shape, driving the Flex feels a bit awkward around corners and not incredibly agile.

The 2013 Ford Flex has a starting price of $31,710, including an $825 destination charge. My test car, the midlevel Flex SEL with all-wheel drive, had a starting price of $36,000, but the as-tested price was $39,195.

Many of the 2013 Flex's changes are on the outside. The SUV's name is stretched across the front and rear ends of the car to remind everyone in the carpool lane that your vehicle choice is iconoclastic. That and it could be used as an eye chart if ever the need arises. The front end is slightly curvier than previous model years, though you might not notice if you hadn't been told, and dual exhaust pipes now come standard across the lineup.

My test car was done up in a monochromatic Tuxedo Black paint color. Monochromatic is the standard paint scheme and it looked fine — "Like a spy car," my son proclaimed — but if I were buying one, I'd cough up the extra $395 for the two-toned paint job. The two-toned look is where the Flex made a name for itself, and it's where the Flex first grabs your attention.

Because it sits low to the ground, the Flex is a breeze for little ones to climb in and out of, though the doors are on the heavy side for children. The liftgate also is on the heavy side, but a power liftgate is available and recommended for those of you who constantly have your hands full.

Rear cargo space with all three rows in use is an impressive 20 cubic feet, and there's a recessed storage well underneath the cargo-floor cover. This is about half the size of the average minivan's cargo area, but it's better than many three-row crossovers; a smaller cargo area is also known as the price of being too cool for school (and a minivan). With the third row down, cargo volume rises to 43.2 cubic feet, and with the second row folded, it goes up to 83.2 cubic feet.

The Flex comes standard with 17-inch wheels on the base model, 18-inch wheels on the SEL and 19-inchers on the Limited trims. Even 20-inchers are available. Automatic headlamps, heated power side mirrors, fog lamps and keyless entry are also standard features.

The 2013 Flex comes standard with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that makes 285 hp; it's paired to a standard six-speed automatic transmission and uses regular unleaded gas. With front-wheel drive, this V-6 gets an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg city/highway. My test car came with all-wheel drive, an option that decreases fuel economy slightly to 17/23 mpg. An optional 355-hp, turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 uses premium gas and gets 16/23 mpg.

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

Though it may not translate into the most agile handling, the Ford Flex's boxy exterior does make for a roomy interior. Head and shoulder room are plentiful, and even the third row has the ability to fit normal-sized adults. Seat cushions have been upgraded for 2013 and seating is exceptionally comfortable in all positions, especially the driver's and front passenger's seats.

If you decide to buy a Flex, the biggest decision you'll have to make is whether you want it to seat six or seven passengers. My test car could seat seven, thanks to the second row's standard bench seat. Normally, I'm all about more seating capacity, but with a 60/40-split bench seat in the second row, third-row access is difficult. The second-row seats tumble forward, but that can't be done with a child-safety seat installed on the seat. If you have children in safety seats and if you ever want adults to sit in the third row, opt for the optional captain's chairs in the second row. This way, there is a small aisle to access the third row, and the captain's chairs slide back and forth (the bench does not) to allow for increased third-row legroom.

The Flex has six cupholders and four in-door bottleholders; the second row's bottleholders sit just below the window, where buckled-in passengers can easily grab their drinks. The center console isn't huge, and there's an excess of space above and around the glove box that could have been used for extra storage.

MyFord Touch (standard at the SEL trim level and optional on the entry-level trim), which supplements the voice-activated Sync multimedia system, is theoretically great with its ability for full integration of smartphones and other devices. It supposedly can receive and read your text messages to you. However, the system's 8-inch touch-screen with minimalist touch-sensitive "buttons" (really just arrows on the touch-screen) can be prickly and not always immediately responsive. Moreover, I'm still unsure whether I fully understand how to use everything the system has on offer.

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

The 2013 Ford Flex has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. In rollover crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2013 Flex received four stars out of five. It hasn't yet undergone NHTSA's other crash tests.

The 2013 Flex has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with anti-roll control, traction control, rear parking sensors and six airbags, including side curtains for all three rows. Ford's MyKey is also standard and a great feature for parents of teens. It enables parents to program one key with volume and speed limits along with seat-belt-usage reminders.

All-wheel drive, a backup camera with parking sensors and Active Park Assist, which helps you parallel park the car, are optional. Other available safety features are inflatable seat belts for the second row's outboard seats, blind spot and forward collision warning systems, and cross-traffic alert.

There are three sets of lower Latch anchors, with two sets in the second row and a third set in the third row. I really wish more automakers with three-row crossovers would follow the Flex's example in this regard. All of the Latch anchors are easy to access.

Get more safety information about the 2013 Ford Flex here.