Ford pioneered new territory in 2006 when it introduced the Edge, a racy two-row crossover. The Edge forsook the Explorer's pretense of bushwhacking off-road capability without surrendering to the jacked-up-station-wagon persona of the Freestyle. Customers responded by sending the Edge to the top of the crossover segment, where it has tallied some 400,000 sales.
Trouble was, the Edge looked good on paper and in the metal, but its appeal faded on the road, where poor execution of details undermined the car's potential. Ford's
goal for 2011: Make the Edge drive like it looks.
Dearborn's engineers started by junking the outgoing powertrain. The Edge now relies primarily on a more powerful and efficient 285-hp 3.5-liter V-6. Backed by a six-speed automatic transmission, the V6 achieves EPA ratings of 19 mpg city / 27 mpg highway in front-wheel-drive form.
Hot-rodders, or at least five-seat crossover shoppers who imagine themselves in a flat black model with a flame paint job, can opt for the Edge Sport. That was mostly an appearance package on the old model, but the new Sport gains a 305-hp 3.7-liter V-6 borrowed from the Mustang.
The Sport rolls on standard 22-inch aluminum wheels and has tauter shock tuning for more responsive handling. Despite the big wheels and stiffer shocks, the ride doesn't prove as jarring as the combination would suggest, and gas mileage slips only slightly to 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
The most interesting news, however, is the Edge's use of Ford's new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which is slated to become available early next year. According to Ford, this power plant will deliver 10 percent better gas mileage than a comparable V-6 with similar horsepower and torque, which means gas mileage of 30 mpg. We'll find out more details when this engine debuts in the 2011 Explorer this fall.
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Like the Best Buy of automotive brands, Ford is pressing its electronic gadgetry as a competitive advantage. Not coincidentally, Ford conducts consumer events in conjunction with Best Buy, helping show customers how to integrate their phones into Ford's Sync hands-free system.
Sync joins with a variety of other features such as HD Radio with iTunes Tagging, MyKey driver restriction technology, and blind-spot warning. Most visible is the new MyFord Touch interface, employing dual 4.2-inch LCD displays that flank the speedometer in the instrument cluster in the manner seen previously in the Fusion Hybrid, plus a big 8-inch central screen that provides an optional $795 built-in navigation system.
The small displays provide information from the MyFord Touch Navigation system, which uses the customer's phone to stream data to the car. This service is free for three years and costs $60 per year thereafter.
A wireless router is also available, which allows the built-in hotspot to feed electronic devices in the vehicle, so passengers can check email or watch YouTube on the road.
The base price of the front-wheel-drive Edge Limited we tested is $34,220, and the options list‚ including items like a panoramic sunroof, HID xenon headlights, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, and voice-activated navigation with Sirius Travel Link‚ pushes it to $40,480.
If the Edge looked good on paper before, it looks even better now, with loads of gee-whiz hardware and technology. Remarkably, it all works. Previous versions of Sync had a first-level menu vocabulary of 100 words, which meant that if you didn't know the secret password to launch Sync down the decision tree toward the desired function, you were as locked out.
This frustration was a leading complaint consumers voiced when surveyed about their satisfaction with Ford vehicles, according to Art Spinella, president of CNW Research. Absent this frustration, Ford would have easily topped recent J.D. Power satisfaction surveys, he said.
Addressing that, Ford has given Sync a brain transplant, upgrading it from a Frankensteinian 100 words to a Einsteinian 10,000. "It isn't natural language yet, but it is pretty close and it will probably feel like natural language," says John Schneider, chief engineer of multimedia and entertainment.
There are fixes to the Edge's fundamental hardware too. The old Edge had a vague, sloppy feeling to its steering, a problem Ford has corrected by upgrading to a steering rack with reduced internal friction. Additionally, according to vehicle engineering manager Rich Kreder, testing showed the Edge's steering was uncommonly sensitive to the valving of the rear shocks, so Ford tuned the rear shocks' low-speed damping to improve the steering response.
Edge owners complained bitterly about the outgoing model's mushy, confidence-sapping brake pedal. In response, the company installed stiffer brake calipers, brake pads that grab more aggressively and changed the motion ratio of the pedal assembly to provide a firm, responsive brake pedal. "It was embarrassing that the old brakes were so bad," Kreder says.
To differentiate the 2011 model from the first generation Edge, the Blue Oval boys refreshed the exterior styling with a few tweaks to the grille, headlights and fascias. Inside, however, the Edge was given a complete overhaul. Ford ditched the old hard surfaces, replacing them with soft-touch materials using fewer parts with fewer seams, which is where problematic squeaks and rattles can arise. They also packed the Edge with more sound-deadening material, thicker glass, bigger subframe bushings and nearly every other available technique to filter unwanted noise from the cabin.
The hushed interior ambiance lets the driver's ears relax so that his eyes can discover details like stitched leather trim in the up-market SEL and Limited models, which will account for 80 percent of Edge sales.
The Bottom Line
The Edge finally delivers on the dynamic driving experience promised by its design, with a trio of powertrains that let customers choose an engine that best suits their needs. A sumptuous cockpit and increasingly functional electronic gadgetry‚ details that have contributed to the Taurus increasing its residual value, are bonus features that will boost customer satisfaction. These upgrades effectively distance the Edge from competitors like the dismally cheap Toyota Venza and should fend off the strong challenges of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sportage.
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