Ford Edge — Still leading the pack

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Ford was the sport utility champ through the ’90s and into the 21st Century, led by the trailblazing truck-based Explorer. But by mid-decade the once-popular body-on-frame SUVs had lost favor to the lighter and more fuel-efficient car-based sport utilities, which have become known to the auto-buying public as crossovers.

So Ford deftly moved with the times introducing the mid-sized Edge crossover in 2006 for the 2007 model year. It proved to be popular — even in direct competition with the slightly bigger Explorer — selling more than 130,000 copies in 2007. 

But the segment has mushroomed and the Edge is faced with increasing competition from a number of all-new vehicles and of course there was the economy. Although the Edge is still the number one seller among 27 crossovers in the segment, sales dipped in 2008 and 2009, recovering nicely in 2010 and still on an upward swing in early 2011.

Ford saw the need for a major refreshening. And the result is a considerably improved and sharper looking 2011 Edge that we think can stand toe to toe with the best the segment has to offer.

For 2011, styling remains a key ingredient with bold and significant changes in the front and rear including a large, more handsome Ford signature drop jaw chrome grille. Add to that an all-new interior with noticeable attention to detail, fit and finish. In this case the really good just got really better.

It’s available in four trim levels: SE, SEL, Limited and Sport along with two powertrains starting at $27,995 for the SE and topping out at $38,845 for the all-wheel drive Sport.
Our test vehicle, a Limited two-wheel drive with options, stickered for $42,330.

All but the Sport are powered by a 3.5-liter 285 horsepower V-6 matched to a six-speed automatic. The Sport gets the Mustang’s 3.7-liter 305 horsepower V-6 and a six-speed auto with paddle shifters. A direct-injection turbocharged 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine will be added during the model year with, according to Ford, the power of a V-6 and the fuel efficiency of a 4-cylinder.

While styling changes and interior updates are indeed noteworthy, to us the extra 20 horsepower is crucial in turning adequate performance into almost exciting performance, especially with an empty load. And perhaps more important, the extra horsepower gives the Edge the necessary grunt to perform all tasks with vigor while loaded with passengers and cargo.

By the numbers, the Edge shows 0-to-60 in 7.1 seconds and a quarter mile in 15.7 seconds at 93 mph. What do those figures tell us? That the Edge is above average, and adequate power should be of no concern to the prospective customer. For those with weekend recreational toys, towing capacity has not been increased over the previous model, staying at a useable 3,500 pounds.

Ford has managed to improve gas mileage even while upping horsepower. The Edge is now rated at 19 mpg city and 27mpg highway in front-wheel drive and 19/26 in all-wheel drive. Moving up to the Sport model will drop mpg slightly to 18/25 and 17/23 (AWD).

Performance is accompanied by a revised steering effort that proved pleasing in our  test, especially at highway speeds on crowded four-lanes. On-center response is excellent.

Remembering that this is a high-riding crossover designed for carrying passengers and cargo, the Ford exhibited a bit more body roll than we would have liked on a stretch of our favorite back-road “test track.” But people don’t purchase these vehicles to test their limits on hard, fast turns. They are chosen for carrying passengers and cargo, and for the bad-weather and modest off-road capability available.

It is those areas the Edge excels, comfortably accommodating four or five passengers, offering excellent head room front and back and decent leg room for rear-seat passengers. Cargo space behind the seats is generous measured at 32.2 cubic feet. With rear seatbacks folded, the cargo area expands to 68.9 cubic feet. To unload that cargo, the big tailgate raises high making pulling it down a bit taxing for some people. Ford has the answer with an optional power tailgate.

Delightfully nice materials have been used in the cabin giving the Edge an upscale appearance and feel. Switchgear is generally easy to operate and the readouts are clear.

Then there’s the MyFord Touch issue. Our vehicle came with the much ballyhooed MyFord Touch, and the next-generation Sync system; the same one that Consumer Reports slammed saying the system was complex, hard to read because of small print, touchscreen buttons were too small and it was a distraction to safe driving.

In the fall we received a complete “walk-around” of the system from its chief engineer. We found the 35 minutes very entertaining and we were amazed at the depth of features embedded into the system.

Unfortunately, when you are alone with MyFord Touch and on the highway, in traffic, it turns out to be not so amazing. The biggest fault in some cases is that drivers are forced to take their eyes off the road more often than with traditional buttons and knobs.

We agree that MyFord Touch is simply too complicated when trying to access features through the touchscreen. The key, at least according to some dealers is training classes. Many of those dealers find that the classes have erased complaints, including those voiced by Consumer Reports.

MyFord Touch takes Sync to a new level and most controls can be accessed through voice command, but it takes living with the system and a willingness to learn new things over a stretch of time to become completely familiar with it. There are some 10,000 commands that the new system will respond to; however, like IBM’s “Jeopardy” playing computer ‘Watson’ it occasionally will misfire. Take the time, be patient and you’ll be rewarded. We understand now that Ford will ask its dealers and reimburse them for holding training classes for MyFord Touch customers.

Additionally the two gauge screens surrounding the speedometer are controlled by five-way switches on the steering wheel and proved intuitive and unobtrusive while driving and that too will get you what you need from Sync and MyFord Touch.

If you are on a budget, the base Edge comes well equipped — sans MyFord Touch — with all the usual amenities and a full array of safety features including antilock brakes, stability control with rollover avoidance, front-seat side, full-length side-curtain airbags, and blind spot mirrors.

The Edge has earned a top five-star crash-test rating for the driver in a head-on collision and for both front and rear side-impact collisions.

The new Edge is well thought out with improvements in all areas over the previous model. And the Edge seems a perfect pairing for the all-new seven-passenger Explorer now in showrooms.

Base price: $27,995; as driven, $42,330
Engine: 3.4-liter V-6
Horsepower: 285 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 253 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.2 inches
Length: 184.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,082 pounds
Turning circle: 38.6 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 32.2 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 68.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27mpg highway, 19 mpg city
Also consider: Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Chevrolet Equinox

The Good
• Upgraded cabin with first-class materials
• Reworked V-6 engine with more horsepower
• Excellent gas mileage for a mid-sized crossover
• Top-rated safety

The Bad
• Pricey options packages

The Ugly
• MyFord Touch too complicated for average driver (sometimes)