It’s tempting to forget about the Ford Edge. After all, the Blue Oval’s exhaustive lineup of crossovers includes far cooler (Flex) and more capable (new Explorer) offerings. A quick gander at the sales chart, however, reveals that the Edge is Ford’s second best-selling crossover/SUV, trailing only the fleet-favorite Escape.
Meanwhile, the assortment of mid-size, two-row crossovers is advancing and expanding. Two of the three vehicles Ford cites as direct competitors -- the Honda Accord Crosstour, Toyota Venza and Nissan Murano -- didn’t exist when the Edge debuted in 2006. To that mix we’d add the Hyundai Santa Fe, GMC Terrain, and Chevrolet Equinox (which has surpassed the Edge so far this year and become the sales leader of bunch).
With all that in mind, it makes sense that the four-year-old Edge is not only deserving of an extensive makeover but also should be the first recipient of Ford’s most cutting edge in-car technology.
More swagger, more quality
As with last year’s redesign of the Fusion, on which the Edge is based, Ford designers have made a few styling tweaks in the name of a more expressive, aggressive look. The front fascia is completely new, with a long, Audi-like grille and cat-eye headlamps similar to those on the forthcoming new Explorer. Not to be outdone by the Venza with its twenty-inch wheels, Ford has made twenty-two-inch rims – previously an option -- standard on the top-of-the-line Sport model. Otherwise, it will take a current Edge owner (and a rather attentive one at that) to spot the changes, which include slightly different trim moldings and new tail lamps.
The old Edge’s weak link was its cabin, so it’s no surprise that Ford spent more time and money making changes inside. Passenger room and cargo capacity were already competitive with everything in the segment, so the dimensions remain unchanged, but everything one touches and sees has been completely redesigned and brought up to Ford’s new standards. The appealing, soft-touch dash takes clear cues from the Fusion and Taurus, with a colorful LCD instrument panel and center console that gracefully flows down between the front seats. Ford also seems to have borrowed a few ideas from its recently departed European subsidiaries. The clever storage space behind the center console smacks of Volvo, and the optional MyFord touch screen (which we’ll get to in greater detail later) is clearly a page from the Jaguar playbook. Even with the colorful screens, the Edge cabin isn’t quite high style -- the Equinox and Terrain in particular offer more appealing color and trim combinations -- but in terms of quality, the Edge is with little doubt the new benchmark in its price range.
Bigger and smaller engines
Under its skin, the Edge hasn’t escaped the engine downsizing zeitgeist at Ford, but there are some improvements for power-hungry buyers as well. To match the fuel economy of competitors like the four-cylinder Venza, a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with joins the lineup starting early next year. We weren’t able to sample the new Ecoboost four-cylinder, but given its 237-hp rating in the new Explorer (where it will debut first), we feel safe in predicting it will easily outgun the four-cylinder competition from GM, Toyota, and Hyundai.
At the same time, Ford has fortified and expanded the Edge’s six-cylinder offerings. The familiar 3.5-liter V-6 gets a 20-hp shot in the arm, and is now good for 285 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque. It’s also become a bit more efficient, with the front-wheel-drive model scoring 19/27 mpg in EPA testing. The Sport model, meanwhile, inherits the 3.7-liter V-6 from the Mustang. When paired with all-wheel drive, its 305 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque should serve as compelling stat-sheet candy for those reluctantly downsizing from V-8-powered SUVs.
A day of driving the six-cylinder models through some excellent if very damp Tennessee back roads finds that the Edge doesn’t set any brilliant new standards in terms of crossover driving dynamics. To wit, the class-leading power is largely offset by the class leading curb weight (4500 pounds in all-wheel-drive form -- some 200 pounds heavier than the Murano and almost 400 more than the Accord Crosstour and Venza). Still, there are a few pleasant surprises. New dampers and wider tires, along with some adjustments to the rear anti-roll bar and rear bushings have tidied up the Edge’s body control through sharp bends. Braking has been improved by lifting larger rear calipers off the Flex. They’re still tough to modulate, but proved commendably fade resistant after a few hard stops.
To improve the formerly numb and vague steering, engineers redesigned the steering gear and swapped in a hydraulic power-assist pump from the European Mondeo. The result won’t scare a BMW X5 but is nonetheless quite good for the segment, with decent feel and consistent feedback. For better or for worse, we weren’t able to notice much difference in the Sport model, aside from a bit more punch off the line. The Edge Sport’s huge standard wheels didn’t seem to negatively impact the ride quality, but we’ll remain a bit skeptical until we have a chance to drive it over pavement less perfect than we were able to find around Nashville.
Technology: Impressive capability, but some assembly required
That’s the Edge. The other story here has little to do with the crossover and everything to do with the debut of Ford’s ambitious new user interface: MyFord touch. Standard on Sport and Limited models, MyFord touch effectively banishes buttons and knobs from the center stack. Instead, there is a large LCD screen with icons to operate navigation, radio, climate control, and phones paired via Bluetooth. Even the redundant controls below the screen for the climate control and radio are touch activated. A Sony audio system, also standard on Limited and Sport models, adds HD Radio and more important, some shiny black trim that makes the whole center stack look like something you might find at an Apple store. The touch screen looks and works much better than similar setups we’ve criticized on Jaguars and Land Rovers, though it still lacks the instantaneous speed that characterizes those popular Apple devices. It’s also far more intuitive, even on the first try, than most click-wheel-based telematics systems.
The touch screen, which will soon be applied across Ford’s lineup, is the most obvious sign of the Edge’s technological advancement, but there’s more. The crossover also features improved Sync voice recognition, can serve as a wireless hub for up to five devices, and can provide turn-by-turn directions beamed from Google or Mapquest. All of this, again, comes standard on the upper trim levels.
The catch? Well for one, Sync still has something of a learning curve, and we wound up shouting at it by the end of our drive. More important, all the new features mentioned above rely on third party technology provided by you, the car owner. The turn-by-turn directions work via your cell phone. Ford thinks most customers will take easily to this potluck approach to in-car technology. We tentatively agree, but think Ford will need to clearly communicate to buyers which services are included and which require some assembly at home. If all this sounds like too much work, you can purchase an SD card that turns the touch screen into a full-fledged navigation system for $795.
Has Ford Gained Another Edge?
Ford has become a master of late at making a huge impact on its vehicles with relatively minor changes (see: 2009 Fusion, 2010 Mustang). The refreshed Edge is no exception. With just a dash of new sheet metal, revamped engines, and a heavy sprinkling of technology and luxury inside, it has turned what was a competent but very bland vehicle into one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in its segment.
2011 Ford Edge
On sale: Now
Engines: 3.5L V-6, 285 hp, 253 lb-ft; 3.7L V-6, 305 hp, 280 lb-ft
Drive: Front- or 4- wheel
Price: $27,220 (does not include destination)