DRIVEN PREVIEW: 2007 Ford Edge

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If you're a mainstream automaker, two things ought to be at the core of your product lineup: a mid-size crossover utility vehicle and a modern six-cylinder powertrain. Any manufacturer that hasn't mastered those fundamentals by the 2007 model year hardly has any business being in the car business.

Which brings us to the Ford Motor Company, which is barely in business at all but, happily, has a handsome new crossover powered by a brand-new, 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic that Ford developed itself. Ford is pinning a lot of its hopes on this engine, which soon will end up in some twenty percent of its cars.

With Ford's future hanging in the balance, the 3.5-liter Duratec had to be good--and it is. Edge engineers targeted the Nissan Murano, and although the Duratec is not quite as enchanting to listen to at high revs as Nissan's VQ-series V-6, it squeezes out twenty more horses, and the Ford six-speed gearbox is much more eager to play than the Murano's CVT. Short-ratio first and second gears help the Edge launch energetically out of your subdivision, and once you're on the freeway, dips into the throttle are met by fast, crisp downshifts. This is a lot more rewarding to an aggressive driver than the endless droning of a CVT. If you need to pass at 70 mph, the gearbox will seamlessly drop to fourth and even grab third if further analysis of the rev situation deems that the V-6 can handle it.

The rest of the Edge's driving experience is less inspiring. The steering lacks on-center feel, the brake pedal is mushy, and the Edge is hardly a boon companion on a curvy road, where it wallows and wanders when you push it hard. Yet the suspension does a good job of absorbing potholes and rough pavement.

Ford will serve the market for three-row seating with its Explorer, Freestyle, and upcoming Fairlane, so the Edge seats only five. The rear seats lack thigh support, but the backrests recline or easily fold forward to create an almost-flat load floor. The noble efforts of Ford's designers to create a hip, contemporary ambience are compromised by hard plastics and leather that wouldn't even make the cut for a $599 sofa offered on easy credit. But the Vista Roof, which covers the entire seating area with glass panels and power sunshades, is a cheery option.

With its highway fuel economy pegged in the mid-20s, the Edge is a worthwhile alternative for those ready to jettison their thirsty Explorers, but it does little to advance the art of the segment in which it competes. In other words, it's business as usual at the Ford Motor Company.

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