Road Test: A utility star is born

The 2011 Ford Edge shut down some very intense competition to win the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) “Utility Vehicle of the Year” award recently.

June 21, 2011
by Tony Whitney

Canadian Automotive Review: JUNE 2011

BODY STYLE: 4-door crossover.
ENGINE: Choice of two V-6 units with a 4-cylinder on the way.
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic, available manual control via steering wheel paddles.
MAX. TOWING CAPACITY: 3,500 lbs. with appropriate package.
FUEL ECONOMY: 12.2-litres/100 km city; 7.4-litres/100 km hwy. (FWD, 3.5-litre)
PRICE: Starts at $27,999 (V-6).

The 2011 Ford Edge shut down some very intense competition to win the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) “Utility Vehicle of the Year” award recently. This competition is by far the most respected, longest-lived and most comprehensive staged in this country.

AJAC members don’t simply vote from their desks. Apart from tests journalists carry out individually with vehicles on their own, the Ontario-based “TestFest” contest includes days of  back-to-back evaluation over all kinds of terrain against the hottest  vehicles in their respective classes. Some very good vehicles don’t even  make the top three, so to win this accolade is far from easy.

The Edge competes in a product-packed segment, so Ford’s designers and engineers battled to come up with something very special when the time came for a new model—and the Edge is all-new for 2011.

The original Edge, launched in 2006, was very successful and was one of those products that helped drive Ford towards the status it enjoys today: a builder of quality vehicles with a strong combination of style and technology.

The vehicle has been freshened inside and out and is very well put together. As with other new Fords, build quality is as good as anything in the industry and many features are unique. Ford’s targets when developing the new Edge included enhanced driving dynamics, better fuel economy, “unexpected levels of quietness” and high quality materials. Some of the technology built into the 2011 Edge is unique in the industry—especially the MyFord Touch system that we’ll get to later.

Styling is very crisp and contemporary without any objectionable gimmickry. One of the dominant features is the big grille that very much puts the Ford stamp on this product. There are four trim levels: SE (FWD), SEL (FWD or AWD), Limited (FWD or AWD) and Sport (AWD only), in ascending order of price and equipment level. There is a very large options list but the basic SE is well-equipped and has all the usual safety features and air bags.

Powerplant options
Initially, there will be a choice of V-6 engines for the Canadian-built Edge, a 3.5-litre 285-horsepower unit and a 3.7-litre 305-horsepower powerplant in the Edge Sport. The Edge Sport engine is the same as the one used in the 2011 Mustang. Both engines use a six-speed automatic and if you opt for the Sport, it comes with manual-select paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Coming soon is a 2.0-litre EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine which should impress the thrifty buyer with what Ford calls “class-leading fuel economy”.

The Edge comes with a wide range of features related to both safety and convenience. Four-wheel disc brakes are fitted and there are three wheel sizes depending on trim package. The largest are a whopping 22-inches on the Edge Sport.

Some of the more novel engineering features include hill start assist, blind spot warning, trailer sway control, adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support. All contribute towards the safety and security of the new Edge.

The Edge we tested was top-of-the-line and very much a premium vehicle. It had lots of power, surprising levels of refinement and comfort and agile handling too. It doesn’t really drive like a utility vehicle; it’s more like a decent sporty sedan.

Matching this quality feel is a very pleasing interior with an easy to reach central panel for multiple switchgear and controls and extensive use of soft-touch materials, which always adds to a luxurious ambiance in the cabin. On high-end Edge models, the steering wheel also carries multiple controls, so the driver can handle most chores without removing hands from the wheel.

Car as computer
One of the major talking points with the new Edge is the MyFord Touch system, which allows the driver to actuate various functions simply by touch. It uses two 4.2-inch colour LCD screens flanking the speedometer on the dash and an 8-inch touch screen on the central console stack.

It’s Ford’s way of giving the driver the kind of control and interface that’s available with all those devices most of us use every day—iPads, mobile phones, music players and so on. We’ve believed for years that automakers should base interfaces like this on something closer to the systems everyone’s now familiar with and not go off in different directions with overly-complex arrangements of their own.

The Ford interface works very well, but users should familiarize themselves with the location of all the touch pads before they try it out on the road. Touch pads are easy enough to use, but the driver does have to look at the screen for many functions and a busy highway is no place to be experimenting with systems like MyFord Touch.

From a safety standpoint, this premise applies to any electronic controls in any type of vehicle. Possibly the best way to use MyFord Touch is to set up the voice command system, which is very effective and easy to use and functions with most of the controls.

This is a fascinating and very comprehensive mode of control and only a trip to your Ford dealer will really tell the story. It’s something you have to try out in person, even though Ford has an excellent brochure on the Edge. Ford co-operated with Microsoft to design MyFord Touch, as it has before with advanced computerized systems for vehicles.

One intriguing note is that Ford is selling the Edge in China now and it is available with MyFord Touch boasting Mandarin voice control, which in a way underlines the adaptability and versatility of this system. The Chinese-market Edge is built in Canada just like the ones we get.

The logic of cargo
As a fairly sizeable vehicle, the Edge is very roomy inside and rear seat passengers will have nothing to complain about at all. The seats are well-shaped and bolstered and the seatbelts are easy to reach and fasten. The rear cargo area is very generous and with the rear seatbacks folded down (they also split 60/40), there’s an enormous amount of space back there which will even accommodate very large and bulky items.

Ford’s available Cargo-Logic load retention system is a remarkable way of keeping heavy objects from sliding about on the load deck. Consisting of sturdy moulded angle units which fasten to the carpet with a hook-and-look system, Cargo-Logic makes it possible to safely stow even a heavy load like a tool box. It’s one of those “why has nobody thought of this before” benefits that every vehicle should have.

One appealing option is Ford’s glazed Panoramic Vista Roof, which accounts for something like 40 percent of the roof area and makes for a very bright and airy interior. The available rear DVD system is mainly aimed at family travel, but we’ve known businesspeople who use them to show promotional videos to clients.

The Edge comes with too many standard features to mention here and prices can vary quite considerably, as might be expected. There’s quite a spread between an entry-level Edge and one with a long list of options. A base Edge costs $27,999 with a V-6, but I’d imagine that when the four-cylinder engine arrives, there’ll be an even more affordable Edge variant and one possibly more suited to the fleet business. Our test vehicle was fully loaded with just about every available option and was stickered at $46,399, including destination and delivery charges.

Ford describes the 2011 Edge as “brimming with standard and class-exclusive technologies” and that boast is tough to argue with. Even the basic Edge is very well put together with a very high level of fit and finish and a general feeling of quality and durability.

The Edge is a fun vehicle to drive and a fine replacement for its predecessor. It’s close to falling into the luxury segment when fully optioned but the base product would certainly please a whole lot of buyers. Its status in its market segment has been confirmed by that prestigious AJAC award and no doubt there’ll be more accolades awaiting Ford as production gets fully underway. It’s thanks to products like the Edge that Ford has been able to weather the economic storm the auto industry has faced in recent years and emerge stronger than ever.