Late last summer, I became the owner of a hand-me-down iPhone 3G, eager at the prospect of a touch-screen, app-filled universe. In short order, I joined legions of iPhone sufferers with a device that can do almost anything except make a clear phone call.
While there's plenty to like about the 2011 Ford Edge, its electronics remind me of my not-so-smart phone: bedazzling in theory, befuddling in practice.
Ford's popular five-seat crossover got a lot of worthwhile upgrades for 2011, including an improved interior, a spiffed-up Sport trim and better gas mileage. But the Edge and its Lincoln MKX sibling are the pioneers in Ford's aggressive push toward touch-screen controls, and their version 1.0 is not yet ready for prime time. Some will find the gadgetry appealing; the rest of us can avoid it altogether by getting the base trim level.
The Edge's trims, in ascending order, are the SE, SEL, Limited and Sport. All four have a standard V-6 engine, with the Sport getting the Mustang's high-output V-6. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional on all but the SE. We drove an SEL and a Sport, both with all-wheel drive. Compare all four trims here.
Changes Up Front
Although it hasn't been completely redesigned, the Edge looks fairly different for 2011, which you can compare to the 2010 model here. Ford says the hood, front fenders, nose and taillamps are new. The 2010 Edge's angular face was sharp in its own right, and I'm undecided about these changes. Ford's three-bar grille has overrun most of the face, leaving the headlights to retreat toward the fenders. I'm waiting for a Ford where the grille actually encompasses the headlights; this isn't too far off.
The side and rear look much the same as before, though Ford swapped last year's frosted taillights for conventional red ones. The Edge SE has standard 17-inch alloy wheels, but other details — black mirrors and door handles, a black roof spoiler — give it a pretty basic look. Higher trims get 18- or 20-inch wheels, body-colored trimmings and vertical LED parking lamps, much like the Ford Fiesta's. The Edge Sport gets 22-inch wheels, a black grille and painted bumper moldings, creating a sinister look that highlights the Edge's wide stance.
Which is wide, by the way. Overall width is up just under a quarter-inch versus the 2010 Edge. That puts the Edge at 76 inches — an inch or more wider than a Nissan Murano, Toyota Venza, Kia Sorento and a host of other competitors. Combine that with the Edge's near-40-foot turning circle, and regular parking spots will become tight ones; tight parking spots, you'll have to abandon altogether.
Similar Power, Better Mileage
The Edge's capable performance hasn't changed; our all-wheel-drive SEL never lacked for power, even with four adults on board. Especially impressive is Ford's six-speed automatic transmission, which upshifts smoothly and kicks down with little delay. Barrel into a corner, and it shifts into a lower gear to accelerate out with the sort of intuition I'd expect from a sports car. Well done, Ford.
With the Mustang's larger, 305-horsepower V-6 — versus the 285-hp V-6 in other trims — the Edge Sport packs additional heat, but it's not especially noticeable unless you push the crossover hard. Exit a tollbooth, and the Sport will have you back at 60 mph in a hurry, with a satisfying exhaust note any 'Stang owner will appreciate. Elsewhere, the differences are harder to find.
What has changed is gas mileage, which has been a low point for the Edge since its late-2006 arrival. Now, its EPA-estimated overall mileage is 22 mpg in the front-drive SEL and Limited; the Edge SE gets 21 mpg overall. (Likely to blame are the SE's different wheels and tires; as of publication, however, Ford has yet to confirm my inquiry.) All-wheel drive knocks 1 mpg off either figure. Those numbers are up 1 to 2 mpg over the 2010 Edge, and they're competitive with other six-cylinder, midsize crossovers.
Several competitors offer four-cylinder engines, some to the tune of 23 or 24 mpg combined. Later in 2011, Ford will do just that: The Edge will get a turbocharged four-cylinder that will offer more than 200 hp and "class-leading fuel economy," Ford says. As of this writing, few concrete details on the drivetrain are available.
Ride & Handling
The Edge rides comfortably — it easily beats the stiff-legged Venza and the bouncy Sorento — but doesn't always offer the most controlled experience. Hit a patch of uneven pavement, and the chassis takes too long to regain its cool: There's a beat or two of reverberation that recalls the sort of response a body-on-frame SUV might exhibit — not what you'd expect from the Edge's car-based architecture. Road and wind noise, at least, are both low.
For a crossover, I'd like a little more power steering assist at low speeds; it takes considerable effort to crank the wheel around parking lots and city streets. Things lighten up as you increase speed, but its steering never makes the Edge a joy to drive. Like in many crossovers, it comes up sloppy in demanding handling situations, and rapid corners induce noticeable body roll. On the highway, I could use a bit less power assist; the wheel feels too loose, and changing lanes is too much of a meandering exercise.
Fortunately, the Edge Sport addresses much of this. The steering is no easier to manage, but it returns better turn-in precision, which suits the Sport's flatter cornering. The sport-tuned suspension handles bumps with less wobble, though you pay for it in a firmer overall ride. It's not as firm as the last Edge Sport, which rode downright harshly, but the suspension picks up a number of road imperfections that our SEL model masked. One editor said his backseat passengers complained of the rough ride. No doubt the tires are a factor: The Sport's 22-inch rims carry P265/40R22 tires. For a crossover, those are veritable rubber bands.
Swathed in new, padded materials and lower-gloss textures, the Edge's redesigned dash should appeal to anyone getting out of a 2010 Edge. I wish Ford had padded the upper doors as well as the dash — if you sit up high, the hard door panels wear on your elbows — and the outgoing Edge's optional aluminum trim has been swapped for cheaper gray plastic. But materials overall are much richer, if not quite to the level of the class-leading Murano.
Both cars we tested had a decent grade of leather upholstery. The front seats don't adjust very far back; I sat with our test car's power driver's seat elevated high, and my 5-foot-11 frame could have used another inch of rearward travel. Headroom was good, and Ford says it remains unchanged with the optional panoramic moonroof.
One thing hasn't changed: For such a wide crossover, the Edge's cabin seems narrow. By the numbers, front hip room is pretty modest — exceeded, in fact, by several narrower crossovers. It shows. Between the wide center console and the thick doors, there's a lot of furniture that prevents you from stretching out.
The backseat has good legroom and headroom, and it reclines a bit, too. Like in many midsize crossovers, the seat could sit higher off the floor; taller adults will find their knees in the air.
Cargo room behind the backseat measures 32.2 cubic feet. That's competitive with the Murano and Venza but short of three-row competitors like the Dodge Journey and Sorento, which offer closer to 40 cubic feet behind the second row — enough for another couple packs of paper towels from Costco. Fold the seats down, and the Edge's 68.9 cubic feet of maximum volume is competitive with all but the Hyundai Santa Fe, whose 78.2 cubic feet leads the group. Optional on the Edge SEL and standard on the Limited and Sport, a fold-flat front passenger seat allows you to accommodate longer cargo. It's a feature few competitors offer.
High Tech, High Headache
A leader in driver technology — most notably with its Sync system, introduced in 2007 — Ford announced its latest effort, MyFord Touch, in early 2010. It replaces traditional center controls with a labeled, touch-sensitive surface, plus an 8-inch center screen with interchangeable menus. The steering wheel gets controls that direct the action on LCD screens flanking the speedometer. MyFord Touch is standard on the Edge Limited and Sport, and it's optional on the SEL.
A number of editors got behind the wheel, and the verdict among them was unanimous: MyFord Touch needs a lot of work, and it's worth sticking to an SE or lightly equipped SEL trim to avoid it.
First off: Touch-sensitive controls for major functions, like the radio and climate controls, are questionable. Tactile controls are workable in the rocky confines of a moving vehicle; that's why we like navigation systems that include real buttons for controls you need the most.
Even if touch-sensitive buttons are the wave of the future, some manufacturers do it better than others. The Chevy Volt has touch-sensitive buttons, but they sit closer to your line of sight and respond with minimal lag. Not so in the Edge. The basic MyFord Touch console layout has raised bumps that offer some sense of where the controls are, but they sit far below your line of sight, requiring a glance down even after you've grown used to their general location.
You'll wait a half-second or longer for maps, music and climate menus to load on the 8-inch screen, which accumulates so many fingerprints it's all but impossible to read on a sunny day. We've enjoyed similarly large screens in other current Ford models, but those had less lag and no touch-sensitive controls below.
The optional Sony stereo only makes things worse: MyFord Touch becomes a glossy black panel with even more buttons and no tactile feedback whatsoever. You don't even get the measly bumps. It looks good but it doesn't work.
Ford says most controls, including playlists from your iPod and destinations in the navigation system, respond to Sync's elaborate voice recognition software. If only. Sync is better than it used to be, but it still misses a lot of commands. Driving from Cars.com's Chicago offices to the Detroit auto show, photographer Ian Merritt and I tried half a dozen times to call up our hotel's address in Dearborn, Mich. Sync pulled up countless Michigan cities — except Dearborn. Irony of ironies, seeing as that's where Ford is based.
With so much technology on board, both the preproduction Edge trims we tested had no shortage of electronic bugs: steering-wheel controls that sent the volume to maximum with one click, brief screen freezes for the optional backup camera, delays getting back to the navigation screen. These sorts of things will probably be ironed out on production models, but if you encounter any, click the link below to send us an email.
We raised our concerns to Ford, and spokesman Patrick Hespen said: "This is like any other type of [operating system]. There will constantly be updates. I couldn't give you a specific timeline, but there will be updates, and those can either be done by the dealer or they can be done at home with a flash drive."
Hespen said latency times should decrease with the updates, suggesting they come through software, not hardware, changes. Time will tell if that does the trick, but either way, no processing ingenuity can address the dubious nature of filling a dashboard with touch-sensitive controls. Consumer Reports wouldn't recommend the Edge or the Lincoln MKX because it cited MyFord Touch as a driver distraction, lowering its score. We agree with them.
Safety, Features & Pricing
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Edge earned the top score, Good, in front, side and rear impacts. The Edge ranked one rung down, Acceptable, in IIHS' roof-strength test. Standard safety features include the usual complement of front, side and curtain airbags. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system are also standard, with a blind spot warning system optional. Click here to see a full list of safety features.
The Edge SE starts at $27,455, which is about midpack among six-cylinder midsize crossovers. Standard features include the usual power accessories, a CD stereo with an MP3 jack and steering-wheel audio controls, manual air conditioning and remote entry. That's a fairly lean group of features for this price. In this segment, similar money can get you things like dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, USB/iPod compatibility and more.
All those features are available on higher trims, as is heated leather upholstery, a panoramic moonroof, a power passenger seat and MyFord Touch. The navigation system requires MyFord Touch, but it's an affordable $795 once you have the system in place. All-wheel drive is available on all but the SE; at $1,850, it's also a reasonable deal. Load up an all-wheel-drive Edge Sport with factory options, and it tops out around $45,000.
Edge in the Market
MyFord Touch should improve in future versions: Already, the Explorer's version is operated the same way but has marginally shorter lag times. Continuing improvement — faster commands, fewer glitches, better ergonomics — could do a world of good. Is MyFord Touch destined to be Ford's iDrive? Perhaps, but even BMW eventually fixed its much-maligned system. Let's hope Ford can right this ship quickly, because, electronics aside, the Edge has a lot going for it.
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