Jul 102007
 

Crossover is a confusing breed, even more so with rough Edges.

Background
This mid-size crossover sport utility vehicle (CUV) was acquired as a rental vehicle with ~4,500 miles on the odometer at the time of pick up. It stayed with us for three days. We drove approximately ~1,050 miles. The test route mainly consists of California Sierra highways at high attitudes from Lassen Volcanic National Park to Mono Lake at Lee Vining and US120 thru Yosemite, where elevation seldom gets below 4,000ft. The entire trip in the Explorer was with 4 average size adults with a trunk load full of camping equipments. The averaged fuel consumption was 21 mpg.

Introduction
Ford introduced Edge (Code Name:U387) in late 2006 as a 2007 model. The tester is one of the first few badges manufactured in Oakville, Ontario, Canada – production date: 03/07. Ford has determined that CUV will be the future, and the Edge is Ford’s first cutting stone to carve into the CUV market that has been dominated by the affordable Hyundai Santa Fe, the sporty Nissan Murano, and the soft-mannered Toyota Highlander. These three players have been around the crossover segment for years, and have established their individual markets. Is Ford a bit late in the game? Or this is Ford’s only reserve to turn the profit losing company around? Since current buyers aren’t no longer interested in fullsize SUVs or pickups, and Ford’s car lineup is a joke. For sure, the CUV market is the uncharted water for this sinking Ford. Like 90% of Ford’s product, the architecture of the Edge will be shared with Lincoln in attempt to capture more market segments where the Lincoln MKX will compete with Lexus RX, and Infiniti FX. Mazda CX9 is also based on the Edge architecture but fortunately its architecture will receive a full-body massage from Mazda to distinct from Ford and Lincoln. However, they are based on Ford’s global midsize car CD3 platform which is currently employed under the 2003 – Present Mazda 6 and its equivalent: Ford Fusion, Lincoln Zephyr & Mercury Milan. The CD3 was designed by Mazda in association with Ford mainly for the North American market.

In 2007, there are three trim levels in the Edge lineup: SE, SEL, and SEL Plus. All equips with the same powertrain and suspensions and can be equipped with optional AWD system. Our tester is the SEL front wheel drive model equips with Ford’s Duratech 35 (Code Name: Cyclone) 3.5L V6 aluminum DOHC engine with 6-speed automatic transmission (Code Name: 6F). This engine is assembled in Ohio. It pumps out 265hp@6,250rpm and 250Ib-ft of torque@4,500rpm. Engine is transversely mounted, driving the front wheels via the 6F transmission which was co-developed with GM. Traction is provided by a set of P235/65R17, Hankook DynaPro AS tires. The chassis is supported by MacPherson struts front and independent multi-link rear suspensions with stabilizer bars. Stopping power is generated by 4 wheel ABS discs brakes with ventilated discs in the front

Impression
Lacking the knowledge of the car, we didn’t actually expect much. At a glance, the profile of the Edge reminds us a 5-door Focus on illegal male enhancement sitting on lifted suspensions with big tires at the far front and rear corners. Perhaps, this is what a CUV supposed to be – unibody car platform with a station wagon body with raised suspensions. In the front, the 3 bar chrome grille with an enormous blue oval Ford emblem implanted in the centre. This frontal styling is some-what futuristic or can be described as oddball, it takes a long moment or two to get use to. However, this styling will be adapting to most of Ford products like the ’08 Taurus & Taurus X.

Getting into the driver seat at the height of the Edge doesn’t cause much drama even without the side running broad. Once situated in the cockpit, our confusion begins. The sitting position is exactly minivan-like despite the Focus-like profile. Sitting position is high with almost straight recline angle to achieve proper driving position. A peek at the center console, even though the switchgears aren’t overly crowded but it takes some headscratching to figure out the desired setting – namely the HVAC, and on broad vehicle status display. The 8 similarity labels and in feel rocker switch on the steering wheel are equally challenging and redundant. Four of those have the same confusing labels: “+ Vol”, “+ Temp”, “+ Set”, & “+ Fan”. The lack of contrast deflected these supposed convenient “at a glance” type of controls. Perhaps, Ford has overdone those buttons, how many times in a trip do you need to adjust the temperature of the air conditioning when you can have it set in auto mode, and the temperature control buttons are only inches away from the wheel.

Underneath the hood, the Duratec35 engine is mounted much lower than one would expect when compare to the beltline of the front fenders – a clear indication of passenger car unibody setup. Off-the-line, this engine can easily break loose the front tires follow by some very apparent torque steer, perhaps, the front axle angles aren’t equal or flat enough, and/or the axles aren’t equal length. The engine has linear output from idle to its 6,700rpm redline (A first in a Ford product) and noticeably stronger midrange power as shown in the horsepower vs. torque curve in the spec sheet. In fact, this engine is a brand new creation from Ford, and it even made it to Ward’s 10Best Engines list for 2007, where it is now in the same league as Nissan’s VQ series and the Toyota 2GR-FSE engine. It is a revolutionary design for North America Ford to be on the Ward’s list for the first time, bear in mind that there are numerous 3.5L V6 engines flooding the market. Making to that list must be quite an achievement, and would expect some groundbreaking technologies in-use like Toyota’s 2GR-FSE 3.5L V6 engine with advance direct or indirection gasoline injection technology.

In comparison, this Duratec 35 doesn’t have much of those gadgets to write home about, it doesn’t even equip with the commonly used things like variable length intake runner, nor variable exhaust cam timing. To add to the “wow” factor, the rated output of the engine is based on 87 octane gasoline despite the 10.3:1 compression ratio and based on the new SAE J1349 testing method. How does a company still using SOCH engines come out with an engine like the Duratec 35 reminds a mystery? On the road, the “wow” factor diminishes. The Duratec felt just like an ordinary V6 engine. It is smooth and rev willingly under light load and the harshness appears at higher revs. It doesn’t have the punches or the power like the VQ or the 2GR when pushed hard. With our tester fully loaded, the passing power is sufficient but no one would guess the Duratec is supposed to be state-of-the-art. On spec sheet, it takes the Edge to go from 0-60mph in low 8 sec, and quart mile comes in 16.5 seconds later. Conceivably we can blame the Edge’s 4,200Ibs curb weight and the sluggish transmission.

Akin to the engine, its mated transmission is supposed to be state-of-the-art as well. Supposed is the keyword here. This code name 6F 6-speed automatic transaxle is co-developed with GM for transversely mounted engine applications. In the development, the engineers emphasized on fuel economy, NVH (Noise, vibration and harshness), and performance. Its ultra wide-ratio 6.04:1 gear span provides a low 4.48:1 1st gear for quick off the line acceleration, and a tall 0.74:1 top gear for fuel economy at cruise speed. On the road, the acclaimed 1st and 6th gear ratio can easily be accredited along with the smoothness in shifting and noise in operation. As mentioned earlier, off-the-line acceleration is brisk and rapid when the transmission is in 1st gear. And while cruising at top gear, the engine rpm revs lazily at about ~1,750rpm at 60mph. That might sound like the 6F is fantastic since it is doing what it is designed for. However, that claim only tells a partial story at the extreme ends.

In between the extremes, the story is unsatisfactory. Once the transmission shifts out of 1st, the nightmare begins. The gear ratio for the 2nd is 2.872, a big gap between 1st, meaning that brisk acceleration from 1st gear is gone and the engine has the tendency to drop below powerband. Without the downshift rev match feature, a downshift from a much taller gear ratio cause a big rpm surge, leading to jerking the car back and forth losing its composure, despite measures were taken to mitigate this problem based on Ford’s claim. The transmission is reluctant to shift. That proves the smoothness claim – when fewer shifting is done, and the smoother it is. Furthermore, in order to preserve this attribute, Ford minimized the manual accessibility a driver can make thru the shifter. The only available shifting is the essential P, R, N, and D, of course. As a bonus, Ford also provided L and an overdrive button. “WOW”, great way to take advantage of this 6 speed AT. Why do we care about that so much, because in stock form this transmission sucked. In L position, the programming makes the engine to tach out all the time and annoys everyone on broad, and the overdrive has deemed useless. Fortunately, the Mazda CX-9 has an Aisin made transaxle with manual control.

The brakes on the Edge have nothing to write home about consider it is a Ford. It contains most of the typical North American Ford attributes – operation is soft, lack of pedal feel, have more freeplay than we would prefer. The stopping distance is ultra long, feels as though, some full size SUV can stop sooner. It takes the SEL Plus AWD model 152-ft to stop from 60mph based on Edmunds.com’s testing, and they described as “hair-raising”! Bear in mind that, the SEL Plus has wider, and perhaps gripper Continental CrossContact LX tires compare to our tester’s Hankook. In comparison, when Edmunds.com tested the Nissan Murano in 2003, it only took the Murano 124-ft to go from 60-to-0. Perhaps, the extra footage of the brake distance can be blame on the Edges extra pounds. Fortunately, the pedal modulation is linear and progressive.

In speaking of Hankook tires, this South Korean brand is coming a long way especially being able to obtain the assurance from Ford, considering the controversial media blew up on the blow outs of the Firestone tires on the Explores years ago. With the understanding that Ford would have implemented strict quality standards for the OEM equipped tires after the incident.

However, at first, the equipped Hankook has lower than expected cornering limit. They tend to squeal more often than we liked. A squealing tire is an uncomfortable thing to a pair of untrained ears a.k.a. non car enthusiasts. With more time we spent behind the wheel, the squeal from the generic looking thread pattern is a perfect match to the Edge’s suspension setup. Turn-in at post speed is Taurus like, with fair amount of road feel thru the 6″ tall sidewalls. During spirited corning, the centre of gravity seemed to be higher than anticipated causing quite heavy body roll which can be also contributed from the equipped Vista Roof. Vista Roof is a large powered moonroof running across from top of windscreen to the backseat, putting massive weight at the highest point of the car in which forcing the centre of gravity to be higher. In contrast, a typical size moonroof in a sedan can add 30 extra pounds. Therefore, this Vista Roof must be heavy. Body roll seemed to be initiated at the rear suspensions and with higher degree of bow. While the front suspensions have the tendency to lift. Without the warning from the Hankooks, fish-tailing is an accident waiting to happen. Ride quality has the family sedan like refinement. The setup transmits sufficient feedback and road feel without being either too stiff or too soft. Nose dive under heavy braking is very apparent as expected.

The interior is muted; wind, engine and road noise intruding into the cabin are minimal and generally pleasant. Except with the Vista Roof is open when vehicle speed is above 50mph, the resonance generated by the wind is unbearable in terms of noise and pressure wave especially for the rear seat passengers. The majority of the trip the roof remains shut. We later discovered that cracking down the rear door windows can counteract the pressure wave, but meanwhile, caused in-cabin air turbulence. Not perfect, indeed. Fit-and-finish is typical Ford like, with rough edges to the hard plastic moldings. With the low humidity breeze in the high altitude sucking our skins dry, we often ended up with a couple minor paper-cut like tear on various spot of the hands. The instrument cluster supports the theme of 180 degree swap gauges, they are extremely basic in design, but yet hard to read at a glance, almost an eyesore to look at – the needles are thick, so is the numbering for the speedo and tachometer.

Despite the SUV style driving position, don’t be mistaken it as your typical all terrain SUV. Most of times, the All-Wheel-Drive system on the CUVs are mainly for added assurance for traveling on loss gravel or in the in light snow. It generally doesn’t offer low range gears or any adjustment drivers can make. Often times, AWD is an option item. During our time in Mono Lake, we learnt the hard way. There are miles and miles of unpaved roads surrounded the lake, and being from the silicon region of the Bay Area, unpaved road in this SUV wannabe in the middle of nowhere equal to some inexperienced “mudding” time. The majority of the roads are paved with loose coarse gravel, and appeared to be well compacted. With the relatively high ground clearance, the Edge fly thru those with ease, and rode just like a sedan. Trouble began when the sudden rush of confidence plus knowing the lack of authority to enforce the wrong-doing equated to stupidity. Five miles or so from the nearest paved pavement, we managed to get our CUV stuck in a soft patch of fine sand at a fairly wide turnout, as the result of e-brake front wheel drive donut. Two seconds of stupidity in exchange for 1.5 hours of manual construction work with pure manpower to re-expose the submerged front wheels. However, the relatively high ground clearance allowed the ground to support the front subframe with the front suspensions uncompressed to create a two foot wide fender gap with the one of the front tires (the one with the less traction due to lack of LSD) generating sand storm spinning in searching for grip.

Overall, the Edge left us confused at its purpose besides for being stylish as a station wagon on lifted suspensions. It doesn’t have the performance and agility to take on the Murano, isn’t as refine as the Highlander, nor reasonably priced as the Santa Fe. Besides the always closed Vista Roof, we see no particular attraction in the Edge. Not because it’s a terrible vehicle but it just doesn’t feel right and being too generic as if it is underdeveloped. But once again, maybe CUVs are supposed to be that way. CUVs are for the buyers who will never go offroad, who doesn’t care offroad capability, but wanted a SUV like vehicle with car-like refinement to tackle the pothole in downtown San Francisco. But why? Fashion? Appearance more than function is the ultimate riceboy.

Overall Impression
Scoring System:

Performance & Acceleration: 6
Comment: Adequate.

Drivetrain: 5
Comment: Inefficient.

Handling & Cornering: 6.5
Comment: Large amount of body roll.

Brake Feel: 5
Comment: Soft, and lack of feel.

Ride Characteristic: 6.5
Comment: Like a large non sporty sedan.

Interior Comfort: 6
Comment: Average.

Workmanship: 5.5
Comment: Lack of refinement.

Functionality: 8
Comment: Takes rocket science to figure out how to fold down backseat. As functional as a typical hatchback.

Technology: 7
Comment: Bread-and-butter.

Afterthoughts
With some research, the 6F transmission took GM and Ford US$720millions each to develop. Considering the sale of Aston Martin only netted Ford $848 million. In contrast, if Ford has to develop the 6F alone, Ford has to sell Aston Martin twice. It does sounds very expensive for a transmission that isn’t really that impressive. It definitely doesn’t seem it worth that much. Just like the engine doesn’t seem like it belongs to the 10Best Engine list. If Ford is depending on the Edge to turn the company around from red ink, we can dare to say, it has failed. END

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