- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

You could speculate that the reason Ford decided to call its important new offering the Edge was because of its desire to imbue the crossover utility vehicle with a distinctly American personality — an edge, if you will.

Just as the Mustang is a distinctly American car, with no hint of European or Asian genes, the 2007 Edge also was conceived to project American bravado and tastes, according to Peter Horbury, Ford’s chief designer.

That’s despite the fact that it was developed originally with Japan’s Mazda, which also has several new stylish crossovers — the five-passenger CX-7 and the seven-passenger CX-9.

But when it came to the execution, the foreign influences were deliberately muted so as to make them unrecognizable.

A crossover utility vehicle (CUV), by definition, is styled like a truck-based SUV, with an up-high driving position, available four-wheel drive, a wagon configuration and lots of interior space. But it is based on a car chassis, which makes for lighter weight, improved agility and better fuel economy.

Crossovers, which did not exist a until a decade ago, are rapidly displacing traditional truck-based SUVs, such as Ford’s best-selling Explorer, that for so many years captured the imaginations and monthly payments of American buyers.

The difference between a CUV and an SUV lies in the basic architecture.

SUVs usually have bodies bolted on frames, like pickup trucks, while CUVs have unit-body construction like automobiles. In two-wheel-drive models, SUVs have rear drive; CUVs have front drive. In four-wheel-drive models, SUVs usually have a part-time system; CUVs have full-time all-wheel drive.

Before the Edge, the Ford lineup had both. The Explorer and Expedition are truck-based SUVs, while the compact Escape and seven-passenger Freestyle are car-based CUVs. From a size and price standpoint, the Edge slots between the Escape and the Freestyle. Like the Escape, it is strictly a five-passenger vehicle. Customers who need seating for seven will be pointed toward the Freestyle.

However, the Edge is a true five-passenger vehicle. The floor in back is nearly flat, so three adults can sit back there.

Cargo space behind the back seat totals 32 cubic feet — not particularly generous but still more than twice the trunk space in most sedans. It is limited by styling that dictated a sloping roofline in back.

But the rear seats are split 60-40 and fold to expand the cargo area.

The tailgate itself is rather heavy and might be a challenge to lift for children or small adults.

The rear seatbacks can be folded manually or, using an optional electromechanical switch in the cargo area, drop down with a touch of the button.

Another notable option is Ford’s Vista Roof, which consists of two large glass skylights, the front section of which opens. Both glass sections have opaque, power-operated sunshades.

Inside, the front bucket seats — upholstered in leather with contrasting stitching on the test SEL Plus model — are supportive and designed for long-distance comfort.

However, there are no grab handles to assist the front-seat occupants to get in and out, and the Edge also lacks a dead pedal for the driver’s left foot to brace the body during cornering.

Visibility is enhanced by small rear-seat headrests that don’t block rearward vision, although the pillars at the rear corners — called D pillars in the industry — are substantial, so it’s a good idea to get the outside mirrors adjusted to avoid blind spots.

It’s easy to do because the outside mirrors are large and cover a lot of territory. Yet they produce little wind noise. In fact, the Edge is commendably free of most mechanical, road and wind noise in highway cruising.

Ford has always been known for its truck expertise, and it shows in the new Edge. Despite its CUV design, it has a heft to its handling that is almost trucklike. The substantial feel, however, does not affect its capability on curving roads, where it hunkers down and goes where it’s pointed.

At the same time, the suspension system tuning delivers a good compromise between handling and ride, so that the ride is comfortable and controlled over all but the roughest surfaces.

Power comes from a 265-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which provides decent performance and is needed because the tested Edge weighed in at 4,282 pounds.

The power gets to the front wheels or all four wheels through a slick-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.

Unlike some competitors’ transmissions, the Edge’s does not have a manual-shift mode.

Edge prices start at $25,995 for the front-drive SE model. The test vehicle was the top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive SEL Plus, which started at $31,395. With options, it topped out at $36,770.

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