SAN FRANCISCO, California - Crossover vehicles are the hot current trend, it seems. Aimed at shoppers who disdain the trucklike qualities of traditional SUVs, but favor a versatile interior and a taller profile than a passenger car offers, crossovers are capturing a growing share of the market.
Journalists mixed with members of the public prior to Ford's media presentation of the brand-new Edge, along the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Ford is making a vigorous effect to establish the Edge as something different, and colorful public events are part of that process.
Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company president of The Americas, noted that 2.1 million crossover vehicles were sold during 2005, versus only half a million in 2000. Sales for 2006 are expected to reach 2.4 million. By the end of this decade, Ford predicts 3 million crossovers. SUVs peaked at 3 million, then began to decline - down to 2.1 million this year. Clearly, the old-fashioned truck-based SUVs are losing ground to these modern, car-based alternatives.
"In the crossover segment, there really is no iconic product today," Fields said. "This vehicle is going to challenge people: challenge their assumptions and maybe their prejudices about Ford." The Edge is "a bit polarizing," he explained, "and that's a good thing."
Ford promises "best-in-class" horsepower and torque. Available with front-drive or all-wheel drive, the Edge holds a Duratec 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates 265 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque.
No other crossover model can be equipped with a VistaRoof, which has a movable front section and a fixed rear panel. What also sets the Edge significantly apart from SUV-like crossovers is its "bold American design," said marketing manager Jeri Ward, led by a three-bar chrome grille and featuring an "athletic stance" with a high beltline. Furthermore, the Edge is tuned for a "sport sedan-like feel," Ward added.
All safety features are standard rather than optional: seat-mounted airbags, a Safety Canopy with rollover sensing, all-disc antilock braking, traction control, and Roll Stability Control.
Two trim levels are offered: entry-level SE, which starts at $25,995 (including destination charge) and upscale SEL. All-wheel drive is a $1,650 option. Each version is equipped with a roof spoiler and dual exhaust outlets. Ford claims that the Edge SE is priced $2,300 below its closest Japanese competitor.
Sure-footed even through repeated curves, the Edge doesn't reach sport-sedan levels for handling, but it stands well ahead of the SUV norm. Steering feel is sufficiently satisfying. Riding smoothly on good roads, the Edge doesn't really misbehave on rougher stuff, either.
Even when a bump hits a bit hard, recovery is swift (near-instant, in fact) without rebounding much. However, a series of undulations can produce considerable bouncing.
Performance with the 265-horsepower engine reaches past the SUV norm, too, though it's not always wholly compelling. Considering that it drives a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine revs to somewhat high speeds, more often than expected.
No manual-shift mode is included in the transmission: just an overdrive button (and Low range). With overdrive switched off while driving on hills, engine revs can get even more substantial. Reasonably quiet overall, the engine can get snarly when pushed hard - or even not all that hard, under certain conditions.
Front seats are abundantly cushioned and comfortable enough, but headroom is not so great with the VistaRoof installed. Sunroof fans are sure to love it, while naysayers have the option of covering the roof opening to keep out the sun - or not to buy it in the first place.
Headroom also is so-so in the backseat, which provides ample legroom. Toe space is adequate, if a bit narrow.
Distinctive gauges are not quite the easiest to read, but certainly acceptable. Very thick B-pillars impair over-shoulder views. Front-seat occupants benefit from a good-sized drop-down glovebox. Ford's navigation screen (if installed) is among the easiest to read, but it's rather small in size. Grab handles are completely absent, front and rear.
Resale value is a concern for many domestically-built models. Purchasers like to know their vehicles will be worth something if and when they decide to sell or trade it in. Ford advises that Automotive Lease Guide, a major source of data for used vehicles, estimates residual value for the Edge at 51 percent - markedly better than some rivals. Edge sales begin in November.