Yee-Ha! in a 2011 Ford Edge Sport – Click above for high-res image gallery

Manufacturers used to roll out all-new cars every five-to-eight years. Somewhere around the halfway point – usually year three – much hoopla would be made about new front and rear fascias, the addition of some standard features and some new option packages. (*Yawn*). These changes were designed to give shoppers a reason to look at a car that was getting long-in-the-tooth.

Ford Motor Company sung by this songbook for decades, but it's not any longer. As we've seen with the Escape, Fusion and Mustang, the Ford brand is rolling out significant product changes any time they darn well please. For example, the 2010 Fusion could have been a standard refresh, but instead included three all-new powertrains, a significantly upgraded interior, and the expected front and rear fascias.

Introduced as a 2007 model at the close of 2006, the Edge was Ford's second attempt at a more car-like crossover. (Anybody remember the Freestyle/Taurus X ... uhh, not so much.) Heading into its fifth year of production, the Edge needed some serious attention. It just got it: We reported so on the eve of February's Chicago Auto Show.

Following the new model's public debut, Ford offered Autoblog an exclusive opportunity to ride in a 2011 Edge Sport with some development engineers so we could have an early, behind-the-scenes look at their handiwork. The new Edge doesn't go on sale until later this Summer, but you can read all about our experience at the Dearborn Development Center right now after the jump.

Photos by Rex Roy / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Driving into Ford's expansive test facility, the navy Edge Sport stood out, even from an eighth of a mile away. The lower hood, narrower headlights, new fenders, chrome grille and vertical daytime running lights effectively update the crossover's style. A closer look sees a body that's hunkered down over huge 22-inch aluminum wheels. Rich Kreder, Vehicle Development Manager pointed out, "Those forged wheels are premium pieces. They don't get any better."

Louis Jamail, Core Vehicle Dynamics guy, chimed in, "The suspension is all new, and it does sit a few millimeters lower." Jamail went on to explain that even though the Edge rides over a chassis that's unrelated to the Flex, Taurus, Lincoln MKT and MKS, suspension technology used on these models is now under the Edge (and the 2011 Lincoln MKX).

Revised springs and bushings support the most important change, new dampers. They're a twin-tube design with fully displaced pistons. For non-engineers, the result is more control with less friction. The on-road translation means that the new Edge rides more smoothly than before, with a notable improvement in handling.

With Jamail at the wheel, we hurtled around a handling course. Jamail knows a thing or two about being behind the wheel. After participating in the Formula SAE competition in college, he worked on advanced chassis dynamics supporting Ford's NASCAR teams. He's not the kind of engineer who would be happy designing microwaves or refrigerators, a point made clear by the grin on his face as he deftly hustled the Edge through a series of technically demanding corners, even getting air a couple times.

The navy Edge was an early chassis development vehicle, so while the interior wasn't production correct, the suspension, wheels and tires were. No wallow. No flex. No squeaks from the rear hatch. No porpoising. No head toss. No crashing off the suspension bump stops.

Engineers Rich Kreder (left) and Louis Jamail (right) show off their work on the 2011 Edge Sport

The pictures prove that body motions were well controlled in a sporty way that's totally cool for a five-passenger, two-ton crossover. To make sure Kreder, Jamail and company hadn't sacrificed comfort for handling, we headed over to a section of the test facility populated with pothole-infested strips of asphalt and concrete. Even over purposefully terrible road surfaces, the Edge Sport rode supplely. Sharp-edged potholes were absorbed. Their impact on the chassis was rounded off and well managed.

305 horsepower from the new 3.7-liter V6 added more goodness to the Edge Sport's performance. Based on Ford's corporate 3.5-liter architecture, the engine debuted under the radar as the standard MKT engine. But now with its placement in the 2011 Mustang and the upgraded performance afforded by variable intake and exhaust valve timing, this is an engine that's worth some attention.

Very light throttle brought on smooth acceleration. This is an indication of good powertrain electronics programming. Conversely, dropping the hammer made the Edge launch with authority. The engine easily spins to its 6,500 rpm horsepower peak, with peak torque of 280 pound-feet arriving at 4,000 rpm. At wide-open throttle, the engine sounded good, but a bit loud. Due to the fact that the Edge was a development vehicle, it may not have had a complete sound-deadening package installed. (We'll have to watch out for this when we test our first production model.)

Kreder noted that 0-60 mph performance should be about 1.5 seconds under an older Edge Sport with the 265-horspower 3.5-liter V6. We're estimating a mid-six-second run, which is plenty quick. Top speed is limited to 112 mph.

Fuel economy ratings are not yet available, but the variable valve timing enables the 3.7-liter V6 to run in the fuel-saving Atkinson cycle when it is beneficial. By delaying the closing of the intake valves until after the piston has rounded bottom-dead-center, the Atkinson cycle reduces pumping losses and boosts economy.

The Sport uses one of Ford's corporate six-speed automatic transmissions (the 6F50). The gearbox now has paddle shifters when fitted to the Edge Sport, and is the first with Ford's new shifter interface: Left pull to downshfit, right pull to upshift.

The controls are on the backside of a newly designed three-spoke steering wheel that looks pretty comfortable. The new steering wheel also included twin five-button controllers that work the MyFord Touch system. (Being such an early pre-production vehicle, the Touch system wasn't fully operational, so we'll reserve evaluation until an on-sale version is ready.)

Whether left to shift on its own or using the paddles, the gearbox's shift quality reflects Ford's approach to automatics. They use torque matching on either side of the shift to smooth out the gear change in a way that doesn't impede linear acceleration.

A quick blast up to nearly 100 mph on the facility's high-speed track revealed quick, but not harsh, full-throttle shifts plus a composed chassis that remained locked-down stable. The interior also remained quiet, with little wind noise.

After our ride, the engineers left me to capture the photography you can see in the gallery.

I took the quiet time to study the new interior. As Ford did with the Fusion and Mustang, the Edge's new interior represents a huge upgrade. Previous (2007-2010) Edge instrument panels had a piecemeal approach to panels and materials. There were cut lines everywhere and the graining didn't always match or feel substantial.

The 2011 interior features a one-piece dash cap that improves fit and finish considerably. The overall design is cleaner and more modern. The main eight-inch MyFord Touch screen also looked well integrated into the overall design. (Check out factory photos of the Edge Sport's interior here.)

Those who have driven a Fusion Hybrid will recognize the main instrument cluster. An analog speedometer is flanked by twin LCDs that clearly communicate all pertinent vehicle functions. The left screen is controlled by the left five-button controller on the steering wheel, and same for the right. (For a primer on MyFord Touch, see this story.)

The 2011 Edge Sport appears ready to assume its position as top dog in the Edge family. Those considering this crossover will have more choice than ever before because Ford will also offer a high-mileage turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine sometime in 2011.

Stay tuned for a proper First Drive later this spring. It should be good.

Photos by Rex Roy / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Ford Edge Information

Ford Edge

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