Ford Masters The Mid-Cycle Refresh

2011 Ford Edge - Click above for high-res image gallery

It's one thing for an automaker to develop a single great vehicle. After all, even a blind squirrel can score the occasional nut. But to gain a loyal customer base, automakers must string together a consistent cadence of winners. When CEO Alan Mulally joined Ford Motor Company in 2006, he inherited a product lineup with only two true champions: the F-Series pickup and the iconic Mustang. Over the next four years, Mulally and his team concentrated on getting the company leaner and meaner while improving quality and streamlining its product offerings.

At the same time that Ford was trimming costs and eliminating waste, it was also producing more competitive products. The 2010 Taurus was a step in the right direction. The 2010 Fusion won Motor Trend Car of the Year. The 2011 Mustang GT got the engines it needed to beat up on the pony car competition. And buyers are spending top dollar to get optioned-up 2011 Fiesta hatchbacks and sedans. The Blue Oval has been firing on all cylinders, and the company's newest offering, the 2011 Edge, is supposed to extend Ford's seemingly unbreakable streak. Will updated looks, new engines and a completely overhauled interior get the Edge on buyers' short lists? We spent a week in a loaded 2011 Edge Limited to see for ourselves.

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Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL

Ford has a lot of product momentum of late, but many of the outstanding new vehicles it's ushered to market have been built off an existing foundation. The new Taurus, Fusion and Mustang all feature the same basic architecture as their less celebrated predecessors. The Edge is no different, and as such, it could be argued that the five-seat crossover may actually have been the most successful model out of the gate.

Ford sold 130,000 copies of the mid-size crossover during its first full year on the market. Sure, that's 12,000 fewer sales compared to the Fusion's first full year, but the key stat to consider is that the starting price for an Edge was about $8,000 higher than a Fusion, which makes it likely that Ford earns quite a bit more money selling an Edge than when it moves a Fusion. That price disparity won't change for 2011, either, as the Edge now starts out at $27,220, with a Limited model like our tester commanding at least $34,220.

2011 Ford Edge side view2011 Ford Edge front view2011 Ford Edge rear view

The first generation Edge (2006-10) impressed CUV buyers with its sharp-looking sheetmetal. It makes sense, then, that Ford put less effort into redesigning an exterior that was already well-liked. The 2011 Edge receives a new, more Fusion-like front fascia with a big, bold grille and a particularly attractive hood that rises over the engine and falls away from a sharp crease towards the fenders and grille. Sticking to Ford's comprehensive Refresh Playbook, designers also upgraded the Edge's lighting, using modern-looking HID lamps up front and LED technology in the taillights. Our top-end tester, which carries an MSRP of $39,995, also sported vertical LED light strips in place of traditional fog lamps in the front bumper.

Ford has done a fine job making the Edge more handsome for 2011, but the heaviest lifting has been done inside the cabin. While the dashboard of the first-generation Edge was arguably outclassed by a Tonka Truck, the 2011 Edge comes back with highly tactile soft touch materials just about everywhere your fingers fall. The dash also loses the thick straight lines of the outgoing model in favor of an uninterrupted expanse that tops the whole instrument panel like a fitted hat. The leather seats in our Limited tester were plush, bolstered just right and a pleasure in which to while away the miles. The steering wheel? Thick, covered in soft leather and smooth. And since a luxurious interior can't be had without a quiet cabin, the new Edge is fitted with an acoustic windshield and thicker firewall to muffle the outside significantly better than last year's model. What a difference a refresh makes.

2011 Ford Edge headlight2011 Ford Edge hood2011 Ford Edge wheel2011 Ford Edge taillight

The Edge is a lot of things, but a seven-seater it is not (that's what the Flex and the new Explorer are for). Therefore, it has retained its two-row configuration with plenty of room for five adults plus 32.2 cubic feet of cargo space in back. Fold down the second-row seats that split 60/40 and capacity jumps to 68.9 cubic feet, or about five more cubes than a Nissan Murano. Our tester made that extra cargo area more accessible with a power liftgate and buttons to fold the second row seats without leaning over the bumper and getting one's pants dirty. And while the Edge is wide at 75.8 inches across to provide more horizontal room to stuff big things through the hatch, there is a two- to three-inch lift-over that could make it a bit tricky for some to get that cargo in the boot.

An attractive exterior can bring car buyers into the showroom, but a bit of of 'surprise and delight' tech can be a very effective tool to secure the sale. Ford really gets this, as technology has been a central component of the company's turnaround. The 2011 Edge is no different. Our tester included keyless entry with pushbutton start, adaptive cruise control with an attention-grabbing collision warning system, BLIS blind spot detection and a rear-view camera. And that's not the half of it. The 2011 Edge is also available with Ford's popular SYNC system and the new MyFord Touch interface which includes a pair of 4.2-inch LCD screens on either side of the large analog speedometer and a totally new take on how people interact with the stereo, hands-free phone, navigation and climate controls.

2011 Ford Edge interior2011 Ford Edge front seats2011 Ford Edge gauges2011 Ford Edge cargo area

Your author been dying to get his hands on a MyFord Touch-equipped Edge ever since it was introduced at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. After a week living with the new touch tech, the story is mostly positive. The dual LCD screens in the gauge cluster are trick beyond compare, with crisp, bright graphics displaying all sorts of data. On the left is fuel economy and trip data and on the right are choices for climate control, navigation, entertainment and phone functions. A pair of four-way controllers with a 'Select' button on each side of the steering wheel are used to control each screen. These controls are very intuitive to use, enabling the driver to focus less of his or her attention on the center console and more on the road.

The eight-inch touch screen that dominates the center of the dashboard is at the same time aesthetically brilliant and simple to operate. Each of its four corners will take you to a different area of the MyFord Touch system: Phone (upper left), Navigation (upper right), Entertainment (lower left) and Climate Control (lower right). You'll likely notice that each quadrant of the LCD is also color-coded, matching the colors for the same functions on the dual 4.2-inch displays in the instrument cluster. Brilliantly played, FoMoCo. What if you still want a knob to simply adjust the volume on the stereo? If you opt for the Limited model, the upgraded Sony sound system includes a massive knob smack in the middle of the center stack. MyFord Touch also replaces traditional buttons on the center console with redundant touch sensitive controls for the stereo and climate controls. Finally, you can also simply speak your commands using the SYNC system's voice recognition system that's been upgraded to process over 10,000 commands.

2011 Ford Edge touch screen2011 Ford Edge stereo controls

We love the logical thinking that Ford has employed with this new interface, but the system isn't without flaws. Take the touch-sensitive controls adorning the center console. While the aforementioned volume knob is as big as a baseball, the touch-sensitive "buttons" around it are the size of marbles. When turning the volume knob, our knuckles would often graze the button that activates adjusting the stereo's settings on the main LCD. This accidental interaction swaps the main LCD screen from the navigation map we like to see while driving to controls for tinkering with the stereo. In order to get back each time, we had to touch the Navigation corner in the upper right part of the screen.

Then there's the touch-sensitive "button" below the large LCD that activates hazard lights, which the base of our palm couldn't get enough of whenever we went to use the main screen. Furthermore, the lowest touch-sensitive buttons that operate the dual-zone climate controls are partially blocked by the shift lever, which sits only a few inches from the interface when the Edge is parked. Even when the shift lever rests in 'D' there just isn't adequate room to access this area. Perhaps over time we could get used to using the voice commands to avoid those touch-sensitive controls altogether, but should we have to?

2011 Ford Edge steering wheel2011 Ford Edge shifter

Just as we were starting to feel wary of some of changes to this latest Edge, we engaged its pushbutton start and took off running. The newly upgraded 3.5-liter V6 engine now produces 285 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque thanks to the addition of twin-independent variable-cam timing. That's an increase of 20 hp and three lb-ft of torque over last year's engine, and we could feel each additional pony in the stable. We estimate a jaunt to 60 miles per hour passes by in about 7.5 seconds, though Motor Trend needed only 7.1 seconds to do the deed in a recent test.

This version of Ford's oft-used 3.5-liter V6 feels particularly silky as well, in part because Ford has refined its six-speed automatic for smoother shifts. The best part of the Edge's power bump is that the upgraded powertrain also requires less fuel. EPA fuel economy numbers for the 3.5-liter V6 in the 2011 Edge are 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, a small but appreciated improvement over the 18/25 numbers of the less powerful outgoing model. We averaged 21.9 mpg during our week of testing.

2011 Ford Edge engine

The last-generation Edge made do with only one available engine, but the new 2011 model offers three engine choices. Beyond the base 3.5-liter V6, the top-shelf Sport model gets a larger 3.7-liter V6 producing 305 hp and 280 lb-ft. The two V6s will also soon be joined by a third, more efficient engine: a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder boasting an estimated 230 hp and 15-percent better fuel economy than the 3.5-liter V6.

Dynamically, the new Edge still feels heavy, and that's because it still is. The Refresh Playbook didn't include a chapter on dieting, as the Edge still weighs over 4,000 pounds. The 3.5-liter V6 engine's extra power, however, helps make more of those pounds melt away. Also, the Edge's wide stance, stiff chassis and firmly tuned suspension do an admirable job of managing that weight when diving into turns. The tautly sprung suspension favors smooth roads, as the reverberations may be more than some owners can stand when the road gets rough and pocked with imperfections.

2011 Ford Edge rear 3/4 view

While the suspension can be categorized as sporty (for a crossover), the Edge's steering cannot. Feedback from the wheel is mostly absent thanks to Ford's electronic power steering system, which, in fairness, improves fuel efficiency compared to a traditional hydraulic system that leaches off the engine. The brakes have also been improved for 2011. The last Edge suffered from mushy stoppers, which Ford engineers have fixed for the most part. Our tester's brakes carried quite a bit of bite after pushing through some initial softness at the beginning of the pedal's travel.

The Ford Edge has transformed from an attractive crossover with a passable cabin to an even better looking crossover with more power, improved fuel economy and a truly state-of-the-art interior experience. Normally, that's the type of report card an automaker hopes for when executing a full redesign at the end of a model's life cycle, and Ford has somehow managed to achieve similar results with just a mid-cycle refresh. If the brand continues on this pace, customers will begin expecting every new product wearing a Blue Oval badge to surprise and delight. While not the easiest play to pull off, it's the best way to build a cheering section.

Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL

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