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Livin’ on the Edge

Andy Stonehouse

Full disclosure: outside of carrying the entire hockey team to a tourney in the Springs or leading an expedition to find a usable pathway across the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, my contention is that SUV use is a truly, truly horrid thing, especially when carrying a driver and no passengers. SUVs make minivans look good by comparison, and I really, really dislike minivans.

However, auto companies, having introduced and subsequently gotten the American public hooked on SUVs, are now changing their ways. They seem to be making some efforts to offer vehicles that remotely replicate the largess of the SUV experience but make a minor effort of being a tad more responsible (read: car-like) in their fuel consumption.

Into this world has come Ford’s very successful Edge crossover. I initially thought the Edge might be a bit too weird for the average family ” it’s big and round, it’s got enormous wheels, it has that gigantic panorama sunroof ” but the vehicle’s distinctive styling has apparently struck a chord with car-buyers who are equally sick of gigantic, boxy SUVs, but still want something brawny but borderline practical.

Best of all, the Edge, built on a Mazda 6 platform and powered by a 265 horsepower 3.5 liter V-6, generates mileage figures that are quite unlike an old Explorer: 15 mpg in the city and an almost permissible 22 on the highway, even with fulltime all-wheel drive.

The Edge’s chromey look was so successful that it’s been re-applied to much of the Ford line.

In practical usage, the Edge’s initial quasi-behemoth qualities gradually melt away, although close-quartered parking is still a pain. It’s a big vehicle compared to a passenger car and, parked on huge 20-inch wheels and tuned with a “sport” suspension, it has a substantial feel. Still, there’s nowhere near the Mack Truck experience of an Excursion or similar automobile.

Road feel is solid, and the V-6 provides ample juice. I tooled down I-25 (minus the hockey team) for some holiday shopping in Manitou Springs last weekend and the Edge kept pace with traffic and held its own among larger vehicles. The six-speed transmission is equally smooth but, to its detriment, can only be manually downshifted into a lurchingly low “low” gear ” like every other car on the planet, Fords may eventually offer a sequential system, but that’s not the case here.

Reverse sensors also aid new drivers in navigation, but a backup camera would actually be more helpful, all things considered.

The Edge is comfortable, with supportive, heated seating (the driver’s seat power-slides in and out when you insert or remove the key), plus chunky winter-worthy floormats and an easy-to-use heating system and intuitive controls.

A solid, leather-wrapped steering wheel offers full audio, cruise and fan/heat fingertip controls and sits in front of Explorer-styled, silver-backed gauges. Seating is strictly for five, including yourself, and with an abundance of leather surfaces and cool features like the new Sync multimedia system and a remote power lift gate, the Edge is quite pleasant.

Rear seating splits 60/40 and folds almost flat, offering nearly 70 cubic feet of carpeted storage space. For added convenience, there’s a switch on the rear left-hand side of the cabin, just inside the hatch, which will flop down the rear seats to help you load large objects or four week’s worth of laundry. Don’t think about that last one too much.

The ’08 Edge gave me my first chance this year to play around with the Sync system, a partnership project with our beneficent friends at Microsoft, and I was pleased with the results. The overall system is not that different from Ford’s existing, highly practical touchscreen navigation system, until you get into the multimedia aspects. With an appropriate Bluetooth phone, Sync will read your incoming text messages, allow for versatile voice control of your iPod (hmmm … maybe your Zune, actually) and accept nearly every media type you can throw at it (like the similar MyGig system over in the Chrysler line, there’s even a USB port), as well as offering Sirius satellite radio, a CD changer and the whole nine yards.

Unfortunately, my tester’s Sync was as buggy as your typical brand-new Microsoft software adventure, and managed to lock up my Sony Ericsson cell phone to the extent that I had to park the car and turn off the engine to get the phone to work again. That was a tad annoying.

The panoramic roof is one of the Edge’s most interesting features. Spanning nearly the entire length of the front and rear passenger cabin, the front panel slides half way back to create a great open-air experience, ideal for carrying teams of cheerleaders down Main Street during the Fourth of July parade. A small mesh cloth windstop pops up when the roof is fully open to help cut down on air noise.

An antidote to SUV ubiquity? You betcha.


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