SNOQUALMIE, Wash. -- On a parking lot rimmed by tall fir trees in foothills for the Cascade Range of Washington state, we encounter a new factory-customized Sport edition of Edge, Ford's mid-size crossover utility vehicle (CUV).
It looks downright elegant in a monochromatic treatment with the smoothly rounded prow projecting a flat three-bar grille in flashy chrome.
Front corners contain squared-off quad-beam headlamp clusters and the hood has a powerdome bulge suggesting considerable fire power lurking below the bowed sheetmetal.
Edge's body shows curvy fenders lapping around huge wheels for a muscular pose with the sweeping face and a raked windshield followed by an arching canopy over the five-seat passenger compartment.
The Sport edition of Edge carries a body kit which consists of a front air dam with integrated foglamps, side skirts and lower door caps plus a skirt on the tail.
All of the streamlined effects of Edge Sport imply swift movement for this vehicle, and it seems that way even when parked on the lot.
Edge Sport rolls on 20-inch painted wheels with branded hubs or optional 22-inch polished aluminum wheels capped by high performance P265/40R22 Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires.
The style for Edge Sport is a sleek shape which seems like someone took a boxy SUV and ran it through a tuner shop for some chassis slamming and body streaming.
Edge doesn't drive like a SUV.
On dry pavement, all of the V6 engine's power goes to the front wheels which also steer.
Having the front wheels both turn and steer -- when combined with a stiff unitized structure and lively suspension -- makes Edge uncommonly agile, but that's the big idea behind this wagon.
That difference traces to the vehicle's structure.
The typical SUV rides on a truck chassis with its body stacked on a flat platform. Because chassis and body are two separate parts, the joined structure is inherently weak and therefore twists and bends when set in motion, no matter how tightly the joints are welded.
Such a design guarantees sloppy handling traits -- as well as a truck's rough ride quality.
Edge by contrast foregoes the SUV's body-on-frame structure in favor of a monocoque platform which unites chassis and body into one cohesive unit that remains extremely rigid when in motion.
A generous wheelbase length of 111 inches and broad wheel track of 65+ inches set up a long and wide foundation which fosters stability when turning.
And, unlike some wagons with a solid rear truck axle and crude leaf springs, Edge carries independent suspension components -- MacPherson struts and an isolated subframe up front and a four-link design in back also with isolating subframe plus stamped steel control blades for precise suspension tuning -- to deliver a car-like smooth ride quality.
For Edge Sport the suspension scores performance-tuned shocks, springs and steering components for sporty handling traits.
Our dynamic driving tests, conducted in Cascade foothills east of Seattle, indicate that Edge Sport can take a hard tack through a curve set and hold it, with little concession from a tall body to lateral forces of physics.
Ride quality feels smooth and comfortable, yet firm in a sporty manner.
Power for all trim editions of Edge stems from a fuel-efficient dual-cam 3.5-liter V6 with a six-speed automatic transaxle and standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
The engine puts a punch in Edge's accelerator.
It produces 265 hp at 6250 rpm plus big torque of 250 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.
The six-speed shifter operates smoothly. A tab on the side of the shifter lever is useful for blocking the overdrive gear and stemming a gear hunt when climbing hills.
Brakes on Edge consist of a disc at every wheel and linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device with Roll Stability Control (RSC).
And Ford packs lots of safety systems aboard.
Edge's strong unibody structure serves as the first line of defense for passengers, surrounded by a safety cage rigged with force-deflecting energy management zones fore and aft plus reinforced side panels and doors.
Front riders get dual two-stage frontal air bags, side air bags and seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and pretensioners. Then there are curtain-style air bags stretching the length of the cabin above outboard seats front and rear.
The layout of Edge's passenger compartment pitches a pair of bucket seats up front divided by a multi-function console and followed by a bench for three that's split 60/40 and folds on the seatback to expand the rear cargo area.
The rear seatback folds manually via a single-hand release lever or with an optional electro-mechanical remote tab located in the cargo area.
Even the front passenger seatback folds flat.
Long cargo items can be stacked on top of these folded seats and stretched for eight feet through the cabin from the front bulkhead to the rear liftgate back wall.
For 2009 Ford builds the Edge in four trims -- SE, SEL, Limited and the performance-tuned Sport.
Entry issue Edge SE in FWD mode rolls on 17-inch painted aluminum wheels with P235/65R17 all-season tires. It stocks gear like air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, a remote keyless entry device, four 12-volt power points and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
The optional glass Vista Roof brings open-air motoring to a CUV. It consists of a tilt-and-slide front roof panel measuring 27 by 29 inches followed by a fixed rear glass panel that's 15 by 31 inches, plus power-operated cloth shades to cover both portals and block glare.
Other options include a DVD-based navigation system tied to Sirius Travel Link satellite radio service, a new Lighten Up ambient lighting package and Ford Sync, the voice-activated controller for in-car communications and entertainment system.
Pricing for 2009 Edge models begins at $26,640.