NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- From Murphy Road near the Vanderbilt campus in Nashville we turn onto the 440 beltway and head south via I-65 into the Tennessee hills for driving tests in new iterations of the Edge, Ford's athletic and agile crossover utility vehicle.
The original Edge rolled out for Ford's 2007 line of wagons, fitting in size between the compact-class Escape and mid-size Explorer. Initially, it offered two trim grades (SE and SEL) and one thrifty-fuel V6 engine tied to a six-speed automatic transaxle with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
A deluxe Limited edition showed up with the 2008 models, along with Ford Sync which brought voice-activated control over phones, media players and USB storage devices. Then for 2009 the Edge Sport edition arrived wearing a muscular body kit with front air dam and foglamps, side skirts and lower door caps plus a tail skirt.
Now Edge for 2011 earns a makeover inside and out with bold body sculpting, reworked suspension and stronger brakes, two powertrain options coupled to Ford's sophisticated engine valvetrain technology, and the five-seat passenger compartment redesigned and fitted with improved materials wrought with fine craftsmanship.
Ford presents the 2011 Edge in four grades -- SE, SEL, Limited, Sport -- each with FWD or AWD traction.
All versions employ a monocoque structure which unites chassis and body into one cohesive unit that remains extremely rigid when set to motion. A generous wheelbase length of 111 inches and broad wheel track of 65 inches set up a long and wide platform which brings stability when turning.
And Edge carries independent suspension components -- MacPherson struts and an isolated subframe up front and a trailing blade design in back with integrated knuckle and lateral links plus isolating subframe -- to deliver car-smooth ride sensations for passengers.
Our dynamic driving tests indicate that Edge can take a hard tack through a curve set and hold it, with little concession from a tall body to lateral forces of physics.
Brakes on Edge consist of a disc at every wheel with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device with Roll Stability Control (RSC), which measures vehicle motion on both the yaw and roll axes.
And Ford packs aboard ample safety systems.
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 have dual two-stage frontal air bags plus seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and buckle pretensioners, while in the rear there are anchors to tether a child's safety seat. Side-impact air bags mounted on outboard front seats and Ford's Safety Canopy consisting of curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows front/back are also on tap as standard gear.
Other safety tools extend from a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) to integrated blind spot mirrors for better blind spot visibility and the MyKey programmable vehicle key to encourage safer vehicle operation from teenaged drivers by limiting the top speed to 80 mph, preventing the deactivation of the vehicle's traction control system and capping the volume level on the audio system to 44 percent of maximum volume.
Ford lists two V6 powertrains for 2011 Edge issues.
The SE, SEL and Limited editions draw from a 3.5-liter V6 engine with DOHC (dual overhead cams) and performance-enhancing Ti-VVT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) technology to deliver 285 hp at 6500 rpm and torque of 253 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
The shifter is a six-speed electronic automatic, and a SelectShift manual controller goes to SEL and Limited trims.
The powertrain achieves EPA fuel economy scores of 19 mpg for city driving and 27 mpg on the highway for FWD versions and 18/25 mpg (city/highway) with AWD.
Standard plant for Edge Sport is a new dual-cam 3.7-liter V6 with Ti-VVT. It achieves 305 hp at 6500 rpm plus 280 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
For Sport's 3.7-liter engine the six-speed SelectShift automatic gains paddles mounted on the steering wheel for finger shift manipulations.
The powertrain in Edge Sport racks up EPA fuel numbers of 18/25 mpg for FWD and 17/23 mpg for AWD.
All trim variations offer the AWD option.
Edge's AWD mechanism is a smart traction system which distributes the engine's power between front and rear wheels selectively as changing conditions of road or trail may warrant -- the intent is to maintain a firm tire grip no matter what happens on pavement or dirt.
Styling for the body of Edge forges a bold look with a stepped front hood and smoothly rounded prow which carries a massive three-bar grille in flashy chrome and a chin spoiler in matt black.
Edge SE edition rolls on 17-inch painted aluminum wheels with 235/65TR17 all-season black sidewall tires. The SEL and Limited trims use 18-inch alloy wheels with 245/60HR18 rubber, but 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels with 245/50HR20 all-season black sidewall tires are options.
Edge Sport edition goes further with a tuxedo black grille and special headlamps, body-color rocker moldings and door cladding, oval chrome tips on tail pipes and huge (22-inch) polished aluminum wheels capped by 265/40WR22 all-season black sidewall tires.
The five-seat passenger compartment inside Edge is flexible with many configurations. The layout pitches a pair of bucket seats up front divided by a multi-function console and followed by a bench for three split 60/40 with seatbacks folding flat to expand the rear cargo area.
Ford varies the instrument panel in Edge, with SE and SEL trims showing analog gauges and a single LED screen, while Limited and Sport editions get two LED screens flanking an analog speedometer in a new device labeled MyFordTouch. It enhances Ford Sync with two five-way thumb switches on the steering wheel, the two LED screens in the instrument cluster and a larger LED panel in the center dash, all to control climate and audio systems, plus phone and navigation gear.
Options for Edge range from a navigation system to a Panoramic Vista Roof, the 20-inch chrome wheels and a trailer tow package.
MSRP figures for the 2011 Ford Edge stretch from $27,220 (SE with FWD) to $38,070 (Sport with AWD).