STINSON BEACH, Calif. -- On a soppy-wet coastal road north of San Francisco, we're testing tire grip for a new crossover utility vehicle (CUV) designed and built by Ford as this automaker's next big thing.
The CUV presents a powerful road presence, particularly at the smoothly rounded nose which contains a flat three-bar grille in flashy chrome that's destined to become the signature face for all Ford vehicles henceforth.
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 large wheels for a muscular pose with the sweeping face and a raked windshield followed by an arching canopy over the five-seat cockpit.
All of Edge's streamlined effects imply swift movement for this vehicle, and it seems that way even when parked.
This is a different body language for Ford vehicles -- no more erect stance and squared corners defining the typical two-box SUV in the mold of Explorer and Expedition, or even Edge's predecessor CUVs like Escape and Freestyle.
Instead, the style for Edge 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.
On dry pavement, all of the V6 engine's power goes to the front wheels that also steer.
Having the front wheels both turn and steer -- when combined with a stiff unitized structure and lively suspension -- makes the Edge uncommonly agile, but that's the big idea behind this design.
That difference traces to the vehicle's structure. The typical sport-ute 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 brings 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 -- to deliver rather car-like smooth ride sensations.
In effect, Edge manages to combine the optimum aspects of a car and a SUV. The easy-to-handle driving traits and low seat position for easy entry mimic a conventional four-door sedan, but the five-door boxy conformation works like a SUV.
Power for Edge stems from a thrifty new 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 new 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) and electronic brake distribution (EBD). And lots of safety systems are 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 have dual two-stage frontal air bags, side air bags and seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and pretensioners.
Ford's Safety Canopy curtain-style air bags stretches for the length of the cabin above outboard seats front and rear, and the AdvanceTrac anti-skid device with Roll Stability Control (RSC) is on the list of options for Edge. A five-seat cabin is flexible for different configurations.
The layout 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.
The optional glass Vista Roof brings open-air motoring to a CUV. It consists of a tilt-and-slide front roof panel followed by a fixed rear glass panel measuring 27 by 29 inches, plus power-operated cloth shades over both portals to block glare.
Other options include a DVD-based navigation system tied to Sirius satellite radio service and a DVD entertainment kit with a drop-down video screen and two pairs of wireless headphones for backseat riders.
Ford offers the Edge in two trims -- SE and SEL, each with FWD or AWD traction.
Entry issue Edge SE in FWD mode rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels with 235/65R17 all-season tires and shows dual exhaust pipes and a spoiler on the tail.
Stock cabin content ranges from air conditioning, a tilting steering column and keyless entry fob to power controls for windows, door locks and mirrors, variable intermittent windshield wipers, cruise control, a digital clock and tachometer, and an audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3, four speakers and auxiliary input jack.
Ford establishes a base line for Edge at $25,315.