The 2011 Ford Edge Sport has balls.
Arranged in a virtual carousel on the center console’s 8-inch touch-screen monitor, they are used to adjust the color of the interior illumination. It’s also fun to fiddle with them when you’re stuck in traffic, and doing so won’t get you in trouble with the law the way other things you might do with your fingers can…like texting.
Expect to see them popping up on many cars and trucks from the Blue Oval brand in the coming years, as they are incorporated into the new MyFord Touch system, which controls most of the vehicle’s features and is making its debut on the Edge before propagating throughout the company’s lineup. Comprised of that main display, Sync voice recognition, and two 4.2-inch screens flanking the speedometer, Ford is heralding the feature as a panacea to what Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, recently declared an “epidemic”: the scourge of driver distraction.
It’s a little strange, right? Stuff a dashboard with so-called “infotainment” that is vital during every trip to the grocery store – sports scores, stock prices, five-day weather forecast - and then devise a way to keep it from causing an accident before you reach the end of the driveway. Such are the increasingly interesting times that we live in. MyFord Touch is the manifestation of the realization that we’ve lost the battle against technology and need to find a way to coexist with it, or be exterminated. Thank goodness someone other than I watched The Matrix: Revolutions all the way to the end.
The upside is that MyFord Touch is pretty cool, and works as well as any of these sorts of interfaces do, despite its clumsy name. Even if you don’t shell out for the optional $795 navigation system, it can be used to adjust the radio and climate control, or make phone calls with a Bluetooth-enabled phone. Thumb pads on the steering wheel control the screens in the instrument cluster and bring up quick-action menus that allow you redial a phone number, or pick a previous destination without removing your hands from the steering wheel. It’s all color coded – green for navigation, yellow for phone, etc. – to help you operate it while keeping your eyes on the road. The Sync system also recognizes more voice commands than previous editions, so you don’t have to talk through menu after menu to get to latest Lindsay Lohan classic on your iPod. Just say, “Play Lindsay Lohan”, or wait for Hell to freeze over.
Truly cutting-edge is the ability to plug a wireless modem into the USB port and turn the Edge Sport into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. It even has a built-in broadband receiver, and next year you’ll be able to download an internet browser that can be used while the vehicle is stationary. In the meantime you can festoon the screen with a desktop full of shortcuts to your favorite functions (i.e. heat my seat NOW!).
Like MyFord Touch, the Edge Sport itself is the manifestation of yet another automotive realization: that the crossover utility vehicle is here to stay and we might as well make the best of it. To this end, Ford has given America’s best-selling midsize CUV a thorough makeover, and also turned it into a muscle car.
Pony car is more appropriate, as it gets its new 3.7-liter 305 hp V6 from the 2011 Mustang – up from the 3.5-liter 285 hp V6 found in lesser Edges. All models get a refreshed body and all-new interior, but the look of the Sport’s are a little…edgier (see what I did there? Yea, I love it when my editor is on vacation, too.)
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A blacked-out grille and pimped front and rear fascias set it apart in dramatic fashion, as if the chrome 22-inch rims shod in Fintstones-grade tires weren’t enough of a giveaway that this is the top of the line Edge. There’s a definite wow-factor that may be a little over the top, but I found myself admiring it as I walked away from parking spaces more often than not.
Inside, aluminum pedals and Liquid Silver Smoke trim mix well with a sleek Sony HD radio control panel, which does away with conventional buttons in favor of backlit MP3 player-type touch pads. The overall appearance of the new dash is very much in line with the one in the Ford Taurus, and it really pops at night with all of the colors of the MyFord Touch screens and the interior illumination in full bloom.
The material upgrades throughout the cabin are substantial across the Edge lineup. The top of the dash is soft enough to lay your head for a nap, and the power-adjustable and heated leather seats that are standard on the $36,995 front-wheel-drive Sport may also incite sleepiness, so comfortable they are.
Dimensionally the Edge hasn’t changed much from the outgoing model, but that’s fine because it’s already what marketing-types these days like to call “right-sized”. Perfect for a family of four, the five-door has a healthy cargo compartment with switches near the hatch for the remote flip-down rear seats, solid legroom front and rear and four 12-volt outlets just in case any of your electronic overlords need to charge up.
Of course, the Edge Sport is aimed at helping you forget about those troubles – the oppressive cybergarchy, not the kids – and enjoy the more tacit pleasures at hand and right foot.
This engine was a revelation when it was introduced in the Mustang, and is no less so here. Augmented by a 6-speed automatic transmission with shift-paddles behind the steering wheel – the latter sadly unavailable on the ‘Stang – it has a thick power band and speaks with a deep, very un-soccer-mom-like voice through dual exhaust pipes. Sure, you won’t see the 23 mpg highway rating for the $38,845 all-wheel-drive version I tested headlining any of the car’s advertisements, but try to find a gasoline-fueled, CUV this large with this much horsepower that does any better.
Press on the gas anytime and the Edge Sport just pulls. Time after time I hit accelerator expecting the transmission to shift down several times and the engine to rev loudly in protest, but it rarely did, even with all of those gears in the box. This is one of Ford’s best motors ever, and well-matched here.
The small, leather-trimmed steering wheel feels good in your hands, and the excellent variable rate electric power steering is seamless in its operation, though tuned to the hefty side in this application. Combined with all of that rubber on the other end, it transmits a meaty sensation to the driver and pairs nicely with the very capable handling limits of vehicle.
You don’t have to try too hard to lose yourself in the fantasy that this is an actual sports car, because in many ways it is. Sadly, for those hoping to ice the cake with a little slipping and sliding, or a smoky front-wheel-drive burnout, there’s no traction control button on the dash. Instead, you need to scroll through one of those screens in the instrument cluster to turn it off, which can prove to work like a waiting period for marriage license or gun purchases. By the time you get to it, the moment has passed.
It’s a good thing that even with it on the Edge Sport is a ball.
2011 Ford Edge Sport AWD
Base Price: $38,845
Type: 5-passenger, all-wheel-drive 5-door CUV
Engine: 3.7-liter V6
Power: 305 hp, 280 lb-ft torque
MPG: 17 city/23 hwy
Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.