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Ford tops its range line-up with an Americanised, big Ford for the 21st century. But can it make a large enough impact to upset its premium rivals?

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Ford’s intention to expand further into the European SUV market must have come as unwelcome news to those manufacturers who have been making hay while the sun has been shining on the segment these past 10 years.

Any industry power with the Blue Oval’s dealer network and market share would be likely to enter a new sales niche about as gracefully as a hippopotamus vaulting into a bathtub, after all, and it could have a similar impact on those already enjoying those waters.

Edge’s soft suspension is tuned for comfort, but there’s decent grip and body movements are well contained

But European SUV sales aren’t entirely new to Ford, and neither is the idea of importing a large 4x4 from the US and selling it against Europe’s specialist and premium-brand alternatives, as it does with the Edge.

Few will remember the effort Ford went to in the 1990s and 2000s when it imported the Explorer, which failed to deliver the kind of sales that would have made it better known over here.

But, thankfully, the Edge isn’t another body-on-frame, slab-sided, V6-petrol-only all-American truck.

It is, in fact, the biggest-selling crossover SUV in the US, and it’s here as part of a multi-pronged attempt to retain customers who’ve been leaving the Ford fold as soon as they’ve had proper premium-brand cash to spend on a large family car.

It might even be fairer to record that the Edge serves a purpose for its maker closer to that of the Granada Scorpio than any other model. The big Ford is back.

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Crossover or not, it’s definitely big. Sitting at the top of Ford’s still-fresh, three-strong SUV range, the Edge is nearer the length of a Range Rover Sport than a Discovery Sport but goes on sale as a five-seater only, with a choice of two diesel engines and three trims.

We’re testing it in entry-level Titanium trim, with the more powerful of the engines, a Powershift dual-clutch automatic gearbox and the ‘intelligent’ four-wheel drive that all UK Edges will come with.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Ford Edge rear

The US’s idea of a crossover measures up a bit larger than that of Europe.

The Edge’s dimensions make it unmistakably ‘full size’; it’s within millimetres of the overall length of a Mercedes-Benz GLE and slightly longer than the Volkswagen Touareg, but very slightly narrower and a lot lower in the roof – which is where the crossover part of the design makes its presence felt.

Knowing how important gadgets are to travelling families, Ford usefully gives you both 12V DC and 230V AC power outlets in the second row

In the scale and brashness of features such as the oversize grille up front and full-width lighting strip at the back, there’s a whiff of American vulgarity about the styling.

But there’s no conspicuous lack of sophistication overall and no reason for British buyers to take against it. Steeply raked pillars, sculptured surfaces and a slim glasshouse all add visual allure.

The Edge is built at Ford’s Oakville plant in Ontario, Canada. Designed under the ‘One Ford’ philosophy for improved global reach, it is based on the ‘CD’ platform used by the current Ford Mondeo, Ford S-Max and Ford Galaxy.

It’s odd for a car this big not to offer a seven-seat configuration, and you’d imagine that will cost Ford a number of sales. Then again, the claim is that the car offers more second-row space than an Audi Q7 or Volkswagen Touareg, and if so, that may be worth giving up an occasional third row for.

With a focus on good passive safety and refinement, Ford uses 44 percent ultra-high-strength steel in the construction of the car’s shell, which helped it reach its five-star NCAP rating.

Both European versions of the car are powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine. The lesser of the pair, with one turbo, gives 178bhp and 295lb ft and drives through a six-speed manual gearbox; the greater is the twin-turbo unit we’re testing, with 207bhp, 332lb ft and a six-speed Powershift dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Both versions have clutch-based ‘intelligent’ all-wheel drive.

Suspension is all-independent, consisting of struts up front and multiple links at the rear, as well as fixed-height steel coil springs giving ground clearance of just over 200mm.

There’s no height-adjustable air suspension option, no self-levelling rear suspension for towing and no adaptive damping for trading passenger comfort against body control – some or all of which may be a disappointment to SUV buyers.

The only significant dynamic option offered is the adaptive steering set-up also available on other CD-platform Fords. It varies the directness of the wheel depending on selected mode, prevailing speed and steering position relative to centre, but our test car didn’t have it. 

INTERIOR

Ford Edge interior

The Edge was always likely to come unstuck here.

Big SUVs now rely on much more than interior roominess, a lofty ride height and a bit of leather to deliver their distinctive sense of comfort and luxury, and Ford’s recent record on perceived cabin quality – compared even with the likes of Volkswagen and Nissan, never mind BMW, Audi and Mercedes – hasn’t been great.

Of all the things that undermine the cabin feel that Ford was aiming for, the gear selector is hardest to overlook. It’s too big, antiquated-looking, plasticky and doesn’t feel pleasant

True to expectations, the Edge’s cabin isn’t one that’ll instantly make you feel good about forgoing ownership of a premium-branded German SUV.

It’s the spectre of exactly these comparisons that must have discouraged Ford from putting up cars at a premium price point so often over the past 20 years, but they’re nonetheless justified.

The Edge’s centre console plastics look plain, grey and ordinary. Its dashboard mouldings are mostly soft-touch, its fixtures and fittings solid-feeling and its leathers reasonably tactile and well stitched. But the material richness and attention to detail you get in an Audi Q5 or Mercedes-Benz GLC are notable by their absence.

Every chrome trim – from gear selector surround to door card to starter button – is a slightly different shade of silver from the last, while the seats look more comfortable than they are and the Sync 3 infotainment system is short of the required standards of usability and responsiveness that sets the best in the class apart - think BMW's iDrive, Audi's MMI or Mercedes-Benz's Comand infotainment systems. However, we hasten to add that it's a vast improvement on Sync 2 in terms of layout, responsiveness and usability.

The Edge’s multimedia offering starts at a slightly basic level but doesn’t stay that way as you progress upwards through the range.

All models get a Sync 3 colour touchscreen display which, in the Titanium model’s case, is fitted with a nine-speaker sound system, sat nav and DAB radio. Having downloaded Ford AppLink to your smartphone, the system allows you to access the likes of Spotify through the head unit — but it’s nowhere near being a proper mirroring system.

ST-Line and Vignale-spec cars upgrade the infotainment system with fitted SD card-based satellite navigation and a Sony audio system— which we found to be rather unresponsive when programming and slightly flaky and short on detail with its mapping. Same story as with the Ford S-Max, Ford Mondeo and Ford Focus, then.

Our test car, which had the Sony system fitted as a £450 option, produced strong, rounded audio quality and streamed music over a Bluetooth link very reliably while making tracks easy both to browse and select.

As for trim levels, there are three to choose from - Titatnium, ST-Line and Vignale. The entry-level trim equips the Edge with 19in alloy wheels, automatic headlights and rear lights, a rear spoiler, electrically folding wing mirrors, parking sensors, chrome roof rails and acoustic side glass as standard. Inside there is dual-zone climate control, heated front sports seats, tinted rear windows, a reversing camera, a powered tailsgate and numerous safety tech - including traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking.

ST-Line trimmed cars gain 20in alloy wheels, a sporty bodykit, sports suspension, black roof rails, electrically adjustable front seats, a Sony audio system and a man-made suede upholstery. Topping the range is the Vignale model, which has been designed to take Ford's models level of equipment, workmanship and exclusivity closer to what buyers would expect of premium brands. As a result Ford has teamed the Edge up with 20in polished alloys, adaptive LED headlights, ambient interior lighting and a premium leather upholstery.

The car is far from an abject failure as an SUV. It’s convenient; an only semi-high-rise hip point makes it particularly easy to slide in and out and its ‘wraparound’ doors cover the recessed sills and prevent your legs from picking up dirt as you climb in.

It’s practical, too; the cupholders are large and deep, as are the door pockets, while the centre armrest cubby is deep enough to hold smaller bags and tablets. There’s even a three-pin power outlet in the rear cabin.

And, yes, it’s spacious, with more rear leg room than a Hyundai Santa Fe, Range Rover Sport or Lexus RX, according to our tape measure.

Head room would have been equally generous if not for the panoramic roof of our test car, while boot space is well up to large SUV standards.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

2.0-litre TDCi Ford Edge engine

In the well-rehearsed assurance it commands and the pleasing sense of polished civility it possesses on the road, the Edge’s performance better demonstrates that Ford knew what it would take to successfully break into the European luxury SUV ranks.

Our 9.7sec recorded sprint to 60mph is far from outstanding, hindered as it was by a gentle initial step-off from the dual-clutch transmission even at full throttle.

If you need a big 4x4 for towing, this isn’t it. It’s rated a tonne less than some rivals on a braked trailer, and the dual-clutch ’box lacks the torque multiplication of a normal auto

But such a quirk matters little in a large, comfort-orientated car, and you may even consider it desirable. On 30-70mph through-the-gears pace, the Edge is more competitive, and in gear it feels torquey and motivates its mass easily on the road while also keeping its occupants well insulated from both wind and engine noise.

Much is made by Ford of the audio system’s active noise cancelling technology, which works via three onboard microphones to detect noise and broadcast inaudible cancelling noise at perfectly judged frequencies.

But it’s obvious, too, that the company did a first-rate job of isolating the 2.0-litre diesel engine and transmission and preventing either from intruding.

That engine doesn’t exactly feel potent in this two-tonne car, but it pulls keenly enough at lower revs to make overtaking possible in the higher gears, and it can keep up a swift pace without working hard.

It’s a slight disappointment, though, that the car’s dual-clutch automatic gearbox doesn’t have a kickdown switch at the bottom of the accelerator pedal’s travel and won’t hold a gear right to the foot of that travel in manual mode, making the car feel a little obstinate and unpredictable when you hurry it.

Braking performance is good. Our mid-spec test car, on standard 19in wheels, stopped from 70mph in plenty less than 50 metres and with lots of dive but retaining decent stability. A ST-Line-spec car on 20in rims might have done even better in like-for-like dry conditions.

RIDE & HANDLING

Ford Edge cornering

Ford has played it safe with the Edge, opting for the kind of comfort-orientated dynamic compromise that goes down well in the US.

Anyone moving up from the more firmly sprung Ford Kuga may be surprised by the car’s laid-back, gentle-riding demeanour; likewise anyone who’s always bought a Ford because, for the past couple of decades, doing so has delivered a better-handling car than the class norm.

Progressive body control avoids head toss in the cabin as the car traverses changing cambers

The fact is, however, that big SUVs need to be comfortable – and a good-handling example is one that is not only compliant and refined but also precise, fluent, progressively controlled in its body movements and easy to place.

The Edge is most, if not quite all, of these things.

It’s certainly comfy – at least on 19in wheels. The Edge rides with a supple gait that smothers bigger bumps well, and while the suspension can fuss and check a little at low speeds, it rarely does so with any bite. The ride could be quieter, if only to match the refinement of the rest of the car, but it takes a coarse surface to really upset it.

The handling response, grip and body control are good enough to feel uncompromised by the suspension’s softness.

It feels its size on a country lane but declines to roll much when you turn in, takes up your intended line quickly and then sticks to it, dealing with mid-corner bumps well.

It’s a shame, then, that Ford’s latest electromechanical power steering system shrouds all of that in a muddy, elastic feel and slightly pendulous, inconsistent weighting, just as it did with the Ford Focus, but the failing was nothing if not predictable.

The bigger and heavier the car, the harder the power steering has to work – particularly in order to make for the lightness of control weight that luxury SUV drivers will expect. But it does mean that driving the Edge isn’t quite the simple, intuitive pleasure that it ought to be.

Having conducted itself quite tidily on the road, the Edge begins to show its limitations on a closed circuit. Admittedly that is in circumstances a long way divorced from those in which any owner will drive it, and even then it remains stable, controllable and secure.

The body roll that seemed minor on the road builds a bit as cornering speeds rise. It isn’t excessive or without purpose, because as the car leans, so it continues to develop greater lateral grip and be decently balanced.

The upshot is that you can carry plenty of speed if you need to, although the angle of the body does begin to take authority away from the steering, obliging you to do more in order to make the apex of any given corner.

The car’s four-wheel drive system delivers strong traction at all times, working pre-emptively to avoid throttle-on understeer on corner exit, although it’s nothing special in terms of the effect it has on the car’s handling.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Ford Edge

The Edge should fare rather better on residual value than you might expect of a big Ford against similar-priced premium opposition.

It’s not quite on a par with an Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz GLC or Land Rover Discovery Sport, but it’s closer to those than it is to a Hyundai Santa Fe.

CAP expects our mid-range Ford Edge to be closer to a Discovery Sport than a Hyundai Santa Fe on residual value

A competitive list price and plenty of standard kit is the right place for it to start.

And so, while also being a larger and more commodious car than the medium-sized SUVs to which it’s most closely priced, it’s also fairly stacked with equipment.

You don’t routinely find 19in alloys, a powered tailgate, DAB, sat-nav, a reversing camera, an automatic gearbox, a laminated glasshouse and heated sports seats coming for free on sub-£35,000 SUVs, but they do here. Ford instinctively understands that safety sells big cars following its custodianship of Volvo, so the car’s active safety showing is also strong.

Edge owners get a pre-collision assist system with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitors, cross-traffic alert (which warns you when reversing out of tight spaces and into the path of oncoming traffic) and an intelligent speed limiter.

The Ford Mondeo’s inflatable seatbelts are on the options list and the car’s lane keeping system allows you to switch between vibrating alert and gentle self-steering modes – a choice of which we approve.

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VERDICT

3.5 star Ford Edge 2.0 TDCi Titanium

Plenty will sneer at the idea of another US-built ‘One Ford’ SUV going on sale in Europe, but in the Edge’s case – just as with the Ford Kuga – they’ll be doing so undeservingly.

There are a few areas in which Ford could have done more to present a threat to the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz with this car, but that sentence says as much about the apparent capacities and ambitions of Ford right now as it does about the calibre of this car.

Spacious, refined and grown-up to drive, but still a tough sell

Ideally, Ford would have delivered a cabin of greater quality and handling that better spoke of its dynamic pedigree.

But the Edge feels like it’s within touching distance of being the best large SUV the company could realistically have made.

And it’s the gap between that idea and what the premium and specialist brands can offer for the money – cars superior not only on desirability but also in more measurable ways – that rules it out of the running for a top five ranking.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Ford Edge 2016-2019 First drives