The assignment was simple: Take four people and an oversized amount of luggage from sunny Powell, Ohio to Manhattan for the New York Auto Show, using the 556-mile “high road” path down I-80. (The “low road” is the 555-mile grind on Route 70 and its endless Pennsylvania 55-mph construction zones.) To make things interesting, and to save the parking charges at Kimpton’s delightful but pricey “Muse” hotel, we decided to do it as a pair of one-way rentals.
Fate threw us a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with a fairly comprehensive equipment list, and a stripped-out Ford Edge SEL. The Cherokee had just two thousand miles on the digital odometer, while the Ford was livin’ on the edge of its 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.
Two nine-hour slogs, two crossovers-of-a-sort with two relatively different philosophies but surprisingly similar execution, one winner. Full disclosure: there aren’t any non-stock photos because everybody involved was a hurry to get to, and get out of, the city. Deal with it.
Second Place: Ford Edge SEL V6
This doesn’t really feel like a fair test, does it? Taking the highly-regarded, do-it-all, no-effort-spared-inside-or-out Grand Cherokee, a trucklet so near and dear to our hearts that my father just bought one, and putting it up against the old-platform Edge, a car that was never a favorite of the critics even when it was new. This is like letting Ivan Drago into the ring with Apollo Creed, right?
The thing is, the public doesn’t share the autojourno opinion. True, our own Tim Cain’s rankings show the mighty JGC at #21 in the US-market March sales chart, moving a strong YTD of 40,838. However, the Edge is #33, with a YTD of 33,238. Furthermore, both vehicles are showing a positive sales trend compared to last year. As far as your neighbor is concerned, the bloom is firmly attached to both of these roses.
Our silver Ford Edge SEL was the best of a fairly bad bunch of available CUVs and SUVs for the return leg from LGA to PWL (okay, I just made that up; Powell certainly doesn’t have an airport, although there’s a place to fly model airplanes near the Splash Park) and although we’d have liked to have had an example with lower mileage on the clock, it didn’t really make much of a difference. The Edge has always counted a remarkably solid-feeling structure among its obvious virtues. When my son’s mother traded her Flex Limited for an Edge Limited three years ago, I was immediately struck at just how much more solid, heavy, and inert the Edge felt compared to its larger and (it must be said) more pedigreed sibling. It’s an illusion; the Flex is bigger and it performs better in a crash. But the Edge just feels milled somehow. Probably because in some ways it’s basically an old Fusion with an extra half-ton of metal bolted on somewhere. Thirty-plus-thousand miles of rental abuse didn’t change that.
My first impression of the Edge, as Bark M. picked us up outside the hotel, was positive: it holds more actual luggage than the Grand Cherokee, by quite a bit. The assemblage of roller bags, Tumi carryalls, and laptop messenger cases that filled the Jeep to the roof didn’t even impede rear vision in the Edge. The same was true for the rear seat, which offered more room for shoulders and feet. On the negative side, the center rear armrest was remarkably crappy and, unlike the Jeep’s, forced you to choose between having cups in the fold-out holders and actually using it as an armrest.
Once on the move, however, it became apparent that road noise was going to be a conversational deterrent. Some vehicles are absolutely brilliant when it comes to having a four-corner talk among occupants; my Phaetons were almost too good at it, because you could hear the whispers between occupants in the other row. The Edge is on the other end of the spectrum; it’s necessary to raise your voice to be heard ahead or behind. The Flex, for what it’s worth, is better. In fact, the Flex is better than the Edge at almost everything. Had we been able to get a Flex to go face-to-face with the Jeep for this test, the finishing order wouldn’t have been nearly as obvious.
As a base SEL, the Edge has basic cloth seats. As we expected, the front seats didn’t measure up to the JGC Limited’s leather-lined chairs in any way — but in back, it was a different story. I’ve had a few ribs and vertebrae broken in the past few months and I found the Edge’s rear seats to be much better than the Grand Cherokee’s, in both short-term comfort and long-term support. The same three-hundred-mile stretch that had my ribs audibly cracking and snapping in the Jeep turned out to be no problem in the Ford, even though I’d been pre-brutalized by the trip out to NYC.
When it came my turn to drive, on the other hand, I immediately wished to be a passenger again. The Edge is so completely outclassed as an on-road proposition by the JGC that it’s hard to believe that the former is the transverse-engined platform sans off-road pretenses. Only in lane-change transitional behavior does the Ford have any edge whatsoever over the Jeep; there’s a secondary wobble-back that just doesn’t happen in the Edge. It’s a slightly more relaxing vehicle to pilot for that reason alone.
Nominally, the 3.5V6 in the Edge is a near equal to the 3.6 Pentastar V6 in the Chrysler product, but in the real world it’s not as good, possibly because of the brilliant ZF automatic you get with the Pentastar. Mileage, too, isn’t quite up to par. I drove both vehicles in a conscious effort to maximize reported economy, never exceeding 85mph and staying in cruise control for long stretches of time, and the Edge claimed 23.6mpg on a segment where the Grand Cherokee claimed 25.1. Brakes are okay on both cars, but neither offers the stepping-on-a-steel-block feel you’d get from, say, the monobloc Brembos on a Cayenne. These cars are built to go (shopping), not stop (global warming).
In most respects, the Edge feels a generation behind the JGC. It isn’t just the little touches, like the USB charging ports for both rear seats in the Jeep. Rather, it’s the entire touch-and-feel interface between you and the car. This is a long-in-the-tooth refresh of a twelve-year-old platform, and it feels like it. Nearly five years ago, I was pretty impressed by a loaded Limited, as you can see in the below LLN video of which I’m not particularly proud:
Okay, you have to admit the pizza thing was kind of funny. Or not. Anyway. This SEL doesn’t have most of the stuff you see in that video, which makes it feel even older than it is. Surely Ford’s amortized this platform to the point where they should be able to throw the full MyFordTouch system in at the $32,395 net price of our base AWD SEL, but they continue to expect that you’ll spend an additional two grand to get it. If you don’t — and National Car Rental certainly didn’t — you get a Fiesta-grade interior screen about the size of what you got with the original Nintendo GameBoy.
The net effect is surprisingly downmarket for a vehicle that costs more than a loaded Camcord. The stereo, in particular, is embarrassingly poor. There’s not a lot of surprise and delight here for the money. Some of the interior trim, like the door cards, just feels deliberately crappy. Other parts are simply plain, and that’s no longer good enough in this segment.
You can argue that the Edge SEL works best as a bait-and-switch to get you into a much better-equipped Limited. That vehicle would have been a better competitor to the Grand Cherokee Limited, which at a net $39,390 is more than twenty percent pricier. In fact for $38,695, you can get an Edge Sport AWD, which has the motor and the equipment to take the fight directly to Jeep. In the final analysis, however, it wasn’t the frosting that caused us to rank the Ford second. It was the cake underneath it, which is stale. Eventually, the sales numbers will reflect that. In the meantime, feel free to avoid adding to them.