Ford Motor offers two utility vehicles of about the same size, priced in about the same range, offering similar power choices, delivering fuel economy in the same ballpark and selling in nearly equal numbers to Canadians.
Moreover, the Ford Edge and Explorer come with the same basic 907 kg tow rating and score identically for crashworthiness (good, but not great, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
Yet these two midsize utilities are totally different vehicles, riding on completely different platforms, with very different styling. Ride and handling set one apart from the other, and the available features differ here and there. But these two are very much popular midsize utilities – Nos. 2 and 3 in the class by sales (16,580 in 2015 for the Edge, 15,615 for the Explorer, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants).
The boxier Explorer is the SUV (sport-utility vehicle) that drives more like a truck than a car. The Edge is really and truly a tall station wagon, or what’s now being called a crossover utility.
Both rate about average for quality, despite the different underpinnings, road manners and looks,. That said, in the latest J.D. Power and Associates three-year durability study (the Vehicle Dependability Study or VDS), the Ford brand as a whole had a disastrous showing – second from the bottom, below Daimler’s smart brand and above the dead-last Dodge brand.
Meanwhile, the new Consumer Reports’ ratings put Ford in the middle of the pack due to inconsistent reliability scores.
Most know that Ford has been dogged with poor quality scores for years now. Problem areas generally involve electronics, though some Ford models have had their share of transmission and other problems. In particular, Ford has been hammered for fussyinfotainment interfaces which have been criticized for being tricky to operate.
Ford Edge seating.
On the other hand, since 2010 Ford in Canada has posted just one safety recall for each of the Edge and Explorer. That suggests Ford’s quality problems with at least these two utilities are more about designs that aren’t user-friendly than anything.
Nonetheless, Ford has been wrangling with quality issues for far, far too long. Owners demand a brainless gizmo interface these days – a smartphone-like approach that is utterly intuitive, fast and useful. Here’s hoping the recent upgrades to the Edge and Explorer have fixed things in the eyes of consumers.
In the eyes of this critic, the latest versions of both the Edge (redone for 2015) and the Explorer (redone for 2016) are dead-simple to operate. Toss that owner’s manual aside; you’ll be able to synch your Bluetooth phone, plug in your favourite satellite stations and all the rest without going nuts.
Now of the two, the Edge is the better choice for buyers with young kids. The Edge’s on-road comfort is vastly superior to the Explorer’s. The Edge is also more fuel efficient and the overall driving dynamics take the truck-like Explorer to school.
No surprise there. The Edge shares its underpinnings with the Fusion midsize car. Note, too, that you can get both the Edge and the Explorer as a front-drive or all-wheel-drive rig, though the Explorer is better for bush-whackers.
The Edge also looks more athletic than the Explorer and it’s typically about 200 kg lighter. The engine choices reflect this difference: the base mill is a 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder (245 hp); a 2.7-litre EcoBoost V-6 (315 hp) is also available, as is a normally-aspirated 3.5-litre V-6 (280 hp). All get dual exhaust and a six-speed automatic transmission.
The four-cylinder turbo is a good choice and can be reasonably fuel efficient if you’re easy on the throttle. The 2.7-litre turbo is the fancier option – powerful, responsive and quiet.
The latter came in my Edge Sport tester, which by the way priced out at more than $57,000 with nearly $10,000 in options. You read that correctly: an Edge for $57,000-plus, though the base model starts at $32,799.
In fairness, a well-equipped Edge looks and feels like a luxury crossover. Fancy features run the range, from adaptive cruise control, to blind spot radar detection, front and rear cameras, park assist, hands-free liftgate, lane keeping, Sync with MyFord Touch and more. If Ford can clean up its quality scores, many more buyers will be forced to look at the Edge as a near-luxury rig.
An Explorer loaded to match the Edge Sport will run you about $2,400 more, however. All the same fancy features are there, too. However, a new 500-watt Sony audio system for the Explorer Platinum is among the very best sound systems you can get in any SUV at any price.
For power, your choices include a 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine (280 hp), but it wants premium fuel. An EcoBoost V-6 (365 hp) and a normally aspirated V-6 (290 hp) are also offered. The four-cylinder turbo does well as an everyday engine, but if you plan to tow or haul anything of consequence, the EcoBoost V-6 is your first choice.
The cabins in both look and feel quite fancy – and downright luxurious when you get into the $40,000-plus range. The Edge feels roomier, however, while the Explorer seems to have better seats, with superior support and comfort.
Truth is, the Explorer, the true SUV here, feels like a bit of an anachronism in a world of car-like crossovers similar to the Edge. The Edge is lighter, more fuel efficient, prettier and more enjoyable to drive.
So unless you need a real truck-like SUV, the Edge is the Ford utility of choice.
THE LOOK: The Edge has a (relatively) sleek shape for a talk wagon, with tasteful creases and curves. The Explorer is far boxier than its Ford cousin – and that shape makes it look like a bit of an anachronism.
THE DRIVE: No question, the Edge is the superior rig in terms of ride, handling overall quietness. The Explorer is at heart a truck and feels like one, especially in the corners.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS: The Edge rides on a platform shared with the Fusion midsize car and it shows in its driver-friendly responses. The Edge also stands out for its material quality and cabin comfort. The Explorer’s “intelligent” four-wheel drive with Terrain Management is very advanced, capable of reassesses and adjusting responses in conditions about 20 times faster than the blink of an eye. If off-roading is your thing, the Explorer has an edge over the Edge (pun intended).
THE CABIN/STORAGE: Both look very handsome in their most expensive trim levels. The Edge feels roomier. Both can carry a variety of loads thanks to a flexible cargo area.
THE BRAND: The Ford is rated mid-pack in Consumer Reports’ latest brand rankings. The Ford brand is largely held back by well-documented quality issues.
WHY BUYS? These are family vehicles, though empty-nesters like the roominess and tall stance.
Price range: Explorer — $33,499-$59,099; Edge — $32,799-$48,399.
Engines: Edge — 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder (245 hp); a 2.7-litreEcoBoost V-6 (315 hp) is also available, as is a normally-aspirated 3.5-litre V-6 (280 hp). Explorer — 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine (280 hp), but it wants premium fuel. An EcoBoost V-6 (365 hp) and a normally aspirated V-6 (290 hp) are also offered.
Transmission: six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km) for AWD versions: 13.6 city/9.8 highway for the 2.7-litre V-6 in the Edge. 14.9 city/10.7 hwy for the 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder in the Explorer.
Comparables: Kia Sorento, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Dodge Journey, Nissan Murano, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Flex, Dodge Durango, Mitsubishi Outlander, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Outback, Toyota Venza, Toyota 4Runner, Buick Enclave.