When you find yourself fully engaged in weekend chores, especially chores involving some trundling, it’s easy to see why SUVs remain so popular.
Last weekend, while I was evaluating a Ford Edge sport-utility, my daughter and her family were moving into a new old house in Methuen – this one an authentic Victorian built during Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th Century. The place needed some buffing.
The Edge was a perfect vehicle for the job. In the role of assistants, my wife, Donna, and I kept the back seat of the meaty SUV open and at the ready to transport grandchildren Madeleine and John among houses – or to a pizza joint whenever the need arose. That left the Ford’s wagon back available for vacuum cleaner and big buckets, rags, sponges, spray bottles and detergents, plus an armful of garden tools like spade, trowel, pruners, hoe, tarp, hose, and a few other items jumbled onto the cargo floor. With the big back hatch opened tall at the new old Victorian, the Edge operated as a mobile work shed.
What’s more, the Edge could securely keep the implements overnight on Saturday, and accept additions for day two of the buff-up on Sunday.
Those may sound like obvious advantages of a full-size utility model like Edge, but try the same thing in Europe, where government policies force ordinary people to drive small cars. Last weekend’s ordinary exertions of the Edge would be outright heroic there.
SUVs remain popular in America not just because they’re such useful vehicles, but also because we ordinary people get to choose. That choice could be denied, same as it is on other patches of earth, if we ordinary Americans let elites set rules for us.
Responding to the choices we U.S. plebeians make today, the originally American Ford Motor Co. makes available a full family of utility vehicles. The Edge is a five-passenger full-size model with a starting list price of $28,350. It is sandwiched between the smaller, popular Ford Escape, which starts at a list of $23,295, and the larger Ford Explorer, with $29,695 for an opening suggested retail price. All three are what the car industry calls crossover SUVs. They start with some passenger car characteristics to provide a softer, easier ride, and cross them with traditional sport-utility qualities, especially a high stance and wagon back.
Ford also sells the Flex, a largish, distinctively styled crossover, and the Expedition, a big SUV built the traditional way, on a pickup-truck frame. But the Edge, the Escape and the Explorer are the company’s three biggest sellers by far in the sport-utility category.
At Regan Ford in Haverhill, the Edge and the Explorer sell about evenly, reports Joseph Cullinan, sales manager. The smaller Escape beats them both by about 50 percent.
The Escape is simply more affordable, being the smallest model. Its high fuel mileage is also a draw, Cullinan says. In its most basic configuration, with front-wheel drive rather than all-wheel drive, the Escape earns an EPA fuel-economy rating of 21 miles per gallon in city driving, and 28 mpg on the highway. The basic, two-wheel-drive versions of Edge and Explorer rate 17/27 mpg, and 17/25 mpg, respectively.
Of course, in the Merrimack Valley, all-wheel drive is much more popular. That means a small dip in fuel mileage, but the payback comes when the snow flies in January and February. At Regan Ford, Cullinan notes that fewer than 10 percent of its SUVs sell with two-wheel-drive. Those typically go to people who just don’t have to go out in the snow, like school teachers, and retirees who retreat to Florida in the winter.
The Ford Explorer can seat up to seven riders. That makes it the choice for people who have high-volume transport needs, says Cullinan. The Edge, though nearly as spacious in its passenger cabin, is shorter. That makes it more maneuverable.
“When you’re driving them, they’re very similar. And a lot of the equipment is the same. But it can be easier to find a parking space with the Edge, if you don’t need the third seat that the Explorer has,” he explained.
With both models, area drivers typically push them near to the luxury category by purchasing versions loaded with extra features and accommodations, like leather upholstery and moonroofs.
“The bottom-of-the-line models don’t sell well at all,” Cullinan said.
An SUV may not correspond well with the strict definition of luxury. It is a utility vehicle, after all. But
we still-free-to-choose Americans are happy to shape our own meanings, free from the strict dictates that elites like to impose. So why not seek luxury in an SUV?
Auto makers like Ford oblige with ascending trim levels that make even utility vehicles plush and pampering. The Ford Edge I tested last weekend was a high-level, SEL version with a technologically advanced “EcoBoost” four-cylinder engine that produces both fast-acting power and high fuel economy, with a rating of 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. (The EcoBoost option is available only in front-drive versions of Edge). It had leather upholstery, 10-way adjustable driver’s seat, back-up camera, blind-spot warning, illuminated entry, voice-controlled navigation and host of other features. Its final sticker price was $37,065.
From what Cullinan sees at Regan Ford, that’s not a great stretch for a lot of us un-elite Americans. We should all be thankful for that, and work hard to keep it that way.
Jeffrey Zygmont has written about automobiles since 1982. Based in Salem, N.H., he writes books and articles about innovation, technology and culture. He can be contacted through the website jeffreyzygmont.com
2012 Ford Edge Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive crossover SUV Price range: $28,350 to $39,885 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/60,000 roadside assistance Base engine: 3.5-liter V6 Power: 285 horsepower at 6,500 rpm; 253 lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 19 mpg city; 27 mpg highway (with 4WD) Wheelbase: 111 inches Length: 184 inches Width: 76 inches Height: 67 inches Weight: 4,056 pounds Fuel capacity: 18.0 gallons Turning circle: 39.3 ft.