Whirring through the cones, the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine rasps and burbles as the Pirellis squeal on the edge of grip and the AI transfers the power to the wheels in need. Sliding around the course comes quickly with the vehicle maintaining a controlled pitch, but all I can think about is loading those boxes. The challenge is to make a pit stop and load three boxes before completing a second lap. This is no ordinary autocross, and I am not driving what you might expect. This is the latest machine to wear the storied ST badge, and Ford Performance has created its first SUV.
The four key elements of the DNA for this product are fun-to-drive, performance feel, sustained capability, and appearance… — Ed Krenz, Ford Performance
This was my first tour behind the wheel of the 2019 Ford Edge ST in Park City, Utah, and despite my foibles on the course, I was still able to best the time put down by Hau Tai Tang, Ford Global Head of Product Development and Purchasing, in a Porsche Macan. He probably wasn’t trying as hard in the competitive product, but I felt better about it, and he feels pretty great about the Blue Oval’s new hot hauler.
“ST is much more than a badge. Clearly it is a differentiated series. It has all the right appointments, but it is an experience,” Hau said. “It is something that gives our enthusiast customers what they want, which is the joy of driving.”
Sadly, I never really got the boxes cleanly loaded, but that was on me. What never crossed my mind is the vehicle’s capabilities. The 2019 Edge ST acquitted itself well on the road and between the cones, and not once did I even think of blaming the vehicle for my shortcomings. This is one hot hauler, and it is much more than just a badge and a few bits. It was comprehensively engineered to earn its spot in the ST family with 75 percent of its content being fresh as compared with the outgoing Edge Sport.
“Our DNA is there to drive credibility and consistency. We may have different engineering teams working on different STs, but the DNA is really what makes sure the vehicles all have that family resemblance,” Ed Krenz, Chief Functional Engineer at Ford Performance, told us. “The four key elements of the DNA for this product are fun-to-drive, performance feel, sustained capability, and appearance…”
Though the Ford Performance engineering team works in collaboration with the mainstream engineers on the base product, the hot rodders have to use the base vehicle as a springboard. There are no performance extras baked into the base platform.
“Our job in Performance is to take whatever they have as the base product and engineer it to our standards. We are not ones to say we need the base program to do X, Y, and Z to enable use. We come in, we have a surrogate vehicle to work from, and we content it up to our attribute requirements,” Ed said. “We do that across any ST product, and to be honest, even with the Shelbys and Raptor, you would think with heritage of those vehicles and the fact that we know we are going to do them every time, the base vehicle is only optimized for those requirements. They don’t carry any extra weight, extra size, or extra anything to support the performance version. We always come in and love the challenge of taking this and taking it to the next level.”
Arriving at that next level is a challenge Ed faces on a regular basis. The Edge ST is but one of many performance variants Ford offers around the globe, and he is integral to ensuring those strains of DNA run through all of those vehicles.
“A little bit about what Ford Performance’s role on this vehicle,” Ed explained. “We at Ford Performance are responsible to ensure that when we put an ST badge on a vehicle that is credible to the heritage of ST products. So, there are always competing interests on a program — cost and many other things — but our job is to ensure that attributes meet expectations. We did that through what we call DNA. So, I am responsible for the DNA of an ST. I am at the Fiesta sign-off drives. I just drove the next-gen Focus ST last week in Europe, and then I am right into this product.”
With Ford transitioning away from all cars save for the Mustang in North America, it makes sense for Ford Performance to pass these characteristics on to its popular SUVs. The Edge ST is the first, but the Explorer ST will follow shortly. However, entering this market segment presented a unique challenge.
“The other challenge from an engineering perspective is that we are very accustomed to knowing what our competition is. On the Shelby, for example, I may own a ZL1 1LE in my fleet. I can benchmark, and I can future, and I know what they can do. I can set competitive base targets where we position the Shelby in a place where it is successful,” Ed detailed. “With this product, the Edge, I went out and said, ‘What’s our competition? What vehicles do I have to go benchmark?’ This is a new segment for us at Ford Performance, which is exciting, so we came back and said there isn’t a benchmark. Engineers always want know where this is going, so we ended up reaching into the premium vehicles. We purchased the Audi SQ5 and the Porsche Macan. We did a lot of benchmarking of those vehicles and set attribute targets based on those.”
While the territory was unfamiliar and the competition much pricier, the process harkens back to the development of another out-of-the-box performer that turned into a huge hit.
“It’s almost like when we did the Raptor. We went out there and it was a white space. We still compete against ourselves on the Raptor. There is nothing out there that says what do we do to keep up? We just have to beat the last one,” Ed added. “That’s what this is. We know what an ST is, and we know enthusiasts will be critical of a performance SUV. We completely get it.”
At that moment, I felt like Ed was talking just to me, but I know he was thinking of all enthusiasts. Flashing back to our time behind the wheel, we have to admit that the Edge ST’s thrust isn’t the stuff of legend. It is noticeably quicker than the Titanium model I drove for reference, but it won’t have gearheads clamoring to give up their V8-powered Mustangs. That’s OK, of course. After all, this is the quickest ST yet sold to the public, and STs aren’t meant to offer the pinnacle of performance.
“We have some advantages. You talked about the surrogate vehicle and the challenges it may pose. With this we have all-wheel drive versus our other STs, which are all front-wheel drive, it gives you a grip benefit,” Ed said. “The eight-speed automatic transmission is much faster shifting than a manual, plus the number of gears keeps you in the powerband. At 335 horsepower, STs have traditionally been in the 200s, so its just power. From a power to weight perspective, when you look at all-wheel drive, the tires, the grip and the automatic transmission, that is sort of the secret sauce for making it the quickest ever.”
It also packs a 380 lb-ft of torque punch that is somewhat muted by the smooth automatic trans and the weight of the vehicle, but will still get you to the head of the car line before the other parents. That performance level is courtesy of an EcoBoost V6 that is unique to the ST in the Edge lineup.
“Starting under the hood, the heart of all ST products is power. We have a 2.7-liter turbo similar to the Nautilus offering, as well as what’s been used in the F-150,” Ed said. “The specific tune for the ST is 335 horsepower. It has a unique engine calibration and a unique power rating, and the 2.7 is unique to the ST. It is not available in any other Edge product. It is a significant upgrade from the 2.0-liter that comes in the Titanium.”
It certainly is, but a key factor in hitting many of those ST DNA targets is the new transmission bolted to the peppy six-banger. The 8FM trans features eight forward gears and is designed to maximize the efficiency of the engine’s output for the given driving conditions, load, and speed. In performance situations it was responsive, but in mundane use it wasn’t too busy shifting.
“It is mated to an all-new, eight-speed automatic transmission,” Ed explained. “Part of our ST performance feel centers on shifts — shift quality, shift speed, shift scheduling, downshift rev-matching, and braking upshift inhibits. When you go into Sport mode, those are all things that come to life.”
Sport mode definitely ratchets up the level of responsiveness from he powertrain, but the sound walks the tightrope between daily civility and performance rasp with the grace of a ballerina. It does so with a traditional passive exhaust feature a unique dual rear outlet cat-back.
“The dual exhaust has a unique cold end for Edge ST,” Ed said. “That gives you some of the sound quality, which is part of the performance-feel attribute from our perspective.”
The smooth rasp definitely adds to the experience when you are moving full-tilt, but around town the cabin is library quiet, unless you want to crank up the B&O audio system, which is engineered just for the Edge to deliver optimal staging for the sound.
“On prior ST programs, to ensure the level of sound, we have had to compromise the sound package to ensure that we get the exhaust note or engine presence,” Ed confessed. “That comes at the expense of road noise, for example. Giving the customer this quiet interior is where we wanted to be, but we didn’t want to compromise or sacrifice the powertrain presence.”
And the powertrain definitely has presence. Not only will the Edge ST blast from zero to 60 in under six seconds, it will keep on running out the back door at 130 mph. In keeping with tradition, it isn’t limited to short bursts of glory, but rather it prospers under continued throttling. We found both the power and brakes consistent on the autocross even after repeated lapping.
“The two engineering challenges for us were getting to the brake requirement and the cooling requirement. When we started development of this product and put it on the track, it is obviously an Edge, so it wasn’t where it needed to be,” Ed said. “The technical challenges were getting the brake cooling correct through material selection in the rotors, friction materials, and the conventional hat design (versus the inverted hat on the standard Edge). Tires have such an impact on steering. We expect very precise steering with appropriate torque build and road feel. Getting the tire right for the on-center steering feel was quite a challenge.”
2019 Edge ST Option Packages
• All-weather front and rear floor liners
• Heated steering wheel
• Windshield wiper de-icer
• 110V/150W AC power outlet
• Hands-free, foot-activated liftgate
• Perimeter alarm
• Remote start system
• Universal garage door opener
• Wireless charging pad
ST Performance Brake Package
• 21-inch premium Gloss Black-painted aluminum wheels
• Brushless Radiator cooling fan
• Colorado Red-painted brake calipers
• Front and rear vented disc brakes with unique front rotors (13.6-inch)
• Performance brake pads
• Summer-only tires
• Vented brake shields
“Sustained performance means no brake fade, and that what this vehicle is designed to do. Another example is the optional brake package. On the front you have unique rotors in terms of material selection and the hat design and you also have high-friction pads,” Ed explained. “In the rear we have bigger rotors than the base edge. While that will help with stopping the vehicle, that is mostly tires. What those brakes are designed to do is meet our fade requirement. We have a very specific Ford Performance ST fade requirement and this vehicle meets it.”
Like the brakes, the power remained constant in performance use thanks to plenty of engineering dedicated to airflow and cooling.
Form Follows Function
“It has a beautiful front grille that, from an appearance perspective, makes it look unmistakably like an ST, even if I hid that badge. From an appearance perspective it is form follows function. This front-end opening allows 40 percent more airflow than the Titanium,” Ed said. “What do we do with the airflow? We have two additional coolers that cool the PTU and trans, and that gives us sustained capability. This vehicle meets our track durability requirements from a Ford Performance perspective.”
“These twin-turbo engines are phenomenal up here at altitude. They really sacrifice very little as compared with naturally aspirated, but they do generate their fair share of heat on the track,” Ed added. “So getting the shift scheduling and the cooling back all together to meet our robustness requirements made for a lot of engineering effort.”
As noted in the main story, the 2019 Edge ST allows you to have performance without sacrificing technology. All of the latest Edge vehicles include the five-feature suite of driver-assist tech dubbed Ford Co-Pilot360. Those features are pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, a lane-keeping system, a rear backup camera with built-in lens washer, and auto high-beam head lamps. Also included are evasive steering assist and post-collision braking, which prevents your vehicle from rolling into traffic after a crash.
You can also opt for adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go (basically you just steer), and lane centering (which even helps with that pesky steering). Ford has even integrated Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant with its Ford Pass app, so you can control many facets of your SUV using voice commands.
As you can see in the video above, we sampled many of these features in a 2019 Edge Titanium and came away impressed. You can see we aren’t to far removed from self-driving cars, right down to them doing the parallel parking for you, but for now the technologies just keep making the driver’s life easier and safer.
So, the Edge ST really is a dual-purpose machine. Much more than just a sporty appearance package on a family hauler, it is a well-thought-out performer that is equally at home on the way to soccer practice or carving up those canyon roads on the weekend. Perhaps more impressive is that it straddles that apex with a traditional, analog suspension.
“Fun to drive starts with the chassis. A lot of enthusiast types will say ‘You can’t do a sport SUV because you will get into body roll and pitch.’ The Edge ST gets stiffer front springs by 15 percent, stiffer rear springs by about 20 percent, stiffer bars to increase the roll stiffness by about 60 percent,” Ed said. “All of that is supported by a monotube shock that is unique to the ST. It provides very good performance feel and primary body control without sacrificing ride.”
Hoonigan Pit Stop
While whipping through the hills around Park City, Utah, we made a quick pit stop to grab a Monster Energy drink before finishing the drive. This was no convenience store we stopped at, however. We stopped and the house that Ken Block built — Hoonigan Racing Division. Sadly the head Hoonigan wasn’t around, but we were able to check out the operation that keeps his rally racers in top shape and ensures those Gymkhana videos keep dazzling the Internet. It looks like a fun place to work, and the shipping container motive looks great, but is a nod to efficiency. While running DC Shoes, Ken learned that moving is expensive. Using the containers as offices, conference rooms, and even, bathrooms, let’s Hoonigan pull up stakes quickly and affordably should the need arise.
That theme of balance runs through the whole Edge ST experience. It is the responsible family vehicle when you need it to be, it doesn’t give up any of the technical features available to the premium model, and it can deliver when you foot is too the floor. It even looks the part, which doesn’t hurt.
For its first foray into building sportier sport utilities, Ford Performance delivered on the ST vibe right out of the gate. And, if more power is your thing, we have a feeling that 2.7-liter EcoBoost is just waiting to be unleashed with a few select mods.