Ford unveils Edge, new 'crossover' SUV
New vehicle is a pure on-roader with no boulder-crunching pretense.

DETROIT ( - America's love affair with SUVs is not over. It's just changing shape. Now, the increasingly hot vehicle is the crossover.

Definitions vary but, basically, it's an SUV that's not really designed to go off-road. Dirt roads may be OK, but that's about it. They're still higher off the ground than a station wagon, but not neccessarily as high as a serious off-road vehicle.

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And the suspension isn't as firm as a real SUV's either, which gives you more supple handling on the highway and a smoother ride. Without all the extra heavy-duty stuff required for rough terrain, crossovers are also lighter than traditional SUVs. That means they can use smaller engines that get better gas mileage.

Crossover SUVs are becoming increasingly popular and may outpace traditional SUVs in sales next year.

While traditional SUVs are based on the mechanical underpinnings of trucks, featuring a body and frame built as separate structures, crossovers are built like cars in which the body and frame are the same thing. In fact, crossovers are often heavily modified versions of cars. The Toyota Highlander crossover SUV, for example, is based on the Toyota Camry sedan.

Ford's new Edge, unveiled today at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, is a prime example of the species. Unlike the Escape and the Freestyle, Ford's current crossover offerings, the Edge doesn't even fake the off-road look.

Galleries: See new and redesigned cars from the Detroit Auto Show.

Prior to the relatively recent introductions of vehicles like the Chrysler Pacifica, crossover SUV designs usually disguised the fact that the vehicles weren't engineered for mountain trails.

Vehicles like the Pacifica and the Edge are frank about their mission.

"Edge is not an off-road adventure vehicle, and it doesn't look like one," said Peter Horbury, Ford's director of design for its North American brands, "The inspiration for the Edge is contemporary design and an adventurous state of mind."

Even Jeep, famous for the "Trail Rated" badges on its vehicles' front fenders, is expected to join the on-road crowd. At last year's Geneva Motor Show in Europe, Jeep showed a concept called the Compass that is expected to be produced for sale here in the U.S.

The closest the relatively low-slung Compass will get to tackling the Rubicon Trail (a tough off-road test) will be charging through Central Park's transverse roads.

Certainly, the Edge's front-to-back glass roof is not something you'd expect to find on a vehicle that was going to be bouncing over boulders. It even has a center console designed to hold a laptop computer.

The Edge is based on the Ford Fusion sedan which is, in turn, based on the Mazda6 sedan. (Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda.) The Edge even shares the Fusion's three-bar grill, a design feature Ford has said it will be using on more future vehicles.

Crossover vehicles still offer all-wheel-drive, as the Edge does, but they may not offer traditional four-wheel-drive. The difference is that all-wheel-drive refers to systems that are specially designed to drive on pavement, which can be an inhospitable environment for off-road four-wheel-drive systems.

The Edge has an "intelligent" all-wheel-drive system that, according to Ford, delivers power to the four wheels as needed when sensors predict that the tires may be about to lose traction.

At last week's Los Angeles Auto Show, Mazda unveiled its new crossover, the CX-7. The CX-7 is something entirely new for Mazda and, while it shares much of its engine and transmission the MazdaSpeed6 performance sedan, is not actually based upon any other vehicle.

Check our galleries for pictures of the Mazda CX-7 and other new vehicles being unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show as the week progresses.

Galleries: See new and redesigned cars from the Detroit Auto Show. Top of page

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