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The Ford Edge ST Signals the Future of Practical Performance Cars

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author photo by Eric Brandt February 2018

A lot of interesting, innovative and futuristic new cars, trucks and concepts debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit every year. The 2018 show was, quite frankly, a bit dull -- but there was one car that made its debut at the show that I found to be particularly groundbreaking. It wasn't some cutting-edge EV, it wasn't one of the many new trucks at the show and it wasn't a concept car. It was a crossover. Specifically, it was the Ford Edge ST.

The Ford Edge is getting a makeover for the 2019 model year -- and along with it, a new trim. The Edge has earned an ST (or "Sport Technologies") badge, which is used by Ford on sporty versions of existing cars. The Edge ST will be powered by a 2.7-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine, good for 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission option is an 8-speed automatic (an ST first) with paddle shifters and all-wheel drive standard. Until now, the only cars to wear the ST badge in the U.S. have been the Fiesta and the Focus -- two of the most formidable hot hatches on the market. Giving a family-hauling crossover the ST treatment isn't just a nice addition to an SUV lineup. It's revolutionary.

Here's why it's such a big deal. Whether we like it or not, the future of practical performance cars is in crossovers. Let's go over a brief timeline of practical performance cars, starting with the muscle car era of the 1960s (we could go back further, but we'd be here for a while). Many consider the 1964 Pontiac GTO to be the first muscle car. It was a Pontiac Tempest, a mid-size car, with a V8 engine that was used in larger cars like the Bonneville. The rest of the American car industry quickly caught on. Stuff a full-size engine into a mid-size car, add a cool appearance package, give it a cool name and voila. Muscle car. A high-performance version of a regular car.

The muscle car era came to a rather abrupt end in the mid-1970s due to the oil crisis, with a few oddball muscle cars popping up since, like the Buick Grand National. It didn't take too long for the car industry to figure out what would take up the mantle of muscle cars in bringing affordable driving excitement to the masses. It was the hot hatch. Born with cars like the Volkswagen GTI in the 1970s and still continuing today, hot hatchbacks are the muscle cars of their time -- a performance car based on an existing platform that adds some extra fun and style to your commute. A properly tuned hot hatch can even make for a fun track toy while still serving as your daily driver.

Do you see the pattern here? Automakers build performance cars based on what people are driving at the time. In the 1960s and 1970s, people drove big (by today's standards) coupes and sedans like the Tempest, so we got the GTO. In the 1980s and 1990s, people drove small hatchbacks like the Golf, so we got the GTI. Today, people drive crossovers like the Edge, so we're getting the Edge ST.

Hot hatches are still alive and well, but there are already a couple signs of that changing quickly. For starters, the Ford Fiesta is now dead in the U.S. -- and along with it, the Fiesta ST. The rest of the world is getting a new generation of Fiesta, but the party is over in the States because we don't buy small cars anymore. Now, along comes the Edge ST as Ford's way of telling us that practical performance cars aren't getting smaller, but bigger and taller.

I love hot hatches, and I owned a Focus ST for two years. But here's the thing about the Edge ST: It's a car marketed directly to me, a car enthusiast with a family of four ... and yet, I don't want it. Driving one might change my mind -- but for now, I'm just not interested. One of the reasons I don't want it is because I already have a minivan, which is the ultimate family-hauling vehicle, despite its lack of thrills. However, if I was one of the many drivers with kids who irrationally refused to consider driving a minivan, then the Edge ST would probably be right up my alley.

The Edge ST won't be the first performance SUV, but it will be the first in its particular segment. We have the Dodge Durango SRT and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, but those both start well over $60,000 -- not exactly affordable performance for most people, albeit good values for what they are. There's no official pricing yet on the Ford Edge ST, but I'm expecting it to come in around the $45,000 mark where it will have virtually no competitors.

So what's next for the rest of the industry? The sporty Redline appearance package is making its way through the Chevy SUV lineup ... but can we expect an SS-badged crossover or two from Chevy? Maybe a Honda CR-V Si? It's been made clear that crossovers are how people want to get around these days, and the next logical step in our transition from cars to crossovers is giving them a characteristic they've never been known for: fun. There have been signs of it in recent years like the aforementioned SRT SUVs -- and in Ford's own lineup with the Edge Sport, Explorer Sport and the unnecessarily fun, EcoBoost-powered Flex.

The Edge ST might not seem like a big deal, and you might not even notice them when they start showing up on the street -- but it's the beginning of a new wave of performance vehicles. The day may very well come when the only way to get affordable driving fun with a usable back seat is with a hot crossover.

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The Ford Edge ST Signals the Future of Practical Performance Cars - Autotrader