While the Lincoln MKX gets an entirely new look inside and out and a more powerful engine for 2011, it didn‘t win me over.
The corporate twin to Ford's Edge, the oft-forgotten Lincoln MKX crossover’s most impressive change is a quiet, and comfortable ride that rivals Lexus and Acura. In addition, while it competes well with the best in its segment, it still needs work.
It certainly wasn't the MKX's controversial looks that held me back. I like the large grille Lincoln has added to its vehicles; on larger models like the MKX, it almost looks natural.
One of my favorite design features on the previous-generation MKX (and the current MKT) is the single taillight stretching across the entire rear of the car. Unfortunately, it's been replaced on the 2011 MKX by two sad-looking taillights. Overall, though, it's a handsome SUV.
Eighteen-inch aluminum wheels are standard, but I expect most people will get one of the two option packages that include 20-inch wheels, like the ones on the tester I piloted. Surprisingly, the bigger wheels and chrome finish didn't look at all garish.
One of the bigger surprises about the new MKX is how nice the interior is. Other Lincolns have similar treatments – a leather-stitched dashboard and comfortable heated and cooled leather seats – but the MKX is the best of the bunch.
The two-tone color palette is pleasing, and there's plenty of padding on the doors and center console for weary elbows.
All the leather appointments, though, are really just a backdrop to the real stars of this interior: the large steering wheel, digital gauge cluster and a slick center stack, featuring buttonless controls and a touch-screen LCD that overwhelm the driver (in a good way).
I'll dig into how well the multimedia system works later on, but in terms of basic functions, like air conditioning and the radio, the touch-sensitive console works well … for the most part. The buttons audibly click on and off instantly, and they're as easy to find blindly as are any typical buttons.
The slider pads to control air-conditioning vent speed and stereo volume, however, don't work so well.
The volume slides up and down steadily, but if you press too hard on either the right or left side, the volume jumps up or down. That's intended; you can either push or slide to adjust the volume. But if you go in for the slide and your initial push is too hard, you get the jump rather than a smooth, steady adjustment.
Seat comfort in back is very good, and it was more spacious back there for my passengers than was the Lexus RX 350 I tested a few days later. The spec sheet backs this up, with the advantage in rear dimensions going to the MKX. However, our child-safety seats proved to be tight fits in both models, though things were a bit better in the MKX. That didn't stop constant seat kicking by my kids, though.
The cargo area was also impressively large, at 32.3 cubic feet. That area doesn't beat the Lexus on the spec sheet – the RX has 40 cubic feet – but the MKX seemed larger for golf bags and large luggage, both of which I took with me on short runs in both SUVs.
The MKX's best performance attributes are those that its rival, the Lexus, takes for granted.
This Lincoln glides softly on the road, with little wind and road noise. Even the optional 20-inch wheels didn't raise the harshness factor. The only time I noticed a problem with the suspension was over harsh road imperfections, like expansion joints. Then, the MKX would give a significant jolt — albeit a brief one. It stood out mostly because its drive was otherwise so pleasant.
The MKX's 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 interrupted that quiet drive every time I hammered down the accelerator. It's an unusually impressive announcement of power in this segment. I enjoyed the grunt and hustle from the line quite a bit … until I got into that Lexus RX 350.
The Lexus may pack “just” a 275-hp V-6, but it's plenty swift and it feels more refined than the MKX. It just doesn't have the resonating engine roar of that SUV. Like many Lexus vehicles, you can barely tell the engine is there, even when you're pushing your right foot down hard.
Brakes on both SUVs were competent, though certainly not stellar. Mileage is also similar, with front-wheel-drive MKXs getting 19/26 mpg city/highway and the RX getting slightly less, at 18/25 mpg. All-wheel-drive versions of the MKX, like my tester, obviously have lower numbers, coming in at 17/23 mpg. The all-wheel-drive RX loses less, at 18/24 mpg.
As a driver's car, the RX handled better, leaned less during tight turns — like highway off-ramps — and had a silkier transmission. What was the Lexus' unlikely Achille's heel? It had an overly tight suspension that sent shudders through the cabin that were downright maddening on rough roads.
I could easily see a luxury shopper picking the Lincoln's more comfortable but slightly less refined driving experience over the RX 350. That's saying a lot for Lincoln.
Features & Pricing
Lincoln continues to add a lot of features standard across its lineup, but when it comes to pricing, the MKX still costs slightly more than a similarly equipped Lexus RX.
Lincoln does, however, have two standout features that Lexus can't match.
One is a simple panoramic sunroof that has two gigantic panes of glass. The front pane that slides open is a significant size, adding a nice open-air feeling to the SUV. Lexus, on the other hand, has just a standard sunroof available. Both cars include the sunroofs as part of pricey option packages.
The Lincoln's other wow-inducing feature is the standard MyLincoln Touch system, a new endeavor by Ford to bring more technology into its automobiles. One part of the system is a customizable gauge cluster with an analog speedometer flanked by two LCDs that can show a variety of information in different ways, from a trip computer to a compass to heat settings.
There was no question as to the appeal of this aspect of MyLincoln Touch.
But then there was the multimedia system. The system is standard, including an 8-inch touch-screen and a number of features. (Navigation, however, is part of a $7,500 option package.)
I was impressed by how easy it was to set up the Bluetooth system for my iPhone and the display for my iPod tracks. The optional THX sound system was good, but not nearly as robust as the Lexus RX's upgraded system. And other than all that, I found the MyLincoln Touch system to be a dismal failure.
Every touch command is delayed a tick too long, which makes this very advanced-looking system feel like an antiquated one. While some of the buttons have a visual effect like water rippling when you touch them, that doesn't overcome the fact that my radio station didn't change instantly.
As in systems from Audi and BMW, some functions — like whether you want your climate-controlled air directed at your feet, head or both — are in this LCD system versus having physical controls down below. And don't get me started on trying to turn on the heated seats.
I found the navigation graphics to be a bit behind some of the better systems on the market. It was also nearly impossible to point to a part of the map and adjust the view, or to select a road incident to see what exactly it was.
Add a black screen and tiny fonts, and I'm not sure Gen Xers — let alone Baby Boomers — will enjoy hunting for the controls they need.
Remote start, dual-zone climate control, Ford's Sync voice-recognition system, a 10-speaker sound system, heated and cooled leather seats up front, a power liftgate, parking sensors and 18-inch aluminum wheels are standard for the MKX's $39,145 starting price for front-wheel drive and $40,995 for all-wheel drive.
There are only two option packages: a $2,500 Premium Package that adds xenon headlamps, ambient interior lighting, premium leather seats, heated rear seats, a rearview camera, a heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescoping, and rain-sensing wipers. The $7,500 Elite Package adds voice-activated navigation, a blind spot warning system, a THX surround-sound stereo system with HD radio, a panoramic moonroof, and 20-inch, chrome-clad aluminum wheels.
All told, our tester came to $51,635. A similarly equipped Lexus RX 350 with the largest available wheels (19 inches) and that smaller moonroof comes in at $49,168. Buyers may have a hard time reconciling the higher price for what is essentially a newcomer versus the well-known quantity of the Lexus.
The MKX has the standard slate of six airbags, stability control and, as part of some option packages, blindspot monitoring.
The 2011 MKX earned the top score, Good, in frontal, side and rear crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received the second best score, Acceptable, in roof-strength tests, keeping it from being an IIHS Top Safety Pick, a vaunted designation.
The federal government has not yet crash-tested the MKX.
Lincoln MKX in the Market
A worthy competitor to Acura and Lexus is a welcome thing for car shoppers. More options and selection mean better odds of finding the right vehicle for you. Besides the wonky multimedia system in the MKX, there isn't anything to turn off prospective buyers.
The positives outweigh the negatives by leaps and bounds, and I even like the styling. But after living with the MKX, I just couldn't get excited about it. It was a gut reaction, even as my brain told me how great it was. I suspect the features and pleasing ride, though, will win over many shoppers' tentative guts.
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