Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
The 2011 Lincoln MKX has an unenviable task: It has to make Lincoln relevant again. Yet its sensual styling, lush interior and cutting-edge driver interface help this redesigned crossover take a long stride toward that end. This is, after all, an automaker that inspired ambition in middle-class Americans with the high style of its long, low-slung land yachts.
But that was a half-century ago. Decades of misdirection and cynical product management — dressing up Ford exteriors to pass off as luxury editions — have made Lincoln an also-ran against its European and Japanese premium rivals. The MKX has its work cut out to undo these missteps, but it's capable. Its 305-horsepower V6 provides plenty of locomotion, while its gentle ride and quiet interior help repel the stress of frenzied streets and highways. Its soft leather upholstery lets you slip, slide and adjust into postures of tension relief. There's even available all-wheel drive for those times when you need to leave the cityscape and find a moderate unpaved road to a pastoral scene.
On this score, the 2011 Lincoln MKX rises to the brand's legacy. That said, others offer similar luxury cocoons with more engagement. Compared to this 2011 Lincoln MKX's as-tested price of $50,665, the BMW X3 and Infiniti EX make similar power and better connections to the road. The Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK350 and Volvo XC60 bundle European amenities with tighter reflexes. But with its strong combination of American innovation and classic style, the new MKX is an ideal candidate to kickstart Lincoln's revival.
The 3.7-liter V6 in the 2011 Lincoln MKX makes 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet torque thanks to retuned variable valve timing, better flow through the intake manifold and cylinder head, and a taller compression ratio. It delivers that power through a six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels or to all four depending on the model you choose.
In Edmunds testing, the MKX hustled its 4,508 pounds from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, slightly faster than our test times with a Ford Edge Sport that carried stylish though heavy 22-inch wheels and summer tires. From the driver seat, though, the MKX feels slow. The transmission responds slowly to throttle inputs and shifts at relatively low rpm, so attempts at rapid acceleration feel jagged and strained. Given a good mash of the throttle pedal, the engine whines and the transmission whips through its six gears, but it ultimately drops you into a sleepy spot in the power band. This might make the lords of EPA fuel-economy estimates smile, but not enthusiastic drivers. Fortunately, a button on the gear stalk lets you manually determine the transmission's shift points.
Braking was a weakness on the previous-generation MKX, and the revised 2011 Lincoln MKX improves slightly. The rear discs are larger, the pedal feels firmer and the brakes don't fade as quickly as before. But in Edmunds testing, the new MKX still requires 133 feet to stop from 60 mph. This is better than before, but still only average among the competition. By comparison, the Ford Edge Sport with its oversize summer tires makes the same stop in 122 feet.
Equipped with available all-wheel drive, the MKX makes for comfortable, sure-footed passage to places accessed only by slippery roads. Hill-start assist keeps the MKX from rolling back when you accelerate from a standstill, while trailer sway control will help stabilize the camper you're lugging behind. The MKX's low front overhang and minimal 13.5-degree approach angle confine it to flatter ground, however.
Retuned springs, shocks and sway bars sharpen the 2011 Lincoln MKX's cornering manners, but it's still 67 inches tall, so the MKX is a reluctant carver of corners.
Not that you'd much notice its tire-squealing performance anyway. Lincoln engineers nailed this branch of the brand's genealogy in the MKX, so ride is nicely damped, yet doesn't feel as if suspended on gelatin. Bumps in the road are felt, then dispersed. And it is quiet. The sleepy hum that represents the MKX's representation of the outside world isn't for everyone, but your friends in the rear seat will probably think your career is going quite nicely.
Soft, perforated leather upholstery and ash or walnut trim contribute to a feel of classic American luxury, while sharp, ice-white ambient and control lighting place the MKX squarely in the present. The quarter-moon of wood-trim on the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel feels odd, though, making for three touch surfaces: wood, leather and plastic.
Like the 2011 Ford Edge, the 2011 Lincoln MKX is one of the tech-savviest cars on the road. Its driver interface shows perhaps the clearest influence of the iPod/smartphone era. The MKX uses a center stack that replaces conventional audio and climate control buttons with touch-sensitive icons. Pressing a "button" breaks an electrical field and manipulates the control. Superfluous tech-ery it may be, but it makes a great party trick. The buttons are truly touch-sensitive, however. Jab the Seek button on a bumpy patch and you'll end up skipping to that embarrassing John Mayer playlist.
For the most used functions, better to stick with the 8-inch center stack touchscreen or the twin LCD screens flanking the speedometer in the dash. Five-way directional buttons on both sides of the steering wheel navigate through menus and control everything from trip and systems information to radio presets and voice commands. It's an attractive, intuitive interface that requires minimal eye movement and a short learning curve, and you wonder why no one thought of it sooner.
Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and collision warning braking (even HD Radio tagging that lets you save favorite songs for purchase later in iTunes) round out an impressive list of the MKX's brainy features. But behind all the techiness, the MKX is still a spacious and versatile crossover. Folding the second row opens up 69 cubic feet of cargo room; there's a little less than half that with the second row up. Even tall rear-seat passengers will find plenty of leg- and headroom, and space to get comfortable. An available panoramic sunroof, open in front, fixed at the rear, further contributes to the cabin's feel of expanse and space.
Design/Fit and Finish
Even though it's a bit too easy to think of the MKX as a Ford Edge in formal wear, the 2011 Lincoln MKX still cuts a dashing figure. Muscular hips and shoulders frame its body contours, and the single taillight strip from the previous model has been replaced with winged taillamps. The grille, with its vertical chrome slats and waterfall design, is an acquired taste and a brave departure from its predecessor's more conventional mesh-style grille. Likewise, the 18-inch chrome wind turbine wheels won't suit everyone. We expect the aftermarket to do a brisk trade in MKX accessories.
Who should consider this vehicle
It's tempting to dismiss the 2011 Lincoln MKX as a badge job, simply a Ford Edge with nicer interior and more distinctive curves. And dynamically, that's true. Its driving performance doesn't vary much from an Edge with similar specs. But if driving performance is a priority, you're not likely looking in Lincoln's direction to begin with. Instead, the Lincoln MKX rewards you with a premium driving and riding environment centered on technology, comfort and style.
Lincoln still has much ground to cover to catch up with its European and Japanese competitors, and even its traditional rival, Cadillac. To fully get there, the company will need a model with skin and bones exclusive to its brand. Until then, however, the Lincoln MKX is no compromise. It is, in fact, a handsome performer that puts the once-iconic automaker back on a path to redefining American luxury.
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