The 2016 Lincoln MKX checks all the mid-size, two-row luxury crossover boxes and is better than the standard-bearer that launched this segment, the Lexus RX. But it’s a Lincoln, which means it will take a great deal of heavy-duty marketing to convince the average consumer that the Lincoln MKX is more than an extra trim level above the Ford Edge Titanium.
The 2016 Lincoln MKX rides on the new Edge’s architecture but has unique sheetmetal, or what Lincoln calls the vehicle’s “tophat.” The new tophat, complete with a retro-looking grille inspired by the ’41 Lincoln Continental, is attractive if a bit too similar to the smaller Lincoln MKC. Is the quietly handsome sheetmetal enough to draw luxury buyers inside? The nicely finished interior has padded surfaces covered in premium-grade stitched leather and high-quality vinyl, and you grab a handful of cush every time you open or close a door from inside. There are far more color choices for the ambient interior lighting than you’ll need.
What makes it a Lincoln
The 2016 Lincoln MKX further separates itself from the Ford with active noise cancellation, an acoustic windshield, and additional sound insulation. A big, panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade is standard on the Reserve trim level, and electronic pushbuttons arranged vertically to the right of the instrument panel control the transmission. Lincoln also adds a nifty 360-degree camera system that’s really useful, seeing how the MKX has thick pillars and considerable blind spots.
The MKX’s two biggest standout features, available at extra cost, are the Revel hi-fi audio systems and 22-way power adjustable, massaging front seats. Cooled and heated, these seats match anything available from Mercedes-Benz. Our test model came not with the basic 12-speaker Revel system but the 19-speaker Revel Ultima stereo, part of a $4,400 Luxury Package that also adds a single CD player and adaptive LED headlamps. We heard clarity in bassist Paul Chambers’ quiet opening passage in Miles Davis’ “So What.” We also threw in Steely Dan’s “My Old School” and Medeski, Martin & Wood’s cover of “Bemsha Swing.” It was enough to convince us the Lincoln Revel Ultima, which features a built-in digital audio converter, is a match for a Mercedes-Benz Burmeister system or Lexus Mark Levinson system.
Four trim levels, including the Lexus-like Black Label
Under that lovely spangle, the MKX’s suspension is pretty much the same as the Edge’s, save continuously controlled damping. (The Ford already is a cushy, well-mannered mid-size CUV that emphasizes comfort, so we don’t mind.) The MKX has four trim levels: Premiere, Select, Reserve, and Black Label, the latter of which added Lexus dealer-like levels of service and gives you a choice of four paint-and-interior themes. “The Muse,” inspired by 1920s Paris, and “Thoroughbred,” inspired by high-stakes horse racing, are new. They join clean-cut “Modern Heritage” and chocolate-inspired “Indulgence.” Both of the MKX’s available engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and are available with either front- or all-wheel drive. The base engine is a 303-hp, 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V-6 producing 278 lb-ft of torque, and the $2,000 turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6, rated at 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, is a retuned version of the Edge Sport’s engine, with 20 more horsepower and 30 more lb-ft.
Won’t there be a lot of torque steer in front-wheel-drive MKXs with the torquey, turbocharged engine? “Torque steer is just not there,” says product chief John Polasek, and we’ll have to take his word for it. Our weeklong first drive was in an all-wheel-drive MKX Reserve with the 2.7-liter turbocharged engine and the aforementioned Luxury Package, as well as the $595 Climate Package, with heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers; the $1,720 Technology Package, with active parking assist, front parking sensors, and a front video camera hidden behind the Lincoln nose badge; the $1,650 Driver Assistance Package, with a camera in the interior mirror, a lane keeping system, active cruise control, and active braking; and $250 inflatable rear seatbelts.
A very quiet ride
Base price of the Reserve model is $48,545 and thusly optioned, the bottom line comes to $63,245. That’s a lot of scratch, though it buys you a lot. While the brand has none of the luxe cache of, say, a BMW X5 or Range Rover Evoque, it’s a name that will at least garner some recognition from your friends and co-workers. Give them rides and they’ll enjoy dynamics befitting a luxury CUV. There’s an impressive absence of road, tire, and wind noise -- until the big, 20-inch wheels and tires roll over potholes and expansion strips. The MKX being so quiet and smooth makes the tire-thump sound and the body shimmy over road imperfections that much more intrusive. Steering is light and fairly unobtrusive, with the right level of directness for a big, tall vehicle.
The 2016 Lincoln MKX’s Lincoln Drive Control offers Normal, Comfort, and Sport settings for the engine, transmission, body, and chassis. With everything in Sport mode, we sped up a freeway off-ramp in Metro Detroit and found body roll to be controlled and minimal for a CUV this size, and the big tires paid off with their admirable grip, holding securely as the mild understeer overcame the chassis mid-ramp.
Though the 2.7-liter engine motivates a lot of weight from the panoramic sunroof down, it provides ample acceleration for merging into traffic. Like the cabin, the engine is smooth and quiet, and exhibits far less turbo lag than you’ll find in other modern turbo engines. We managed 20 mpg over our week in the MKX, with the driving mix tipped a bit more in the city than on the highway.
The new personal luxury car
The Lincoln MKX is a worthy companion for the sports car in your garage; even enthusiasts like to sit back in a comfy seat and relax from time to time, especially for the daily commute. Or for other outings, like when this critic tossed his 2-year-old Jamis Coda Elite bicycle in the back, second row folded, to drive to a Monday evening Slow Roll Detroit, without having to remove the front wheel. That’s the advantage of the mid-size MKX over the compact MKC: It will accommodate more equipment for sport of the non-automotive variety. The mid-size, two-row premium CUV is the personal luxury car of our age; it’s well-suited to comfortably upper-middle-class professional singles and empty-nest couples who stereotypically like to drive their single and empty-nest friends to dinner at pop-up restaurants.
Like the new Edge, the 2016 Lincoln MKX is a vast improvement over its predecessor, which, like the last Edge, was heavy, clumsy, and uninspired. Perhaps Ford ought to drop the Edge, keep covering all the other CUV sub-segments, and leave this one to Lincoln. That would give this luxury brand struggling through a reinvention the exclusive model it needs.
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