The Lincoln MKX is a midsize SUV — or CUV, as the company likes to call it, to reflect that it's a car-based crossover. The MKX provides a refined, smooth driving experience in a people-hauler that may be one of the most crashworthy cars on the market. (That means it's likely to protect its occupants, not that it's ripe for the scrap heap.) The MKX effectively replaces the Aviator, a midsize model based on the venerable Ford Explorer, and is a sister of the Ford Edge crossover. It shares many of that model's strong points, but I'm not sure it adds enough to command the price premium.
Understanding the MKX's trim level breakdown could hardly be simpler. There's only one: the MKX, available with front- or all-wheel drive, a $1,650 option, the same as on the Edge.
Exterior & Styling
What you see on the MKX's exterior is what you get. The only real change is from standard 18-inch alloy wheels to chrome versions, also 18 inches, when you get the Special Package.
It's difficult to stand out in this growing class, but the MKX does a decent job with its distinctive chrome cheese-grater grille and a taillight band that runs the entire width of the rear end. The grille is a polarizing element — and I'm starting to wish I had a gallon of gas for each time I've said that about a grille recently. Apart from the design issue — and a stubborn resistance among consumers to brightwork of any kind — the execution is a subject of debate. There was a time when chrome was king of the road, but that was chromed metal. The MKX grille appears to be chromed plastic, something people are quick to criticize. It's not the only chromed plastic on the market, but such elements either work or they don't. All I can say is I took one glance at the side mirrors and concluded that they look like chromed plastic.
The rear end, on the other hand, is nicely done. The taillight recalls the 1990s-era Mark VIII's neon band, though in this case it's illuminated by LEDs. When I approached the car after dark, unlocking the doors with the transmitter lit up the exterior lights. My black test vehicle looked positively badass.
Ride & Handling
As in its sister vehicle, the MKX's ride quality is a high point — here, a bit cushier still. This SUV illustrates what can be achieved in a car-based, or unibody, model that would be complicated or plain impossible in a truck-based one. Though there's some body roll in turns, the steering feels natural and the center of gravity is low, providing a grounded feeling and lessening the chance of rollover. This isn't a car, and it shouldn't be driven like one, but the advantages of a car platform are evident. The 41-foot turning diameter could be tighter, but otherwise I have few complaints.
Going & Stopping
The MKX's drivetrain is another high point, with a 3.5-liter V-6 generating 265 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 250 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. The transmission is a six-speed automatic developed with GM and employed in that company's new GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave. Lincoln cites a 0-60 mph time of 8.1 seconds for the MKX with AWD. It's not as quick as some competitors, but I have no complaints about the character of the acceleration or how quickly the transmission, and the MKX as a whole, responds to the demands of a fidgety right foot.
The electronically controlled Intelligent AWD system is claimed to apportion torque between the front and rear axles based on conditions, to prevent wheelspin rather than simply react to it. It did the job on Chicago's snow and ice (and freezing rain and slush and road salt...). Included in both the front- and all-wheel-drive MKX are four-wheel antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control.
With EPA gas mileage estimates of 18/25 mpg (city/highway) with FWD and 17/24 mpg with AWD, the MKX isn't the most efficient model out there — thirstier than the Lexus RX 350 in city driving but better overall than Audi's Q7 and BMW's X5. Another bonus: The Lincoln uses regular gasoline.
The four-wheel disc brakes aren't the SUV's best attribute. The pedal is mushy and needs more pressure than it should.
The MKX's cabin is mostly an asset, but a couple of aspects hold it back. I found it pretty easy to get into the seats, which provide a nice ride height without requiring a grappling hook — or step rails — to get situated. However, I'm 6 feet tall, and someone shorter might disagree. At present there are no factory-option running boards, and no assist handles in front. There's one on each B-pillar for the backseaters.
Once situated, drivers of different statures will be happy to find a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a power seat with a generous range of height adjustment. Typical of moonroofs, though, the optional two-section Panoramic Vista Roof will cost you some headroom: 2.2 inches in the front seat and about a half inch in the backseat. The passenger also gets power seat controls, which are as difficult to access as the driver's when the doors are closed.
The backseat's 60/40-split segments can be reclined, using a prominent lever that's easy to reach. Thanks to the practically nonexistent door sill and nearly flat floor, the backseat is easy to access, roomy and comfortable. Even the center seat isn't bad if the backrests are reclined evenly. Only the outboard positions are eligible for two-setting heated seats; Lincoln kindly offers them as a stand-alone $295 option, the same price as for the front seats. (The fronts can be heated and cooled if you so choose.)
Like the Edge, the MKX has an exceptional center storage console. The upper level is deep enough to be useful, and the bottom is generous in volume down to its intermediate floor. Lift out that floor, and the capacity doubles. The floor panel serves as a divider if slid vertically into slots at the bottom. Also, well-designed notches on the passenger side allow cords from the 12-volt or auxiliary audio jacks to route up into the upper level, or out from under the closed armrest, or up and then out — it's versatile. The sunglass holder in the overhead console caught my attention with its smooth, noiseless operation. It had a feel you'd expect in a Lexus. Unfortunately, its edges were very sharp ... most un-Lexuslike.
Overall, the interior is clean and reasonably luxurious, with standard leather, pleasing shapes and, in my model, a sensible color pallet. The materials quality is mostly good, with soft surfaces where they matter most, like on the armrests and window sills. When night falls, you'll be pleased to find generous backlighting on almost every control — the steering wheel, door buttons and armrests, even the rear doors. The interior lighting appears to be LED but is nice and bright, unlike some early applications ... including the Lexus GS sedan. I enjoyed the two-panel Vista roof, whose motorized sunshades deploy and retract simultaneously. They're opaque, which is good, but they're thinner than the old sliding panel type, so they don't block noise. Overall, though, it's a quiet cabin.
The MKX interior has a fatal flaw that I can sum up in two words: satin nickel. Satin nickel is Lincoln's name for the metal-like finish on the center control panels and other surfaces of several models, including this one. When satin nickel made its debut a few years ago, I kind of liked it. A few things have happened since then: First, some people have proved to be offended by it, deeming it unfit for a luxury car. Second, fake metal has come a long way. Third, many automakers have said the heck with it and incorporated real metal. Fourth, the Edge SEL we tested was one of them.
Many passengers have reacted violently to the satin nickel in different Lincolns I've driven, and two or three have said it would be a deal breaker if they were shopping. Literally: "I'd consider it if it weren't for that."
Results, not formulae, are my bottom line. I've seen some imitation wood that looks better than some real wood, and I'd go for the one that looked best. With that established, I don't remember ever seeing fake metal that out-metals the real thing. Lincoln should spend the extra 5 cents ... or 50 cents ... or $5. Seriously, it will sell cars.
In my book, if you're doing a luxury-brand version of another model, you should start with the lesser model's most loaded trim level and then build upon it. If you're not doing that, I don't know how to respond to the shoppers who ask, "What's the difference between a Ford and a Lincoln, anyway?"
Rare for a new model, the MKX has completed all the major crash tests from our preferred source, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has fared exceptionally well, with Good scores (the highest possible) in frontal, side- and rear-impact crashes, earning it a Top Pick designation. In the list of luxury SUVs, it is right behind the Volvo XC90, and it shares that model's Roll Stability Control. (While many brands are claiming that their stability systems can intuit a likely rollover, RSC remains the only feature that senses an actual tip and attempts to stop it.)
The MKX has a government rollover rating of 14 (percent chance of rollover) — beaten only by cars and wagony models like the Chrysler Pacifica and Ford Freestyle. What's more, the XC90's rollover rating is 17 percent. In sum: crash tests on par with Volvo, the same roll-control feature and a better rollover rating. That's pretty impressive.
Safety features not yet mentioned include side-impact front-seat airbags and side curtain airbags that cover the door windows in a side impact. They also deploy if the vehicle rolls over. Adaptive headlights, which swing left and right with the steering wheel, are another safety feature. My test MKX was the first vehicle I've noticed that has adaptive halogen headlamps instead of the higher-value xenon type. Xenon is not offered — a strike against any car claiming luxury. The lights swiveled as intended, but they should be brighter than they are — apart from the xenon aspect.
Also missing is a rearview camera option — another feature competitors offer. The MKX offers sonar rear parking assist, which at least is sold independently as a $245 option.
Cargo & Towing
The MKX's car-based construction again shows its benefit in cargo volume; body-on-frame trucks tend to have less for an equivalent exterior size. My MKX had a power liftgate, which comes in an option package. Its peculiar mechanism employs a strut that spans from the side of the cargo area to the liftgate ... as if it were retrofitted rather than designed into the car originally. In practice it probably won't pose an obstruction, but it's a different approach. Also different is the button location — on the strut's pod about waist high rather than on the raised liftgate. It may be easier for shorter folks to reach here. Or it may be easier for you to get brained by a closing liftgate. Let me know how that works out.
Raising the floor revealed an optional cargo management system — basically a tray that makes use of the space surrounding the compact spare tire. It's nice to have this covered area, no matter how weird the shape, but it's only a few inches deep, and it doesn't excuse the lack of a cargo cover for the overall area — a huge oversight.
The folding seats couldn't be simpler to use. Pull the levers and down they go; no need to flip cushions or remove head restraints. The optional Rear Easy Fold power-folding feature releases either side of the seat by means of a button near the liftgate, allowing it to spring forward and flat. It saves you a trip to the side door because the backrests are too far to reach from the rear bumper. Unfortunately it doesn't raise them, and it comes in one of two costly option packages.
One disadvantage to the front-drive platform (even if equipped with AWD) is decreased towing capacity compared to SUVs based on rear-wheel-drive platforms. The MKX's maximum trailer weight is 3,500 pounds with the trailer tow package. Given the way most people use SUVs, and especially luxury ones, that's no great loss.
MKX in the Market
I'm conflicted over the MKX. There's much to like, but there are substantial oversights — some of which cannot be overcome easily or cheaply by the owner, if at all. For example, xenon headlights, rearview cameras and cargo covers aren't things you can slap on. Same for the interior finishes. People are quick to mention that the Edge's starting price is $8,800 lower. Perhaps it's more relevant to compare the top Edge trim level, but even that is a full $5,000 less. The Lincoln has more standard equipment, but much of what makes the MKX good — its size, drivability and versatility — is available in the entry-level Edge, which is far cheaper. It's up to the individual, but I think Lincoln needs to do more if it wants to command higher prices.
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