Versus the competiton:
Even though $3 gas is gone (for now), the trend away from large truck-based SUVs and into more efficient car-like crossovers hasn’t slowed, even in the luxury market. Surprisingly, though, few luxury automakers have introduced three-row versions for families or Baby Boomers looking for that kind of space.
Lincoln, which has had a good run with the $50,000-plus truck-based Navigator SUV, is now introducing the MKT, which sports outrageous looks, enormous size, high performance and quite a bit of luxury for nearly $10,000 less than the Navigator. It might not be a high-volume segment, but the MKT should easily rule the luxury crossover market with this formula.
If you’re wondering why it seems like every new car to hit the streets looks radical, whether it’s a grocery-hauler or a muscle car, you’re not alone. Carmakers are trying to be radical with their designs in order to get noticed. With cars of every stripe getting better, the MKT’s smiling Cheshire-cat grin is one way that Lincoln thinks it can grab attention.
While the grille is certainly the most noticeable design element, the retro rear, with its single red taillight and boat-like angles, is nothing to overlook. To me, though, it’s the sleek profile that really resonates. I was doing the dishes one evening and couldn’t help staring at the MKT parked on the street in front of my kitchen window. Even for someone used to seeing gorgeous cars every day, I caught myself daydreaming a bit … about a three-row crossover. That doesn’t happen very often.
However, people’s opinions of the MKT’s looks were mixed, as is often the case with radical designs. I polled many a dad via blogs and Twitter about it, and a majority gave the MKT the thumbs down. A few mentioned not liking the grille, while others thought it was just too big. At 207 inches long, it is a behemoth. A Honda Odyssey minivan is 202 inches long. However, another group might be more into the MKT. My father-in-law — a Baby Boomer now on his fourth consecutive Honda Accord — mentioned the MKT’s looks right away and thought it would make a terrific golf-getaway-mobile.
Like the recently introduced MKS sedan, the Lincoln MKT is a step above past models in the automaker’s lineup in terms of luxury quality. While it may still be a step behind Lexus in terms of overall appointments, it’s a very small step. What Lincoln gives up in terms of quality feel, it makes up for in interior design, with a flowing dash, jewel-like gauge cluster, giant 8-inch LCD screen, and really comfortable heated and cooled leather seats, standard.
The front seats are well padded and were comfortable during my week of hourlong daily commutes. I put nearly 400 miles on the car and never felt any back pain. The second row features plenty of leg and headroom, and comes standard as a three-passenger 60/40-split bench with optional power operation. You can opt for captain’s chairs for an additional $995, but the pass-through to the third row isn’t as usable as what you’d find in a minivan. If you want the much-marketed refrigerator between the captain’s chairs, it’s another $895.
If you’re a parent, you’ll want the bench seat to accommodate more kids for the carpool, but I’d actually recommend the bench to almost anyone, as it’s quite comfortable and the outboard seats are heated. There’s no real comfort gain with the captain’s chairs, and you lose too much utility and flexibility.
The third row has decent legroom for this class, which means your toes won’t be shoved beneath the second-row seats. At 5-foot-10, I had to bend my head down severely just to fit in the back row with its very limited headroom. Otherwise, there’s plenty of room across, and kids won’t have a problem as long as they’re under, say, 5-foot-6 or so. The base model comes with a glass roof that doesn’t open. Lincoln, however, says the lack of headroom is because of the rear tailgate, not the optional power sunroof my test model had.
The MKT is available with two different engines, a 268-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 with front- or optional all-wheel drive, and a turbocharged 355-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, which only comes teamed with all-wheel drive. My test vehicle had the turbo engine, which Lincoln and Ford call EcoBoost, but I tested the standard V-6 in the Ford Flex, which is the vehicle on which the MKT is based.
The base V-6 moved the Flex adequately, considering its size and weight, but it offered no thrills. The EcoBoost with which I piloted the MKT for 400 miles offered plenty of fun when stoplights turned green. Acceleration is brisk, and there’s more than enough power at highway passing speeds. Braking is remarkably good with either engine. That’s important, because stopping such a gigantic vehicle smoothly — especially with a full load of passengers — is a necessity.
The EcoBoost also delivers the same gas mileage as the standard V-6 with all-wheel drive: 16/22 mpg city/highway. The front-wheel-drive V-6 gets 17/23 mpg. During my test, I averaged 17.3 mpg, including hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A V-8 Lincoln Navigator gets 14/20 mpg city/highway. The most impressive performance attribute I found with the MKT EcoBoost was its sheer drivability. It simply does not feel like you’re piloting a 207-inch-long crossover — or a 17-foot boat. Getting around the 11-story parking garage next to Cars.com’s downtown Chicago offices was a snap.
There’s limited visibility out the small rear window; it doesn’t sit low enough to see much of the car directly behind you. Luckily, the side mirrors are large and well-positioned. My test vehicle was also equipped with a blind spot warning system that came in handy during those bumper-to-bumper morning commutes.
Because there aren’t a lot of luxury three-row crossovers on the market, it’s hard to compare the base MKT’s price of $44,200 to many other cars. Most comparable are the Buick Enclave, which starts at $35,165, and the Acura MDX, $40,990. However, the MKT comes much better equipped than either of those.
Push-button start, an 8-inch touch-screen display, Ford’s Sync voice-controlled sound system and USB port, power-adjustable pedals, rear sunshades, three-zone automatic climate control, ambient lighting, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seats, adaptive headlights, a power tailgate, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a rearview camera, parking sensors and 19-inch wheels all come standard.
That’s an extensive list of creature comforts, many of which you’d have to add as options on competitors.
There is one option package available, a $4,000 Elite Package that’s available on any MKT model. It adds the power panoramic sunroof, a THX surround-sound stereo system, voice-activated navigation and the blind spot warning system, which includes a new feature that tells you if someone is approaching crosswise as you pull out of a parking space. It’s likely most models you’ll find on dealer lots will include this package.
There are other stand-alone options, like the second-row refrigerator ($895), adaptive cruise control ($1,295) and a self-parking feature ($595).
Very few cars on the market offer automated parking — Lexus’ flagship LS and Toyota’s Prius are the most notable — and Lincoln’s system works easily and intuitively. It might even be a must for buyers who routinely parallel park (did I mention the MKT is 207 inches long?) and worry about scuffing their wheels, as the price is affordable.
All told, my EcoBoost that lists at $49,200 came to $54,785, including a $795 destination charge. While that much money is nothing to sneeze at, Lincoln’s three-row Navigator SUV starts at $54,400 and is nowhere near as well-equipped. A fully loaded Acura MDX comes to $47,950, but that doesn’t include any of the fancy safety features our well-equipped MKT had, nor can you add a large sunroof or cooled seats.
Overall cargo volume numbers are a bit disappointing, at 75.9 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded. That falls short of even the relatively small MDX (83.5 cubic feet). For such a large vehicle in terms of exterior size, the cargo volume doesn’t come close to the Enclave’s 115 cubic feet. However, sometimes numbers don’t matter when you’re in something this big.
With just the third row folded flat, there’s a lengthy cargo floor that can easily accommodate golf bags laid lengthwise. Many crossovers can only fit golf bags across. I also like that there’s a recessed well in back when the third-row seats are raised, like you’ll find in most minivans. This makes the most of the room you have when you’re maxed out with passengers. It can hold ample groceries or small luggage such as book bags.
The third-row seats fold using a multistep process requiring three straps. It looks complicated — so complicated there’s a diagram on the seats to help you out. When I first tried this setup in the Ford Flex, it took me multiple tries to get it right. When shooting the video for the MKT, I talked about how hard it was to fold the seats, then completed the task in one take. The second take went flawlessly, too. Perhaps it isn’t that hard once you get used to it.
The second-row seats fold forward for cargo room and to allow access to the third row. They’re easy to operate, but they’re heavy, so young children might have a hard time with them. Optional power-folding seats are available.
The MKT comes with the array of airbags you’d expect in a modern vehicle, including side curtain airbags for all three rows. However, there are no front knee airbags or second-row seat-mounted airbags. That doesn’t mean the MKT isn’t safe; it earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick, its highest honor.
As mentioned earlier, the MKT offers a lot of optional safety systems, from blind spot monitoring to active cruise control, as well as all manner of sensors that can even apply the brakes automatically when the car senses traffic ahead slowing too fast.
If there were a lot of luxury three-row crossovers on the market to compare the MKT to, it might have a harder time shining. But compared with the Buick Enclave and Acura MDX, it has a heavy advantage in terms of features and — in the EcoBoost model — performance.
Still, the price tag could shock potential buyers unfamiliar with the type of equipment the MKT is packing and the strides that Lincoln has made in terms of luxury feel. Those who can get past the price tag and who like the look, though, will find a car that’s definitely unique in the market.