Versus the competiton:
The verdict: Redesigned for 2016, the new Lincoln MKX is a striking-looking midsize luxury SUV featuring an overhauled, but less interesting, interior.
Versus the competition: The MKX’s knockout features and size advantage over similarly priced compact luxury SUVs may not be enough to capture buyers interested in an immersive luxury experience.
The 2016 Lincoln MKX is transformed in a big way, with a complete interior and exterior overhaul upping Lincoln’s game in the luxury SUV market. Compare the 2016 with the outgoing 2015 MKX here. Its base 303-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine carries over, while the star of the show is a newly available 335-hp, twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 that’s optional on all trim levels: Premier, Select, Reserve and Black Label, from least to most expensive.
I drove a Reserve trim with the optional EcoBoost engine and all-wheel drive.
While Buick has commercials touting its exterior design as so un-Buick that people won’t recognize a new one when they see it, Lincoln walks the walk; the redesigned 2016 MKX’s styling is easily on par with its German luxury competitors. The MKX is an attractive midsize luxury SUV with masculine yet classy curves. It makes for a bold presence. Intricate available LED headlights and a distinct lack of gaudy, fake chrome bring class to this midsize luxury SUV. It’s a welcome change; in its previous generation, the MKX lacked anything in the styling department to make it stand out in a crowd.
One hitch in the overall effect is the cheap-looking, dull-gray lower body cladding that stretches over the fenders and surrounds the bottom of the whole SUV. Most luxury SUVs use some sort of body cladding like the Lincoln’s, including the wildly styled Lexus RX, which has minimal accents, or the BMW X3, which features prominent cladding on lower trim levels that’s only painted on certain trim packages. Lincoln’s MKX concept gave us an idea what the SUV could look like without the cladding, but the production MKX’s ugly body cladding is here to stay on every trim level.
More powerful optional engines are commonplace in luxury SUVs, and the MKX gets one of those too for 2016. With 335 hp and 380 pounds-feet of torque, the 2.7-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 makes 32 more horsepower and a whopping 102 more pounds-feet of torque than the base, naturally aspirated V-6. All that power is welcome given the hefty 4,447-pound curb weight of an all-wheel-drive MKX with EcoBoost engine, and it’s the kind of scoot a luxury SUV deserves. (Front-wheel drive also is offered with this engine, as it is with the base V-6.)
The EcoBoost is a must-have option for its refinement and on-demand power, combined with EPA-estimated gas mileage that matches the base engine in front-wheel-drive models. With all-wheel drive, its fuel economy is 1 mpg better in EPA-estimated city and highway ratings, though it carries the same 19 mpg combined rating as the 3.7-liter (it’s a rounding thing based on raw data). While there’s no mpg hit with the EcoBoost, wallets will be hit with the $2,000 it takes to add it. It really isn’t that bad, though, considering the minimum $5,000 needed to get from a base, turbocharged BMW X3 or Audi Q5 four-cylinder to the more-powerful six-cylinder available in each. Compare the MKX with those competitors here.
“Athletic” doesn’t really describe how the MKX drives and handles. It’s bigger than the similarly priced X3 or Q5, which are more fun to drive. The MKX better executes comfort and ride quality, with a well-isolated cabin keeping wind and road noise on the outside and a chassis that keeps pitted roads from ruining the interior experience. The MKX does have a sporty side to it in Sport mode, where the engine and transmission are more responsive and the adaptive suspension tightens up to reduce body motion in cornering. Lincoln’s adaptive suspension with adjustable firmness is included with all-wheel drive, which adds $2,495 to the price of an MKX.
The MKX’s interior won’t drop any jaws with its conservative design, especially compared with something like the new Lexus RX. Still, material quality is impressive in areas such as the aluminum accents of the optional Revel stereo on the door panel, plus the attractive and authentic wood accents on the door panel, steering wheel and center console. Compare the MKX with the RX here.
Elsewhere, the MKX’s luxuriousness falls short, including the window and power mirror switches and the buttons for the push-button transmission gear selector. I actually don’t mind using the vertically aligned gear selector buttons, especially while performing three-point turns, given Reverse and Drive are conveniently close to the steering wheel. I’d hoped Lincoln would class-up the buttons themselves, though, which are similar to those in the entry-level MKC SUV.
The bland and flat center control panel and dashboard also are eerily similar to the MKC both in material quality and design. Lincoln missed an opportunity here to craft a unique and high-quality design.
Comfort is king in the MKX. The optional “Bridge of Weir” branded leather on Select and above trim levels is plush as it wraps the supportive and cozy seats. Heated front seats are standard, and an optional $595 Climate Package adds a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.
One MKX feature is unparalleled in the luxury SUV segment, and that’s the optional 19-speaker Revel stereo that’s included in the $4,400 Luxury Package on Reserve trims. I don’t recall being impressed with a factory stereo as much as this one since the first examples of Audi’s Bang & Olufsen. The Revel’s chest-thumping power is reminiscent of a powerful home theater system. It’s especially rewarding when listening to high-quality music, not a compressed MP3 file.
What’s most important to remember is that MKXs already are rolling off the assembly line with Sync 3. Early-production MKXs manufactured in late 2015 have the old, outdated, hard-to-use MyLincoln Touch with the 8-inch touch-screen, which was what our test car had. Thankfully, the system now is controlled with real buttons and dials instead of capacitive touch-sensitive controls, but it’s still an aging, outgoing system. Sync 3, which we’ve tested in Ford models, is vastly improved, with an easier-to-use interface.
The 8-inch multimedia screen also displays the optional 360-degree camera, which is part of a $1,720 Technology Package that shows a top-down view of the SUV constructed from multiple cameras. We’ve used similar 360-degree cameras in other luxury and non-luxury cars, and this particular one isn’t done very well. The separate camera images aren’t stitched together in a very useful way, and the provided guidelines make it hard to tell where the wheel rests in relation to a curb. The 360-degree camera in Nissans, Infinitis and BMWs provide a more useful form of this feature that’s indispensable for parking.
Gargantuan cargo space is a big advantage of the MKX compared with smaller but similarly priced luxury SUVs. The MKX measures 37.2 cubic feet behind the backseat, while the Audi Q5 has 29.1 cubic feet of space, the BMW X3 27.6 cubic feet and the RX 18.4 cubic feet.
If sheer size isn’t enough, a power liftgate with a kick-to-open function is included on Select trim levels and higher, in which swiping a foot under the rear bumper automatically opens the power liftgate. It’s a feature that becomes very hard to do without at the grocery store after you get used to having it.
Up front, the MKX’s innovative multi-tiered center storage console provides multiple layers of storage, though the opening isn’t big enough to place or retrieve items quickly.
The 2016 Lincoln MKX received a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency’s highest score. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn’t performed its full battery of crash tests, but the MKX received the agency’s best score of good in moderate-overlap front and side crash tests. If more results are published, they will appear here.
Like the 360-degree camera, another bit of technology that could use refining is the optional lane keeping assist, which corrects the SUV’s path when it starts to drift out of its lane. But the MKX’s action isn’t as refined as other systems; it jerks the steering wheel instead of gently moving the car back into its lane. Luckily, there are various modes to adjust system sensitivity for a more relaxed operation, as well as just an alert mode that won’t take any self-correcting action.
Lane keeping assist is included in a $1,650 Driver Assistance Package along with adaptive cruise control, which also includes Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Protection. Pre-Collision Assist automatically brakes if it detects an imminent collision, and it can also identify pedestrians. The sensitivity of the system is adjustable via the digital dashboard menu. A complete list of safety features is here, and you can see how well the MKX carries child-safety seats here.
The MKX competes with a wide range of similarly priced luxury SUVs at its $39,025 starting price, including smaller ones such as the BMW X3 ($39,945) and Audi Q5 ($41,825) and more appropriately sized competitors such as the Lexus RX ($42,840). The MKX is the only one of those to offer standard heated seats, and only the BMW matches its standard memory driver’s seat. The MKX’s available Revel high-end stereo, adaptive safety features, adjustable-firmness suspension and turbocharged V-6 are also requisite offerings among luxury SUVs.
Where the MKX comes up short is in offering a floor-to-ceiling luxury experience. There are top-notch executions in some areas, but you won’t find the complete package you’ll get in the Lexus RX’s stylishly crafted interior. All tallied up with $12,550 worth of options, our test car was priced $61,125. The MKX’s interior styling is just a little too conservative, too much like the entry-level MKC, to really stand out in this class for its asking price.