Two weeks ago I took the helm of an early 1990s Lincoln Town Car, the generation that sported a digital instrument panel atop a dashboard as wide as a trailer home. At only $500, the car had some 200,000 miles on it, reeked of mothballs, and the rear was almost dragging on the gravel lot at Helping Hands in Wrentham, a dealer that sells donated jalopies to low-income customers.

Even with those shortcomings, the neglected Town Car was undeniably a Lincoln. The V-8 still purred, the seats were La-Z-Boy cushy, the interior was massive and well-finished, and the ride - even while bottoming out - ate up ruts and bumps. The finger-touch steering required something like a dozen turns lock to lock. A Lincoln indeed.

Today's Town Car is only slightly more aligned with the modern world, but this car's engineers - like those of the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis - took their permanent vacations a decade ago. Lincoln, just after the demise of its impressive but poorly promoted LS sedan, needed a desperate dose of relevancy to survive after being shut out of Ford's now-defunct Premier Auto Group (which included Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin).

The MKX, based on the Ford Edge crossover, was part of Lincoln's recovery in 2007, along with the MKZ (née Zephyr) and MKS sedan introduced this year. Nothing has changed on the MKX except for some updates to the superb voice-activated SYNC infortainment system, which in my opinion is more useful and easy to use than anything on the market, including those in the $115,000 Lexus LS600hL and $107,000 BMW 750Li.

In many ways, the MKX retains much of the brand's storied expectations: a smooth, hushed ride, minimal road noise, and effortless steering. Thankfully, the wheel is connected to something, turns only three times, and the body roll is controlled. Yet while it's loosely based on the Ford Fusion platform, the MKX never truly feels like the car-based crossover it tries to be.

Blame the 4,420-pound curb weight. The MKX is slow to respond to steering inputs, has significant nose dive under heavy braking, and is very thirsty (17 miles per gallon was all I could muster during an 8-mile city/highway weekly commute; the EPA rating is 15/22).

But the 2010 Lexus RX 350, which started the luxury crossover segment 10 years ago, is just as bad on gas and weight (it's heavier by nearly 100 pounds). Which puts to rest the myth that midsize crossovers, especially when they're laden with all-wheel-drive like our MKX, are more efficient than similar truck-based SUVs.

Gas guzzling aside, our $45,605 MKX was quite sumptuous, as expected: heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, power liftgate, adaptive headlamps, THX-rated surround audio, and tasteful orange piping on the soft black leather seats. There's generous space in all directions and seating positions.

Lincoln's rectangular interior theme is toned down from the gaudiness of the Navigator, and the gauges and switchgear have an upscale, somewhat classic feel (the typeface on the buttons is rather art deco). Light wood trim is genuine, and much of the dash and door materials are padded, but the similarly patterned trim pieces toward the floor aren't. Knock your knee by mistake and you'll hit hard, unyielding plastic.

In regular driving, the 6-speed automatic and 3.5 liter 265 horsepower V-6 are barely noticeable, as long as you're not going anywhere fast. There's nothing satisfying about the engine note, and thrust is adequate at best. The MKX really needs one of Ford's new EcoBoost V-6 motors going in the new MKS and Taurus SHO, which are good for 355 horsepower while returning greater mileage.

Gas guzzling aside, our $45,605 MKX was quite sumptuous, as expected: heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, power liftgate, adaptive headlamps, THX-rated surround audio, and tasteful orange piping on the soft black leather seats. There's generous space in all directions and seating positions.

Lincoln's rectangular interior theme is toned down from the gaudiness of the Navigator, and the gauges and switchgear have an upscale, somewhat classic feel (the typeface on the buttons is rather art deco). Light wood trim is genuine, and much of the dash and door materials are padded, but the similarly patterned trim pieces toward the floor aren't. Knock your knee by mistake and you'll hit hard, unyielding plastic.

In regular driving, the 6-speed automatic and 3.5 liter 265 horsepower V-6 are barely noticeable, as long as you're not going anywhere fast. There's nothing satisfying about the engine note, and thrust is adequate at best. The MKX really needs one of Ford's new EcoBoost V-6 motors going in the new MKS and Taurus SHO, which are good for 355 horsepower while returning greater mileage.

I only saw one other MKX on the road during my test, and a handful of the Ford Edge, which offers almost everything the Lincoln has for a few thousand less (including the top-level Edge Sport, which Bill Griffith just drove). It's tough, however, for any company to compete in the flooded premium crossover market, including this year's newcomers, the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, BMW X6, and revamped Cadillac SRX.

When Lincoln applies a power upgrade that uses less fuel and spices up the handling, the MKX should fare better against this crowd. But the group is growing, with the larger, Flex-based 2010 MKT and even smaller crossovers like the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.

If Lincoln is smart, it won't let the MKX become an anonymity like the soon-to-be-dead Ford Taurus X, but only if it acts fast.