With Mercury dead, hundreds of former Lincoln-Mercury dealerships will be forced to rely on Ford's 93-year-old luxury brand to bring home the bacon alone. These dealers are nervous about their future, and rightfully so.
Every Lincoln on sale today is a gussied up version of a Ford. True, most mainstream automakers with luxury divisions, like Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura and Volkswagen/Audi, use a similar strategy of platform and technology sharing to save costs, but U.S. domestic automakers have never been particularly good at it. A Volkswagen is usually praised for being Audi-like, but a Lincoln is usually decried for being too similar to a Ford. Sharing can so easily become rebadging, and Lincoln dealers are wondering how they'll live off a lineup of simply "more expensive" Fords.
The answer may lie in the 2011 Lincoln MKX, which is the lux version of the Ford Edge. Since the latter received a significant mid-cycle freshening for the 2011 model year, so has the former. With their first significant update since 2006, the duo is poised to upset the status quo in the premium mid-size CUV segment. We've already told you how impressed we are with the 2011 Edge, so you won't be surprised to learn we feel much the same about the new MKX. The difference is that the Lincoln has a lot further to go to be competitive within the luxury CUV set. Does it succeed? Will we now praise the Edge for being Lincoln-like?
Photos copyright ©2010 John Neff / AOL
The first-generation Ford Edge was a handsome CUV, and the 2011 model merely modernized the original's lines. The original MKX, however, was something of a design orphan. It's front end was inspired by concepts like the 2003 Navicross and 2004 Mark X. But that influence was short-lived, and the MKX quickly wound up as the odd man out in Lincoln's lineup.
Today's Lincoln fleet is much more cohesive, with every 2011 model tracing its design lineage back to the 2007 MKR concept and its dual-winged grille. While controversially proportioned on some models (*cough* MKT *cough*), Lincoln's new corporate face looks right at home on the MKX. In fact, we dare say that those dual wings have never looked more comfortable than on the upper lip of this crossover's face – at least in modern times.
In addition to extensive rhinoplasty, the MKX has also received a new rear end with a pair of distinct taillights replacing the full-width strip of lamps on the old model. The new design's only deficiencies are found between the wheels – that particular swath has been left untouched, highlighting the fact this is a refresh rather than a redesign. Newcomers, however, will just see a smartly shaped and nicely detailed CUV.
But some demerits are clearly visible when viewing the MKX in profile. Like the new Edge, it needs an industrial-sized orthodontic retainer to correct its front overhang, which is exacerbated by what's visible of the drooping baleen grille. Even at rest, the MKX looks like it's tipping forward from all the visual weight over its front axle. The standard 18-inch wheels, polished aluminum on our front-wheel-drive tester with the $2,500 Premium Package, don't do anything to help, looking overwhelmed by all that visual bulk in those extra large openings. If you've got the scratch, we suggest opting for the $7,500 Elite Package and you'll get much more fitting 20-inch wheels in your choice of chrome or polished aluminum. Go with the polished aluminum, as one more piece of shiny trim on the MKX would be one too many, and a set of four would be way, way overboard.
Fortunately, chrome trim has been used sparingly inside the MKX where the entire interior has been redesigned. You'll find some reflective trim pieces around the starter button and air vents, but the dominant material here is leather, and lots of it. In addition to the heated and cooled front seats, the steering wheel (also heated), shift knob and entire dashboard are dressed from head to toe in animal hide. There's just no mistaking the new MKX for anything but a luxury vehicle when you're sitting inside one.
There's also no doubt that the MKX is a member of the Ford family when you behold its new MyLincoln Touch system. Like the Edge with its MyFord Touch system, the MKX is the first Lincoln to host this infotainment and navigation system that, if you haven't heard, is easily the most advanced of its kind in any vehicle at any price. Building on the already popular and easy-to-use functions of SYNC, MyLincoln Touch ups the ante on competitors by improving the infotainment experience with more screens, better graphics and a completely reworked user interface.
It all starts with those LCD screens. In addition to the giant eight-inch display in the center stack, there are two 4.2-inch screens that sit on either side of the analog speedometer. Think of the left screen as a MENSA-certified trip computer. It can display all manner of vehicle information including mileage, fuel efficiency, vehicle settings and diagnostics, but at the same time also displays those analog gauges that you're missing, namely the tachometer, fuel gauge and oil temperature.
The right screen, then, is like Robin to the main screen's Batman. This little sidekick screen lets you control the four main functions of the main screen – Entertainment, Phone, Navigation and Climate – through the steering wheel and see what's happening without taking your eyes too far off the road. Both of these digital windows in the gauge pod are controlled by a pair of four-way directional pads with a central 'OK' button on either side of the steering wheel; the left one controls the left screen and likewise for the right side. They're remarkably easy to use, though the menu systems are very deep, so spend some time getting to know them in the driveway rather than on the road.
Ford's major advancement, however, is in the main LCD screen where it has redefined the user interface of infotainment screens. Gone are big, square buttons that lead you to screens with more big buttons. In their place Ford has colored-coded each of the screen's four corners where the system's aforementioned main functions are housed: Entertainment is the lower left red corner, Phone is the upper left orange corner, Navigation is the upper right green corner and Climate is the lower right blue corner. Each corner is always visible and displays a few lines of information about its current functionality, and no matter what you're looking at on the screen, navigating to one of these four main functions is as simple as touching the corresponding corner. It's ingenious, easy-to-use without cracking the owner's manual and shows that parent company Ford is the leading automaker in really thinking about how we use these systems when we drive.
Aside from the snazzy graphics and a new UI, MyLincoln Touch also sports some heavy hitting hardware like two USB ports, an SD card slot and RCA video input jacks. The SD card slot can accept an SD card from your digital camera and display images on the main screen, but if you opt for the premium map-based navigation, that slot will be taken up by an SD card that contains all of the Telenav map data. The USB ports, meanwhile, enable an industry first by giving you two ways to turn your car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. The first is by plugging in a compatible smart phone that allows for tethering of its cellular broadband data, and the second is by plugging in a compatible USB 3G data card. Both are a neat trick that would be most appreciated by passengers on long road trips, though the list of compatible phones and data cards is limited at kick off. Our data card from Sprint, for instance, wouldn't work.
Still, we'd classify everything about MyLincoln Touch as a useful improvement over the old way of doing things. There's one thing about the MKX's new interior, however, that doesn't fall into that category. Despite the fact that you can fully control both the stereo and climate controls exclusively through the main screen, Lincoln has kept a set of redundant physical controls for each on the center stack. Rather than use conventional buttons and knobs, however, these controls are all touch-sensitive. Requiring a simple tap or slide of the finger to use, they're a novelty at first, but that wears off quickly as you realize that an accidental graze of the hand when reaching for the main screen can activate them. The button to activate the vehicle's hazard lights is particularly ill-placed directly under the main screen, which had us accidentally flashing our warning lights at least once a day.
For 2011 the MKX has been upgraded with Ford's 3.7-liter V6, replacing the old model's less powerful 3.5-liter V6. Horsepower is up from 265 to 305 at 6,500 rpm and torque increases 33 pound-feet to 280 at 4,000 rpm. Despite the extra grunt, the 2011 MKX also manages to increase fuel economy by two miles per gallon to 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. The 3.7-liter is a fine engine with plenty of power, but not remarkable in any way, and coupled with a slick six-speed automatic, performs its function without drawing attention – good or bad – to itself. It's the only engine available for the MKX at the moment, though may be joined by Ford's 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder after it launches in the Edge.
Dynamically, the 2011 MKX follows the same course set by its engine. It goes about the business of turning and stopping without much fanfare, probably because prospective owners aren't looking for a performance vehicle. That said, the MKX does exhibit a firmer ride than the average luxury CUV. While far from sporty, the suspension won't hide every surface detail of the road from you. The same cannot be said of the steering, which is yet another application of Ford's electric power assist steering system. Good for some extra fuel efficiency over a hydraulic-only system, EPAS still requires another generation or two of tinkering to perfectly replicate that feeling of being connected to the road, though the MKX features one of Ford's best efforts yet.
The MKX could be described as one of Lincoln's best efforts if it weren't for the Edge offering many of the same features for a smaller sticker price. Despite this latest freshening, it's still easy to spot that these two CUVs are related just by looking at them. And while other luxury CUVs like the Lexus RX350, Acura MDX and Cadillac SRX should be nervous about how good the MKX has gotten, Lincoln dealers should be equally nervous that customers don't recognize the Edge has improved just as much.
But as always, in the end it comes down to money. The MKX we tested was a front-wheel-drive model with a base price of $39,145 that ended the day at $46,075 thanks to a $2,500 Premium Package, $495 Wood Package, adaptive cruise control and collision warning for $1,295 and the premium navigation system for $1,790. A similarly equipped 2011 Ford Edge Sport, which is the only model of Edge that comes with the same 3.7-liter V6, comes in at $42,670. If you don't mind taking a slightly less powerful 3.5-liter engine, the difference could be even larger. In fact, the Edge starts at just $27,220, nearly $12,000 less than the MKX.
What that $3,405 difference between our MKX tester and a similarly equipped Edge gets you is Lincoln styling and luxury. If you're willing to pay more for the association of driving a luxury brand rather than the more blue-collar Blue Oval, the MKX is a great choice for your CUV dollar. In fact, we'll go so far as to say its 2011 refresh, particularly the addition of MyLincoln Touch, takes the MKX from the bottom rung to right near the top of the luxury CUV segment. In the end, Ford's mistake was making its own version of this CUV a little too good, because the 2011 Lincoln MKX still feels like the best Edge money can buy.
Photos copyright ©2010 John Neff / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Fresh styling, redesigned interior, more power.
The Lincoln MKX gets a major makeover for 2011, with about 60 percent of its parts and components replaced, its first after some minor tweaks in 2009. Lincoln's five-seat midsize crossover utility vehicle was first introduced as a 2007 model.
The cosmetic facelift to the 2011 Lincoln MKX includes a new grille, hood, fenders, lamps, bumper and air intakes up front, with new individual LED taillamps replacing the full-width taillamp design, a new liftgate, wheels, and oval-shaped exhaust system outlets at the rear. Underneath, there's a redone suspension and an improved braking system.
The most direct competitors in the marketplace are the BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Buick Enclave, and Lexus RX 350. Lincoln cites a raft of new standard or optional equipment that the competition doesn't offer, including standard leather seats, HD radio, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, remote starting, power liftgate, blind-spot information with cross-traffic alert, keyless entry, and a handful of others.
The 2011 Lincoln MKX looks much bolder and sportier than the previous model, now with the Lincoln split-wing grille instead of the original 1961-style mesh grille.
Under the hood, there is more power for 2011, more torque and improved gas mileage from its 3.7-liter V6 engine.
The Lincoln MKX comes with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The AWD version gets one more gallon of fuel capacity in its tank, and a slightly lower axle ratio, 3.39:1 versus 3.16:1 in the FWD version, but otherwise the two vehicles are identical in specification. The 180 pounds of extra weight of the AWD system takes away four miles per gallon of highway fuel economy, dropping from 27 mpg for the front-drive MKX to 23 mpg Highway with all-wheel drive.
We recommend getting the all-wheel drive because it is a very good computer-controlled part-time system that puts the torque where it needs to be, whether you're cornering fast in dry weather, or dealing with rain, snow, ice or mud. It's worth the bump in price the first time you get into messy conditions and every time thereafter.
The MKX offers the new MyLincoln Touch option. This system is an improvement on and companion to Lincoln's existing Sync voice-activated communications technology. It uses twin five-way thumb switches mounted on the steering wheel spokes, plus two 4.5-inch LED display screens flanking the speedometer in the instrument cluster, and an 8-inch LED display screen at the top center of the instrument panel with a four-zone color-coding system. The MKX has a unique panel of flat touch buttons and lighted slider switches below the sound system to control volume and temperature functions.
The thumb switches, and the touch screen control climate, sound system, telephone, navigation and an enormous variety of information functions including turn-by-turn directions, sports scores, local fuel prices, movie listings, dining, and even horoscopes. The system uses a new list of up to 10,000 voice commands where the previous version only understood about 300, and takes one layer of commands away, making it far easier to use. To start a search for a restaurant, for instance, all you have to do is tell the car you're hungry.
The 2011 Lincoln MKX is available with FWD ($39,145) or AWD ($40,995).
The Premium package ($2500) consists of polished 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive HID headlamps, interior ambient lighting, striped and contrast-piped leather seats, heated second-row seats, a rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers, heated steering wheel, illuminated scuff plates, and a power tilt/telescope steering column with memory.
The Elite package ($7500) adds voice-activated navigation with CD and MP3 player, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, Sirius Travel Link, a panorama roof, 20-inch chrome wheels and tires, and the THX II 14-speaker sound system with HD radio.
The Limited Edition package ($1295) offers 20-inch polished wheels and tires, aluminum interior appliques, bronze metallic leather seats with black and charcoal trim, logo floor mats, and special headlamps etched with the Lincoln star. Freestanding options include adaptive cruise control ($1295), trailer towing ($395), panorama roof ($1895), roof rails ($195), and heavy-duty floor mats ($75). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Safety equipment on all models includes front, side and roof curtain air bags, ABS disc brakes, AdvanceTrac traction and yaw control with RSC rollover stability control, the SOS post-crash alert system, and tire pressure monitoring. Optional all-wheel drive enhances handling stability in slippery conditions.
For 2011, Lincoln MKX has been given a substantial cosmetic and content makeover, with about 60 percent of its parts and components replaced. That means a new grille, hood, fenders, lamps, bumper and air intakes up front, with new handles all around, new taillamps, liftgate, wheels, and exhaust system outlets at the rear. There are four new colors in the 2011 palette. The substitution of the trademark Lincoln split-wing grille for the former eggcrate mesh grille brings the Lincoln MKX into line with all of the other Lincolns in terms of front-end signature except the aging Navigator SUV.
The Lincoln MKX gets a new interior for 2011. There is nothing much left of the previous version's interior decor. The instrument panel, seat trims, door panels and door pockets have all been redesigned for 2011 for more comfort and greater utility.
The Lincoln MKX is a crossover utility. Utility is seen in features such as the front passenger seat, which folds flat, and each half of the second seat folds flat independently to accommodate cargoes of various sizes and lengths. The rear seat reclines for passenger comfort. With this layout, the driver can haul objects up to eight feet long on the right side of the cabin, even while carrying belted passengers on the left. The seats themselves appear much richer, more comfortable, and more luxurious than any previous Lincoln CUV seats.
The instrument panel, center stack, switches and controls have all been redesigned for the 2011 models, to accommodate a new electronic function and control system called MyLincoln Touch.
MyLincoln Touch is an advance on Lincoln's existing Sync voice-activated communications technology that uses two five-way thumb switches mounted on the steering wheel spokes, two 4.5-inch LED display screens on either side of the big speedometer in the instrument cluster, an 8-inch LED display screen at the top center of the instrument panel with a four-zone color-coding system, and a panel of flat touch buttons below it. With MyLincoln Touch, the thumb switches and the screen combine to control climate, sound system, telephone, navigation and an enormous variety of information functions including turn-by-turn directions, sports scores, fuel prices, movie listings, dining, and even horoscopes, using a new list of up to 10,000 voice commands.
The Lincoln MKX we drove offered an amazing variety of in-car entertainment options from DVD movies (viewable only in Park) to DVD and CD music, USB music, and iPod music. The HD radio and the THX II certified sound system were nothing short of spectacular in their sound power and distortion-free reproduction.
Cargo capacity of the Lincoln MKX remains the same, 32.2 cubic feet behind the second seat, 68.6 cubic feet with the second seat folded flat.
The 2011 Lincoln MKX comes with a 3.7-liter V6. Based on the same architecture as the smaller 3.5-liter V6, the 3.7-liter V6 is rated at 305 horsepower and 285 foot-pounds of torque (an increase of 40 horsepower over the previous-generation). It uses twin independent variable camshaft timing on both intake and exhaust valves to provide low emissions and big torque at low rpm, and good highway fuel economy when the engine is cruising.
The 6-speed automatic transmission comes with a SelectShift manual-control shifter. Electronically controlled part-time all-wheel-drive, which adds torque to the rear tires as needed, is optional on all models.
We drove the all-wheel-drive version of the 2011 Lincoln MKX, a well-equipped, heavily optioned version. The additional horsepower and torque of the revised 3.7-liter V6 engine, and the speed of the 6-speed transmission's shifting show up from the first minute. The engine accelerates the Lincoln MKX very quickly, and the engine sounds strong for a V6.
While highway cruising, the cabin is very, very quiet, and speech intelligibility around the cabin is excellent. Lincoln engineers have used acoustic windshield glass, thick side glass, shapelier mirror housings, and lots of other measures to keep the MKX as quiet as possible, and it certainly shows when carrying on a conversation with rear-seat passengers at 80 mph on an Interstate highway.
The steering is sharper and more communicative than before, and the combination of front struts and rear trailing arms in the suspension system impart a nice, smooth ride with good cornering behavior. Everything in the braking system has been replaced with heavier-duty and better quality components, and the pedal feel and pedal attack are greatly improved. Now deceleration starts much earlier in the pedal's travel, and the braking force is stronger and more linear. All models come with ABS, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, yaw control, rollover mitigation software, and tire-pressure monitoring on top of the all-wheel-drive system.
Lincoln's standard front-drive and all-wheel-drive system has new control software for 2011, and now incorporates a Hill-Hold feature that allows the driver to push the foot brake down once and release it to keep from rolling backwards on a hill. Electronic trailer sway control is tied into the traction and yaw control systems, and the MKX is rated for towing up to 3500 pounds when the trailer tow package is ordered.
The Lincoln MKX is a very pleasant truck, easy to drive, convenient to use, possessed of an excellent and comprehensive safety package, and nice to look at, especially inside. Lincoln has done a very good job up updating what was already a very good, modern and tech-laden crossover SUV. The quality of interior materials and workmanship took a step up. The four-zone color-coded MyLincoln Touch system is not only fun to use and fun to play with, it's safer to use. The Lincoln MKX accelerates quicker with those 40 additional horsepower. It now brakes more authoritatively and more progressively. It rides much quieter on the highway than the previous version. Its wide array of onboard electronics and entertainment systems are clearly among the best in the industry in terms of capability and ease of use.
Jim McCraw filed this New Car Test Drive report from Washington, D.C.
Lincoln MKX ($39,145); MKX AWD ($40,995).
Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Elite package 102A ($7,500) includes Navigation system premium leather seats w/Tuxedo Stripe and piping, adaptive headlamps, ambient interior lighting, heated 2nd row outboard seats, illuminated scuff plates, rear view camera, rain sensing wipers, heated steering wheel, power tilt/telescoping steering column w/memory and BLIS w/Cross Traffic Alert, Panoramic Vista Roof, THX II Certified Sound System, 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels.
Lincoln MKX AWD ($40,995).
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