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