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Friday
Oct072011

2011 Lincoln MKX: Subtle, Sophisticated, Too Close to the Edge

By Christopher A. Sawyer

The MKX's most distinctive feature, its waterfall grille, is rumored to be on the chopping block. Lincoln’s five-passenger MKX launched in 2006 with a grille based on that worn by the 1961 Lincoln Continental, and a body almost identical to its less expensive Ford Edge brother. It was a prime example of the cynical badge engineering practiced at the time by a struggling Ford Motor Company. Differentiation costs money, and Ford had very little of it at the time. Therefore, nearly all of the exterior panels were the same, and little differentiated these crossovers under the skin.

There is more interior differentiation this time around (both vehicles were facelifted for the 2011 model year). However, the vast majority of the options available in the MKX can be ordered on an Edge, and except for the nose, front fenders and tail, the exteriors are the same. Plus, a comparably equipped Edge still carries a $7,000 - $8,000 price advantage over the Lincoln. Once again, which you choose comes down to looks and the perceived snob appeal of the badge.

 Inside

Handsome, soft to the touch, and buiklt to tight tolerances, the interior is a standout.

The interior of the MKX is very inviting, with soft-touch material in all the upper touch points. In our tester, it was highlighted by the $495 wood package (genuine maple or olive ash) that offset what could have been a very dark charcoal black interior. The handsome stitched upper instrument panel cover, which flows neatly into the arms either side of the center console, is soft and supple to the touch, and similar to the material one finds in high-end European cars says Ford. The seat have perforated leather seating surfaces, and the front pair are heated and cooled. Fit and finish of the interior was top notch.

What stood out, however, were the linear slide controls for audio volume (top) and climate control fan speed (bottom). Run your finger along the surface, and a crisp white light follows its movement. Or it should. In our early 2011 example the MyLincoln Touch system was a bit glitchy, and commands weren’t always followed. At times it proved to be quite exasperating.

Hello? Hello? Is anybody home?

This recalcitrance extended to the main control screen that controls just about any infotainment function you want to throw at it. Switch stations? Nope. Alter the setting of the climate control? Nope. Access the WiFi 802.11 b/g local area network? Hmmm… That actually works. Ford guarantees it has fixed the software bugs that caused early versions of the technology to lockup, but the problems were enough to make one question just how much in-car connectivity is enough, and how much is too much. Power users with Road Warrior jobs might find the various levels and layers useful, but it’s doubtful that most buyers would delve deeply into the capabilities of the system.

Plenty of room and flexibility should you need it, though the rod for the powered liftgate is less than elegant.

On the Road

Move beyond all of the technology and you get to the heart of the matter: how the MKX drives, feels and works in everyday life. Here, again, the news is not as stellar as you might expect from Ford’s premier brand.

The basic problem is that the MKX sits on a platform now more than five years old, wich means it entered the design/engineering process in the 2002-2003 timeframe. A time when a vehicle like the MKX wasn’t expected to ride around on 20-in.chrome rims and low-profile rubber, and use of high-strength steels was in its infancy.

Take the MKX out on a smooth freeway, and you’ll be surprised at how smoothly and quietly it rides. This really is the definition of “American Luxury.” Unfortunately, the steering feels slightly stiff, and the ride begins to degrade as the road surface deteriorates. Short, sharp bumps show an underlying harshness exacerbated by the short and stiff tire sidewalls. Traverse pockmarks and asphalt patches, and you’ll discover that the MKX jiggles instead of absorbing the imperfections. Were the smooth road ride not so effortlessly smooth, this would be less of a problem. Do yourself a favor and stick with the standard 18-in alloys.

Turn a corner and you’ll marvel at how well the MKX sticks, and how easily you and the passengers can become unstuck. The Lincoln leans in the curves, and the seats aren’t designed to provide the support required. As a result, the lower cushion compresses under your weight, and the side bolsters do little to keep your upper body in place. Drive it like a Rockefeller, however, and you’ll be just fine. A pity, really, as Lincoln could easily embrace its “Hot Rod Lincoln” past, and give the customer both the expected luxury and civility and greater than expected performance and responsiveness.

3.7-liter V6 has the power, but performance feels blunted.

Under the hood you’ll find a six-speed automatic transmission mated to a 3.7–liter V6, and the choice of front- or all-wheel-drive. Once again, the MKX feels a bit too sedate, providing good, but not great, power and responsiveness. Perhaps it’s the weight. A base AWD MKX weighs 4,429 lb., and more with the raft of options found on our test vehicle. With 305 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, the engine should be more than capable of accelerating with alacrity. The little Lincoln is no slouch, having 14.5 lb. per horsepower and just under 16 lb. per lb.-ft. of torque. However, it just doesn’t sparkle.

Pay attention to how the Lincoln accelerates, and you begin to see what’s going on behind the scenes. The powertrain has been tuned to give strong but not overpowering acceleration, and to make attainment of the 17 city/23 highway/19 combined EPA fuel economy ratings possible; a good idea when gas prices hover between $3 and $4 per gallon. Therefore the MKX accelerates with a reserved strength, and returns a combined 20 mpg in everyday driving. It is both subtle, and slightly better than expected.

TVD Rating: 4 out of 5

These same words — “subtle, and slightly better than expected” — could be used to describe the MKX overall. It tries hard to rise above its Ford Edge roots, but is hampered by the fact that many of the same technologies — items that would better differentiate the two vehicles if offered only on the Lincoln — are available on the Ford at a lower overall price. It is a problem that exists everywhere the Ford and Lincoln lineups overlap. Nevertheless, the details that set the MKX apart are often well-executed and detailed. Only in vehicle dynamics and powertrain responsiveness does the little Lincoln not live up to its promise.

2011 Lincoln MKX AWD

Pricing

MSRP: $40,995

Options: Rapid Spec 102A (Premium package, Ambient lighting, Rear view camera, Adaptive HID headlamps, Elite package, Voice-activated navigation, Panoramic moonroof, Blind-spot monitoring, THX-certified audio system, 20-in. Chrome-clad wheels), $7,500; Tuxedo black metallic paint, $0; Adaptive cruise control/Collision warning system, $1,295;Wood package, $495.

Destination charge: $850

Price as tested: $51,135

 

Powertrain

Engine: Transverse 3.7-liter V6. Aluminum block and heads. Four valves per cylinder with twin –independent variable cam timing.

Horsepower: 305 @ 6500

Torque: 280 lb-ft @ 4000

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive

EPA mileage rating: 17 city/23 highway

 

Steering, Suspension and Brakes

Steering: Hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion.

Suspension F/R: MacPherson struts, L-shaped control arms and anti-roll bar on isolated subframe. Gas-pressurized twin-tube shocks./Independent multi-link with trailing blade control arms, integrated knuckle and lateral links, and anti-roll bar on an isolated subframe. Gas-pressurized twin-tube shocks.

Brakes F/R: Ventilated disc/Solid disc. Four-channel ABS.

 

Dimensions (in inches)

Length: 186.7

Width: 76.0 (excluding mirrors), 87.5 (including mirrors)

Height: 67.3

Wheelbase: 111.2

Cargo capacity seats up/down (cu. ft.): 32.3/68.6

Fuel capacity (gallons): n/a

 

Warranty

Anti-corrosion: 5 years

Powertrain: 6 years/70,000 miles

Vehicle: 4 years/50,000 miles

4 year/50,000 mile maintenance of normal wear items

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