We’ll forgive you for not believing us, but there are signs of life at Lincoln. First came the MKT, which, no matter your opinion on the boat-tailed exterior styling, proved that the brand could do a decent interior. Next was the MKZ hybrid, which builds on its roots as the excellent gas/electric Fusion with a healthy dose of value and actual luxury. Now there’s the heavily revised 2011 MKX, a crossover that takes many of those vehicles’ best attributes and stirs in bleeding-edge technology. (Yes, these are all still clearly rebadged Fords, but note that we said signs of life. We’ll have to wait until the next generation of Lincoln products, which we’re told are going to be more distinct, to see if the brand will ever fully regain its long-lost mojo. Baby steps.)
While the MKX was Lincoln’s first-ever crossover when it launched for 2007, its conservative, heritage-inspired interior and exterior styling—and matching driving dynamics—made it feel dated right from the get-go, and also failed in any meaningful way to set it apart from its cheaper Ford Edge twin. Fortunately, Lincoln received the “retro is so retro” memo in time for the 2011 mid-cycle freshening, which involved replacing or revising most of the exterior bits. Lincoln’s brash grille makes a statement up front, and the pretty, split LED taillamps look great at the rear. The redesign is successful not only because it looks good, but also because it gives the MKX an identity.
A similarly drastic renovation awaits inside, with the biggest news being the first application of MyLincoln Touch, a screen-based info/audio/climate/navigation network that does away with traditional-style buttons. In their place are touch-sensitive center-stack controls, as well as a pair of five-way switches on the steering wheel spokes that each control a corresponding 4.2-inch LCD display to the left and right of the big speedometer.
Having already used the virtually identical MyFord Touch system in the 2011 Edge, we found MyLincoln Touch to be pretty familiar. The little nubs and finger sliders Lincoln uses in place of buttons knobs are novel, but they do require more attention to use than conventional buttons; it’s hard to operate the system on feel alone, although muscle memory will make things easier for owners. We also wondered about how the controls would function while wearing gloves, and managed to test it out with some racing gloves—perhaps the only time racing gloves will be worn in an MKX, ever—and, to our surprise, it worked. Well, most of the time. Expect lots of extra button touches if you live in colder climes.
It’s good, then, that MyLincoln Touch also responds to any of 10,000-plus voice commands; the driver can also use the right-side thumb controls on the steering wheel to control audio, nav, phone, and climate-control settings via the right LCD. (The left screen displays trip/vehicle information or a tachometer graphic.) It seems all the bases were covered, which is good because the 2011 MKX won’t be available without MyLincoln Touch. The SD-card-based navigation, however, will be optional.
There is more to the interior redesign than the fancy center stack, and it all adds up to a very nice place to spend time. The new dash and door panels show off classy stitching, and the glove-soft, heated and cooled leather seats are available with contrasting piping. Genuine wood trim is offered in light or dark varieties, and real aluminum is available as an alternative. The cheap, sparkly plastic that Lincoln loved so much has been banished, as have most sources of interior noise. The MKX is seriously quiet even at speed, the better to hear the optional 14-speaker THX II sound system.
The MKX is improved dynamically, although it’s hardly a poor man’s Porsche Cayenne. A 40-hp boost comes from swapping last year’s 3.5-liter V-6 for a 3.7-liter unit with dual variable camshaft phasing and true dual exhaust; it’s the same engine found in the 2011 Ford Edge Sport and it mates to a six-speed automatic in both vehicles. With 305 hp at 6500 rpm—the engine gets rather vocal when you get up there—and 280 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, the MKX now scoots with more zeal than before. Even with the 3.7’s higher output, fuel economy remains at 17 mpg city/23 highway for AWD examples, while FWD models improve on their 2010 city and highway ratings by 1 mpg, now achieving 19/26.
In contrast to the Edge Sport with which it shares its engine, the MKX chassis setup favors luxury over sportiness. But the Lincoln’s steering and braking systems have taken and passed communications classes, delivering some idea of what’s going on, and the ride quality is comfortable, too, even with the optional 20-inch wheels and their low-profile rubber. Another nod to the Lincoln’s cosseting nature: Where the Edge Sport offers paddle shifters to effect manual gearchanges, the MKX has but a rocker switch on the gear-selector lever.
The 2011 MKX is already being shipped to dealerships, with prices starting just $300 higher than those of the 2010 model. That means $39,995 for front-wheel drive versions and $41,845 for all-wheel drivers. Included are leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, 18-inch wheels, Sync infotainment, keyless access and start, and nifty stuff like HD radio with iTunes song tagging and Ford’s programmable MyKey system, which keeps tabs on various vehicle keys and can be programmed to limit speeds and keep tabs on seatbelt usage. Options include blind-spot detection, adaptive headlights, adjustable ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control, a panorama sunroof, and the aforementioned THX sound system. With all boxes checked, the MKX nears $55K, which aligns it pretty closely with fully loaded examples of its primary competitors, the Cadillac SRX and the Lexus RX350, neither of which drive as well.
So what we have here—finally—is a competitive MKX. Enthusiasts who demand luxury from their SUV or crossover might perhaps be happier with an Audi Q5 or maybe even a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but this Lincoln should satisfy most everyone else. If future Lincolns can build upon the promise of this heavily refreshed MKX, those signs of life we mentioned earlier could grow into something like vitality.