2011 Lincoln MKX: First Drive

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Stretch your memories to go all the way back to the end of August, when Labor Day actually held the ironic promise of a few days off. Faked you out, didn't it? Us too.

Still, we fondly recall those days of just three weeks ago with a touch of nostalgia. After all, it was the first time the wraps had come off at auto shows, and the embargoes fell, for our first drive review of the 2011 Ford Edge. To sum up: better looking, better to drive and far better integrated into the technology world of today.

So, what's to be made of the Edge's close kin, the 2011 Lincoln MKX? If we simply said "more of the same," we'd be the laziest kind of home-office workers, mentally hardly stepping out of our houseslippers, when in fact Ford let us take an MKX from the press launch in Washington, D.C., where they put us up at the Ritz-Carlton and fed us cigars and subliminal marketing messages, and let us drop it off in Detroit.

Spending more time than anyone in the 2011 MKX gave us a great sense of how thoroughly improved the luxury crossover is in the new model year. Even better, it let us let down our guard and open up to the voice-controlled future, where hard plastic buttons are laughable anachronisms, just like record albums and the hand-written language.

Shift, refresh

The 2011 MKX and the Edge first dropped in on the Detroit auto show earlier this year, flaunting new sheetmetal, new powertrains, new interiors with better-quality materials, and a new suite of technology branded under the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch umbrella.

As the distinctive Lincoln look has evolved, it's growing on us. On some of us. Among High Gear Media's editors, the bigger MKT is either an eyesore or a breathtaking departure. The MKX is sized better to fit into the automotive landscape, but some of us still think the twin-wing grille goes a little overboard. I'm not in that camp--and to me, the MKX's grilles balance out the glass areas nearly perfectly, with good scale and none of the beavertooth syndrome that afflicts, say, the Acura MDX or the old VW Touareg. It's the only outre touch on the otherwise smoothed-out shape, since the creased wheelhouses and LED taillamps are all but standard across the flanks of Germany's crossovers--and since the glass outlines are essentially carried over from the first-gen MKX.

The cabin chucks whatever was left of lower-rent shapes and materials in the Ford empire. Like the cockpit in the MKT, the MKX's dash gives off the overachieving air that VW and Audi have been inching away from, cabin by cabin. White lighting glows to accent the digital gauge panel and the big LCD screen in the middle of the stack--but it's all softened beautifully with gradual curves that sweep up and out from the center console. Subtracting the buttons from the center stack gave designers the space to lay out winged themes that should have been this well-executed in the Cadillac CTS lineup, which reaches for the same effect and falls shy. And like every recent interior from Ford, the feel and fit of interior materials has been ratcheted up several levels, with choices of metallic trim, light or dark woods. The MKX elevates the business-class aesthetic out of simple wood and leather cliches, and marries it with real haute technology--not an easy task.

For performance, the MKX is fitted with a new 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 that's shared with the 2011 Ford Mustang. Offered here with a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, there's ample performance to knock off a gentleman's B for straight-line performance--in the neighborhood of 8 seconds to 60 mph, and a top speed in the 125-mph range. The engine's muted much better here than in the Mustang, fo course, thanks to layers of laminated glass and acoustic damping, and it's probably everything a luxury-crossover buyer not seeking Cayenne Turbo-style thrust will want. If it were our dollar, we'd want shift paddles instead of the lever-mounted button that enables shift-it-yourself thinking after you've put the MKX into the proper gear slot--which you'll probably do inadvertently at least once, since it's a straight pull back on the lever, through the normal Drive position.

Ford claims great fuel economy, and gets an EPA-rated 19/26 mpg with a handful of tricks and ploys. Variable valve timing is one; programming the V-6's fuel delivery to shut down under deceleration is another. Against the other big names shopped against the MKX, Ford says the Lincoln crossover has a 1-mpg to 5-mpg advantage against the likes of the Lexus RX 350 and the Cadillac SRX.

There's also electronic power steering, which shows Ford's progress on the learning curve of delivering decent feel and feedback without the natural pressure of a hydraulic pump. The MKX steers fairly well, and doesn't wander much at all on the decent-to-awful pavement textures of the charming Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpikes. It also grabs its share of country roads with gusto--up to the point any 4000-pound crossover feels unhappy about exactly what you're doing back there. The front- or all-wheel-drive MKX understeers all day long when you try to provoke it, but on the obverse, it also has a touch better ride than before, even with big, blingy 20-inch wheels strapped to its axles.

For safety performance the MKX now sports Trailer Sway Control and Hill Start Assist, in addition to electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes. Hydraulic Brake Assist helps with panic stops. Also available are adaptive cruise control and a Collision Warning with Brake Support system.

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