BY STEVE SILER
Mid-cycle vehicle updates usually mean new headlights, a reworked bumper, and a fresh set of wheels, but Ford’s been taking the mid-cycle thing a bit further lately. Indeed, while its cars aren’t using all-new platforms or mechanicals, the company’s most recent mid-cycle changes are thorough enough to convince most people that the vehicles are all-new. The 2010 iterations of the Fusion and Mustang went beyond simple sheetmetal restyling to include vast interior improvements and effective engineering enhancements, and next up on a very special episode of Ford’s “Extreme Makeover, Mid-Cycle Edition” is the 2011 Lincoln MKX. It’s debuting at the 2010 Detroit auto show and bringing with it not just sweeping changes but also the first “buttonless” automobile interior.
But first, there’s the new bod. The current MKX was always a handsome, if forgettable, crossover. But thanks to all-new sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward and a new rear end, the MKX has become quite the looker for 2011. Unlike the hearse-like MKT, the MKX starts with innately tidy proportions and short overhangs, and has now artfully adopted the Lincoln dual-port grille. The front fenders now rise to accentuate the wheel arch, and there are new lower rocker moldings, too. The rear end—previously an unremarkable arrangement of rectangles—looks decidedly spicier now that the taillamps have gone from full-width to split, angular LED units.
Controls by Microsoft, Ergonomics by Apple?
The transformation continues inside, where occupants can luxuriate on new leather seats, which, along with the door panels and many other surfaces, are rendered in upgraded materials. “Tuxedo-stripe” stitching is a Lincoln first, and will soon join tunneled electroluminescent gauges, available THX stereos, and white dash illumination in the brand’s gene pool. There are seven selectable ambient-lighting colors, with five levels of intensity. The patina-look interior trim seen first in the MKT appears here, too, and while it certainly looks better than the satin-look junk in many Ford interiors of yore, we wonder how owners might feel about it after a few years.
But the most newsworthy aspect of the 2011 MKX is its debut of the awkwardly named but highly futuristic “MyLincoln Touch” interface, which essentially ditches conventional buttons and knobs for a network of capacitive-touch controls (think iPod or iPhone) spread about the neatly designed dashboard. Particularly cool are the two shiny horizontal spears which at first seem merely decorative but in fact are the controls for stereo volume and HVAC fan speed, actuated by sliding one’s finger across them. The latest voice-activated Ford/Microsoft Sync system comes standard and operates through an eight-inch LCD touch screen with handy color-coded menus. New this year for Sync is factory-installed HD radio, as well as the capability to tag a song you might want to download later. Also added are a pair of 4.2-inch LCD screens in the instrument cluster; they’re accessed by five-position toggles on the steering wheel. The screen on the left side displays basic vehicle data such as trip information and fuel economy, while the one on the right can be used to interface with multimedia devices.
Power and Torque Go Up, Fuel Economy Stays Flat
Less dramatic but equally significant (to us, anyway) are changes that you can’t run your finger along but which should be noticeable from the driver’s seat. The MKX’s standard 3.5-liter V-6 has been replaced by the new 3.7-liter unit shared with the 2011 Ford Mustang. Featuring variable cam timing, horsepower gets a 15-percent bump to 305, while torque climbs 12 percent to 280 lb-ft. The standard six-speed automatic transmission also now features manual-shift capability. Ford did not release fuel-economy estimates, but claims that the 2011 will match the front-wheel-drive 2010 model’s 25-mpg highway fuel-economy rating. City fuel economy for the 2010 model is 18 mpg, while all-wheel-drive versions are rated at 17/23.
Considerable revisions to the brakes are said to increase both feel and response, things we’ve rarely expected—or experienced—in a Lincoln but would definitely appreciate. Newly available driver aids include hill-start assist, trailer-sway control, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, and cross-traffic alert for backing out of parking spots.
Late Fall Arrival
The 2011 Lincoln MKX arrives in dealerships in late summer, with base prices expected to stay near the current model’s $40K price of entry. Beyond Cadillac’s new-for-2010 SRX, the Lexus RX will be in this Lincoln’s crosshairs. We also expect Ford to roll out an updated 2011 Edge crossover (the MKX’s twin) around the same time. Why isn’t the Edge debuting in Detroit? Well, the Ford stand is already action-packed with the 2012 Focus and emboldened 2011 Mustang GT “5.0,” so the sharpened Edge probably wouldn’t get much play. The MKX, then, should get its fair share of attention—attention, it seems, that it may finally deserve.
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