2011 Lincoln MKX Road Test

by Dan Heyman

It’s a curious thing, the Lincoln MKX. For one, it’s a small-ish crossover vehicle, through and through, and while I understand that this has been, is, and surely will continue to be one of the fastest growing segments in the autosphere, I still have trouble equating “Lincoln” with “crossover”.

When I think Lincoln, I think Town Car limousines and Navigator mega-SUVs. In short, I think of land yachts. Not that that is a bad thing; big, comfortable cars that are easy to drive have always had a place in the automotive landscape—especially in North America—because they are vehicles that do what they are meant to do very well. And in my opinion, one of the main determinant factors of what makes a “great car” is if it knows its place and doesn’t try to be what it’s not (which can mean compromising on certain aspects that shouldn’t be compromised in an effort to “advance the model”). The Dodge Grand Caravan is a great car because it’s a minivan, through and through that has people-moving and comfort aspects—like Stow N’ Go seating—down pat. The Mazda MX-5/Miata is great because it is a rear-wheel drive roadster, through and through, which is a rare breed over here.

And when it comes to Lincoln, the models that it’s so well known for—the body-on frame Town Car (no longer available at the retail level, and soon-to-be replaced at the fleet level by Lincoln’s other crossover, the Ford Flex-based MKT), or the Expedition-based Navigator were good at what they did; provide occupants with plenty of space and amenities and gave drivers big V8 engines that whisked all away at low revs, whether about town or on the highway.

This MKX, on the other hand, is a different breed altogether, even if it certainly looks the part. Classy chrome accents abound, from the proud grille (part of a 2011 facelift) to the fog light surrounds and the door handles.  Gone is the light bar that stretched across the entire rump in older models, replaced by two chrome-bezeled rear light lenses. Some may bemoan this change (after all, the old treatment was unique and a throwback to Lincoln “Mark” models of old) but I think it’s a step in the right direction as I found the older system looked a little cheap and tacked on.

But the MKX is still a different vehicle by typical Lincoln standards. For starters, like most of the rest Lincoln’s current lineup, it loses two cylinders to those popular Lincolns of old, its 3.7 L lump having only six as opposed to eight. Still, power is ample—the 305 horsepower made by the engine is only 5 down on the Navigator, even with its big 5.4 Litre V8. Torque, meanwhile, comes in 280 ft.-lb., which is down a little on its closest domestic competition, the Cadillac SRX (assuming the SRX we’re talking about features the optional turbocharged sixer).

Any lack in torque is felt mainly at low revs (peak torque arrives at 4,000 RPM) in the first two or so gears, because once I got past that, I found the MKX to be surprisingly brisk. Highway speeds arrive in very little time, and once there, rare was the case where I found myself stuck in a passing or entry/exit situation and needing more power.

That being said, the 3.7 L being a naturally-aspirated number means that to make that much power, more fuel has to be used. If ever there was a vehicle that I feel could benefit from FoMoCo’s great turbocharged EcoBoost unit, this is the one. Unfortunately, that being a flagship motor and the MKT and MKS full-size sedan being the flagship models means it is reserved only for them at this time. Meanwhile, during my time with the vehicle, I failed to meet the fuel consumption ratings posted by Lincoln—they say 12.2L/100km in the city and 8.8 on the highway, but I did no better than around 13 in the combined cycle. This is not a terrible figure considering the output levels, but having driven cars powered by the EcoBoost, I can’t help but feel that it would work perfectly in this application.

That power is transferred to all four wheels (the front-wheel drive model has been dropped in Canada for 2011) in an intelligent manner; if the system senses that a certain wheel is slipping, power is redirected instantaneously to the wheels that have grip. It’s a reactive system as opposed to a predictive system the likes of which can be seen on the Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester, but it works well in the conditions that one expects a luxo-crossover like this one to undertake.

Transmission duties, meanwhile, are handled by a six-speed auto with SelectShift capabilities—a feature that I barely touched and suspect that the case would be the same for most buyers of a luxury item like this. Unless, of course, they engage it by mistake, which I did on more than one occasion in this car, as well as the Explorer we recently drove.

Unlike most systems of this type, the “M” slot sits directly below “D”, as opposed to just right or left of the main shift gate. I never considered this before but now I realize that it makes perfect sense and cannot understand why Ford decided not to go that route. Yes, the shift lever does hit a minor notch just before “M”, ostensibly so you don’t mistakenly slot it, but it doesn’t really work. And, also unlike other systems of this type, it won’t automatically shift up for you if you’ve selected manual mode. The result? Driving down the street wondering why you’re unable to go faster than 20 km/h, until you look and realize that you’re in the wrong gear, which is annoying when you’re by yourself and embarrassing when you’re not. And even when you knowingly select “M”, the means of shifting up and down—a small button for your thumb on the left side of the shift knob—is not the most ergonomic.

But this being a Lincoln, the rest of the interior ergonomics are spot-on, with the styling doing well to compliment the exterior. The seats are nice and cushy, with the items on my particular car finished in “bronze metallic”—flecks of bronze paint are added to the seats so they actually sparkle in certain light. Other nice touches are the olive wood accents and sable finish around the centre stack and on the wheel.

Back seat passengers—always important in a Lincoln—get dual headrest-mounted video screens as an option. Little chance of boredom on long road trips, then. What they don’t get, however, and what I found surprising was their own climate control. Yes, there are vents mounted on the back of the centre console but what passes through them cannot be modified by the passengers. I guess this would be a bigger problem if there was a third row of seating, but at this price, tri-zone climate control should be included.

The rest of the infotainment setup is handled by MyLincoln Touch, which is exactly the same in everything but name as MyFord Touch, which means a powerful system that takes a little while to master. The touch screen at the centre of the whole thing is divided into four quadrants; the button on the top left deals with your phone, the top right with your navigation, the bottom left with your audio and the bottom right with your climate control. Touch any one of these and a new menu opens up a menu that deals with the intricacies of each system.

If you find touchscreens finicky (and believe me, there are plenty of people out there that can’t stand them), then certain commands can either be carried out by voice (navigation, Bluetooth phone), by buttons mounted on the steering wheel (again, phone and audio) or by the touchpad-esque section just below the screen on the centre stack (audio, climate). There are very few moving parts in the whole setup, which was weird on the Explorer but a little better here—where the Explorer has a bunch of touch-points drawn on the main black pad, the MKX’s touch-points are raised off of the surface, so they’re easier to manipulate on the fly. This was a welcome addition for me because while I thought the setup on the Explorer looked the part, I’m still not convinced of its functionality.

 

So there we have it. This particular Lincoln is not one in the classic mould (AWD? What?), but some may say that that makes it a thoroughly modern car. And it is a modern Lincoln, one that I doubt many would have predicted existing some ten years ago. But, like the Scion iQ-based Aston Martin Cygnet, it does serve as a testament to where the automotive market is going. That from the entry level all the way to the lap of luxury, cars today have to be adaptable, regardless of the emblem atop their chrome grille.

Do I like it? Should you? It many ways, yes. It’a a very good mix of luxury and practicality. And as far as Lincolns go, this is probably one of the more prominent models on the road today. However, if all you want is acres of space, V8s and rear wheel drive—a Lincoln purist, if you will—this probably won’t be up your alley. But for all of those “purists” it may turn away, it’s attracting many new buyers to the brand.

2011 Lincoln MKX AWD Specifications

Price as tested: $55,700

Body Type: 5-door, 5-passenger crossover

Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive

Engine:  3.7-litre V6 DOHC w/Ti-VCT variable-valve timing

Horsepower: 305 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque (lb-ft): 280 @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed auto w/SelectShift

Curb weight: 2,063 kg (4,548 lb)

Fuel consumption (claimed): City: 12.2L/100 km (19.3 MPG)

Highway (claimed): 8.8L/100 km (26.7 MPG)

Observed combined: 13 L/100 km (18.1 MPG)

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