2011 Lincoln MKX: Driven

December 16, 2010
Crossover vehicles are so often touted as catch-all solutions for busy families that you can lapse into blind assumptions when shopping. As we learned recently, when we took on a new 2011 Lincoln MKX for a weeklong test, not every crossover fits every family task, and they can be packaged quite differently.

Ultimately, the 2011Lincoln MKX is probably better-quited to lolling in wine country or a couples' evening out than a ski trip. I feel a little silly now, but the latter seemed at first like the perfect venue to test the all-wheel-drive Lincoln MKX and really put it through the paces. The MKX looked right-sized for four adults, and we thought we'd be able to slide the skis, as we've done in a BMW X5, into a socked ski pass-through.

Cargo compromises

But when we got the MKX and went to check out that pass-through, we found that there's no such thing, and it's not even available as an option on the MKX. That left us with no better choice (with the lack of a roof rack) than to slot the skis in diagonally across the cargo compartment, wedged slightly beside the front passenger seat. With the delicate-looking leather extending around the side of the seats, we had to improvise a bit, covering the ends of the skis with spare socks.

That already ruled out carrying four adults, but had we even been able to put the skis up on the roof, it would have been very tight. Because the cargo floor is quite high, there's less cargo space on tap than you might suspect from the outside; the spec sheet says there's 32.3 cubic feet behind the back seats, but you'd have to heap things high, interfering with visibility, to get that much. You can more than double that space by folding down the back seat (not quite flat).

As we've reported in our First Drive and Full Review assessments, all the improvements to the 2011 MKX feel like more than a mid-cycle refresh altogether. We love the new twin-grille look and bolder front end, while the plush interior, well-coordinated materials and mood lighting, and excellent look and feel overall make the MKX cabin feel all-new on the inside. And that's before you even start driving.

Strong, refined powertrain, but AWD lacks finesse

Behind the wheel, there's nothing about the MKX that feels low-rent, either. It's a little hard to believe that this is essentially the same 305-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 that's now used in the Mustang; here it's notably more muted, and the combination of the MKX's added weight plus any powertrain tuning makes it feel smooth, refined, and confident, but not outright powerful. The MKX's steering is much-improved, too; it feels nice and settled on center, and loads and unloads neatly.

 

But one final not-ready-for-ski time disappointment occurred when we were exiting a ski area, on a steep uphill slope, on a sketchy road surface that consisted of smoothed-over, re-freezing slush. A traffic backup left us stopping-and-going for a long time, and it exposed a weakness of the AWD system, which seemed to require the front wheels to spin slightly before sending more power to the rear wheels. After stopping each time, it wouldn't simply remember the surface and steep grade; it had to spin again, sending the front end sliding sideways on the sharply crowned road. The Subarus and Audis around us seemed to be having no such problem.

EPA fuel economy ratings for our 2011 MKX AWD were 17 mpg city, 23 highway, and over about 230 miles of driving—much of it on the highway but admittedly in mountainous terrain—we averaged just 17 mpg.

Quiet comfort for all

Despite our issues with cargo space and seat pass-throughs, the front and rear seats are both awesomely comfortable for normal-sized adults. The ventilated front seats in particular, with long cushions and plenty of adjustability, are dreamy, and the back seats have a nice, natural seating height—not too low and claustrophobic, not too high and up on a pedestal. The black premium leather upholstery with piping was very attractive and welcoming, and the MKX's ride is about perfect: on the firm side, but very well damped, with nearly no road or wind noise.

The MKX is officially the first vehicle to get the new MyLincoln Touch system (otherwise known as MyFord Touch), and while we hope to give you more of a play-by-play with the system in the neat future, the first impression is that this is a powerful and mostly intuitive interface. The system feels like it's been designed to be intuitive to smartphone users, and it's successful at that. Especially great are the four small trays that at a glance let you know what's on, what's connected, where you're going, and what temp you're set to.

The gauge cluster, can, in much the same way that we've noted with the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, be reconfigured to display various functions on the left and right sides of the central speedometer. The right side is for communication, entertainment, and climate-control functions while the left covers trip computer functions.

Better than MMI or Remote Touch, but not without flaws

While the touch-screen interface itself is worlds better than dial, trackpad, and rotary-switch-based systems from rival luxury brands, the interior still sacrifices some function for novelty at some points. One example, the switches throughout the dash take a little getting used to, as you don't actually press the elevated tab, rather the general area just above them.

 

The oddly placed hazard switch is another thing. Several times, when reaching to touch an icon or menu selection near the bottom of the screen, bracing with my thumb as selecting with my forefinger, I accidentally hit the small (but seemingly very touch-sensitive) hazard-light switch. And it seemed more reluctant to turn off, in at least one case.

Then there are the sliders. No, we're not talking about burgers, rather those backlit horizontal bars that run across the center console, controlling the volume and fan. The backlighting follows your finger, and it's quite the novelty. However, we had trouble rapidly changing the volume with the system, and the sliders seemed almost insensitive in cold weather until the interior had warmed up.

Another thing that was a bit odd was that the system seemed to require some time to boot up and be ready. For instance, in the first 30 seconds or so after starting the engine, even after we were moving, we couldn't select the heated steering wheel or heated seats through the touchscreen.

Most audiophiles won't be disappointed with the MKX's THX II certified audio system—except possibly when using HD radio. The system sounded clear and true at high volumes with FM, CD, or high-bitrate MP3 inputs, and when listening to the radio we enjoyed the best-integrated replay system yet (it keeps a buffer, so if you miss a song or announcement, you can simply rewind). But HD Radio in this system, live, sounded extremely compressed—more so than usual, regardless of station—and we weren't sure if it was the system receiving the signal at a lower bitrate, the surround processing not playing well with the signal, or the awesome speaker setup exposing HD's not-so-HD sound.

Loaded to please all but outdoorsy folks

The test MKX came equipped with the Premium Package, which added larger 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, adaptive HID headlamps, ambient interior lighting, illuminated scuff plates, the upgraded leather upholstery, heated second-row seats, a rear view camera, rain-sensing wipers, a heated steering wheel, and a memory power-adjustable steering column. It also included the Elite Package, adding a voice-activated navigation system, Sirius Travel Link, a blind-spot system, surround-sound audio, and a Panoramic Vista Roof, along with those showy 20-inch chrome-clad wheels.

All said, the test MKX AWD totaled $49,345, including destination. That's not cheap, but roughly on par with rivals like the BMW X5, Lexus RX 350, and Volvo XC60—though more than the Cadillac SRX. You should be aware you're getting a lot of luxury and features, but not not getting such a well-rounded vehicle for active folks. If Lincoln is trying to aim for the younger and more active and affluent, we don't think the MKX is right on target, but as long as it's the luxury that matters, it's a great pick.

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