An SUV for the Wired Magazine set
Once upon a time, a car’s mid-model cycle refresh — even a fairly significant one — was little more than a gussying-up to keep the old gal selling until the new model came out. A new grille here, a fancy set of wheels there — and everybody’d cross his fingers and string up extra balloons over the lot. Well, the folks in Dearborn have been flipping this on its head recently, with mid-cycle revamps that are at least as interesting as their original introductions. The latest Mustang and Fusion mid-cycle updates? In my book, more interesting.
In other words, Lincoln inadvertently set something of a trap for itself when we were invited to Washington, D.C., to drive the significantly refresh of the Ford Edge-based MKX. (As an aside, our driving routes had us repeatedly driving past the Lincoln Memorial, reminding us of exactly who Ford‘s premium brand was named after.)
So, does the MKX maintain Ford’s remarkable model-update batting average?
Not quite… but it’s close. And that may simply be because it happens to find itself in a vehicular category that’s inherently less interesting than nimble sedans or coupes. Judged against its crossover contemporaries, however — and Lincoln offered up the segment’s sales leader, the Lexus RX 350, for back-to-back comparisons — it’s damn competitive. Quieter at cruising speeds, quick when given the stick, cool-sounding at full throttle, handsomely finished inside, boldly styled outside, and packed tight with electronics that are so sophisticated you’ll need to consult a 13-year-old to understand them.
And although I think the MKX’s real pay dirt is those electronics, let’s first get out of the way what’s changed with the old-fashioned oily bits. Newly residing under its hood is a 305-horsepower V-6, a 3.7-liter swapped into the hole left by last year’s 265-horse, 3.5 liter. Moreover, it’s now attached to a fingertip-shiftable six-speed automatic (just the thing for shifty sorts) with, betwixt them, a tighter-coupled torque converter. In other words, the MKX is not only 15 percent more powerful, but it’s more receptive to your shifting and throttling whims. Nevertheless, its mileage has improved by 1 mpg, meaning — according to Lincoln — it’s simultaneously the most powerful and fuel-frugal V-6 offering in its category.
In news elsewhere about the chassis, the brake’s combination of larger diameter discs and a resized booster make for a crisper brake pedal feel underfoot. Add to that hill-start assist, available trailer sway control, adaptive cruise control, and collision warning, and you’ve got some potent vehicle dynamics underpinnings. On the road, it’s as lively and capable as its specs suggest. At the track, the MKX zipped to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, crossed the quarter mile in 15.5 seconds, skidpadded at 0.77 g, and stopped from 60 mph in 132 feet. Solid numbers, but ones that don’t communicate its driving character compared with the RX 350. It feels tauter, responds more authoritatively to steering direction, and emits a meaner sound.
Okay, so here’s the part where I start to wonder if I’m working for Motor Trend or Wired: the MKX’s electronics.
Front and center is My Lincoln Touch. Let me tell you straightaway that, personally, I don’t think touch-sensitive controls have any business in a moving, bounding, vehicle — but here they are, and here’s how they work.
Approach one of the center stack’s dimples with the tip of your index finger, and when it’s very close — you don’t have to touch it — the “button” is activated. Bingo! All it takes is disrupting the button’s local electro-magnetic field with your digit’s proximity. Another odd new way of interacting with the controls is how you adjust the sound system’s volume and the fan’s speed. Just tap (left or right) along touch-sensitive ledges for the intensity you’re after, or alternately swipe your finger to do the same thing. Now, as interesting as this is — and it genuinely is interesting — I’m not sure a couple of big, simple dials wouldn’t fill the bill just fine. Call me a clumsy-fingered Neanderthal.
When I uttered this within earshot of a Lincoln associate, it was pointed out to me that there are, silly journalist, other ways to express your will to the MKX — specifically, via its voice commandability.
While a car journalist’s typical visit with today’s complex voice command systems is far too brief (particularly so with one as complicated as the MKX’s), the Lincoln’s system certainly appears to be a big leap in intuitiveness. After learning its fairly simple language structure, placing calls, changing the cabin temperature, or requesting a broadcast or satellite radio station (even a specific artist or song among your on-board media) works exactly as advertised.
Ford points to a flattened syntax structure, a vocabulary of 10,000 first-level commands, a better microphone location, and improved individual voice identification as reasons why. I would simply point out that it seems to work pretty well. Two more laudably logical interfaces are a pair of five-position buttons (think of compass headings with “enter” in the center) located on the left and right steering-wheel spokes — each relating to screens flanking the center display. Smart.
But does all this really add up to an improvement over simple buttons and knobs? As I said, it would take more than an afternoon’s drive in the MDX to decide, but frankly, in a world full of new gizmo interfaces expecting to be learned (iPad, anyone?), I’m not so sure a car really needs to be yet another one of them.
Which puts a vehicle like the MKX — with has much of its value residing in cutting-edge electronic features — in a bit of a pickle. Is complexity like this really what you want? As someone who – like many of you, I suspect — has to contend with confusing new software about every other day, jumping into a car with clearly labeled buttons, and great big rotary knobs, is a breath of fresh air. I’m sure I’d eventually decipher the MKX’s numerous voice-command tricks. And probably come to appreciate them sincerely. But I’m also guessing there are a lot of folks who’ll never comprehend half of what’s offered here, no matter how long they live with the car. Questions like these are only going to get thornier as ever more elaborate electronics continue to flood into car’s interiors. Fortunately, the good news for Lincoln is that the MKX is an impressive machine – regardless of its electro-wizardry.
And let me leave you with a final thought. Recently we conducted a major roundup of cars (for a well-known yearly Motor Trend feature that involves lots of cars) and found that an MKX showed up. “What’s that doing here?” I asked. “It appears to be an SUV.”
“Name mix-up. We meant to request the hybrid version of the MKZ” was the sheepish reply. This led to a lengthy discussion of what the MKZ actually is, and how it fits in the Lincoln lineup against the MKS — or, wait a minute, is the tall one the MKT? MKX? MKZ? MKT? MKS? Perhaps I’d be a little more convinced by Lincoln’s arguments for its proximity-sensitive buttons, swipe controls, and next-generation voice recognition … if they could name their models a little more clearly.
|2011 Lincoln MKX AWD|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, AWD|
|Engine type||60-deg V6, aluminum block/heads|
|Displacement||227.4 cu in/3726 cc|
|Power (SAE net)||304 hp @ 6500 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||280 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Weight to power||14.7 lb/hp|
|Suspension, front; rear||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, f;r||12.6-in vented disc 13.0-in disc, ABS|
|Wheels||8.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum|
|Tires||245/50R20 102H M+S; Pirelli, Scorpion STR|
|Track, f/r||65.4/65.2 in|
|Length x width x height||186.7 x 76.0 x 67.3 in|
|Turning circle||39.3 ft|
|Curb weight||4485 lb|
|Weight dist, f/r||57/43%|
|Headroom, f/r||40.0/39.3 in|
|Legroom, f/r||40.7/39.6 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r||58.9/58.7 in|
|Cargo volume basic/folded||68.6/32.3 cu ft|
|Acceleration to mph </strong|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||3.8|
|Quarter mile||15.5 sec @ 91.9 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||132 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.77 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||28.6 sec @ 0.58 (avg)|
|Top-gear rev @ 60 mph||1800 rpm|
|Price as tested||$50,435|
|Airbags||Dual front, front-sides, front head|
|Basic warranty||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||6 yrs/70,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||6 yrs/70,000 miles|
|Fuel capacity||19.0 gal|
|EPA city/hwy econ||17/23 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.01 lb/mile|
|Recommended fuel||Unleaded regular|