I finished my test week in the front passenger seat of the Lincoln MKX, and it had a leavening effect to the evaluation. I was on a round-trip of four hours up and back with a fellow journalist to an event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Sitting on the right side of this five-passenger crossover provided me a different perspective to consider such elements as the comfort of the seats, with their 10-way power adjustment and three levels of heating and cooling.
I settled back, dialed up the power lumbar back support and ran a hand along the perforated leather, with its appealing line of piping along the edge. The stitched leather dash top is immaculately installed and looks to be as rich as any from the fabled hide houses of England. The blond wood trim, a worthwhile $495 option, has depth and radiance, which helps set a fresh, contemporary tone to the cabin.
The MKX makes a good first impression. It was new last year, and nothing of substance was changed or added for 2012. Four new paint colors include Blue Pearl Metallic and Cinnamon Metallic. Sold in front- or all-wheel drive models, pricing starts at $40,290, including $875 freight charge from Oakville, Ontario, Canada. The AWD tester was $51,160.
For comparisons, the Audi Q5 has starting prices that range from $37,000 to $51,000. Starting prices for the BMW X3 range from $38,000 to $44,000, which includes four years of free, scheduled maintenance. The Lexus RX 350 AWD starts at $41,000, and the all-wheel-drive Cadillac SRX starts at $43,000.
The Lincoln succeeds because it is the luxury answer to an American institution: the sport-utility vehicle. But the MKX is no poseur with leather. Based on the Edge crossover, Lincoln MKZ sedan and other Ford vehicles, the MKX ride is more luxury sedan than SUV and surprisingly supple over rough road and gentle on head toss when angling into driveways. The cabin is luxury-quiet and smooth on all road surfaces.
Performance is lively and unhesitating. The only powertrain offered is the 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter, direct-injection V-6 and six-speed automatic with a manual mode. Fuel economy on regular unleaded is 19 mpg city and 26 highway, or 17/23 for AWD. The Lincoln grille and styling fit the MKX well, presenting a strong stance. All the popular technology and safety features are standard or available, such as advanced cruise control and collision warning.
The touch-sensitive MyLincolnTouch system replaces buttons and switches for climate control, audio and other functions. There is a learning process to adapt to the finger placement and pressure on the tabs to get quick responses. But the voice-activated functions are about the best there is. I was going nowhere in a struggle to manually input navigation directions when I gave up and punched the voice symbol on the big digital screen. The female voice took over and the destination was set in seconds. This kind of user-friendly technology is always welcome.
The MKX has an easy-going architecture for comfortable entry and exit. The back seat has a flat floor, long legroom at 39.6 inches, plenty of footroom and a center head restraint and a broad, fold-down armrest with cup holders. The seats fold nearly flat to expand the wide and square cargo area. There is some storage under the floor and a real spare tire, not a can of sealant and an inflator.
The MKX has an executive-class finish, more back-seat room than a big sedan and family utility. As the ground-zero launch pad for a revitalized Lincoln brand, the MKX is the promise of improved product to come. In early 2012, look for the debut of a refreshed 2013 MKS flagship sedan and MKT seven-passenger crossover. 2013 ushers in a new design theme on a new Navigator SUV and MKZ sedan (again with a hybrid). In 2014, expect the new MKC compact crossover, which will be aimed at the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLK and others. A new MKX is on the schedule for late 2014 as a 2015. And the MKS gets a full re-engineering for 2016. Beyond that, the crystal ball is short on details but there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Specs Box: 2012 Lincoln MKX AWD
-- Body style: midsize, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger crossover
-- Engine: 305-hp, direct-injection, 3.7-liter V-6 with twin independent variable camshaft timing
-- Transmission: 6-speed SelectShift automatic
-- Fuel mileage: 17/23 mpg city/hwy; 87 octane
-- Fuel tank: 19 gallons
-- Standard equipment: Intelligent access with push-button starting and remote start; MyLincolnTouch control system for cabin-audio functions; heated outside mirrors with approach lighting; reverse-sensing system; fog lights; power liftgate; perforated leather upholstery; heated and cooled front seats; dual-zone automatic climate control; tilt-telescopic steering column; 60/40-split folding rear seats with cargo-area release buttons
-- Safety equipment: six air bags; 4-wheel disc brakes with 4-channel ABS; roll stability control
-- Wheelbase/length/width: 111.2/186.7/87.4 in. (including mirrors)
-- Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs. with Class II hitch
-- Turning circle: 39.3 ft.
-- Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40/40.7/58.9 in.
-- Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 39.3/39.6/58.7 in.
-- Curb weight: 4,413 lbs.
-- Cargo area: 32.3 to 68.6 cu. ft.
-- Base price: $41,870, including $875 freight charge; price as tested: $51,160
-- Options on test car: Premium package, $7,500, adds 20-inch chrome wheels and Pirelli Scorpion tires; voice-activated navigation; rearview camera; panoramic sunroof; blind-spot monitoring; THX II audio system; adaptive HID headlights; and ambient lighting. Adaptive cruise control and collision warning: $1,295. Wood package: $495.
-- Warranty: 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain with 6 years/70,000 miles roadside assistance; free scheduled maintenance for 12 months/15,000 miles
-- Where assembled: Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at [email protected] Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage.