Test Drive: Lincoln MKX

Just a few years ago the Lincoln brand was struggling.? From the outside, there appeared to be no direction or cohesive plan and the few products they had, were carryovers or reactions to industry trends.?? ?Well-developed brands have a ?family? look that identifies the brand.? For example, we know a car is a Mercedes, Cadillac, Volvo or Audi at a glance, but that was not the case with Lincoln.

That?s all changed the last few years with a lineup of cars, crossovers and SUVs that look like a family and not a bunch of vehicles with the same name.? The new Lincolns have style, craftsmanship and they have some innovative technology. ??The company recently told dealers they plan to spend $1 billion on new product development by 2014 and they plan to add up to seven new vehicles.

We recently spent a week in the Lincoln MKX, the mid-size crossover, which is derived from the Ford Edge.? For 2011, the MKX replaces the previous Continental-style grille, with the new Lincoln family signature split-wing grille plus they did a facelift on the sides and rear. Overall, the look is quite striking and won?t be confused with any other brand.

The interior is elegant with stitched panels replacing much of the molded plastic, real wood, chrome accents and state of the art touch controls on the center stack. ?Lincoln calls the controls MyLincoln Touch technology. ?These sexy touch controls have replaced many of the traditional knobs and buttons with smooth touch panels, five-way control buttons similar to those on some cell phones and sharp LCD screens.

?Lincoln customers tell us they care most about style and technology, and the new Lincoln MKX meets these needs perfectly.? said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, Global Product Development. ??The new MyLincoln Touch technology will change the way customers interact with their vehicles while MKX?s new design language gives the vehicle a distinctive and stylish silhouette we know customers will love.?

Lincoln touts the ease of use, simplicity and safety of the controls, but initially we found them confusing and frustrating.? That said, we assume that with some training and a little practice, these controls might be much more intuitive and user friendly.? After years of using a simple dial or knob, it?s hard for some of us to adjust the idea of sliding a finger over a smooth surface to turn up the volume on the radio or change the fan speed.

The MyLincoln Touch? system uses two 4.2-inch LCD screens one on either side of the traditional analog speedometer and an eight-inch touch-screen LCD at the top of the center stack. The screen menus are activated by a five-way switch on each side of the steering wheel crossbar with each controlling the screen functions on that side of the dash.? Just like with a computer, the screens can be customized to display the information desired by various drivers.

The Lincoln technology offerings also include adaptive cruise control which keeps the MKX a fixed distance behind the vehicle ahead and a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS?) with cross-traffic alert.?? As much as we hate government mandates, we think a system like BLIS should be required on all vehicles.? Not only does the Lincoln system detect vehicles in the driver?s blind spots on each side of the vehicle, this one goes a step farther and helps detect vehicles driving behind the MKX when you are trying to back out of a parking place.

Lincoln also has a neat MyKey system that allows parents the ability to limit certain vehicle functions like top speed and audio volume based on which ignition key is being used.? It?s like have a parent in the car for teen drivers.? We also like the capless fuel system that is on all Ford products now.

The MKX is powered by a new 305-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 engine with a new SelectShift six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode.? We appreciate that Lincoln finally is allowing driver?s to have more control of the shifting process; however we?d rather see a gated system or paddle shifters instead of the toggle switch on the side of the shifter.

The new 3.7-liter engine produces 40 horsepower more than the previous model and weights in as the largest standard engine in its class.? The MKX performance is spunky making the standard 0 to 60 mph run in 7.2 seconds. ?The front-wheel drive MKX gets a class-leading EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.? The all-wheel drive version is rated at 17/23 mpg. The MKX comes in two versions, FWD and AWD with prices starting at $40,265 and $42,115 respectively.?? With the only difference being the drivetrain, that means both models have the same high level of standard luxury equipment including leather seating, MyTouch Lincoln?, heated and cooled front seats and a long list of upscale appointments.

There are two available option packages.? The Rapid Spec 101A ($2,500) adds heated rear seats, HID lighting, rear view camera, heated steering wheel, rain sensing wipers, etc. ?Rapid Spec 102A ($7,500) has everything listed in the previous package plus voice activate navigation with Sirius Travel Link, Blind Spot Information System with the cross traffic features , Panoramic Vista Roof?, THX?II audio and 20 inch chrome wheels.

There?s much to like about the Lincoln MKX — it has a unique styling, abundant luxury equipment, impressive technology and respectable performance. ?The MKX has a definite bias toward luxury, but with limited sporty driving attributes. ?We also think it?s an excellent value at this price point and well worth a drive if you are shopping for a mid-level crossover.

Barbara and Bill Schaffer

More from Our Auto Expert