Lincoln's new MKX makes a great first impression. It's an attractive CUV that turns heads with its chrome double-waterfall grille and large shiny wheels. Ford's Sync voice activation and command system is as good as it's ever been; touch-sensitive dashboard buttons and sliders add a sci-fi feel; and the slick graphics of the MyLincoln Touch system (a re-skin of the MyFord Touch system) are rather impressive. After living with the cabin technology suite for a while and discovering a few hitches with new infotainment system, we're wondering if maybe the cabin tech package needed a bit more time to bake before being released to drivers.
MyLincoln Touch beta?
The MyLincoln Touch system is divided into two parts that interact with one another. The first part is a pair of small LCDs on either side of the vehicle's speedometer. These screens are controlled by a pair of directional pads on the steering wheel and can display fuel economy, a tachometer, fuel levels, and a menu of vehicle options on the left, and phone, navigation, audio, and climate control auxiliary displays on the right. The dual directional pad control scheme is very intuitive and makes changing a radio station or reconfiguring the displays while driving a safe and easy proposition.
Safer still is Ford/Lincoln's Sync voice activation system, which we regard as one of the best in the business. Sync enables you to perform simple tasks with the touch of a button and the sound of your voice. Commands such as, "Call Wayne on mobile," "Play artist: The Kinks," or "Navigate, street address" work quite well. Taking a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with the onscreen command list, we learned that we were also able to adjust the climate control system, select radio stations that weren't preset, and perform other complex tasks as easily as we were able to initiate a phone call.
However, not every infotainment task can be completed using Sync, and when it came to using the MyLincoln Touch system's touch-screen interface, things started to fall apart fairly quickly. The system features five primary screens: a Home screen that is split into four quadrants for phone, navigation, climate control, and audio, and four function screens that correspond to these quadrants and are accessed by tapping colored bars in each of the screen's four corners. Initially, we noticed that there was a noticeable lag between a screen touch and the registering of input that made simple tasks such as keying in the name of a destination into slow, arduous ordeals. Later we began to notice that the inter-screen transition animations were also on the slow side of things and would occasionally hang between screens for a few moments when we selected certain screens.
The MyLincoln Touch system makes two navigation options available to drivers. The first is Ford's Sync navigation, which uses a Bluetooth-paired phone's data connection to pull turn-by-turn directions from the cloud and is standard on all Sync-enabled MKXs. The second is an SD card-based navigation system that stores map data locally. Maps are high resolution with crisp text and very little aliasing to be seen on the contours of rendered roads. However, this navigation system isn't without its quirks and glitches. A few of the problems that we experienced during our week with the Lincoln MKX included a full-on crash and reboot of the MyLincoln Touch system when attempting to add a waypoint to a route in progress, a few instances of exceptionally long GPS position lock times, and a few instances of wildly inaccurate GPS tracking--for example, the Lincoln's map had a bad habit of displaying our position as somewhere at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay when we were crossing the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
On the audio front, there were difficulties with getting Bluetooth audio streaming to work properly with an Android phone--although iPhone and BlackBerry streaming worked fine--and a loose RCA connection on the auxiliary input that caused quite a bit of popping and static when used. However, beyond that, we found the available audio sources and sound quality of the optional THX premium sound system to be quite good. You can connect an iPod or USB storage device to one of the MKX's two USB connection points. There is also an SD card slot for audio, if it's not already occupied by the navigation data card, and the aforementioned auxiliary input. A single-disc optical drive accommodates standard CDs and MP3-encoded discs. Rounding out the audio source list is AM/FM radio with HD Radio reception and Sirius Satellite Radio, which also provides the data for the navigation system's traffic and weather feeds.
Thanks to the great Sync integration and PBAP address book syncing via Bluetooth, the phone screen of the MyLincoln Touch system is one that you should never have to see past the setup and pairing process. Here you can browse your address book, look at call logs, or initiate calls using an onscreen keypad. However, when you can simply say, "Call home," there's really no need to take your hands off the steering wheel. Users can also set up MAP text message access for compatible handsets, opening up the Sync system's ability to read aloud incoming text messages and let you select from up to 15 prewritten text message responses.
Our issues with the MyLincoln Touch system weren't merely confined to performance; there were also quite a few information architecture and interface issues that we found to be quite annoying. For example, activating shuffle when listening to music requires three button presses--the shuffle button, the shuffle mode button, and finally the OK button--where a simple toggle would probably work better. Confirming a destination also requires more steps than we'd like: you select an address or POI, then set it as the destination, then wait for the route to be calculated, and finally hit yet another button to begin routing.
Styling and safety
Below the touch-screen interface are the physical controls for the audio and climate systems. These controls are unique in that there are no moving parts or knobs; every button is actually a touch-sensitive bump. In place of volume knobs or fan control dials are a pair of touch-sensitive strips that you slide your finger along to adjust audio levels or airflow volume. It's all quite slick, but--again--not without its issues. For example, the volume control strip isn't at a 1:1 ratio with the available volume levels, so going from maximum to minimum volume required multiple swipes, and, at the end of the day, we couldn't help but think that a simple volume knob would be faster and easier. Still, this is a minor quibble and we're sure that many drivers will find the touch controls to be very cool.
Beyond infotainment, the MKX offered a few tech options that improved the safety of the vehicle, including blind-spot detection in the form of an LED in each wing mirror. This system was sensitive enough to pick up cars, motorcycles, and bicyclists. There's also a rear proximity sensor that beeps with increasing intensity when the car is reversing toward an obstruction and issues an audible warning when vehicles approach from the sides, as well as a rearview camera which takes some of the guesswork out of reversing and parallel parking.