Competing in the luxury SUV market, Lincoln offers the MKX, more of a crossover, equivalent to the Acura MDX and the Infiniti EX35. As such, the MKX has seating for five, plenty of cargo space, and a high seating position. The 2009 Lincoln MKX's big chrome grille makes it look like a luxury car from the '70s, but the tech package in the cabin is cutting edge, about the best you can get today.
Unlike its foreign competitors, the Lincoln MKX has a bulky exterior design, making it look like a small tank. Although dressed up in Lincoln garb, the body lines should be familiar, as the MKX is built on the same platform as the Ford Edge.
Test the tech: Music quality
The 2009 Lincoln MKX is one of the new breed of cars featuring an in-dash hard drive, which serves as storage for navigation system maps and MP3 tracks. The MKX also boasts an audio system designed by THX, the best available for the money. High-end audio systems reveal flaws in compressed music, so we tested the difference in audio quality between music on a CD, and that same music ripped to the car's hard drive.
This interface makes it easy to switch between the CD and Jukebox.
For our tests, we first ripped two CDs to the car, M. Ward's Transistor Radio, which has acoustic guitar and vocals, and ESL's Covert Operations compilation, consisting of layered electronic tracks with heavy bass. Ripping is easy--just push the record button after putting the CD in the slot. It took about 15 minutes for each CD to finish ripping, and the car's Gracenote database accurately tagged all the tracks.
We cued up the M. Ward song "Oh, Take Me Back" on both the CD and the car's hard drive, which Lincoln calls the Jukebox. We played a segment of the song from the CD, then listened to the same segment from the Jukebox. The tabbed interface on the car's touch screen made it very easy to go back and forth. We were impressed that the version ripped to the car sounded almost as good as the CD version, with differences that wouldn't be noticeable on a casual listen. But we did notice that, where the CD version gave excellent clarity to guitar and vocals, the ripped version muddied it up just a bit, muffling some of the edges. On one section of the song a very quiet background vocal gets almost lost with the ripped version.
The THX audio system produces excellent audio and should reveal any flaws in compressed music.
We moved on to another M. Ward song called "I'll Be Yr Bird." This track has some low-fi fuzz on the original recording. With the CD version, the fuzz makes a slight backdrop for the strong vocals and acoustic guitar. But in the ripped version that fuzz gets overemphasized. Again, not something you would notice on a casual listen.
Switching to the Covert Operations CD, we cued up a track called "This Girl," by Thunderball, which features rich synthesizer layers. The bass was crisp on both a CD and a ripped track, so that we could hardly tell them apart. But where the background layers came through distinctly on the CD version, they were a bit faded with the ripped track. From these tests, we concluded that the compressed tracks sound only marginally worse than the CD versions, and most people won't hear the difference.
In the cabin
Although the MKX gets its luxury Lincoln styling, there is plenty of evidence around the cabin of Ford design, mostly in the chunky styling of the center stack and shifter. The big plastic buttons are easy to use, but don't really contribute to a refined image. Featurewise, the 2009 Lincoln MKX is well-outfitted, with heated and cooled front seats and multizone climate control.
But the cabin electronics package is the real standout, and light years ahead of most other manufacturers. This is the same package we saw in the Lincoln MKS and the Ford Flex, which combines a hard-drive navigation system with traffic, weather, and gas price data from Sirius Travel Link, along with the Sync system, which integrates MP3 players and cell phones with the car. The Lincolns get the addition of that very impressive THX audio system.
Sirius Travel Link includes ski conditions for many resorts around the country.
The navigation system has all the latest bells and whistles, reading out street names for you under route guidance, showing multiple map views, including 3D, and dynamically changing the route if there are traffic obstructions. Entering destinations is easy with either the touch screen or voice command. Particularly impressive is that the voice command does a good job of understanding street names, meaning you don't have to spell them out one letter at a time. Traffic, weather, and gas prices are provided by Sirius Travel Link, and well-integrated with the navigation system, as are ski conditions, movie times, and even sports scores. Our only complaint about this navigation system is that the points-of-interest database isn't quite as full as some competitors, lacking some retail locations.
Any point-of-interest location with an attached phone number can be called at the touch of a button when you have a phone paired to the MKX's Bluetooth system. This phone system works as well as any competitor's, able to download your entire phone book to the car, so contacts can be found on the touch screen. But a couple of things make this system superior. For one, it can also receive text messages and read them to you. Unfortunately, the list of phones compatible with this feature is short. It also lets you use voice command to say the name of anyone in your phone book to make a call, something no other car system currently does.
You can watch movies on the car's LCD, because the disc player reads DVDs.
Similarly, with an MP3 player you can use voice command to specify artists, albums, and song tracks you want to play. This system consistently amazes us by recognizing the most obscure song names. Also impressive, this system integrates with a variety of MP3 players, where most cars only offer iPod integration. You can also plug a USB drive full of MP3 tracks into the system, and it will index it like an MP3 player. Other audio sources include the hard drive, mentioned above, Sirius satellite radio, and a disc player, which can read MP3 CDs and DVDs.
The THX audio system produces excellent audio quality through 14 speakers, with a full 600 watts of power. Along with a subwoofer, there are center speakers on the dashboard. The staging makes most of the audio seem to emanate from a point just above the center of the dashboard. Unlike on the MKS, though, we noticed interior panel rattle when we played heavy bass tracks or just had the volume up loud.
Under the hood
Although its cabin tech outstrips other luxury crossovers, the driving experience isn't quite as refined as its competitors. The engine, a 3.5-liter V-6, has enough oomph to get the MKX moving, even fast when you need it, but it makes a somewhat rough sound when running, fortunately largely damped out by the well-insulated cabin. This engine has variable timing on the intake camshaft, helping it achieve 265 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 250 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm.
That power gets to the wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, which contributes greatly to the bland driving experience in the MKX. There is no manual shift mode, just Drive and Low for going forward. It shifts smoothly enough, but isn't particularly fast to downshift when you stomp on the gas. The transmission defines the MKX's overall driving character--you turn it on and go, with no drama or engagement.
The transmission speaks to the simplicity of the MKX's road character--put it in Drive and go.
Likewise, the steering and handling seem designed for cruising. The steering is nice and direct, which is good, but you're not going to do any performance driving in this car. Our car had all-wheel drive, which should help out in snowy or icy conditions, but the base model is front-wheel drive. The ride quality in our car was decent, but not as soft as we would expect from a luxury car. We definitely felt the jolts and bumps, but the hard edges were absorbed by the shocks.
Mileage is rated at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, but our combined city and freeway driving produced a tank average of 14.9 mpg, not a very good number with wildly fluctuating gas prices. It's a good thing the MKX has gas prices available in the navigation system. Ford is promising new, gas-saving systems such as electric power steering, but that hasn't hit the MKX yet. On the plus side, the car qualifies as a ULEV II, better than the minimum emissions rating from California's Air Resources Board.
The MKX has some nice safety features, including adaptive headlights that swivel with wheel turn, a canopy airbag, and an electronic stability program.
The all-wheel-drive 2009 Lincoln MKX has a base price of $39,185. Navigation in our car, which includes the THX audio system, adds $2,990 to the price, while a few other options bring our total up to $44,615. Add on the $850 destination charge, and the total rings up to $45,465. You could get the Infiniti EX35, with some pretty interesting cabin tech and driver aids, for a couple thousand less, but we think the MKX's cabin tech is better. Likewise, the Acura MDX, with definitely inferior cabin tech, will run you about $4,000 more.
The Lincoln MKX earns a top rating for its cabin tech, as it has features not available in other cars. But we would like to see some kind of driving tech in the car, like a backup camera or blind spot detection. Performance is fairly average--the car goes all right but turns in poor mileage. Its onscreen interface helps it earn design points, as the menus are functional and aesthetically pleasing.