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.
The MyLincoln Touch system's home screen features four quadrants that correspond to its four major functions.
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.
Ford/Lincoln's BLIS system helps drivers stay aware of their surroundings.
A motorized lift gate, 10-way power-adjustable front bucket seats with two-position memory and heated and cooled seating surfaces, Ford/Lincoln's MyKey preset and security system, and a heated steering wheel rounded out the comfort and convenience portion of our MKX's cabin tech package. However, if we can again gripe about the odd ergonomics of the MKX's cabin, we'd have preferred physical controls for the seat heat and cooling, rather than having to activate them through the sometimes laggy MyLincoln Touch system.
Outside of the Lincoln, we were able to appreciate the MKX's looks. Everywhere we went we received compliments on the CUV's appearance. If the huge chrome double-waterfall grille weren't enough, our tester also came with optional 20-inch chrome rims, a panoramic double sunroof, and adaptive HID headlamps that aim around corners with the steering wheel, all part of a rapid-spec package that added most of the MKX's commonly selected available options.
Power and performance
The heart of our Lincoln MKX is a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that produces 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. In a vehicle the size of the MKX, that sort of power translates into good acceleration that, while not mind-blowing, will get you up to highway speeds without much fuss. Torque is transmitted through a six-speed automatic transmission with a frankly useless button-actuated manual shift mode before being sent to either the front wheels or being split between all four via Lincoln's optional intelligent all-wheel-drive system.
The MKX's 3.7-liter V-6 is the same mill that motivates the Ford Mustang, Ford Edge, and Mazda CX-9.
The EPA rates the all-wheel-drive MKX at 17 city and 23 highway mpg, although during our testing--which consisted mostly of highway miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles--we were unable to break 18.1 mpg. Had we taken delivery of the front-wheel-drive variant, that number might have been higher, judging by its EPA estimates of 19 city and 26 highway mpg.
Handling is about what one would expect from a tubby CUV. The MKX's suspension is tuned for comfort--we'd expect no less from a Lincoln vehicle--and is consequently a bit soft and sometimes floaty. However, the MKX can still move when it has to and we were impressed by crossover's ability to get out of its own way in quick maneuvers such as emergency lane changes.
Value and conclusion
Starting at $40,995 for the Lincoln MKX in its AWD configuration, our tester adds an $850 destination charge and $7,500 for a Rapid Spec 102A bundle that adds a Premium package (ambient cabin lighting, rearview camera, and adaptive HID headlamps) and an Elite package (voice-activated navigation, panoramic sunroof, blind-spot monitoring, THX audio, and those 20-inch chrome wheels). At its as-tested price of $49,345, the MKX AWD won't win any comparisons against vehicles from the likes of the BMW and Audi with its adequate performance and OK fuel economy.
No, the MKX is a vehicle that will live and die on value for the dollar and Ford/Lincoln's reputation for stellar cabin technology. However, while the MKX's tech package has its bright spots--most obviously the phenomenal Sync voice command system, the instrument cluster display interface, and the THX audio system with its broad array of audio sources--and shows tremendous potential, we can't help but think that it's just not ready for prime time. The touch-screen interface is just too laggy, too buggy, and not nearly as well thought out as even the previous generation of Ford infotainment systems.
As is, the MyLincoln Touch system feels like beta software, and while we'd gladly stay on the bleeding edge of software when it comes to apps on our smartphones, it's just unacceptable in an automotive environment. Thankfully, the modular and upgradable nature of the MyLincoln Touch and Sync systems means that many of the problems we experienced during our testing could potentially be addressed via a firmware update and optimization at a later date.
|Model||2011 Lincoln MKX|
|Trim||AWD, Rapid Spec 102A bundle|
|Power train||3.7-liter V-6, AWD|
|EPA fuel economy||17 city/23 highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18 mpg|
|Navigation||SD card-based w/ Sirius Satellite Traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||yes|
|Disc player||single-disc CD/MP3|
|MP3 player support||2x USB ports, iPod, analog RCA auxiliary input, A2DP Bluetooth streaming|
|Other digital audio||Sirius Satellite Radio|
|Audio system||THX premium audio|
|Driver aids||rear proximity sensor, backup camera, blind-spot detection|
|Price as tested||$49,345|