2016 Lincoln MKX 2.7 EcoBoost V6 AWD
The MKC is Lincoln’s very competent compact crossover SUV based on the already excellent Ford Escape. Last year the MKC edged the MKX out to claim top spot in the luxury brand’s pecking order with 24,590 delivered across the nation compared to 22,199 for the larger CUV, but this will likely settle back to status quo now that the all-new MKX is here and pent-up demand for a smaller Lincoln CUV is fulfilled. In fact, we’ve already seen signs of normalization with the MKX back in the lead after the first two months of 2016, with 4,427 down the road compared to 3,182 for the newer model.
Newer may not be the right word, as the MKX is completely redesigned for the 2016 model year, and it only took a glance at its new bodywork, a few minutes seated inside and then a short drive to appreciate that it should be selling in much higher numbers than it currently does. Lincoln, like every other luxury brand, hopes to eventually meet or beat the best-selling Lexus RX, that model selling 14,148 units through January and February as well as 100,610 last year. The RX is the mid-size luxury crossover benchmark-setter when it comes to sales and just about everything else. The MKX, on other hand, sits eighth out of 13 competitors, yet measures up quite nicely in the “everything else” department.
It starts with Lincoln’s now trademark split-wing grille, built upon the mid-cycle refresh of the previous generation MKX that offered a similar bisected design with downward flowing waterfall insert slats instead of the horizontal ones used now, and ushered in by previous chief designer and ex-Cadillac man Max Wolff. It’s a totally unique and original design that I happen to like (and so do a lot of other people if you take time to read the many message boards lit up by Lincoln fans rightly upset about the brand once again completely upending its design direction for a more conventional, “Peter Keating” take on luxury-more on that slippery slope in a moment). This Howard Roark-esque grille design (it was actually penned by Andrea di Buduo) spans the entire front fascia, seamlessly incorporating the LED-infused headlamp clusters at each corner, while a simple, elegant chrome-enhanced horizontal vent fills out the lower valance.
The usual premium details complete the rest of the MKX’ design, including LED turn signals on body-color mirror caps, chrome window surrounds, chrome embellishment on the door handles, chrome moldings across the rocker panels, the same bright metal garnish under the classic Lincoln mono-taillight that also incorporates non-classic LED enlightenment, plus a nice set of angular tailpipes integrated into a sporty rear bumper cap. My tester included matte black body cladding from front to back and around each wheel arch for a visual attempt at SUV ruggedness, while a glossy black rooftop made it look as if glass had been fitted from the top edge of the windshield to the body-color rear spoiler, but such was not the case, at least not entirely. Lincoln did include a nice big panoramic sunroof up top as part of my Reserve model’s upgrade, but it didn’t extend quite as far as that inky roof let on. No matter, as the new MKX is an elegant looking SUV from any angle, this example’s classic Ingot Silver paint matching its stylish twinned five-spoke 18-inch alloys perfectly (although my tester should have come with even more attractive 20-inch alloys, these base model 18s chosen to support winter rubber).
While I’ve got nothing bad to say about the MKX’ exterior design, I must admit it shines even brighter inside. No, that’s not a reference to chrome, although there’s a generous helping of shimmering metals in key areas, but rather its overall finish that’s considerably more upscale than many premium competitors. Yes, I know I’ll probably get flack from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz fans, so understand that while I respect all of these storied marques and generally like what they have on offer in this category, Lincoln has gone above and beyond to lure you into this most recently updated MKX. Therefore, hard plastic lower door panels aside, it’s difficult to find any surface that’s not covered in high’quality, soft-touch synthetic, leather, or genuine metal trim.
To that end Lincoln has padded the dash top and covered it with attractively stitched leatherette that includes a separate piece overtop the primary instrument hood, while this same application is used to good effect on each door upper. The door inserts are finished in a similar fashion, whereas the armrests are even more comfortably padded and detailed out in yet more leather-like synthetic. Unlike most in the class, Lincoln also pads and wraps the lower portion of the center console with yet more pleather, a nice touch that protects the outside of inside knees, while previous generation Audi Q7 owners (and others) had better take their seats (or move up to the new model) as Lincoln adds the soft-touch treatment to the glove box lid as well. As is expected in this class, fabric-wrapped roof pillars surround from front to back, whereas the center stack, center console and each door panel includes real metal inlays.
Lincoln and its blue-oval donor brand have long offered some of the best electronic interfaces in the business, and the new MKX is no exception. First off, the MKX mixes traditional white on black analog dials with digital multi-information displays at center, the left-positioned tachometer’s screen bleeding over to the mid-section of the gauge package to form one very large driver-configurable display, whereas the center of the speedometer to the right incorporates more conventional functions, such as a fuel gauge. Over on the center stack is Lincoln’s typically large, clear, high-resolution, full-color infotainment touchscreen that oddly incorporated the brand’s old-tech MyLincoln Touch quadrant layout, rather than the MKC’s all-new proximity-sensing Apple CarPlay/Android Auto infused Sync3 system (Lincoln’s car configurator says Sync3 should have been included, so possibly it was a late arrival issue). I wouldn’t worry too much about that as it’s an excellent design that’s easy to operate and filled with features, although I must say the newer upgrade works better with most smartphones.
Of note, my $60,395 tester was improved with some welcome features such as adaptive LED headlamps featuring auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, a heatable steering wheel, ventilated front seats (ok, not so welcome in winter, but summer is on the way and until then their standard heaters warmed up quickly) that were also 22-way adjustable and multi-contoured for ultimate comfort and support, heatable rear outboard seats, a 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio system with superb sound quality, navigation, a 360-degree surround camera, front parking sensors, active self parking, active cruise control with autonomous braking, that panoramic sunroof mentioned earlier, and much more.
The standard MKX list is too long to itemize, but a shortlist of features grandfathered up from the $38,260 base model to my tester included remote start, passive access with pushbutton start, an exclusive SecuriCode keyless entry keypad, heatable side mirrors, a leather-wrapped multifunctional steering wheel, an overhead console with a handy sunglasses holder, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone auto HVAC, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar support, driver’s side memory, active noise control, reverse sensing, a capless fuel filler, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, and all the expected active and passive safety gear.
I previously stated the interior is where the MKX really shines, but saying so does a disservice to how well it drives. First off, the optional 2.7-liter turbocharged and direct-injected EcoBoost V6 is a dream, a paradigm of smooth, quiet power. It makes 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque, rarified output that should make anyone driving the aforementioned Lexus or pretty much any other mid-size luxury CUV take notice. Of course it was also designed with the purpose of reducing Lincoln’s overall carbon footprint, yet the end result is not only cleaner air quality but also savings in your pocket, the 2.7 achieving 17 mpg city, 24 highway and 19 combined as tested with AWD; it’s rated at 17 city, 26 highway and 21 combined in FWD. Alternatively the MKX can be had with a 3.7-liter V6 that’s still more energetic than most rivals’ engines at 303 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque and hardly a guzzler with an EPA rating of 17 city, 26 highway and 20 combined with FWD or 16 city, 23 highway or 19 combined with AWD, while both utilize a proven six-speed automatic with a unique pushbutton selector and standard steering wheel paddles.
If there’s an area that could be improved it’s the transmission, six-speed automatics a little subpar in a world of seven-, eight- and even nine-speed autos, but this really is more about marketing than anything most users will notice, plus of course some fuel economy benefits. The MKX’ six-speed gearbox is very smooth from shift to shift, whereas it’s also notably reliable. Of course, I’ll praise Lincoln when this ute comes fitted with more forward gears in the future, so there’s a plus and minus to either scenario.
The MKX’ handling is also good, although I wouldn’t say it’s in the same league as the Germans. Truly, Lincoln’s forte is ride quality and quietness, both of which are exemplary in the MKX. Don’t get me wrong as it takes to corners very well thanks to torque vectoring all-wheel drive and mode selectable Lincoln Drive Control featuring Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD), and no doubt would feel even more planted if this model’s proper 20-inch rims and rubber were fitted below, it just wouldn’t be my first choice on a track if I had a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5 to choose from. When it comes to comfort, however, which is what all of us live with each and every day, the MKX is hard to beat.
As noted the front seats are ultra comfortable and very roomy too, while Lincoln doesn’t skimp on rear seat room either, the MKX being a five-seater and therefore not needing to squeeze more seats in back that ultimately cramp second-row space. As for cargo, the rear compartment is very nicely finished with high-quality carpeting, stainless steel protector plates and a useful bin under the floor accessible from a really upscale metal handle, although I would’ve preferred a 40/20/40 configuration to best configure both passengers and gear. On the positive, the MKX’ 60/40 split-folding seatbacks can be lowered via buttons on the cargo sidewall for added convenience.
While I’d like to leave this review on a positive note, Lincoln doesn’t give me much choice other than to warn you about its questionable design philosophy, or lack thereof. Whether its latest brand-wide transformational redirection is about design department politics now that new chief David Woodhouse is at the helm, or the result of FoMoCo bean counters who aren’t patient enough to stay the course and rebuild the Lincoln brand over time (and it’s likely going to take a very long time no matter what they do), this Tier 2 luxury division is about to depart on yet another complete design language overhaul that will likely make this MKX look totally outdated by the time its next mid-cycle update arrives within a couple of years. No doubt it’ll make you want to upgrade if you already own one, but then again it may cause you to leave Lincoln altogether so as not to get left with yet another outdated model when they decide to completely rethink their design direction again in another two years.
Call these comments harsh if you want to, but Lincoln already had a very attractive first-generation MKX from 2007 through 2010, this probably my favorite of its three redesigns, but after just four years it totally reworked it with the aforementioned bisected waterfall look (we’re talking a revolutionary redesign, not an evolutionary one). This was a nice look too, and at least a good foundation for this most recent split-winged approach, although the model went through three radical revisions in just nine years. The next one, probably planned for two to three years time, will be even more of a departure.
Why do I think the MKX will soon drop its unique frontal styling for Lincoln’s new generic big grille look? Before I explain, an aside: After delivering the Continental Concept more than a year ago, Woodhouse received some of the sharpest criticism I’ve ever seen from a fellow designer, with former Bentley Continental designer Luc Donckerwolke calling him out for plagiarism on the Lincoln boss’s personal Facebook page, saying “Do you want us to send the product tooling?” Another Bentley designer quipped, “I thought this was only done in China? Finally a ‘Bentley for the masses’ though…” Ironically, it’s the burgeoning Chinese luxury market that’s caused Lincoln to rethink its current pretty yet understated design language, that country’s premium buyers having helped to influence most luxury carmaker’s grille designs from once discreet to dominating. When it comes to copying I think Jaguar should be offended more than Bentley, however, as when eyeing it for the first time from an adjacent brand’s auto show stand I thought it was an XJ, only to realize I was looking at a new Lincoln. The production Continental (Lincoln, not Bentley) showed that the concept was close to reality when it debuted in Detroit earlier this year, although Dearborn had already shown its hand in LA with the revised 2017 MKZ, first to wear the brand’s nondescript Bentley-esque cum Jaguar façade overtop old hardware, but hey, slapping a Rolls-Royce grille on a Ford Granada worked before, so why not give it a go again?
This move, along with the three redesigns the MKX has undergone in less than a decade, reiterates that Lincoln has absolutely no clue as to its identity; a sad reality after it finally seemed to be on the right track with this MKX’ spread eagle wing look. Such dramatic moves from one design theme to the next might be acceptable for mainstream volume brands like Ford (although I must say, Ford seems to be coming into its own after its flirt with Aston Martin grilles in its car line and Range Rover cues with its SUVs; there does seem to be a dearth of creativity at FoMoCo in recent years), but Lincoln needs to take a good look around at its more successful peers to see just how many play their design wildcard over and over again… exactly zero.
A good example of doing it right is Lexus’ new spindle grille design which resulted from an evolution that took the better part of a decade to formulate, whereas the big three German players have stayed close to their key design elements for as long as they’ve been in existence. And it’s not like Lincoln doesn’t have heritage, its design team simply hasn’t figured out how to tap into it. A shame, because the MKX is an excellent crossover SUV built by a company that fully understands how to engineer great vehicles, while in its current state it’s also a mighty fine looking piece of machinery, as were the two previous iterations.
I can’t imagine it with a big, fat bent-Bentley/Jag grille up front, but such is its certain future due to the shortsightedness of Lincoln’s current crop of leaders. On that note Lincoln president Kumar Galhotra called the new MKZ’s grille “a natural evolution” at its introduction, which makes a certain kind of nonsensical sense if you’re a believer in cataclysmic evolution. But hold on, Lincoln execs tell us they’ve received extremely positive feedback about the brand’s “new face” since unveiling the Continental concept at the New York show in April of last year. Didn’t they said something very similar about the last new design direction and the one before that, etcetera, etcetera? Not to mention, if you base the direction of your brand on the whims of popular opinion there(s no telling what sort of craziness might get voted into office… er, onto the showroom floor (Toyota already tried the automotive equivalent of a Trump comb-over with its second-gen Avalon, so at least that’s off the table).
I could go on, but suffice to say this brand new completely redesigned MKX is already yesterday’s news, which could very well cause would-be buyers to take a wait-and-see approach and instead purchase their next crossover SUV from a brand that’s got its styling $4!+ together. I still recommend you take the MKX for a drive, as it’s an excellent mid-size luxury CUV that deserves your attention.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press