When an automaker creates a sister brand, care must be taken so that the subsequent products do not find their existences being questioned. Many vehicles and entire brands have died because of this and historically, it has occurred most often inside the Big Three. Chrysler axed Plymouth, General Motors ditched Oldsmobile and Pontiac and Ford most recently got ride of Mercury in 2010. After that, the industry watched for the blue oval to make a decision regarding its other sister brand’s future: Lincoln. With their mind made up, Ford had a dedicated luxury marque and with that, certain models had to separate themselves from their mainstream siblings. Each Lincoln now has an important role to play and running straight head first at one of the most crowded segments is the 2011 MKX.

Released in 2007, the MKX is Ford’s midsize premium crossover and took over duty for the aging and truck-derived Aviator. Based and sized similarly to its counterpart, the Ford Edge, the Lincoln must do battle with the likes of Acura’s MDX, Lexus’s RX350, Infiniti’s EX35 and the Cadillac SRX. Its 186.7 inch overall length houses a 111.2 inch wheelbase making it ever-so-slightly longer than the Edge but with the same wheel length. Both Ford crossovers ride on the CD3 platform so front wheel drive is standard with all wheel drive as an option. For the first three years of its life, the MKX went unchanged until the 2011 model year brought a few but helpful revisions. Most notable was in form of some new digs as the front face, rear end and interior have been altered to better match Lincoln’s new brand image. The same gun-shot grille that can be found on the larger MKT crossover as well as the MKZ and MKS sedans is now present on the MKX. The back has been cleaned up with wrap-around tail lamps and a lower, more muscular bumper housing dual exhaust tips. The 2011 model year has also changed the song sung from those pipes as a new and more potent Duratec engine finds its home under the sculpted hood. Other subtle but important changes like the elimination of convenience buttons for a all-out touchscreen control with MyLincolnTouch have put the MKX back in the spot light.

To test its mettle, we got behind the wheel of a 2011 Lincoln MKX FWD. With a base MSRP of $39,995, buyers get standard features such as leather seats with heating and cooling, remote start, dual zone climate control, Sirius radio, voice activated SYNC media controller and MyLincolnTouch center display. Fitted to our tester was the top-of-the line 102-A package for an extra $6,535. With that, the MKX receives ambient interior lighting, blind spot monitoring system, rear view camera, heated rear seats, rain sensing wipers, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, navigation, THX II stereo and a panoramic sunroof. Additional features such as the $1,295 adaptive cruise control system, $1,095 2o inch chrome wheels and $495 coat of Red Candy Metallic paint added up for a final price of $50,290 with destination charge. Without the cruise control and fresh shoes, the 102-A MKX barely undercuts a similarly equipped top tier Cadillac SRX FWD Premium. For an extra $1,850, an all wheel drive Lincoln can be had.

On most conventional vehicles, changing the radio’s volume or setting the climate’s temperature would require a knob to be turned or a button to be pressed but that isn’t the case with the MKX. Taking over as the main line for most convenience settings is a large LCD touchscreen given the name MyLincolnTouch. This is essentially the same MyFordTouch system found the Edge and housed inside are the operations for the navigation, stereo and climate controls. All are accessed by simply touching the display, pressing a few key buttons on the steering wheel or requesting a task via SYNC voice recognition. This is the first time Ford has put the system into operation and while standing still, exploring the touchscreen is rather entertaining. The response time is adequate but could be faster and sometimes, a finger was not well placed enough for an action to occur. Ford’s SYNC system is remarkable as an alternative to touching and should always be employed during driving. The safety factor jumps sky-high when a driver’s eyes can concentrate on the road rather than the satellite radio stations and it was a rare day when SYNC got so confused that it became annoying. No other premium midsize offering can match the innovation inside the MKX but with that, a risk might be taken. There could be a few potential buyers put off by the fully touchscreen system due to its non-traditional controls. Lincoln would be silly to ditch the smart and cool display but they might widen their market share by creating a base MKX with traditional buttons and thus, a lower price.

Once a driver has sat in a parking lot for a few hours playing with MyLincolnTouch and proceeds to forward motion, disappointment will not suddenly be had. New of 2011 is a larger and more potent Duratec V6 engine. Displacing 3.7 liters, the double over head cam mill uses dual variable valve timing to produce 305 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The same six speed automatic that was paired with the previous 265 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 serves duty for 2011 but a recalibration was done to better suit the 3.7’s higher output. Shared with the Edge Sport, the new V6 can really get the MKX up and moving as 60 mph can be seen from a standstill in 6.4 seconds. In a drag race, the 2011 would eat the 2010’s breakfast, lunch and dinner and promptly proceed to take its next day’s lunch money. The MKX revs quickly and is eager to blast up a freeway onramp but never intrudes on the luxury. The added power simply makes the drive more enjoyable, easier and safe all while keeping up efficiency. Fuel economy has actually increased ever so slightly to 19 mpg in city and 26 mpg on the highway for front wheel drive MKX models. The 3.7 liter is a fantastic fit for the Lincoln and suits the vehicle’s personality so well that no tears are shed because of the absence of a EcoBoost engine.

Using a fully independent suspension with front struts and a multi-link rear, the MKX is very car-like in its movements. The 76 inch width and 20 inch wheels with all season rubber help the Lincoln stay stable even if pushed. The steering feel did a solid job of masking the crossover’s mass and inputs could even be called energetic. Despite a lack of sports suspension, the MKX actually felt sharper than the Cadillac SRX we tested not too long ago. Even still, it’s still a large and tall SUV and pushing it really hard will induce understeer. Most Lincoln owners would rather cruise the boardwalk than attack a mountain road anyways and the MKX acts accordingly. The suspension’s damping has been tuned to soak up any imperfections and is so composed that miles can be devoured with complete ease. Add in the air tight cabin, luxurious at any temperature seats with a spacious rear section and kiss the stressful road trip goodbye. The inside, especially with the added ambient lighting, is a calming place to be and classier than the majority of its competition. With excellent quaity materials all around, nothing on the inside of the MKX looks last-minute and that’s because it wasn’t. This is a well made vehicle.

Dynamically, the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX are hard to tell apart. But off paper, Ford has successfully separated the two by making the MKX truly premium. Its style is classic and thus, true to the Lincoln nameplate. Everything from the way it builds power to how it moves is well matured but not so much that a trip to the store becomes a mindless task. With a price that undercuts a lot of its competition and technology that rivals them all, the MKX should be considered when looking for a midsize crossover. Other offerings from Germany may be more rugged while other Americans may be more blatantly attractive, but the Lincoln has its own personality that allows it to stand out. The touchscreen control is honestly innovative despite its potential to scare some buyers away. But if given the chance, its operations might just impress enough to change a few minds and its composed mannerisms could offend no one. Because of this, Ford has hit a home run by making its sister brand actually relevent. The proof can be seen, felt and touched while behind the wheel of the 2011 Lincoln MKX.

Photos: © Copyright 2011 Ossamah Shabbir

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