I'm impressed, an actual pretty good review from TTAC.
By Alex L. Dykes
on May 5, 2016
Lincoln Beats Lexus at Its Own Game
The Lexus RX isn’t a sales success; it’s a sales phenomenon. It’s a magical cash generating unicorn that can seemingly do no wrong. The RX outsells every other luxury vehicle in America. Despite sales being down 6.5 percent in 2015, the RX crossover nearly outsold the entire
Lincoln brand. When the numbers were tallied, Lincoln brand as a whole beat the single Lexus model by just 617 units.
Why do I bring up the Lexus RX so early in a review ostensibly about a Lincoln crossover? Two reasons. We might as well talk about the elephant in the room and I genuinely don’t understand why the RX outsells the MKX by nearly 5:1. As I discovered during a week with the latest incarnation of Lincoln’s MKX, the Lincoln is quite simply a better Lexus than the RX.
Lincoln’s styling team has had a hard time finding its mojo. The first MKX looked like a Ford Edge with a ghetto grille, and the second toothier than a Disney villain. Fortunately, third time’s the charm, and the 2016 front end makes this the most attractive MKX ever. Helping the Lincoln stand out further is the new 2016 Lexus RX, whose looks are, shall we say, polarizing. (It looks like a sardine feeding
.) In contrast, nobody found the MKX’s new front end or Dodge-esque tail lamps offensive. Since this midsize two-row crossover segment is Lexus’ to lose, let’s keep a tally. This win goes to the MKX.
While the exterior is finally luxury appropriate, some felt the interior had room for improvement. Plastics and materials qualities are a step above the crossovers from Ford, but not up to the level of the Euro competition. Still, the benchmark in this segment is
the Lexus RX and there are just as many questionable plastics in that cabin. The ultimate level of “premiumness” ends up slightly higher in the Lexus because of two factors: Lexus’ liberal use of wood trim and attention to panel gaps. Panel gaps aren’t an indicator of reliability, dependability or luxury since you’ll find perfect gaps in unreliable Range Rovers, but they do smack of sloppy assembly control.
Thankfully, Ford’s designers finally realized that the real
trick to perfect alignment is not having seams that carry from the door to the dash in one line. As you see in the picture below, panel misalignment between the dash and doors is much more difficult to spot when the design is intentionally crafted without seams that meet horizontally as you see in the Ford Explorer. Interior win: Tie. (RX: 1 – MKX: 1)
Gap quibbles aside, the Lincoln MKX’s interior comes across as a proper luxury vehicle when you opt for the 22-way power front seats, a strangely inexpensive option at $1,500. (It does require the Reserve 102A package at a minimum to be added to the vehicle, which bumps the MSRP to $47,770 after destination.) The 22-way seats are similar to BMW’s excellent multi-contour seats in that they offer inflatable bolsters, power headrests, and the ability to adjust the curvature of the seat back, but Lincoln takes them to a new level. The MKX offers more control over the lumbar support bladders and more ways of motion than you’ll find in an X5 costing $10,000 more.
This simple seat option highlights the divide between the two brands. Lexus is so conservative that an extending thigh cushion on a seat with four-way lumbar support (for the driver only) is the most opulent throne available in the RX. Lexus passengers have to make do with a good book, while the MKX passenger can unwind in a 22-way massaging seat. Comfort win: MKX. (RX: 1 – MKX: 2)
For the longest time, Ford’s all-new body and an all-new drivetrain releases weren’t in sync. We’d see new drivetrains in older vehicles or new vehicles would launch with old engines that would get replaced in 6-12 months with the latest and greatest. That same thing is happening with the MKX, but in the cabin rather than under the hood. Our tester still had a MyLincoln Touch system in the dash, though it appears SYNC-equipped MKXs are headed to dealers now.
SYNC3 is supposed to up Lincoln’s infotainment game by improving response times, adding features and introducing a platform that will shortly support Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and integrated apps like insurance driving monitors. While I’m not the biggest fan of the new graphics Ford has used in SYNC3, the system puts the MKX ahead of Acura and Lexus and within spitting distance of BMW and Audi in terms of infotainment. The Lexus RX may have a 12-inch LCD, but the software that drives the gorgeous screen is one of my least favorite in the segment. The input method is clunky, the graphics are old school and it lacks the modern smartphone features you see in the competition. Infotainment win: MKX. (RX: 1 – MKX: 3)
Despite the transverse engine layout, Lincoln’s engineers have figured out a way to get European power levels out of its V6 engine options. The base mill is a 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V6 good for 303 horsepower and 278 lbs-ft of torque. The 3.7-liter mill bests the Lexus RX 350’s 3.5-liter engine by a few ponies, but that’s just where things start.
Next up is a 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 borrowed from the F-150 pickup truck and rotated 90 degrees. Normally, when an engine is switched from longitudinal to transverse mounting, some power and torque are lost to help keep the transmission from imploding. The MKX is different.
Thanks to a six-speed automatic with strengthened internals, Lincoln was able to increase power by 10 horsepower to 335 and torque by 5 lbs-ft to 375. But that’s not the interesting part yet. Unless you check the $2,000 option box for all-wheel drive, the MKX will send all 335 ponies and all 375 twists to … the front wheels. Despite lacking the snazzy eight-speed transaxle we see in the RX, this win goes to the MKX. (RX: 1 – MKX: 4)
Gobs of torque channeled through the front wheels of a 4,200-pound crossover is a recipe for, you guessed it, torque steer. On the other hand, I nearly bought a new 2000 Lincoln Continental, so apparently massive torque steer isn’t a problem for me. The rest of you will no doubt check the all-wheel-drive option box that transforms the MKX’s driving dynamics.
Lincoln’s engineers have taken a page from Acura’s playbook lately and programmed the all-wheel-drive center coupling to engage fully and frequently. The result is a more neutral-feeling crossover than the AWD versions of the RDX or RX. The system can’t overdrive the rear wheels or torque vector like an MDX, but the MKX will plow less in corners than the average transverse-engined crossover.
As with the smaller MKC, AWD comes with Lincoln’s active damping suspension system. If the suspension is in comfort mode, you get the softest ride in this segment by a mile. With the suspension in normal mode, things feel more buttoned down, but there is still plenty of tip/dive and body roll. “Sport” firms up the MKX, but the feeling isn’t the same as you’d find in a traditionally sprung vehicle. The reason is that although the dampers can restrict motion, the springs are still pillowy soft.
The soft suspension and incredibly quiet cabin make the MKX the ideal highway cruiser. According to our decibel meter, the MKX was 1 dB quieter than both the Lexus RX and the BMW X5, giving the segment a new low-noise floor. The variable-ratio steering is precise, moderately weighted and as numb as any in this segment. When it comes to classic Lexus values of an isolated ride and a quiet cabin, the MKX beats Lexus at its own game. (RX: 1 – MKX: 5)
The soft suspension and somewhat disconnected steering mask the athletic abilities of the Lincoln. Push luxury crossovers in the corners and you realize that the MKX actually handles well for this segment thanks to a relatively light curb weight. The X5 may be better balanced, but it’s also 15-percent heavier. As much as Cadillac has recently touted the new XT5’s lightweight construction, the MKX is just about the same weight with notably more power.
Despite having two fewer gears than most of the competition, our tester ran from 0-60 in 6.2-6.3 seconds depending on the run. That makes the Lincoln faster than the X5 powered by the 3.0-liter turbo, faster than the Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90 T6, and notably faster than an RX 350. Performance win: MKX. (RX: 1 – MKX: 6)
Starting at $39,185 (after a $925 destination charge) the MKX isn’t the deal it used to be, but it is still significantly less expensive than a European crossover. Perhaps more importantly, however, it’s also $3,800 less than a Lexus RX despite being comparably equipped. That pricing delta grows as you add options with a fully loaded 3.7-liter naturally aspirated MKX being nearly $6,000 less than a comparable RX 350. Our twin-turbo MKX out accelerates, out handles and delivers a more polished ride than the RX 350 and was still $2,000 less than an RX with a similar feature set. Value win: MKX. (RX: 1 – MKX: 7)
Are there areas where Lincoln could improve the MKX? Without question. Using SYNC3 or MyLincoln Touch isn’t a problem in my book, but the screen should be larger and the interior better differentiated from other Ford family products. The actual parts aren’t the problem; Lexus shares plenty with Toyota after all. Fuel economy during our week averaged a lackluster 19 mpg, which is toward the lower end of the segment, although that is offset to a great extent by the MKX being at the top of the pack in straight-line performance.
The MKX is a return to what Lincoln’s used to be in my mind. The cabin is eerily quiet, the thrust is endless, the ride serene. In other words, Lincoln has created the perfect Lexus.
We must now circle back. Why then does the RX outsell the MKX by nearly five to one? I have no idea. While it’s true that Lincoln’s vehicles are statistically less reliable than Lexus, brand reliability is above average and essentially identical to Acura. Resale value in the MKX is poorer than the RX, but the Lincoln is less expensive and dealer incentives will likely level out much of the three-year resale difference. In the end, the answer lies not in the vehicle itself but in the brand. If this were a contest based strictly on the virtues of the vehicle, the MKX might not be first in the segment, but it’d be at the top of the pack and well above the RX.
Lincoln provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30 mph: 2.3 seconds
0-60 mph: 6.3 seconds
1/4 mile: 14.9 seconds @ 93 mph