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FIRST DRIVE

Redesigned 2016 Lincoln MKX shows real substance

A no-excuses SUV benefits from pedigree

Updated: August 20, 2015 01:30 PM

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With no stand-alone models and an all-too-close association with Ford brand equivalents, it’s been a real struggle for Lincoln to reestablish itself as a credible luxury brand like Audi, BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes-Benz. But there’s been an ongoing effort to differentiate itself with better products, more advanced technology, and attractive styling.

Lincoln’s latest entry in this high-stakes game is the redesigned MKX, a midsized SUV related to the Ford Edge. The previous MKX, a kin of the disappointing last-generation Ford Edge, was a luxury poseur. But the 2016 Lincoln MKX has a solid foundation on which to build—the impressive, second-generation Edge. We got to drive a 2016 Lincoln MKX, rented from Ford for a couple weeks, and it made a good first impression with its high levels of sophistication, comfort, luxury, and athleticism. (Read our Ford Edge first drive.)

Fresh to the market, the 2016 Lincoln MKX offers either a traditional 3.7-liter V6 or a smaller, turbocharged 2.7-liter V6. As before, front- and all-wheel drive versions are available. Prices start at $38,100 and go up to $55,990 for the super-lux Black Label trim that we sampled. It is expected that the most popular configuration will be the Reserve trim line, which with typical options lands in the mid $50,000s.

Within the first quarter mile on the road you’ll realize that this isn’t your grandmother’s Lincoln. The small-displacement 2.7-liter turbo pulls like a freight train. Effortless, punchy and refined, it supplies enough forward thrust to warm the heart. The only powertrain item that falls a little short of current standards is the six-speed automatic, which can be caught off-guard, occasionally bumping into gear in a rather ungracious way.

When it comes to carving corners, the 2016 Lincoln MKX proved taut and agile, with a tied-down feel that’s enjoyable and confidence inspiring. This shouldn’t be a total surprise since the platform is derived from the fun-to-drive Fusion sedan. Even when driven with extra gusto at our track, the MKX kept its composure.

Ride comfort is impressive, as well. The 2016 Lincoln MKX feels planted and steady. Even with its 20-inch wheels, bumps and ruts are nicely muted and the cabin stays quiet and tranquil.

Another focus of the brand recast has been spiffing up the interiors. In this car that means you’ll find a super-swanky, high society hunt-club atmosphere here, with leather on the dashboard, a suede headliner, and big chunks of Chilean maple. The furniture includes comfortable, supportive, heated and ventilated seats front and rear. A super-sized glass sunroof brightens the interior.

The utility part of the equation is addressed with big doors, easy access, spacious rear seat, and plenty of cargo room. A power liftgate and power-folding rear seats lend a helping hand.

Some indigenous frustrations remain, however: The initial batch of MKXs will have the MyLincoln Touch system. Although full-featured and versatile, MyLincoln Touch has small fonts and tightly-packed buttons. Later MKXs will get the automaker's new Sync 3 system, which promises major usability improvements. The unconventional pushbutton shifter will also take some getting used to.

Another annoyance is the extremely small labeling of everything in the instrument cluster and onboard computer read-outs. It may be wishful thinking on Ford’s part to assume that new Lincoln customers will be young enough not to need reading glasses for that fine print.

And speaking of impaired vision, thick rear roof pillars and a fairly small back window takes a toll on the view out the back. A multiple camera system, however, provides a very handy 360-degree view when parking, and that’s some consolation.

With so many high-tech gadgets fitted to the top-trim Black Label, it’s not a big surprise that the sticker price on the 2016 Lincoln MKX can exceed $60,000. At least Black Label customers get treated to some pampering, including a dedicated liaison as your point person, free car washes, and complementary pickup and delivery when the car needs servicing.

One can’t overstress the importance of the MKX to Lincoln. Some brands heavily hinge on a good midsized SUV. Ask Lexus. The MKX has all the ingredients to go head-to-head against the Lexus RX, its most direct competitor. But then again, the RX is also newly redesigned and goes on sale this fall.

On the bottom line, sixty large gets you pretty close to the price of established luxury SUVs from the German brands and Lexus, and let’s face it, those names have more snob appeal than Lincoln. But now the MKX is a legitimate alternative with actual substance. The 2016 Lincoln MKX doesn’t need to make any excuses.

—Gabe Shenhar

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