Lincoln's Budget Bling Crossover

The new Lincoln MKX is too obviously cross-bred with the cheaper Ford Edge. Still, it provides an impressive bling on a budget

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Bling on a budget, panoramic sunroof, smooth ride, great sound system

The Bad: Too close to the Ford Edge, not much competition for other luxury crossovers

The Bottom Line: Ford's premium crossover isn't bad for a version 1.0

Up Front

Get ready to become sick of the word "crossover." Over the next 12 long months, auto manufacturers left and right will be trotting out so-called crossovers, that is, vehicles based on car platforms but offering sport-utility vehicle proportions and practicality. And though these cars have been around for at least a decade, the buzzword is just getting ready for its 15 minutes of fame.

A duo of crossovers just happens to make up the bulk of Ford Motor's (F) game plan for the next year—the plebeian-priced Ford Edge and the nearly identical if moderately upgraded Lincoln MKX. Though well-powered and well-appointed, the new MKX unfortunately supplies critics with even more ammunition that, as far as the Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln nameplates are concerned, the company is little more than a Johnny-One-Note.

That's because the two vehicles are nearly identical, even if the MKX's pricing starts off right where the Edge's stops, around $35,000. That's not to say that Ford's head isn't in the right place. After all, it's borrowing a page from rival Toyota's (TM) playbook. The Japanese manufacturer has scored two blockbusters in one with the Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX crossovers. But, those two vehicles, unlike the MKX and Edge, look significantly different inside and out.

Even so, the MKX is likely to fill an important role for Lincoln going forward. The new model replaces the molasses-slow-selling Ford Explorer-based Aviator. In 2005, Lincoln sold a dismal 23,644 Aviators and last year, as it was phased out to make room for the MKX, sales dwindled to 15,873 units. Lincoln's SUV and truck sales were down 24.5% last year, to a mere 39,270 units.

Enter the MKX, with all the virtues of an SUV—ample interior space, available all-wheel drive, a high driving position—and lacking the major drawback, lousy fuel economy. With a base price of $34,120, the MKX is priced smack between high-trim crossovers from Nissan (NSANY), Toyota, and Honda (HMC) and basic luxury versions from Infiniti, Lexus, Acura, and BMW. This pricing might prove appealing to consumers looking for a bit more luxury but not too much more. That said, the MKX is unlikely to stand up to close comparative scrutiny with models from Toyota or even Ford itself.

A basic MKX is well-priced but with extras it gets into BMW or Lexus country. My test vehicle, the all-wheel-drive model, carried a base price of $35,770. In addition, the model was equipped with the $4,795 "elite" options package consisting of panoramic roof, DVD-based navigation, satellite radio, and THX II sound system; the $1,995 "ultimate" package bestowing a bevy of comfort and convenience goodies as well as 18-inch wheels; a $295 Class II trailer towing package; and a $65 rear cargo management system.

This nearly completely tricked-out MKX comes with nearly identical bodywork and a lot of the same features, including the panoramic sunroof and navigation system, of the Edge but also offers cooled seats, a glitzier grille, more luxurious interior accents, and a smoother ride. Throw in a $675 destination charge, the total is $43,890. That's not bad for all that equipment but the V6-powered BMW X5 starts around $45,000 and the Lexus RX at a little more than $38,000.

Behind the Wheel

Ford's 3.5 liter V6 powers the MKX, serving up 265 horses and 250 foot-pounds of torque. That's more than enough to coax the car's 4,420 pounds into action when required. The six-speed automatic transmission reacts pleasantly, making smooth gear shifts while also helping to squeeze out better fuel economy than five- and four-speed implementations.

The ride is less sporty than either the Edge or the Mazda CX-9, which is also based on the same platform.

But comfort, not sport, is the intention, and the MKX delivers a silky smooth, pleasant ride. The front McPherson struts and four-link independent rear suspension proved selflessly absorbent over the pockmarked streets of Lower Manhattan.

Two marginal areas distinguish the look of the MKX from the Edge. The front grille is like an iced-out toothy grin, worthy of Lincolns past. The rear lamps stretch from side to side, giving the minivan-ish backside a distinguished air. I have to say, in all black the MKX does make for a very sexy package, a sort of minimalist urban bling. In fact, my test car drew an uncommon number of stares and—in New Jersey—a few people even rolled down their windows me to ask about it.

Inside, the MKX delivers as well. Everything feels solid and well put together; details like the door sills and center console appear well crafted. And, the customary Lincoln interior styling, a mixture of retro lines and analog fonts, comes off classier than in any other model besides perhaps the Navigator. As in other Lincolns so equipped, the THX II-certified sound system is a powerhouse.

I hope the executive at Ford who pushed the development of the panoramic roof system got a promotion. That single $1,895 option does more to move the MKX's interior upscale than any other feature. Either open or closed, the gigantic sunroof that stretches from front to aft endows the cabin with a penthouse-like quality, giving great views all around.

The government hasn't crash-tested an Edge or MKX yet. However, the similar CX-7 earned stellar marks, earning five stars—the maximum available—in all tests, front and side impacts. It also has a low likelihood of rollovers, unlike some traditional, truck-based SUVs. I'd eventually expect very similar results in all the government's safety tests from the MKX—six airbags and stability control are standard features.

The biggest impetus, of course, to move from an SUV to a crossover is fuel economy. The MKX is rated to get between 18 and 25 miles per gallon—not astonishing, but much better than midsize SUVs like the Explorer that routinely turn in real-world numbers in the low teens. In mixed city and highway driving I earned 22.4 miles per gallon average, more than reasonable in the all-wheel-drive version.

Buy It or Bag It?

I can't decide whether the MKX's awkward pricing between the top-of-the-line models from the likes of Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, on the one hand, and entry luxury crossovers from Infiniti, Acura, and Lexus on the other, is genius or not. It seems to me, on both sides of $35,000, the MKX has a hard time coming out on top. However its luxury trappings and high-bling factor do set it apart from less expensive fare.

The vehicle's bona fide Achilles' heel, though, is its close association with the Edge. Until Ford is capable of differentiating the two more significantly, the Edge—by virtue of its similar features and better pricing—is likely to, well, maintain an edge over the MKX.

Click here for slideshow to see more of the 2007 Lincoln MKX.

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