What became of the ninth-generation Lincoln Mark series? Somewhere in the Lincoln brand's twisted nomenclature there is a missing link: a connection between the rip-snorting Mark VIII and Lincoln’s cute-ute Mark X. I mean MKX. While no one at Lincoln's brand-awareness roadshow bought this Houstonian's sly attempt to realign the disjointed Mark series, they still handed me a set of keys to their latest crossover vehicle and told me to go play. Well fair enough.
I came, I saw and I found the irony: the MKX’ waffle-iron grille harkens back to the much-loved suicide door Continentals; cars that transported Presidents with three-letter titles of their own. Just in case you missed the history lesson, Lincoln’s placed a gigantic star front and center. It reminds all and sundry that this luxo-crossover isn't a wannabe Lexus– it’s a rebadged Ford. Other than the tasteful front schnoz and LED lamps out back, there's little to differentiate the Lincoln MKX from its stable mate, the Ford Edge.
If the Edge didn't exist, the MKX's sheetmetal would portend a strong future for the Lincoln brand. But there is a Ford Edge, and it’s ready to overpopulate a dealership near you. Which leaves the newborn MKX wishing Toyota was more like Ford: give the mundane Highlander a nose job, slap on some "RX" badges and call it a day. And Lincolnians wishing Ford was more like Toyota: give me some new, distinctive sheetmetal, please.
If there is an upside to badge engineering, the MKX's interior is it. Lincoln’s added megadoses of near-luxury spizzarkle to the Edge’s elegant, capable and comfortable living space. Door panels blend soft vinyl, lustrous wood and chrome. An armrest crafted with genuine triple-stitched decadence encourages limb relaxation. The somewhat supportive seats are well padded for touring duty, aided by a posterior cooling system that's strong enough to give you the impression you’ve wet your pants.
The MKX’ dash gets the Lincoln brand's trademark combination of satin-nickel bling, blonde wood and delightful chrome accents. Aside from the less-than-Lexian leather on the steering wheel, the cabin looks and feels suitably posh. In true crossover style, the MKX’ mad quick D-pillar reduces storage space to traditional car standards (genuine SUV’s breathe easy). You could fold down the rear seats or… get someone else to drive, hop in back, open the panoramic sunroof shades, plug in the iPod, crank up the fourteen-speaker THX audio, and bliss out on soaring highs and full-bodied bass, as inclement weather passes you by.
Combining a high and mighty stance, 18" wheels, adaptive headlight aimers, all-wheel drive and a 265hp V6, the MKX boldly goes wherever the Hell quasi-SUV’s are supposed to go– or not go. Although building a Lincoln without a proper V8 underhood remains an indictable offense in many southern states, Ford's latest Duratec dynamo makes respectable torque from idle to 4000rpm. Lashed to a six-cog automatic, the MKX is quick enough for government work (you can file your taxes in the time it takes to get from zero to sixty). While the MKX’ “luxury tuned” chassis and suspension err on safety's side, the CUV’s unitary construction allows a surprising measure of poise through the turns– you know, for a vehicle that weighs 4420 pounds with 60% of its weight over its nose.
Even better, the more-than-merely adequate driving dynamics don’t degrade the Lincoln’s luxury ride quality. The MKX is no Town Car, but its McPherson struts (front) and new four-link independent suspension (rear) murder most road imperfections with silent ease. The stoppers are equally impressive: willing disc brakes attached to a linear pedal pull the cute Lincoln down from speed with ample reserves of whoa Nellie. Aside from a smattering of road noise from the cargo area, the MKX does indeed feel like a proper luxury car. I mean, SUV. Er, CUV.
And you pay a proper price for the privilege. Lincoln’s MKX is roughly $4500 harder on your wallet than a comparable Ford Edge, which has the same powertrain, chassis and moonroof, and can be ordered with the same navigation system, up-rated audio and a fine leather interior of its own. So what's to love about the MKX? A retro grille, better warranty, woodgrain accents, A/C seats and luxury tuned (i.e. less sporting) dynamics. Yup, it’s the Lincoln Zephyr all over again.
Overlook the neglected Town Car (since it's still the top breadwinner even without promotion) and there isn't a single Lincoln that wears unique sheetmetal. After a few months’ fleet sales, profit-killing rebates and sweetheart lease terms, corporate spinmeisters will proclaim MKX's sales "increased market share and conquest sales by such-and-such percent.” But Lincoln's progression from absolutely nothing to almost nothing will hardly be a triumph. Lexus-style profit margins require plenty of masquerading metal and a bit of one-offsmanship. Anything less just ain’t gonna cut it. Anything more from Lincoln would be a surprise, and a long-overdue one at that.