By on October 31, 2017

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

2017 Lincoln MKX AWD Reserve

2.7-liter DOHC V6 (335 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 380 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

17 city / 24 highway / 19 combined (EPA Rating, U.S. MPG)

14.1 city / 9.8 highway / 12.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

18.8 mpg [12.5 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $46,485 (U.S) / $54,600 (Canada)

As Tested: $63,280 (U.S.) / $68,775 (Canada)

Prices include $925 destination charge in the United States and $2,100 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada.

Utility vehicles are nothing new at Lincoln, but where there was once a single heritage-diminishing (but lucrative) oddity built to give Cadillac’s Escalade a run for its money, there now sits three models with rear liftgates. A fourth looms.

Now back from a near-death experience, Lincoln isn’t alone in requiring a lineup stocked with high-riding vehicles. Sticking with tradition bodystyles is akin to suicide these days. We can eyeball the resurrected Continental and debate whether Lincoln went far enough, style-wise, in rekindling the famous nameplate, but the reality is the brand sells far more utilities than cars, hands down, and will continue doing so. Buyers overwhelmingly want SUVs, and woe is the automaker that remains mired in the past.

Even the ancient Navigator, poised for a long-overdue revamp for the 2018 model year, sold just 148 fewer units than the Continental in September.

Leading the Lincoln sales pack is the midsize MKX, now sporting an identity comfortably divorced from its Ford Edge underpinnings. Fully redesigned for the 2016 model year, the SUV, which reportedly awaits a Continental-esque front end treatment and a transmission swap sometime in 2018, ended last year with its best sales showing since 2007. In doing so, it knocked the MKZ sedan down to the silver medalist podium.

There’s an abundance of power. There’s butt-coddling opulence. But is there enough refinement and cross-generational appeal to lure buyers back from the Germans and Japanese?

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

If looks matter more than anything else, the MKX’s flowing lines and soon-to-be-extinct split grille offers buyers nothing in the way of controversy. The radically redesigned Lexus RX350 is easily the most polarizing of the premium, two-row midsize set; the Acura MDX, arguably the most handsome. Without seeing the final product, it’s hard to gauge whether a Continental-esque square grille will do anything positive for this model’s appearance.

Lord knows the MKZ seems confused because of it.

Also like its main Japanese rivals, there’s only V6 power on hand. However, with the Lincoln, there’s no fancy available hybrid powertrain in sight. Entry-level models net a 3.7-liter V6, but uplevel trims benefit from the added power (and panache) of Ford’s 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6. There’s no denying the sweetness of this hard-working mill. With 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque on tap (in this application), it’s proven itself worthy in vehicles as diverse as the Ford F-150 and Fusion Sport sedan, and there’s no complaints about its performance in this 4,387-pound crossover. The MKX just goes when you want it to — surely a trait premium buyers demand.

Still, despite the power, there’s absolutely no way anyone will make use of this uplevel tester’s paddle shifters, which surely rank among the most laughably out-of-place paddles on the market today. The MKX is not a sports car, and no subtle change in steering effort or suspension damping will make it so. Naturally, I dicked around with the drive settings, but a lack of clear benefit in “sport” meant it always returned to a fallback position — one familiar to traditional Lincoln buyers: “comfort,” or at the very least, “normal.”

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

Yes, it’s not just wood and leather luring former Town Car owners to the MKX’s supple and hushed cabin. With overboosted but precise power steering and a somewhat soft suspension making driving calm and effortless, it’s easy to see how return buyers could comfortably set up shop in an MKX, especially with the assurance that comes with all-wheel drive. (Canadian MKX models carry AWD as standard equipment.)

Of course, that softness, which is just fine in everyday driving, could turn away younger buyers. In gold paint especially, the safe, aiming-for-elegant MKX doesn’t exactly scream “youthful!” — it actually asks, “How do you do, kids?”

Oh well, at least it can smoke their Civics.

Some of the credit for the pleasant ride falls on an old piece of kit: the Ford-supplied six-speed automatic. A no-nonsense affair, this transmission lacks the extra cogs of many of its rivals, but it does the one thing a good automatic should: make drivers unaware of its existence. A big complaint with the LX 350 is its busy eight-speed unit, which hunts for gears and downshifts three cogs when only one is needed, or vice versa. We hear a nine-speed transmission is in the works for the mid-cycle refresh. Depending on its smoothness (Ford’s excellent 10-speed gives us hope), it could pose a risk to Lincoln’s quality ranking.

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

With no powertrain issues to keep occupants distracted, it’s up to the MKX’s luxury amenities to keep the ride entertaining. The 19-speaker Revel stereo sounds great; its brushed metal speaker covers also look the business. Front seat passengers can go nuts adjusting the color of the Lincoln’s interior accent lighting, get a responsible dance party or conference call started using the Lincoln’s Sync3 infotainment system (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity come standard), or just recline and stare through the optional panoramic sunroof. Actually, there’s a better option than any of that. Scrolling through the menu of this high-zoot model revealed a front seat massage function that soon got a workout from this reviewer and his adjacent passenger.

Yes, it’s this kind of feature that makes a premium car driver feel special. Never mind the 22-way power front seats, Lincoln’s optional Active Motion function is where it’s at. Your backside will thank you.

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

Still, life in the MKX isn’t without gripes. The suspension, while compliant, could use an extra bit of cushioning at the upper range of travel to keep seemingly minor pavement cracks from disturbing the tranquility (note: the 21-inch wheels, which looked fine and filled the wheel arches nicely, might shoulder some of the blame). Rear seat legroom is only so-so for taller occupants, and the lower headliner surrounding the panoramic sunroof means backseat passengers with beanstalk-like physiques could receive an unwanted scalp massage.

Oh, and something must be off-kilter in Brampton, Ontario, as the aft rear door wasn’t a perfect fit, leading to trim misalignment. (Check out Ford’s Edge for this recurring problem.) It’s too bad, as the interior’s fit and finish is just fine.

This might sound odd, but the location of Lincoln’s huge, center stack-mounted transmission pushbuttons has always bothered me. It just never seems to ingrain itself in the driver’s mind. Despite being well within my field of view, I found myself constantly reaching down for a nonexistent console-mounted shifter. Reaching out and pressing those buttons never stops feeling awkward. Other automakers, including Acura, offer a better, handier pushbutton array.

Spoil the lines of the sleek, sparse console if you must, Lincoln, but do something.

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

Like in other Ford products, the MKX’s lane-keeping function waits too long to make course corrections when drifting towards (and over) over the line. Still, the other driver’s aids in the optional safety suite — pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control — proved quite aggressive. You can dial it back if you choose. As well, the optional technology package’s parallel parking butler (aka Active Park Assist) is another one of those “I feel good about my life” features.

Relatively minor quibbles aside, what we’re left with is a fairly attractive premium crossover designed to appeal perhaps too much to upper middle class or affluent Boomers, and not nearly enough to, say, their “I just got a big break and Sophie’s pregnant” 30-something kids.

Lincoln does a consistent business with its MKX — through the recession and beyond, the model consistently recorded annual U.S. sales in the low 20k range, shooting up to 30,964 in 2016. It’s clear buyers see something they like in the current generation. And, while the year-to-date tally is just 42 units higher than 2016 through September, last month’s sales were up nearly 6 percent, year-over-year.

2017 Lincoln MKX, Image: Steph Willems

Unfortunately for Lincoln, rival Lexus sold more than three times as many RX models in 2016. The Cadillac XT5, which debuted last year, saw more than twice as many buyers this year as the MKX. If it’s volume Lincoln wants, and this review’s title refers to just that, Lincoln needs to sell aspirational vehicles throughout its lineup — not just the Continental and next-generation Navigator.

The crossover segment is just too important and too lucrative for Lincoln to leave all of the public relations duties to its flagships.

[Images: © 2017 Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars]

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62 Comments on “2017 Lincoln MKX AWD Reserve Review – Still the Brand’s Best Hope...”

  • avatar

    Before I consider this review, I’m going to state that I do not approve of gold paint matched with red leather.

  • avatar

    The MKX is built in Oakville, not Brampton. That’s the Chrysler LX plant.

  • avatar

    The helicopter shot works better with something more dignified, such as the Toyota Century.

  • avatar

    We have the previous one. It’s nice, but could definitely use a healthy dollop of power. I wonder if it would run any better on premium…

  • avatar

    I can’t help but like these. I find them classy and understated AF.

    I have almost every recent Ford product I’ve driven (especially the Fusion), but I really, really, really, really wish Ford would correct their assembly quality issues (and longevity problems). They are so close to fantastic products I would actually buy.

  • avatar

    I disagree about Acura offering a better transmission selector stalk, and dare I say, Chrysler’s rotary shifter is probably the best in the business.

    The purpose of moving the shifter out of the center console is to free up valuable console space. The Ram 1500 (bucket seats), and Ford F-150 (with column shifter and bucket seats) offers immense storage options that can accommodate two drinks AND wallets/keys/sunglasses/cell phones. Lately, the first thing I look at in new cars is what the console looks like. Imagine being able to go on a road trip,and fit your drinks and cell phone in the console, and not having to ask your wife to hold her own big gulp.

    I don’t like Lincoln’s (or GMC’s) attempts at push button transmissions, but it is still better than Acura’s where you lose all tactility of a shifter, but don’t gain any additional space.

    This is why the Chrysler knob is best. Free’s up space, but you can still make gear selection without taking your eyes off the road or mirrors.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Lincoln Concierge service. Yeah, it works. I was between jobs and went back to the heartland to visit family, look a red cows, take in the bucolic countryside and stuff. El Scotto’s moms Lincoln needed an oil change. The dealer had called and set up the concierge service. Petite female service rep showed up in mom’s driveway with the concierge loaner car. Service rep asked mom is she had any questions and synched mom’s phone. A few hours later, while out and about, mom’s phone rings. The service rep said her car was done and did she want it delivered or would she want to come to the dealership. Mom went to the dealership, turned in the concierge loaner and signed her paperwork. I can see this service working for work parking lot drop off deliver. Oh, and it’s a lease.

  • avatar

    The RX has been around for 20 years and Lincoln is still trying to get into the game. This may be a somewhat decent vehicle, but it remains a tarted up Ford.

  • avatar

    gold exterior + maroon seats + burnt siena armrests + the wood trim that (to me) all clash and looks suboptimal. not the most flattering car to highlight as a road test loaner.

    +1 for thinking outside the black, chrome box. -1000 for the visual clusterf___.

    For $63k minus haggler’s discount, I’d rather drive the extra 3/4 mile to the __insert your fav. alternative__ dealer.

  • avatar

    Also the wood insert on the steering wheel looks like a turrible afterthought.

    • 0 avatar

      I would say the same thing for the whole steering wheel. I would like to see a return to all-wood steering wheels in luxury cars. It would provide some real visual panache. But the American idea of luxury seems to have stopped with leather=luxury.

      Gimme a break, you can get a leather-wrapped steering wheel in a Corolla these days. It’s nothing special.

      My Miata SE has a Nardi all-wood steering wheel, it’s the best wheel I’ve ever owned.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    I’m currently leasing a 2017 MKX Select 3.7 AWD which replaced my much loved 05 Deville. Like Paul Simon I’m accustomed to a smooth ride and the Select with it’s 18 inch wheels and 60 series tires is great at absorbing the bumps and potholes of our third world quality roads. I test drove the Acura MDX but it’s ride is noticeably stiffer and jittery compared to the MKX and it’s handling wasn’t a whole lot better. The Lexus was a non starter for me due to it’s grill and it’s fantastically poor rear visibility and the Cadillac SRX has equally bad visibility and the seats are park bench hard. Even though I don’t have the 22 way seats they’re still much better than the SRX and MDX chairs. The 3.7 is OK and the transmission has prompt part throttle downshifts but I wish they would offer the 2.7 in the Select with the 18″ wheels. I don’t have the sunroof (don’t miss it) and it makes a huge difference in rear seat headroom.

    • 0 avatar

      @ GS 455 – I can’t remember which Lincoln it was–it may’ve been the MKX–but Alex Dykes specifically praised Lincoln for going for softer suspension tune than currently is the norm. Good to hear that someone’s bucking the stiff ride trend.

      The 4th-gen RX’s styling is a shame, because the first three gens were well-executed vehicles.

  • avatar

    The Navigator beat the Escalade to market by 1 model year.

  • avatar

    I would certainly consider an MKX if I was looking for a new car, but in red or black, not Grandpa Gold. (and I have 3 grandchildren)

    I had to chuckle at the shift paddles comment. For years auto writers complained about the lack of paddle shifters in new cars and now they question why they’re even there. Does anyone even use the things? I’d think the people that want to shift that bad will buy something with a manual.

    • 0 avatar

      i have an MKZ with the 3.7. I have the transmission set to the most aggressive setting while in Sport. The thing is fantastic for holding a lower gear upon throttle lift-off. It can get a bit aggressive and, when that happens, a quick tap of the upshift paddle solves the problem.

      By the way, I really like the placement of the transmission buttons. I do get a bit confused, but that’s because I switch between the MKZ and my manual Tacoma in that I find myself reaching for the nonexistent shift lever when coming to a stop.

      Finally, if the MKX is anything like my MKZ, if you dig deep into the menus, you find some pretty aggressive settings available.

  • avatar

    $63K puts this in a very competitive market segment.

    I am not sure that an aging transmission and that wood trim will help its cause.

  • avatar

    It’s the front end: bland.

  • avatar

    Lincoln went from having some pretty swanky interiors to one that just looks…weird. What’s with that ugly wood trim on the steering wheel and dash? It is very oddly placed, too.

  • avatar

    “oddity built to give Cadillac’s Escalade a run for its money,”

    This is not true at all, the Navigator was designed and built first.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I think it’s handsome.

    I do wish Ford would the 2.7EB motor in a mustang and call it the SVO.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    “Sticking with tradition body styles is akin to suicide these days.” People haven’t caught on to beauty being only skin deep, I guess. What about the beauty beneath the skin? A good new vehicle has to be more than lipstick on a cart imo. Maybe that’s what Ford’s are about today? “The transportation business.” No, lipstick on a cart, again. They are scrambling now. The industry needs to increase fleet mileage to 60mpg/60mpg-e right away to stop warming at 2C. I don’t mean to be harping, but this is hugely important. “Models show that the 3C world is quite scary.” to quote Piers Sellers. Love you bunkie. Sorry to see this is what’s happening at this pivotal time in automotive history.

    • 0 avatar
      Ray Davies

      Some people care more about if it has iplay than anything else. I don’t get it, they can swap out the entertainment center a lot easier than the drivetrain. The more tech on a car’s interface the faster it looks outdated.

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