The freshened Lincoln MKX and its corporate cousin, the Ford Edge, offer proof that, sometimes, less is more.
While the MKX is a well-equipped, good riding and decent handling sport utility vehicle, it's sold by the same dealers as the Edge, which begins at less than $30,000 -- 10 grand less than the Lincoln.
And opting for the Ford enables you to avoid the MKX's most serious drawback: the much-ballyhooed (by Ford) and much maligned (by almost everyone else) "MyLincoln Touch," a new system of voice and touch-sensitive, menu- and cursor-driven dashboard controls with three video screens that's reminiscent of the widely-despised first generation of BMW's iDrive. It's costly and distracting and recently cost the MKX the coveted "recommended" designation from Consumer Reports.
I spent my first 10 minutes in the tester on a freezing night trying to make the radio's infuriatingly touchy volume control reduce the decibel level of blaring music left on by the previous driver. There are the redundant conventional controls on the steering wheel for some functions, but the entire package is a mishmash to be avoided. It's an option in the Edge, where it's called MyFord Touch.
The five-passenger MKX got major upgrades for 2011, including a new engine whose 305 hp. (versus 265 for its predecessor) makes it livelier -- capable of going from zero to 60 in less than seven seconds, according to Car and Driver. There's refreshed styling and a new interior. Like most midsize SUVs, the MKX is too heavy to be much fun to drive. But Lincoln says it retuned the steering, springs, shocks and stabilizer bars for 2011 for crisper handling, and that brakes were improved, too.
The Environmental Protection Agency says fuel economy should be 17 miles per gallon in local driving and 23 on the highway with all-wheel drive, but I averaged only 16.7 mpg in six days of mostly highway driving.
If you do opt for the Lincoln, I'd suggest avoiding the $1,295 package that includes a collision warning system; it issues too many false alarms. Other available safety features include a blind-spot warning system for safer lane changing, "cross-traffic alert" for backing out of parking stalls and a rearview camera.
J.D. Power and Associates says Lincoln and its dealers are well above average in keeping customers happy, based on consumer surveys after 39 months of ownership.
Consumer Reports has no data yet for the 2011 MKX or the Edge, but the earlier generation had subpar reliability, the magazine says.
The federal government hasn't yet published a safety rating for the freshened 2011 MKX, but the structurally similar predecessor earned an almost perfect score. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deems the 2010 and 2011 models "good" in frontal and side-impact protection of passengers.
2011 Lincoln MKX
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6, 305 hp.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Safety: Six air bags; four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, stability control and brake assist; blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert for backing; heated outside mirrors; fog lamps, post-crash notification of 911; reverse obstacle detection; rearview camera; tire pressure monitoring; swiveling headlamps
Cargo room: Rear seatback up, 32.3 cubic feet; seatback down, 68.6 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 mpg city, 23 highway
Price as driven: $51,135 with freight
Bottom line: A classy SUV, but MyLincoln Touch a possible deal killer.